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Few areas are as misunderstood as helmet safety ratings. A crash course on motorcycle helmet ratings can save you from a literal crash course. Just because you race doesn’t mean you can’t be smart about it. Check out the most common types of safety ratings and which helmets offer the best mix of comfort, style and safety.

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

After the fateful 1935 crash and death of T.E. Lawrence, also known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” a neurosurgeon decided it was time to start testing motorcycle helmets for safety. Turns out, a famous army officer flying over his handlebars is all it took to bring some change in the industry.

The rest is history. Sir Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon, invented a helmet that was durable enough to keep branches, road signs and other objects from penetrating your skull in the event of a collision, but did little else. Next, energy-absorbing lining was added, visors and chin straps were next and soon, after countless scientists, engineers and bureaucrats, we have all the safety commissions, departments and fine-print stickers that are on the back of your helmet.

Deciphering Safety Acronyms


You’ve probably seen more than your share of acronyms on motorcycle helmets. Believe it or not, there’s a difference between each safety standard, so it’s worth comparing your helmet to these standards. If you’re missing these, your helmet may not offer any more protection than a baseball cap or bandana.

ECE
DOT
SNELL
SHARP

Don’t worry about deciphering all these acronyms just yet. The important thing to remember is that a helmet without any of these ratings is bad news. Wear the right gear for your ride and choose a helmet with one of these standards. Here’s a quick definition of each one to help you decide which rating is most important for your style.

The ABC’s of the ECE


ECE stands for the Economic Commission for Europe. As stuffy as it sounds, this rating is worth understanding when shopping for the best helmets. Unlike helmets that pass an American motorcycle helmet test, ECE rated helmets keep your noggin safe and sound with a few additional tests.

First, ECE helmets are tested by an independent lab, ensuring there’s no foul play. Second, since European motorcycle enthusiasts aren’t known for their thrill-seeking rides and fast speeds like Americans, they’re tested at slower speeds. Believe it or not, there’s different forces applied on impact with these snail-paced collisions, so it’s important to test both high-speed and slow-speed crashes. Finally, the ECE includes our range and quality of vision as a key part of their safety standards. If you’ve ever felt that a motorcycle helmet had about the same field of view as a welding helmet, it probably wasn’t ECE rated.

Ride Hard With a SNELL Helmet


The SNELL Memorial Foundation offers both street and race helmet safety ratings. Perhaps one of the toughest safety stickers to earn, this hard-hitting motorcycle helmet safety test includes a powerful edge anvil smashing into the helmet. Anything over 275 g of energy transfer is automatically disqualified. Even worse, the technician administering this test can take aim at what they feel is the weakest point of the helmet. Three different anvil shapes are used to ensure the ultimate defence for virtually any collision. Find a helmet with a SNELL rating and you know it means business.

DOT: The Old Faithful


The very least any helmet should pass is the DOT, or Department of Transportation rating. DOT helmets pass the same sort of random screening tests that are used in airport security and professional sport drug testing. We’ll let you decide how thorough that is. Once a helmet is selected for the process, however, the test puts it through the ringer. A complete test by an independent contractor lets you know the helmet is good for the road, racetrack or dirt trail.

Looking SHARP


A surprise underdog safety rating that you may not have heard of before, SHARP offers a star rating that comfortably fits in with most online 5-star rating systems. It’s not technically an additional rating, and you won’t be seeing any SHARP stickers on a helmet anytime soon. SHARP rated helmets have passed the ECE helmet testing standards, so the goal is to give you more information than a simple pass or fail metric. It’s a great way to better gauge the effectiveness of a helmet, just remember that the stars are based on the ECE test, rather than the SNELL or DOT rating. Unfortunately, good looks aren’t always guaranteed with a SHARP rating, but many do offer a great, stylish look.

And the Winner Is…


The best safety rating is the one that is specifically designed for your exact style of crash. Unless you happen to fall off your bike multiple times at the same speeds, or if that fortune teller knew what they were talking about, chances are you have no idea which type of protection you need. If you’re an international traveler, an ECE helmet will give you legal coverage in more countries. Many enthusiasts love the intensity of a SNELL rating, but the DOT is a time-tested rating that offers a wide range of helmet types.

Find the Best Helmet Today


It’s time to put your money where your safety rating is. Now that you’ve compared each type of rating, you’ve probably already decided for yourself which one best applies to your style of riding style. Some motorcycle enthusiasts love a long, open highway at high, but reasonable, speeds. Others love the thrill of bustling traffic and tight confines on a daily commute. Still others, like us, are fans of riding a motorcycle anytime, anywhere. Where you fit, look for the helmet that fits your style, your safety rating and, most importantly, your head. Check out our motorcycle helmets today for an extensive line of helmets for any safety rating. We all love to live life on the edge, but there’s no reason you can’t do so comfortably with a premium, certified motorcycle helmet.

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