Motorcycle helmets, choosing the right one

When you’re looking for new motorcycle helmets it’s incredibly important to think carefully about your choice. If you get involved in an accident, your helmet is the only thing that will protect you from possible brain damage or even death – it’s the most crucial item of safety gear you can buy, so it pays to get it right.

Obviously everybody has to work within a budget, but we recommend that when buying a motorcycle crash helmet you should spend as much as you can afford on a good quality one. In the UK, the government has set up a helmet testing scheme to provide guidance on what level of protection you can expect from the different models on offer from all of the major manufacturers using a five star safety rating.

The scheme is called SHARP, and if you visit the official website you can find out how good any helmet is, or ask it to list all of the motorcycle helmets within your price range so that you can see which ones offer the best level of protection. In the USA, there is a similar scheme called Helmet Check, although it’s fair to say that it’s not yet as advanced as the UK scheme.

Advice on buying a motorcycle helmet

First of all you need to decide whether you want an open or full face motorcycle helmet. While some people prefer open face, they don’t offer the same degree of protection as full face motorcycle crash helmets – just think about what would happen if your face hit the bike or another solid object during a high-speed collision! For that reason, we wouldn’t recommend open face helmets if you ride anything more powerful than a scooter.

All good motorcycle accessories shops should have display models of helmets that you can try on in your own size – any shop that won’t let you try on a helmet is not worth buying from. Make sure the helmet fits snugly and comfortably. When you shake your head, the helmet should not wobble around at all, it needs to stay firmly on your head, but at the same time it shouldn’t be so tight that it is uncomfortable.

While you’re trying the helmet on, pay attention to small details: is the visor easy to move up and down while wearing riding gloves? Most helmet visors have a small notch on the bottom to make them easier to lift while you’re riding, and these can be positioned either in the middle of the visor or off to the left so that it’s in easy reach of your clutch-hand – since it’s obviously never safe to let go of the right handlebar where the throttle and brake controls are.

Also while you’re trying the helmet on, see how easy it is to undo the chinstrap – some helmets use quick-release clasps, while others use more old fashioned loop buckles. Another thing to think about is air vents, which are a common fixture on modern helmets and are designed to be opened or closed whilst riding, so check how easy it is to do that.

If you ride a lot, it might be worth considering a motorcycle helmet with a detachable lining, since that will make it easier to clean – the inside of a helmet can get pretty stinky if you wear it every day.

Damaged motorcycle helmets should always be replaced immediately
Damaged motorcycle helmets should always be replaced immediately

Although most helmets are supplied with anti-fog visors, there’s always the danger of your visor getting misted-up by your breath, so some manufacturers fit their helmets with rubber breath deflectors (sometimes called nose-guards) which cover your nose and mouth, so that your warm breath is deflected downwards, away from the visor. These work well, but make sure if your helmet is fitted with a breath deflector that it doesn’t rub against the tip of your nose while you try it on.

The visor is an important component of any motorcycle crash helmet, make sure that it can be removed and replaced easily, and that replacements easily available – they have a habit of getting scratched, and it’s a shame to have to replace a perfectly good helmet because you can’t find a replacement visor. Also, in bright weather it’s good to be able to put on a tinted visor.

Finally, remember to take good care of your motorcycle helmets – if they ever get dropped or banged against a hard object, have them examined by a professional to see if they need to be replaced. A helmet that has been dropped might look OK externally, but it could have structural damage that will prevent it from doing its job properly in an accident.