According to CDC figures, wearing a helmet reduces the risk of death by 37% and serious head injury by 69% but choosing the wrong helmet can leave you vulnerable. There’s a reason that some helmets are referred to as “brain buckets”. Unfortunately, there is a market for novelty helmets that prioritize style and low pricing over safety. Below are the top criteria you should consider when choosing the right motorcycle helmet for you.
The Department of Transportation has taken a lot of the guess work out of evaluating a helmet by creating a safety standard that all helmets sold in the US must meet. Note that some manufacturers circumvent the requirements by selling their substandard helmets as novelty helmets so you still need to check before you buy. Any DOT Certified helmet will have the DOT Certification Label. Snell is another certification standard that you can trust.
Helmet Coverage & Weight
The more a helmet covers, the more protection it can provide. Having built-in eye protection can save your life and full-face novelty helmets are almost unheard of. Weight is simple: if it feels flimsy, it probably is. Novelty helmets can weigh as little as a pound or less while DOT Certified helmets generally weigh about 3 pounds. The difference in weight can seem subtle but the DOT certified helmet will definitely feel more substantial.
Inner Liner Thickness
DOT Certified helmets typically have an expanded polystyrene (stiff foam) inner layer that is at least 3/4” thick. The inner layer may not be visible, many helmets have a comfort layer overtop, but you’ll still be able to feel the thickness. Unsafe helmets may have a thin foam layer or none at all.
Fit directly determines how much safety your helmet can provide. DOT certification is only valid for a correctly sized helmet. If there’s a gap between the inside of your helmet and your head, it can’t absorb the impact as it’s designed to do so you’re going to get smacked by the inside of your helmet with all that force. We don’t buy helmets online because we can’t try them on. Sometimes, certain brands or styles are more suited to different head shapes so even with your size and measurements correct, it might not fit properly. It should fit snug; keep in mind that the liners will break in around 15-20 percent after a few rides.
New or Used
Please, please, don’t buy a used helmet! If you’re looking to save money, you might not end up with a helmet that fits properly or you could get a helmet that’s been damaged. Helmets are a single-use item and if they’ve already been in a crash, even a minor one, they are no longer safe to wear and should be retired. Even a bad drop could compromise the structural integrity of the helmet and there’s simply no way to be sure. We generally replace our helmets every 5 years or so, even if they haven’t been damaged because the materials naturally degrade over time and we don’t take chances with our brains.
The most important thing is to end up with a helmet you like. If you like it, you’re much more likely to actually wear it. A helmet that is the perfect pinnacle of military-grade safety is useless if it’s not on your head. Choosing the right motorcycle helmet is about finding the right balance of comfort, safety, and style for you. Find a helmet that fits and makes you feel like a badass and hit the road. If you want to learn more about us and why we might know a thing or two about safety check out our About Us page.