The helmet is the most important piece of equipment you need to ride a motorcycle, it is your lifeline when things go awry and without it, you drastically reduce your chances of surviving an impact.

There are many types of helmet and choosing the right one might not be as easy as you had first thought. Here is a run-down of the many different styles of helmet to help you pick your perfect balance of safety, cost and style.

 

The Types of Helmets

Full Face

The full face helmet is deservedly the most common type of helmet because it offers the most in terms of protection, quietness and aerodynamic advantage.

Full face helmets, as their name would suggest, cover the whole face, including the chin and nose, leaving only the eyes exposed behind a clear plastic windscreen.

Full face helmets are generally heavier than their less protective counterparts, but if you are willing to spend a bit more, upmarket helmet manufacturers use modern materials such as carbon fibre in their helmets to reduce weight yet provide excellent protection.

Wind noise is also effectively dampened by full face helmets, offering a more comfortable riding experience.

Full face helmets, due to their relative abundance can be found in any price bracket, but don’t be tempted to go for a cheap brand; budget helmets are more likely to buckle in the event of a crash and are often not compliant with EU standards, making them illegal to use.

 

Open face or Three Quarter helmet

The open face helmet is similar to the full face helmet but lacks a chin bar, exposing the face of the rider to the elements.

These helmets are not as safe as full face helmets, and offer less in the way of aerodynamics and noise damping. Due to the lack of aerodynamics, wind noise is increased and over longer distances at higher speeds, neck strain can occur with the wind constantly at work pulling your head backwards.

As most open face helmets do not come with a visor, riding goggles are a must for anything more than a short trip, however some manufacturers are now making helmets with full face visors, offering the wind protection of a full-face helmet with the visibility of an open-faced model.

While open face helmets don’t offer the protection of full face helmets, they do offer their own advantages; visibility is greater than in a full face helmet, offering a better up and down view and better peripheral vision.

Communication is easier than in more enclosed designs and access to your own face is unrestricted due to lack of a chin bar. This makes glasses easier to put on and remove and allows eating and drinking without having to remove the helmet (this should never be done while riding, obviously).

 

Modular or ‘Flip-up’ Helmet

The modular helmet is effectively a cross between a full face and three quarter helmet, offering some of the advantages of each, but coming with their own disadvantages.

The two-piece modular helmet comprises of an open face shell with a hinged chin bar that can be flipped up to reveal the rider’s face.

Like the full face helmet, modular helmets have a chin bar, leaving the entire head protected but when required, allowing the face to be exposed so the rider can put on glasses or blow their nose.

Most modular helmets are designed with only convenience in mind, and are therefore not certified for use with the chin bar up, however there are more pricey models that are “dual certified”, meaning they can legally be used either flipped up or down while riding.

The modular helmet does come with downsides: All of the extra mechanical parts needed for the helmet to flip up and down make it heavier than both full face and three-quarter helmets; wind noise can also be a problem in cheaper models due to the gaps where the chin bar and shell join.

Modular helmets also tend to be more expensive than their equivalent full face or three-quarter counterparts because of their relative complexity to manufacture and additional parts required.

 

Half Shell Helmet

This by far the least protective of all helmet types, often being made with only enough protection to make them legal for use on the road. They cover only the top of the head, stopping short of the ears, leaving the entire face, neck and sides of the head exposed to the elements. Goggles are a requirement for this style of helmet.

This type of helmet is largely a stylistic choice, but can offer a few advantages: Firstly, they are very lightweight and therefore present little risk of neck strain and as they cover so little of the head they are very comfortable, being as close as you can legally get to not wearing a helmet at all.

Due to these helmets being primarily a fashion item, they often come with hefty price tags, cheaper models are however available.

 

Off road helmets

Off road helmets are, as the name implies, made for use on dirt tracks and other un-tarmacked terrain and as such include features that are great for motocross or green-laning, but are impractical for on-road use. The primary features are an elongated chin-bar and a sun visor that is used stop mud and debris from other riders’ back tyres falling onto a rider’s face and goggles, while offering protection from the sun’s glare. The tradeoff is that these visors are great at catching the wind at even low speeds, that, combined with their lack of a windscreen visor can make using an off-road helmet on the road an uncomfortable experience.

 

Features to Look Out For

Along with the type of helmet, you should also keep an eye out for various features that your chosen helmet might come with.

Fasteners

There are quite a few different types of fastening system for your helmet’s chin strap, each with varying levels of convenience, protection and durability:

  • Double D-ring – The most common fastener. The double D-ring system is also the most simple, yet the trickiest to use. It works by putting one strap through both D-rings on the other strap, then looping the strap through the first D-ring to fasten it. The excess strap is then usually secured with a snap button. As said before, this the trickiest system to operate (almost impossible with gloves!) but is widely regarded as the safest due to its simplicity.
  • Quick release or “seat belt type” – An increasingly common system that works, as the name suggests, much like a car seat belt. A metal end on one strap is inserted into a buckle on the other strap, locking them together, the strap is then adjusted to fit the rider. Once the rider has finished riding, all he has to do is pull a switch on the receiving buckle to quickly release the strap. These fasteners are allot quicker to operate than Double-D-ring, even when gloved, and as such are becoming more and more popular.
  • Micro-metric or “ratchet type” – is a fairly new fastening system, similar to the ratchet fasteners you would find on a motocross boot. A toothed tongue on one strap is inserted into a spring loaded receiver on the other strap and is pushed in as far as is comfortable for the rider. This system, used mainly by Nitro and Caberg, is becoming very popular due to its ease of use, allowing both fastening and unfastening while gloved and very easy adjustment.

Liners and Cushioning

When looking for a helmet, take into consideration the helmet lining. If you are consider a high end helmet that is designed for track use, it will have a less comfortable lining to cut down on unnecessary size. Racing helmets are also trickier to fit as because of the thinner padding, they are designed for specific head shapes, rather than being one-shape-fits-all.

If you plan on riding allot, for commuting, for example, consider looking for a helmet that features removable and washable liners so you can keep your helmet fresh.

Electronics

These days, there are all sorts of high-tech gadgets being shoehorned into helmets. The most modern fixture and one that is quickly becoming the norm in premium helmets is Bluetooth connectivity. Having built in Bluetooth speakers enables you to listen to directions, answer calls or simply listen to music without having to trail wires into your jacket but this convenience is costly. More cost effective solutions do involve wires but if you can find a way to hide them (under your jacket for example) and your helmet supports the ability to add speakers, you can have the advantage of an in-helmet sound system without having to resort to uncomfortable earbuds.

On the next page you will be shown how to fit a helmet properly and measure your head correctly for if you plan on purchasing your helmet online.

Fitting a Motorcycle Helmet >