The Ultimate Guide to Types of Motorcycle Helmets

The Ultimate Guide to Types of Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycle helmets are part of the safety gear riders are expected to wear while riding. The presence of it plays a significant role in reassuring safety for the rider in the event of a collision. In fact, it has been said that helmets remain the single most important piece of safety gear when riding a motorcycle. 

My ugly experience…avoidable or fated?  

Do not take your lesson from the excruciating experience I had early in the millennium. It was during one of my routine long-distance cycling on the Old Cutler Road in Miami.  For those of you familiar with this picturesque road, you understand that it is shielded by towering banyan trees, flanked by gorgeous homes, and lined by a few traffic lights. More interestingly, you also realize that from Cocoplum Circle to as far down as South Dade, the road is an incredible spot for a ride on a hot day.

But how I wish I had that beautiful ride on my return trip on that fateful day. I had gone more than 3 miles to Homestead Bayfront Park with my helmet on. However, I was forced to remove it after feeling some heat from inside. Hardly had I kick-started my Harley Davidson Sportster when I ran into a tree and had my head hit against a lump. But for the prompt arrival of safety officers, the story would have been different. That incident cost me more than nine months on the treatment bed before recovery. 

Since then, I had learned that I shouldn’t start any motorcycle trip if I have not put on my helmet. I also understand that I shouldn’t just wear it; I must also know when to replace helmets even before the gear starts to give way. 

It does not matter the types of motorcycle helmets you’re looking to buy, own and wear. Whether it is the open face (¾), off-road helmet, half helmet, dual sport helmet, modular helmet, or full-face helmet, there are considerations with which you must be familiar. Understanding these things puts you ahead of your fellow riders who think to go to the e-stores or the brick and mortar store and make an order is just the only thing to be done. 

In this post, I will be guiding you on what steps you should take before settling for that type of helmet you’re planning to buy. My discussion with you here will be exhaustive because I will also have to tell you what advantages you stand to gain using any type of helmet you choose. Your budget, preference, state of residence, motorcycle road terrain, helmet size, durability, versatility, and quality are some of the things you must consider before arriving at a conclusion. How much of the anatomy of a helmet do you know? These are part of the elements of my journey with you. Do not miss any line once I open up the discussions.

Typically, there are three major styles, namely, the open, flip-up or modular, and full-face helmets. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. But one thing is certain that one style beats the others by a fair margin. For the sake of this post, I will break down those three kinds of helmets into six. All I care about is that you should wear a helmet; by that, I mean a helmet that is in good condition, and proper, legal and approved for your location and state of residence.  

Now, let us begin by listing out the six types of helmet you will always come across, knowing which is best among the different types and what the advantages and disadvantages they each bring to the table. I won’t suggest or preach to you what type of helmet you should use. But I owe a duty as a professional and expert in the industry to show you the pros and cons so you can decide what is best for you.  

Open-Face (¾)  Helmets

View Related Helmets on Amazon

Open-face (¾) helmets belong to the class of most used and preferred helmets among riders. I took a survey some years ago to sample opinion on the riders’ preference for open-face helmets. The study showed that riders prefer this kind of helmets for a number of reasons. And those who said they wouldn’t want to even think about using open-face helmets also outlined some of the reasons they wouldn’t.  

Pros of Open-Face Helmets

Great attitude and temperature

When it comes to comfort, the open-face helmets are amazingly up there. They are on a higher level in terms of offering attitude and temperature. I can confidently agree that if you want a helmet that is cooler both inside and outside, then the open-face helmet is the right pick. Real bikers do realize this fact. You will feel and look much cooler when you’re wearing this helmet.

Comfort is the name

If you ask me, I don’t think I have a better name to give to open-face helmets than comfort. That’s a fact. Imagine a kind of helmet that allows you to hold your cigarette, on one hand, smile and poke your tongue at other riders. Isn’t that what many smoking riders would prefer? That’s not even enough when I talk about open-face helmet and comfort. The helmet also allows you to scratch your face at will. But be properly guided on the road.

Sound receptive

Let’s do this exercise for a second. Imagine yourself inside a helmet and a big truck is right behind you honking at full blast of its volume. There your helpless body sits comfortably in the saddle of your bike but couldn’t hear the honk. The danger is inevitable, you can be sure. That’s feature might be for another type of helmet; surely, not any of the open-face helmets I know.

Whether it is the honking of the truck, the screeching of tires, the skidding off of a bike that has lost control, the sirens of emergency vehicles, or you just simply want to communicate to another biker in the neighborhood of 50 meters, open-face helmets allow you to hear what is going on around you. You can talk and get a clear response from others.

Lightweight

Imagine yourself inside hour-long traffic and you’re wearing a heavy helmet. Open-face helmets are a great pick if you want helmet types that are much lighter. They are made of materials that are lightweight and so constitute less fatigue when wearing. This is unlike some other helmet types. It doesn’t have to be heavy on the head to know that a helmet is functional. 

Vision

Well, just as you know I won’t call blue-black for you. Open-face helmets are also known for their transparency. That signpost that seemingly looks like violet is what it is when you put on the open-face type of helmet. Colors aren’t blurred. Shapes and sizes of vehicles or any items around you are as visible and clear as what they are. 

You call at a service station to refill your bike tank. You won’t have to remove your open-face helmet all the type to know whether the attendant punches the right button or the meter is reading. So there are no blind spots.

Cons of Open-Face Helmets

I’ve told I won’t shield any type of helmet. As much as you would love the open-face helmet− and I think there is a great reason to love it – there are other reasons I won’t be quick to recommend it.

Low crash protection

I am sure you love your safety and wouldn’t want anything that will jeopardize any part of your body (especially your face) being protected while riding. Respondents from my survey said that the open-face helmets have a low profile when it comes to the helmet’s secondary safety protection in the event of a crash.

There’s a higher likelihood of hitting your face on the tar in a crash when you wear an open-face helmet. Stats show that the chin bar area may hit the ground in 19.4% of crashes! Be aware that an open-face helmet will not protect your face in the face of a crash.

You need glass protective

To be able to wear an open-face helmet comfortably, you’ll need to wear glasses as protection for your eyes. What I mean is that you usually need to wear a face mask so as to shield your face from harsh environmental conditions, including windburn, stones, sunburn, bugs, rain, and other dangerous situations on the highway. 

Needless to say that the face mask might be very uncomfortable and crazily annoying, especially when because it can impede proper breathing, thus reducing the number of oxygen requirements when riding.

Noise fatigue

I am sure you may have heard it said that not all that glitters is gold. The open-face helmet looks lighter, lightweight and offers value in terms of receptiveness to sound. But hey, the noise, sound, and wind it allows can have a damaging effect on the ears drums. Have you thought about that? The transparency brings too can expose that your ugly coffee mug you don’t want people to see.

Full-Face Helmet

View Related Helmets on Amazon

I won’t be blind to the fact that general consensus is that the full-face helmets are the safest and best helmets to wear when riding. I will also not be blind to some of the issues bikers have raised over time in terms of what disadvantages they present.  Trust, I often look at the gains more than the pains a product offers me.

Why would or should riders make the full-face helmets their pick? Why should or would they not?

Pros of Full-Face Helmets

Protection

This is one advantage the full-face helmets have over every other type of helmet in the market. They beat other types of helmet hands down when it comes to protection. In addition to the fact that they guarantee maximum and full protection of the face, full-face helmets provide extra protection to your chin and face. 

Besides, your eardrums and body system are shielded from the crazy and cracking noise, as well as annoying wind, sun, bugs, cold and stones. You don’t have to worry about any environmental hazards when you’re the full-face helmets. They’re already taken care of.

Identity disguise

Protection is not just about guard against physical damage. The full-face helmet is hailed and preferred by sport and entertainment superstars because it often protects their identity and shields their anonymity. Its tender tinted visor is a huge plus is you have to travel long-distance motorcycle trips and would like to remain anonymous.

No wonder old folks in the riding industry would always want to go for the full-face helmet. It disguises their age and ‘hides’ their identity. I love it sometimes especially when I don’t want the neighbors to wave at me. They all know I could be Henry.  

Less fatigue

Just like other advantages the full-face helmets bring to the table that the full-face helmets present less fatigue when compared to other types of the helmet is one fact everyone I think would agree with. This is because of their insulation from the environment, wearing the full-face helmets makes long-distance trips a lot easier and less stressful.

Comfort

I also understand that I experience some nice cocooned feeling once I put on my full-face helmet. I understand I am all alone, trying to figure out how the trip looks like, what it holds for me and how guided and protected I am from environmental and human interventions. Putting on my glasses especially if I wear the visor-protected full-face helmet is not a headache.

Cons of Full-Face Helmets

Are you surprised that a helmet so beautifully and immaculately described above could have its own downside? Don’t be. They are products of art, and so would come with both advantages and disadvantages.

Isolation

 Pointblank, one of the things you may not lie about the full-face helmets is that they isolate you from the people and environment around you. In fact, some would say that the helmet often blurs them from reality. For the claustrophobic, this is not one helmet you would like, trust me. It makes you feel stifled, unrelated and less free.

Not summer-friendly

I won’t overemphasize this point. You know that the full-face helmet covers the entire face up to your chin. You can expect that in hot weather, the full-face helmet can get very hot and limit the airflow to your face. That’s dangerously stifling! Besides, it makes long-distance bike trips boring, tiring and fatiguing, especially on hot days.

Embarrassment

Embarrassment! Maybe, not many would agree with me on this tagging. Maybe ‘self-identification would be a better word. But I don’t often feel my dignity if a petrol station attendant demands that I remove my helmet before they can refill by motorcycle fuel or gas tank. But that’s the reality. It is most likely you’ll be asked to remove your helmet at service stations, especially if it has a tinted visor.

Sound-proof

With your full-face helmet on, you won’t be able to clearly communicate with your pillion, riding colleagues, and even hear the environment. Talking to them is one thing; ability to hear what you’re saying is another. You may have to strain your voice or even shout before they can hear what you’re saying.

Vision

A full-face helmet usually provides a limited scope of vision. Full-face helmets reduce your chance of avoiding blind spots to your rear three-quarters. But you select your model and brand wisely. The Bell Bullitt provides an exception and a different outlook to that characterization. 

Modular Helmets

View Related Helmets on Amazon

Not so much; not so little to be said about the modular helmets, otherwise called the flip-up helmets. Once you can understand the advantages and disadvantages presented by the blend of the open-face (¾) and full-face helmets, then you have an idea of what modular helmets offer. From the name itself, you can suggest what modular helmets would and could do.

Essentially, the modular helmet is built in such a way that the chin bar and visor can flip up to open the front of the helmet. In terms of materials and fitment, the modular helmets are the same with the full-face helmet. 

Nonetheless, they come with their own specialties and unique features. 

Pros of Modular Helmets

Safety

If you say the open-face helmet is a metaphor for safety, then modular helmets are safety personified. But I still give the maximum protection feature to the full-face helmet type. Never mind my comparison. But riders have attested to this fact that modular helmets are safer and protect riders from unnecessary physical injuries in the event of a crash.

Typically, modular helmets come with a visor for eye protection. We also have some of them that are built with a secondary internal visor which helps to give additional eye protection, especially from environmental conditions such as wind and sun.

Middleweight

In terms of weight, modular helmets are built with more pounds. They tend to weigh slightly more than the traditional full-face helmet. His is in part due to the additional design hinge features that are built into the flip-up front section.

Adventure friendly

I can tell you that not every rider needs the modular helmet type. If you ask me why I will tell you that the manufacturers of the modular helmet designed it with an upright riding position in mind. And you know this kind of riding position is usually enjoyed by categories of riders such as tourers, cruisers, and adventure riders. 

Extra add-ons

Incorporated into the design of the modular helmets are the straightforward eye openings. The helmet’s chin bar is also designed to sit lower on the face. What’s more, the helmets also boast Bluetooth speakers as well as a dual visor system, and anti-fogging coating that sit quite comfortably on the primary visor.

More freedom

With safety comes more freedom if you choose the modular helmet. The added chin bar protection gives riders the freedom to maneuver their bike easily and freely. Also, the helmet allows you to hold a conversation with people, take a photo and sometimes fill up with fuel.

Cons of Modular Helmets

Relative reduced safety

You remember we say modular helmets are safety personified. That will be true if you compare it to other helmet types apart from the full-face helmets. What it means is that when using the modular helmet, rider safety is slightly reduced. Why? Because the helmet is built in such a way that it has a hinge structure that features a slight crevice. That contrasts sharply with a uniform entity which the full-face helmet represents.

Can be heavy

Well, some bikers prefer middleweight helmets; but to some, these may be a heavy burden because they often come with extra weight. The modular helmet is no exception because it is built with an extra hinge and locking mechanism. The locking mechanism may jam shut or fail to lock. That amounts to a compromise of the integrity of the shell.

Unattractive look

If you’re a ride bike who gives great attention to aesthetics and a great look, some models of the modular helmets won’t wow you. They have a very big size and ridiculous looks. Don’t go near the store of modular wholesalers or retailers if you’re given to beauty 

Half Helmet

View Related Helmets on Amazon

From the word go, you can easily relate to the phrase ‘half helmet. Can’t you? Half helmets, as they are popularly known are built to cover only the top of the rider’s head. Although some are built to give cover to the back of the neck as well as ears, it allows the rest of the face exposed. Besides, it also meant to cover the area from the forehead to the rider’s brows. 

Essentially, it is a helmet that helps provide minimal protection, offering significantly less protection than the open-face (¾) or full-face helmet. 

In another breath, one thing you cannot deny the helmet of is that it comes with great airflow. Even despite this, there are lots of half helmets that have not gotten the nod or approval of the DOT.

Typically, half helmets are not built with a visor or face shield. What you have to do is to make an order from your e-store for eye protection in the form of riding glasses or goggles. There are minimal technological features, such as Bluetooth speakers, found on the helmets, as there isn’t any space for the features to be added to. Therefore, there are minimal upgrade options for the helmet.

Off-road (Dirt Bike, Motocross, or MX) Helmets

View Related Helmets on Amazon

When you’re on the highway or you choose to ride in the city, be careful about the kind of helmet you wear. As the name suggests, off-road helmets, or dirt bike helmet, motocross, or MX helmets, are helmets designed to ride away from the streets and on dirt roads. 

These helmets are ideally great for and meant for places where knotty tires ply their trade. They’re often made with different designs and somewhat different materials relative to the full and ¾ helmets.

The visor of the helmets is usually larger than the full-face or open-face helmets. It also comes with a more accentuated chin bar that provides better airflow. When you think of the design of off-road helmets, think of the following typical features:

  • Maximum protection 
  • Minimum weight, 
  • Flowing ventilation for riding during the warmer months, 
  • No lush creature comforts
  • No Bluetooth speakers.
  • Lightweight

Besides, the off-road helmets are known for their act of provision for eye protection. You have to put on your glasses or goggles when you wearing the off-road helmets; fiberglass, Kevlar, or carbon fiber goggles will be a better pick if you’re riding in dirt or mud as they’re capable of protecting rider’s eyes against debris from the bottom of the bike and the sides of the rod while riding. Do not purchase the goggles without first testing to known they sit comfortably on your face with the helmet.

The off-road helmets are made of materials that provide great strength. They are also lightweight, helping to keep your head and neck from becoming fatigued due to long ride. However, if you chose to wear body armor or a neck brace, make sure you wear the helmet alongside additional gear. This is to be sure that it fits well and comfortably on the head. 

Dual-Sport Helmet

View Related Helmets on Amazon

If you want something halfway point between an off-road helmet and a full-face helmet, then go for a dual-sport (Crossover, ADV, Hybrid, Enduro) helmet. With exterior styling that looks perfectly like an off-road helmet and an interior that resembles the full-face helmet, dual sport helmet is a great pick for all-season on-road and off-road seasons.

Whereas the interior boasts a large aerodynamic visor and lower non-protrusive chin bar that provide protection for the eyes, the interior of the helmet is adequately padded for comfort. 

The aerodynamic of the visor ensures that visor does not shift or lift even in the face of the wildest wind; whereas, the non-protrusive nature of the lower chin bar makes riding easier, offering soundproofing features, although without much airflow. Here’s the mechanism: make use of the visor in the down position to the trail, but snap it up for goggles and maximum airflow.

Frequently Asked Questions 

I will categorize my FAQs under the function and features of helmets. What role will the helmets perform? What features do you expect that it has?  

What will the helmet be used for? There are some questions you must ask and answer when thinking of the right type of helmet to buy. How frequently will you ride? The helmet you’ll need when you want to commute will be different from the type for a long-distance ride. Similarly, what helmet will be used is also a function of whether when you’re riding alone or in a group. Are you riding for a contest or just for the fun of it?

Here are a few considerations:

How frequently do you commute? If you’ve chosen to ride as a hobby, especially if you make a frequent thin, then you’ll need to go for helmets of higher value, made of top-quality materials, and that guarantee great strength.

For those taking weekly road trips, choose high-end helmets that provide more comfort, offer better dynamics, and cause a reduction in wind noise. These helmets come designed with proven versatility and comfort. Of course, you should know that comfort and versatility are crucial for touring, traveling long-distance or riding for extended periods of time. 

Are you riding alone or with a group? Another important question you must readily answer is whether you’re on a solo riding or want to join the company of other riders. It is no doubt, group riding improves the overall experiences of bikers. This imposes on you the necessity to constantly communicate a lot with others in the group. You’ll come to realize that there’s nothing more seamless and effortless in group riding than to go on a helmet that has a built-in communication system. Most helmets provide you with the option to install Bluetooth systems. So don’t resist the opportunity to enhance your group riding.

Riding Track or Racing? While choosing your helmet, it is important to know that high-performance helmets usually have to be Snell rated for tracks. These types of helmets typically provide you with extra features, including tear-off posts as well as aggressive venting in the “tucked position.” 

What Features Do You Want? This is another question a rider must ask himself before settling for any type of helmet. If you don’t know what exact features you’re looking in a helmet, you won’t be able to choose correctly. Design, style, color, aesthetics are all good. But, in all, never underestimate the need to put safety, comfort, and protection in the front burner of other considerations. Remember, it is only a living person that rides.

Here are some of the few buying factors when choosing your helmet:

Safety

Do not forget my foremost advice: never sacrifice safety on the altar of comfort or design. With a lot of innovative safety measures in the automotive industry, it is now in the hands of riders to decide what kind of technology they want to go for. 

The helmet market is also awash with massive products that will protect, save and guard the rider. But the ultimate protector of the rider is the rider. Careful riding is required at all times. Apart from having safety-guaranteed helmets is, the process of removing helmets has become safer and easier than before, especially from injured by medics. 

Helmet manufacturers have come up with the Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), an innovative slip-plane technology built into the helmet to reduce rotational forces resulting from certain impacts.

Shell Material

I’ve said earlier that safety should be first and foremost in your consideration. The materials of which your helmet is made determine a lot about the helmet. Whether you think of the helmet’s weight, protection capacity, degree of comfort, durability, or versatility, the materials of the helmet shell will inform all of these.

Typically, helmets are made of polycarbonate, Fiberglass composite, and Carbon Fiber materials. Each of these materials comes with a layer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. By that, I mean that the helmet material is densely compressed into a shock-absorbing inner shell.

Helmets made of polycarbonate are able to flex and absorb energy. But polycarbonate helmets materials are less expensive. Meanwhile, the fiberglass composite helmet is capable of flexing, crushing and splitting as they absorb energy. However, they are more top-quality materials relative to polycarbonate materials. However, the Carbon fiber helmet is able to share energy upon impact. This makes them the most expensive and yet lightest helmet you’ll find in the market. 

Weight

You’ve got to take very seriously the weight of the helmets you’re buying. We have the heavyweight, middleweight and lightweight. For maximum safety, I will suggest you go for the lightweight. First, you must now that helmets weight often ranges between 1400 and 1800 grams.

The beauty of using a helmet is that the weight is evenly distributed around your head, neck, and shoulders. A lighter helmet can pressure you in, feel heavier, and strain your neck, especially once the center of gravity is off. Usually, I’ll recommend that you go for full-face of open-face helmets over modular or any other helmets. This is because the latter weighs more than others. Due to the add-ons and apparatus installed to flip up the visor. 

Comfort

There are a number of features that today’s helmets have which makes them comfortable for riders. Comfort is one feature riders shouldn’t compromise or underrate. Technology has made it so that helmets can function as partners to riders. Today, we feature and functions such as Bluetooth, integrated sunshade, wind reduction, visor, communication systems, danger alter notifications, and communication provisions, setup ease, chin strap, among others. All of these serve to enhance riders’ experience. 

How do I Measure my Helmet Size? It’s very simple. The process is seamless. You need to have your helmet properly fitted. If it’s too big or too small, you’ll face a serious challenge. Knowing the size and shape of your head is the first step to measure your helmet size and shape.  

Here are the steps to measure your helmet size:

  • With the aid of a tape measure, get the size of your head. The tape should be wrapped around head about a half-inch above your eyebrows, above your ears and around the back of your head at the largest point.
  • Take the result of the measurement to the market and compare it with the specific helmet you want to buy. You’ll find varying helmet sizes from which you can find your match and choose. Try the helmet on your head before buying it. 

How should the helmet sit on your head? Ideally, a properly fitted motorcycle helmet is one that sits squarely on the rider’s head with the top of the helmet’s eye port just above their eyebrows. It doesn’t go on easy at first but loosens slightly as it is broken in. Meanwhile, the cheek pads can always be adjusted to make the helmet look better. A helmet should fit snug around your head and face with no pressure points. 

How do I know a helmet is not properly fitted? A helmet is not properly fitted if it moves or lifts. It is also not fitting if your fingers fit easily between your head and the helmet. In that case, you’ll need a smaller size. The truth is that a helmet may be correctly sized but doesn’t fit squarely on the head. The danger if that happens is that the helmet becomes a burden and doesn’t offer the same protection as a correctly sized and fitted helmet.

Conclusion

Did you know that a study showed that in 2015 alone motorcycle helmets prevented an estimated 1,772 lives that would have been lost to motorcycle accidents?  The study also showed that additional 740 lives could have been saved had the riders adhered to the safety rules of simply wearing their helmet. 

Depending on your state of residence, the use of a helmet may not be a requirement by law. But do you have to rely on the requirements of the law before you guide against what could take your life? I do not think so. It is important that you always ride with a helmet regards of whether the state frowns at it or not. It is about your life and safety. 

There is a rule which every rider must embrace; that is, the ‘All The Gear, All The Time’ (ATGATT). Having this mindset has a long way to help you guide against unsafe riding. It will also help you inculcate the principle of ‘safety first’.

Always remember my recommendation: The safety of other road users is your safety. So, always consider them first each time you have to take any action, whether major or minor, on your fast bike. Always wear your safety gear: helmet, gloves, jackets, etc.

I wish you a safe trip each time you get on your saddle. I love your life, but you should love it more. Stay here with me for the next post.

Featured Image Credits