Are Expensive Motorcycle Helmets Safer? Which 7 Critically Important Factors for Your Safety

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Motorcycle helmets come in a wide range of pricing. You’re looking at some of these price tags and thinking, “why does a bike helmet cost so much?” and “are expensive motorcycle helmets safer?” Whether you’ve just bought a bike and want to get a helmet or your old one is showing signs of wear and tear – you need to know whether investing in an expensive motorcycle helmet is worth it or not. This article will explore what makes a helmet safe and whether expensive ones are safer or not.

Expensive motorcycle helmets are safer overall but not necessarily by a huge margin. All helmets must conform to the US Department of Transportation motorcycle helmet safety standard S-218. This is the minimum standard for any motorcycle helmet to be sold on the US market and provides considerable safety to the rider.

The Department of Transportation does not actually certify and approve helmets themselves but requires helmet manufacturers to self-certify that they meet the DOT S-218 standard. However, expensive helmets may have better overall construction and quality control, high tech materials, offer better sizing, vents, cushioning, and other features that can make them safer.

When you’re investing in a helmet – you are investing in your safety. An inexpensive helmet should provide ample security in most circumstances and should comply with standard safety regulations. However, a more expensive helmet model will have added features that may offer more protection and comfort. Read on to learn more about this!

What Makes an Expensive Motorcycle Helmet Safer?

Black, red, white, green new K-6 helmet with Honda race bike in the backgroun

If all helmets are supposed to pass the minimal safety standards, then what is that extra factor that you will be paying for when it comes to an expensive helmet? The extra money should make sense based on the added security and customization that you get with these expensive helmet lines.

Let’s explore the extra features you get with an expensive helmet over a lower priced one in detail:

Quality Control

The level of quality control that any particular motorcycle helmet model has is difficult for the customer to know. Practically speaking, only people at the helmet manufacturer involved in the production as well as the various testing labs that are certifying these models for various standards know what quality control is. This is one aspect where brand recognition has some real-world significance and is not just about superficial things like image and trends.

Motorcycle helmet manufacturers like AGV, Arai, and Shoei have spent decades building their reputation for producing high quality motorcycle helmets that meet many international safety standards. A newer company may have a high-quality control system, but it’s difficult for consumers to know that and this is one area were purchasing a known brand with a proven record of accomplishment may be a safer bet.

Sizing and Fit

Black carbon Pista helmet, has orange stripe on

Companies that produce cheap bike helmets often only offer one shelf size helmets. These are cost-effective to produce and easier to stock for retailers. This means that all the sizing needs to be done with the liner and comfort patting as the shelf size is the same for a double extra-large helmet as it is for an extra small helmet which is not ideal.

Helmets that only come in one shelf size are unlikely to fit well in the larger sizes and in the smaller sizes. The shell is too large in proportion to the rider’s head. Only in the middle sizes. Is there a correct balance of shell liner and patting to the rider? The result? You get an oversized-looking helmet on your head, or your head doesn’t even fit into it.

Expensive helmets often come in multiple shell sizes. The size range usually runs from extra small or even double extra small to double extra-large or even triple extra-large. When a helmet fits properly and is the right overall size for your head, then it is more comfortable and is likely not to weigh as much. Some of the more high-end motorcycle helmet companies overlap there sizing a bit between their small shell size and their large shell size.

For example, AGV has extra small, small, and medium size in their small shell while having a medium- large, large, extra-large in their large shell. So, there are two mediums to pick from the small medium is 57 cm and the large medium is 58 cm, so internally an exceedingly small difference, but the external shell is where the significant difference is.

Fit is one of the most important safety factors in a motorcycle helmet and is often overlooked. Fit is much more comfort and can be the difference between life and death. Many motorcyclists wear helmets that do not fit properly and do not fasten the retention system properly. One of the most common causes of severe injury or totality for motorcyclists wearing a helmet is in an accident where the helmet comes off the head. This happens far too often and, in most cases, could have been easily preventable by wearing a properly fitting helmet and securing the retention system securely.

For more information on how sizing affects safety see our article on this subject: How to Properly Fit a Motorcycle Helmet for Safety and Comfort? 

Weight

The weight on the head seems heavier than on other parts of the body. Helmets are usually constructed of a hard outer shell made in a composite material like fiberglass or an injected thermoplastic like poly carbonate or ABS. Then the internal shock absorbing liner is made from expanded polystyrene (EPS), a very lightweight material. Next is the comfort patting which is made from various fabrics and soft foam material. The more expensive helmet lines focus on reducing the weight of the heaviest components like the shell, rubber and plastic trim, and any metal hardware components. In more expensive helmets much attention is given to reducing weight while still ensuring safety.

Ventilation

Most expensive helmets have better ventilation systems than cheaper ones. They have holes designed to let air flow in freely and keep your head as cool as possible while riding your motorcycle. Keep in mind that increased vents will mean increased air noise. So, you may need to close the air vents at certain times to reduce air noise based on your preference.

Design

Valentino Rossi replica AX8 helmet

Safety design and aerodynamics considerations mean spending more time developing a helmet that proves to be comfortable and produces a minimum amount of drag. Expensive helmets are designed to absorb the maximum amount of energy in a crash while being comfortable and weighing as little as possible. Aerodynamics are also important, as this puts less stress on the head and neck.

More money and time are invested in ensuring they are designed to have the least stress on your head and neck while riding a bike or a motorcycle. High-end helmet manufacturers like AGV, Arai, Bell, Shoei, and Suomy produce motorcycle helmets that are both aerodynamic and fashionably designed.

Impact Protection

Black carbon AX9 helmet-Are Expensive Motorcycle Helmets Safer

Motorcycle, Motorbike, and bike accidents tend to be the most fatal when there is direct impact to the head. Twisting forces put extra pressure on the skull and increase the risk of concussive injuries or other injuries to the brain or spinal cord.

There are several systems developed to reduce the risk of such injuries like the MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System). This system includes a thin slip layer between the helmet’s body and the wearer’s head.

This system reduces the impact of the twisting forces and saves the rider’s head from serious injuries. Expensive helmets employ such systems to add an extra layer of protection. These are required for people riding bikes at high speeds or biking professionals participating in races.

See our article on the MIPS technology click here: MIPS Motorcycle Helmet Technology: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters

Durability and Construction

Although all motorcycle helmets are created with basically the same few types of materials, the way they are created can be much different. Expensive helmets are often created using an outer shell manufactured of a composite material, or a combination of these materials. Various composite materials used in motorcycle helmets are fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, and Dyneema. Inexpensive motorcycle helmets often have thermoplastic shells that are made by injection molding machines and can be produced in greater volume as the machines can run by themselves and are not labor-intensive.  

Such helmets also pass the test of time as they can survive more than one collision due to being sturdier and more lightweight than the traditional certified ones that come at lower prices.

Are Expensive Motorcycle Helmets Safer? Expensive Helmets Vs Cheap Helmets – Summary

Black carbon Pista helmet, has orange stripe on

Let’s look at a summary of all the differences between an expensive and a cheap helmet:

Feature: Expensive Helmet Cheap Helmet
Size: Ranging from XXS to XXL in multiple shell sizes Ranging from XXS to XXL usually only in one shell size
Padding quality: anti -microbial, anti-odor and long lasting, more plush, more resilient for greater comfort Not long lasting and deteriorates faster. Usually thinner and not as comfortable
Added safety: May have MIPS technology No added safety, basic foam shell and outer plastic areas
General Safety: More suitable for multiple impacts. These helmets will be certified to additional safety standards more stringent than the DOT requirements May be damaged on single collision. Often it is only self-certified by the manufacturer to the minimum DOT safety standard.
Visor: Higher-quality face shield and mechanism that is more likely to stay on the helmet in the event of a crash and impact. A less expensive face shield and mechanism could be more likely to come off of the helmet. In the event of a crash and impact

Frequently Asked Questions

1.   Are Full Face Helmets Safer?

Full face helmets lower the risk of injury by two-thirds and provide more holistic protection to all parts of the head and the face as compared to other options. They reduce the possibility of direct impact to the facial area considering a collision.

Click here to see our articles on the safety of full-face helmets

2.   Do Half Helmets Provide Enough Protection?

Half helmets are designed to cover a certain area of the head only. These types of helmets are known as brain-buckets, and they do not provide any protection to the chin, neck, and ear area. They also do not include any lid or face shield to protect the rider from incoming air or dust in the eyes. They are certainly lighter than other types but offer minimal protection overall.

Click here to find out: Is A Half Helmet Better Than No Helmet?

3.   How Often Should a Helmet Be Replaced?

Most motorcycle helmet manufacturers and safety organizations like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Snell Memorial Foundation recommend that your helmet should be replaced every five to ten years to ensure maximum protection during a collision.

Over time, the padding and protective areas of a helmet tend to deteriorate and pose the risk of greater injury during impact. Check out our article above to see what additional safety features an expensive helmet can offer and how they can last you longer than cheaper alternatives on the market.

There are a lot of several factors that can affect helmet longevity and we have authored a full article about that here: The Best Answer For How Long Do Motorcycle Helmets Last?

Final Thoughts:

All helmets are considered safe because they have to meet minimum safety standard regulations to be on the market. However, expensive helmets have certain features that come with paying extra money. At the end of the day, you are paying money to keep your head safe from serious injury.  We hope that the differences listed above help you make an informed decision when spending money on your next helmet.

MICHAEL’S SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

Are expensive motorcycle helmets safer? Based on my own personal experience of decades of working within the motorcycle industry as well as being a motorcyclist myself said is the single most critical factor in safety. Proper fit and retention as well as the history and reputation of the manufacturer are the most important considerations for any rider choosing a motorcycle safety helmet. If you do a Google search on the safety of motorcycle helmets whether it’s expensive versus inexpensive or comparing the different standards, you will be overwhelmed with information much of it conflicting.

The experts can’t even agree on the performance criteria for the safest motorcycle helmet standard. If you choose a reputable brand that has been in business for years and the helmet is properly fitted, and you secure the retention strap securely then you have done 90% of all you can do to achieve maximum safety from wearing your helmet. There are very safe, inexpensive helmets and there are new helmet companies that are producing safe helmets, but as a consumer, it’s difficult for you to sort all of this out. So, my advice is to go with what is known, tried and true.

 

Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative Government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations:

https://www.nhtsa.gov/motorcycle-safety/choose-right-motorcycle-helmet

https://smf.org/

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2015/05/21/2015-11756/federal-motor-vehicle-safety-standards-motorcycle-helmets

 

About the Author:

Michael Parrotte started his career in the motorcycle industry by importing AGV Helmets into the North American market. He was then appointed the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, total he worked with AGV Helmets for 25 years. In addition, he functioned as a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, and Sparx Helmets.

In 1985, He is the Founder AGV Sports Group, Inc in cooperation with AGV Helmets Italy

Click here for LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/parrotte/

Click here for complete AGV Helmet & AGVSPORT History https://agvsport.com/michael-parrotte

Click here for all AGV Sports Group Social Media information http://agvsport.info/

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