In my 50 years of riding experience and 40 years in the motorcycle helmet industry, one of the questions I often come across is – can I use an off-road, a dirt bike, or an MX helmet for street riding?
Yes! Except for the graphics, the shell and liner of street/road helmets and off-road helmets are made of the same materials. They must meet the same motorcycle helmet safety standards to be eligible for use despite being designed for specific environments. I have thousands of miles of experience using off-road or dirt bike helmets on the street. However, there are certain applications where an off-road helmet is preferable to a street helmet, even when most of the riding is on a paved road.
A dirt bike, or off-road, helmet, when used on a paved road or street, is best suited for low to medium speeds not because the shell and liner have less ability to absorb impacts but due to the lack of a face shield over the eye-port. An off-road helmet has a much larger eye port than a street helmet and is not covered by a face shield. The protection to the face and eyes is from whatever brand of goggles you wear.
Suppose you want the best of both worlds. Consider an adventure touring-style helmet, such as the AGV AX9, which is essentially an off-road helmet with a street-type shield and mechanism.
Instances Where You Can Use an Off-Road Helmet for Street Riding
Kawasaki 250 Bangkok Thailand
The best examples of this are as follows:
- Areas where the roads are in poor condition and where they may have loose debris, such as gravel, on them.
- When you are riding in extreme heat and humidity, especially at slower speeds.
- Riding conditions where goggles are preferable to a face shield.
- Occasions when you may want to ride off the paved road onto a dirt road or even trails.
- You can use an off-road helmet on the street, but it is a bad choice to use a street helmet for off-road riding.
- You may be sweating if you are riding at slower speeds, especially in hot weather. Off-road helmets are a lot easier to clean than street helmets. Most dirt bike helmets have removable liners, so the cleanability factor is much higher than for a road-type helmet.
- The extended chin bar on off-road helmets can make breathing easier and feel less claustrophobic for some riders. This can be an essential consideration when choosing whether to ride with a dirt bike helmet on the street, especially in hot weather.
- Unlike street helmets, off-road helmets have visors or sun peaks. There are certain geographical areas and riding conditions where this can be a big advantage. I have gone on certain rides in southeast Asia, where the setting afternoon sun is blinding and is exceedingly difficult to see unless I’m wearing an off-road helmet with sunglasses as well.
- Off-road helmets tend to be lighter, so that could be a consideration also, depending on the riding conditions.
But Are Motocross Helmets Street Legal?
Yes! For helmets to be legal for use on a public roads in the United States, the manufacturer must certify that they meet the DOT standard. And in my opinion, any decent and modern quality off-road helmet, even an expensive one, will meet the DOT minimum safety requirements. Many also meet the more stringent Snell Memorial Foundation and ECE standards. In the UK, they must meet British standards.
NOTE: I have read on many blogs and websites that off-road helmets must be DOT certified or approved to be legally used on streets and roads. This is not only incorrect for off-road MX helmets but also for any type of helmet. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) does not approve any helmets of any type for any use.
The DOT only creates the rating standard (FMVSS-218). It’s up to the manufacturer to certify that their helmets meet the DOT standard. In fact, the helmet makers create the DOT labels and affix them on the back of the lids, indicating that not only the DOT has certified or approved their helmets but also that the manufacturer themselves has certified that their products meet the DOT standard safety requirements.
The DOT does not certify or approve any motorcycle helmets, but from time to time, they may randomly test motorcycle helmets from the market to make sure that the manufacturer’s self-certification is correct. But there is no mandatory requirement for any specific amount of testing each year or at any time.
Benefits of an Off-Road MX-Style Helmet Over a Road-Street Style Helmet
AGV MX Off-road Helmet on the way to Vietnam
These are the benefits of an off-road MX-style helmet or dirt bike helmet, as many people call them.
- Greater cooling and comfort.
- In many conditions, goggles offer greater eye protection than a standard face shield.
- The ability to wear glasses for eye protection instead of the face shield, which again may offer a better solution in extremely hot humid
- The sun peak can block bright sunlight from the eyes and provide a shaded area for the goggles for maximum visibility.
- Often, an off-road MX-style helmet is lighter in weight than a road or street helmet.
Another advantage of using an off-road helmet for street riding in dense urban traffic is that they usually offer greater peripheral vision than the typical full-face street helmet. When darting through traffic in Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City, the off-road MX-style helmet offers maximum visibility.
Some of the blogs write that off-road helmets are not as safe as street bike helmets because they are not meant for high-speed. This is factually incorrect for several reasons. Motorcycle helmet standards in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia are the same for road and off-road helmets. There is no different SNELL or DOT standard for road and off-road helmets.
Additionally, many street bike riders do not ride at an excessive speed. They are neither riding sports bikes nor road racing to be cruisers Sunday riders. The normal riding speed is below 60 mph. At extremely high speeds, the sun peak or sun visor of a Motocross helmet can be a distraction. But very few riders would fall into this category.
Why Do Dirt Bikers Wear Goggles?
AGV AX8 for Mini Moto Racing
When riding off-road or racing in Enduro or Motocross, the rider is subject to a lot of dust, dirt, and debris being thrown toward the head. A standard face shield, like a street bike helmet, would become covered on the outside with mud and debris and with a layer of dust on the inside, making it impossible to stay without opening it and exposing the eyes directly to incoming objects.
Using an off-road helmet allows you to put on goggles, which have tear-offs or roll-off systems that can keep the lens clear enough for the rider to have good visibility and protect the eyes from any damage or injury.
Although I have genuinely nice full-face AGV street helmets in Vietnam and Thailand, I rarely use them. I have several AGV AX8 model off-road motocross-style helmets. When it is extremely hot, I will wear sunglasses to get maximum cooling. However, goggles provide better eye protection, and I try to wear them when I can, but when the heat gets above 90°, the dirt helmet with sunglasses offers the best solution.
Why Do Off-Road Helmets Have Peaks?
AGV AX8 on the way to Bangkok Thailand
The primary purpose of the peak or visor on an off-road MX-style helmet is to keep the sun out of your eyes. The peak can block direct sunlight to your eyes by creating an area of shade. Bright sunlight shining on a goggle lens that is dirty or scratched can create a big visibility problem.
Secondarily, it can be helpful to protect you from rain and even rocks and debris. When the head is tilted, the peak becomes a temporary shield.
Supermoto racers wear dirt bike MX-style helmets proving that off-road lids not only can be worn for road and street use but also can be the preferred type of helmet to ride with. They offer superior airflow and make breathing easier thanks to their incomparable ventilation. They also offer better peripheral vision and are lighter in weight.
What Is the Difference Between an ATV Helmet and a Motorcycle Helmet?
There is no difference between the two. In fact, a dirt bike helmet and an ATV helmet are the same things. A motorcycle helmet can be an off-road helmet, which is what an ATV helmet is, or a motorcycle helmet can be a street helmet.
Street helmets can be full-face or modular, sometimes called flip-ups, open-face, three-quarter, or half helmets, which are popular with Harley riders. As a matter of fact, there are full-face off-road helmets requiring goggles for eye protection. The same companies make them, have the same shells and liners, and are the same in every way except for graphics.
An off-road helmet can be a fantastic choice for riding on the road if you are in a hot climate and traveling at low to moderate speeds, like in a dense urban or city environment. They’re designed to be used with goggles and allow greater airflow. More airflow into the eye-port equals greater cooling for the rider.
I personally own motorcycles in both Vietnam and Thailand and have a lot of experience riding in temperatures over 90° with extremely high humidity. In these climates, the off-road helmets can be far superior to any full-coverage street/road model.
Typically, an off-road helmet is cooler than a full-face street helmet due to the lack of a face shield and the large eye-opening. With sunglasses, it provides the coolest full-coverage helmet option, but even with goggles, a dirt-style MX helmet can still be cooler than any full-face street helmet.
So, the answer to the question can you use an MX helmet on the road, or can you use a dirt bike helmet for street riding? In most cases, YES! And in many instances, they would be the better choice.
As I mentioned earlier, it is much easier to glance from side to side with an off-road helmet due to the wide peripheral vision that provides a wider spectrum of vision, which is especially useful in high-density traffic.
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative Government, educational, corporate, and nonprofit organizations:
Mandating the use of motorcycle helmets: What are the issues?
Which Helmet for Which Activity?
Michael’s Summary and Conclusion
To answer the question, can I use an off-road, a dirt bike, or an MX helmet for street riding? You must know what type of street riding you will be doing. Often the answers I see on various blogs, websites, and forums are completely inaccurate, misinformed, and seem to be written by people that do not know much about this subject.
I have been riding since I was 14 years old and have almost 50 years of riding experience. I have hundreds of thousands of miles of motorcycle riding experience on-road/street bikes, off-road/Enduro, as well as road racing. I have ridden in the countryside, the suburbs, and the city, as well as deserts, forests, and mountains. I have riding experience in all temperatures, from below-freezing in the winter to 100° in the summer.
I also have more than 40 years of experience in the motorcycle helmet industry. So, between my personal knowledge of riding motorcycles and my professional experience working in the helmet industry, I can say with 100% confidence that much of the advice given about the use of off-road motocross dirt helmets for street Road riding is incorrect.
Any motorcycle helmet, including off-road, a dirt bike, or an MX helmet, which meets the applicable safety standards for the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, or Australia, is safe to use for street bike riding. The significant difference comes in eye protection. And sunglasses in an off-road helmet will offer eye protection but not as well as goggles do.