Thinking of not wearing a motorcycle helmet? Think again! You’re always better off wearing one than not. The truth is all helmets have the same objective — preventing head injuries — but some safeguard you more than others.
We have previously discussed the best motorcycle helmets, but there are more questions worth answering to help you choose the right lid to cover your head for the voyage. In terms of safety and design, how do different styles of motorcycle helmets compare? What features should you look for in order to ride safely? How do you make purchase decisions without jeopardizing your life? Which helmets are safer?
Let’s begin by discussing the main types of motorcycle helmets and the riding conditions for which they excel.
The Main Motorcycle Helmet Styles
There are 6 primary motorcycle helmets categories namely.
- Open-Face (¾)
- Half Helmet, or Half Shell (½)
1. Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
If you want to get from point A to point B safely, this is the best option. The helmet style covers your entire head and face, with the neck getting part of the coverage. A chin bar is included in full-face designs for enhanced protection.
What Coverage Does a Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet Provide?
A full-face helmet provides the most protection for your head and face. As a result, it is regarded as the safest form of a motorcycle helmet for impact protection. Regardless of the sort of motorcycle you ride or where you ride it, a full-face helmet is a versatile option for all riders.
The type of full-face helmet you need depends on the type of riding you undertake. Because of their hunched riding position, sports riders require a helmet that does not lift at high speeds. As a result, they prefer helmets with a smaller chin bar and a visor opening that is tilted slightly towards the top of the helmet.
Distinctive Features Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
The chin bar, which is an essential safety component that open-face and half-shell helmets lack, is a distinctive characteristic of the full-face helmet. During an accident, the chin receives 55% of the severe blows, and only a full-face helmet can protect your chin and jaw.
Most full-face helmets have ventilation built into them to help you stay cool while riding by evaporating sweat, reducing visor fogging, and keeping you cool. The ventilation can be closed to limit airflow during the colder months.
Bluetooth connectivity, high-visibility designs, and visors that adjust to sunlight conditions have all been introduced to full-face helmets in recent years.
Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Extra protection for face and chin area
- More comfortable during the rainy and cold season
- No need for eye protection glasses under the visor
- Quieter rides with less fatigue and nuances
Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet Cons
- Harder to communicate by mouth with pillion or fellow road users
- Can be hot and humid on a hot summer day
- Cannot allow you to drink or smoke with it on
- You must remove your helmet where required cameras are used to identify people
2. Modular (Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmet
The modular, also known as flip-up, helmet type incorporates features from both full-face and ¾ helmets. It wraps all the way around your head and face, much like the full-face helmet. The inbuilt hinge, however, allows you to flip up the visor and chin bar, making it an open-faced helmet.
What Coverage Does a Modular (Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmet Provide?
Modular helmets combine the features of a ¾ helmet and a full-face helmet. The chin bar and visor may both be flipped up to open the front of the helmet. It was created to provide you with the best of both worlds. Many riders appreciate the extra coverage and the ability to swiftly flip up the chin bar if they need to grab a drink or talk with their passenger.
Distinctive Features of Modular (Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmet
The modular and full-face helmet’s materials and fit are similar. They come with a visor for eye protection and, on rare occasions, a separate interior visor for added sun protection.
Due to the additional design hinge features built into the flip-up front region, modular helmets weigh somewhat more than regular full-face helmets.
Because the hinge construction has a little crack rather than being a uniform entity like a full-face helmet, rider safety is marginally diminished. Despite this, the extra chin protection provides better protection than the ¾ or ½ helmet.
Tourers, cruisers, and adventure motorcyclists frequently utilize the modular helmet, which is designed with an upright riding position. The chin bar is lower on the face, and the eye apertures are plain.
The dual visor system and anti-fogging coating on the primary visor are pleasant features, as are the Bluetooth speakers included in some top-of-the-line modular helmets.
Modular (Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Super-versatile convertible open and full-face helmet
- Easy to communicate with others by flipping it up when you stop
- Many have additional amenities like built-in infotainment
Modular (Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmet Cons
- May be slightly heavier than full-face helmets due to construction.
- It may be more expensive for the same build quality as regular helmets
3. Open-Face (¾) Motorcycle Helmet
The open-face helmet, as its name implies, provides little facial protection. The top and sides of the head are covered by the helmet, but the face is exposed.
What Coverage Does an Open-Face (¾) Motorcycle Helmet Provide?
It covers approximately three-quarters of your headbone, hence the nickname. Because open face helmets lack a chin bar, the lower half of your face is exposed. It does, however, prevent severe head injury by covering the sides and back of the head up to the neckline.
Because the facial region is kept open to feel the wind on their skin, they are popular among scooters, cafe racers, tourers, and cruisers. A ¾ helmet is distinguished by the absence of a chin bar, which severely diminishes the motorcycle helmet’s safety.
Distinctive Features of Open-Face (¾) Motorcycle Helmet
In terms of safety in the covered areas, open face helmets are structurally equal to full-face helmets. Due to the lack of a chin bar, the helmet is slightly lighter than a full-face helmet, although the difference isn’t considerable.
Open-Face (¾) Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Tremendous airflow to cool off during hot rides
- You can scratch your face and nose if it’s a habit you have
- Allows coherent conversation with pillion and others on the road at slow speeds
Open-Face (¾) Motorcycle Helmet Cons
- Considered unsafe in a frontal collision as they expose much of the face and chin area
- The odds that you land on top of your head in a crash are slim.
- Can be uncomfortable on cold rides and rainy conditions
- Requires eye protection glasses in spite of the shield
4. Half-Shell (½) Motorcycle Helmet
Half, or half-shell, helmets are a notch below the ¾ design. They don’t provide as much protection because they expose the majority of your face and neck. The helmet normally extends down to the brows and just behind the ears, covering the top and sides of your head. Proceed at your own risk because this is the bare minimum of protection.
What Coverage Does a Half Shell (½) Motorcycle Helmet Provide?
Half helmets provide modest protection by simply covering the top of your head and the area between your brows and forehead. Some may provide a little additional coverage around your neck and ears while leaving the rest of your face uncovered.
Despite providing good airflow, these helmets give much less protection than a full-face or open-face helmet. However, there are still DOT-approved half helmets available.
Distinctive Features of Half Shell(½) Motorcycle Helmet
Because most half-shell helmets lack a visor or face shield, you’ll need to invest in eye protection like riding glasses or goggles.
The helmets include only the most basic technical amenities, such as chin straps, and have no room for Bluetooth speakers, communicators, etc. As a result, the helmet’s upgrade choices are limited.
Half Shell (½) Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Offers maximum airflow and freedom
- Light and less of a nuisance for people who dislike helmets
- Keeps riders barely legal because there are DOT approved ones too
- Can be a fashion statement for cruisers and other styles of riding
- Better than nothing offers some protection
Half Shell (½) Motorcycle Helmet Cons
- Little to no protection in a crash
- Riders will not appear to take their safety seriously
- You will struggle to keep it balanced at higher speeds and with crosswinds.
5. Off-Road (Dirt Bike, Motocross, or MX) Motorcycle Helmet
These are helmets specifically designed for riding off-road for dirt bikers and motocrossers. They’re intended to keep you safe from the elements. On hotter days, off-road helmets have a more prominent chin bar for enhanced airflow and enhanced face clearance in a fall.
What Coverage Does an Off-Road Motorcycle Helmet Provide?
Off-road helmets are made for riding away from the streets and on dirt roads, as the name implies. They aren’t the best choice for city and highway driving, but they are ideal for situations where knobby tires are required.
Because most off-road helmets do not provide eye protection, you should use glasses or goggles. If you’re riding in the dirt or mud, goggles are the best option because they can seal against the rider’s face and keep particles out.
Distinctive Features of an Off-Road Motorcycle Helmet
There aren’t many comfort features, like Bluetooth speakers, because these helmets are made to take a beating. They’re usually made for maximum protection, little weight, and plenty of airflows when riding in the summer.
Fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber are just a few of the composite materials available. These materials are both strong and lightweight, preventing fatigue on your head and neck after a long day of riding.
Off-Road Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Lighter and more rigid build than the average road helmet
- Larger viewing aperture to take in the views with better frontal and vertical perspective
- Superior ventilation to stay cool on long rides
- Often come with room and ports for attaching action cameras and communication modules
Off-Road Motorcycle Helmet Cons
- Bulky compared to road helmets
- Can be a little cold as they don’t fit as snugly as street helmets
- A little more room for air turbulence and wind noise to generate
- Some dirt bike helmets are not street legal
6. Dual-Sport (Crossover, ADV, Hybrid, Enduro) Motorcycle Helmet
For adaptable riders who want to go wherever they choose, the dual-sport design blends feature of the full-face and off-road helmet styles.
What Does a Dual-Sport Motorcycle Helmet Cover?
Off-road helmets and full-face helmets are combined in dual-sport helmets.
Dual-sport helmets have a bigger eye protection visor than full-face helmets, but they can also be snapped up to employ goggles. Because the visor is aerodynamic, it does not lift like an off-road helmet in the wind. Furthermore, there is better soundproofing and less airflow because the chin bar is not as prominent as on an off-road helmet.
Distinctive Features of a Dual-Sport Motorcycle Helmet
With a big visor and lower chin bar, it looks like an off-road helmet from the outside. Like a full-face helmet, dual sports provide more inside cushioning and comfort. These serve as a bridge between each type, indicating that they can be utilized both on and off the road.
When riding in different terrains on the same day, these helmets are an excellent choice. From the street to the trail, pop the visor up for goggles and optimum airflow.
Dual-Sport Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Best of both worlds, comfort, and practicality
- Optimal airflow with controllable vents
- Allow you to alternate on and off-road
- Better cushioning and comfort amenities than off-road only helmets
Dual-Sport Motorcycle Helmet Pros
- Costly as prices run the gamut
- Still not suitable for every type e.g., cannot be used for racing.
Understanding the Importance of Riding in the Right Motorcycle Helmet Type
Now that we have discussed the 6 main types of motorcycle helmets and the riding conditions for which they excel, let’s get some insights on how helmets help, so we can make better-informed choices on the styles and riding safety.
The research is clear; not riding in a helmet can be a matter of life and death.
In 2017 alone, despite a 0.1% decrease in helmet use — from 65.3% in 2016 to 65.2% in 2017 — albeit an increase of 8.3% since 2010, helmets did reduce head injuries by 63.8% and prevented deaths by 36.2% of the 88,717 motorcyclists who were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries on American roads.
That means about 1,872 of the 5,172 riders who died (a 9.7% increase from the previous year) involved were helmetless. An estimated 749 more lives could have been saved if all had their helmets on. Economically, our nation could save an additional $8.9 billion in comprehensive costs and $1.5 billion in economic costs if we all wore helmets.
Motorcyclists Killed and Injured, Known Helmet Use, and Injury-to-Death Ratios (2013-2017)
Motorcycle Helmet Use and Lives Saved (2010-2021)
Motorcycle Helmet Use in the United States (2010–2021)
Source: FARS 2013-2016 Final Files; 2017 Annual Report File (ARF); GES 2013-2015; CRSS 2016-2017.
National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019, 2013, 2010, 2007). Lives were saved in (2017, 2012, 2008, and 2006) by restraint use and minimum-drinking-age laws (Traffic Safety Facts Crash Stats. Report No. DOT HS 812 683, 811 851, 811 153, 810 869). Washington, DC: NHTSA.
Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards and Certifications
Most helmet certifications evaluate the same things, with minor differences in the certification values to meet or surpass for impact forces, energy distribution, and rider head retention.
It’s critical to select a helmet that meets safety regulations while choosing the model that best suits your riding style.
In 18 American states and the District of Columbia, where wearing a motorcycle helmet is mandatory, the law affirms that you need a DOT-compliant helmet to ride legally. As a result, the use of DOT-approved motorcycle helmets in states with universal helmet laws is significantly higher than in states with weak or no helmet regulations (86.1% versus 53.4%).
Motorcycle Helmet Use by State Law and Helmet Type, 2021
Source: National Center for Statistics and Analysis (2022, March). Motorcycle Helmet Use in 2021 – Overall results (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 813 270). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Similar certifications are available in other nations or territories around the world.
- DOT Certification: The Department of Transportation (DOT) determines the federal standard for motorcycle helmets for use on public highways and property. The Department of Transportation has not “approved” helmets. The Department of Transportation requires helmet manufacturers to verify that each model sold in the U.S. meets DOT requirements. The current DOT rating is FMVSS 218 from the federal government.
- ECE Standard: The Economic Commission for Europe set this standard. This international standard is followed by the majority of European countries. The current ECE standard is ECE 22.05.
- SNELL Standard: This criterion was established by the Snell Memorial Foundation in Sacramento, California. Following the death of racing car driver Pete Snell, the Snell Memorial Foundation was established as a private non-profit organization devoted to promoting and strengthening helmet safety. Certification and testing by SNELL are optional. Certain sanctioning organizations need SNELL-certified helmets for competition. The current motorcycle helmet standard is SNELL M2020.
- FIM Criteria: For professional motorcycle racing, this is the most recent motorcycle helmet regulation. The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), which is the world’s regulatory body for professional motorcycle racing, sets the FIM test criteria.
- SHARP Grading System: In 2007, the UK government created SHARP, an abbreviation for Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, a motorcycle helmet rating system. Helmets for the program are acquired from retail dealers to verify that they are the same as those purchased and used by the general public.
What Makes the Safest Motorcycle Helmet?
To keep up with technological breakthroughs, the motorcycle helmet is continually developing. This includes features such as lighter materials to prevent neck strain, more cushioning for added comfort, and Bluetooth speakers to maximize the possibilities of your smartphone.
Although new features are added to motorcycle helmets all the time, the essential architecture of the helmet has stayed the same for decades.
The exterior shell, impact-absorbing liner, cushioned comfort layer, and retention system/chin strap are the four primary components of a motorcycle helmet. Each component of the helmet has a distinct function and helps to keep your head secure.
- Outer Shell: The stiff outer shell is the colorful, outermost section of the helmet that you see from the outside. Kevlar, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, molded plastics, or a mix of those materials are commonly used. Its main purpose is to protect your head in case of a collision or abrasion, as well as to keep outside things like pebbles and insects out.
- Impact Absorbing Liner: The impact-absorbing liner is commonly composed of EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam and is located inside the outer shell. During an impact, the liner’s principal role is to absorb shock and shift energy. The outer shell protects the helmet from foreign things. The inner layer prevents the impact’s energy from reaching your skull. Single-density foam may be used in some layers. A dual-density layer (two layers together) is used in other models to increase energy displacement during an impact.
- Padded Comfort Layer: The cushioned comfort layer is the part of the helmet where your head rests when wearing it. It usually comprises an open-cell foam wrapped in a second textile material, with the goal of wicking away perspiration and keeping you cool while riding. It can be removed for cleaning and is interchangeable to fit different head shapes. Check with your helmet manufacturer to see if other comfort liner forms are available to better fit your head shape.
- Retention System/Chin Strap: The chin strap, also known as the helmet retention system, is attached beneath your chin to maintain the helmet on your head while you ride. It’s constructed of woven fabric and attached with two d-rings to keep it in place. When properly adjusted, the chin strap should barely allow two fingers between the strap and your chin. As it wicks away perspiration and provides comfort when it rests against your skin, the strap is frequently partly covered with a similar textile to the comfort liner.
- Vents: The helmet’s ventilation system is designed to keep the rider’s head cool and let the sweat drain as quickly as possible. Full-face and 34 helmets provide higher ventilation, however, it varies by kind according to the various weather conditions, most vents may be opened and closed. During the warmer months, you may want it entirely open, totally closed for the cooler months, and somewhere in between during the rest of the riding season. Because they are customizable, they are a wonderful choice for each rider’s comfort.
- Face Shield/Visor: The face shield, often known as a visor, is a protective element that keeps bugs, debris, and other foreign objects out of your helmet. They’re normally designed to be removed for cleaning or to be replaced with another shield or visor. They are available in a variety of colors and tints to suit various riding conditions. In low-light situations, use a transparent visor so you can see the road and surroundings.
- Cheek Pads: Inside full-face and ¾ helmets are cheek pads that sit against your cheeks. They may be removed for cleaning and are adjustable to fit various head shapes. They’re a comfort element, like the cushioned comfort liner, that’s meant to shield your face while also keeping the helmet in place on your head.
How to Find Your Motorcycle Helmet Size?
When it comes to getting the finest helmet for you, the fitness of the helmet on your head is crucial. Take a measurement all the way around your head, right above your brows, before you start shopping for a helmet. This can help you determine what size helmet you require, ranging from extra tiny to extra-large. Each brand’s helmet will fit differently, thus a small one brand can fit like a medium in another.
Always try on a helmet before purchasing to ensure proper fit. When trying it on, make sure the chin strap is snug enough that just two fingers can fit between it and your chin. You should not be able to feel any spaces around your skull, and the lid should not be too tight.
Keep the lid on for a few minutes to acquire a feel for it and try to move it about with your hands while doing so. Your cheeks should move when you move the helmet, but the helmet should not rotate or move without your head moving.
Pro Tip: Looking down toward your chest and pushing the back of the helmet upward is how you test the fit of the chin strap. The helmet isn’t the ideal fit for you if you can push it up a lot.
In Summary: The Main Motorcycle Helmet Styles and the Riding Conditions for Which They Excel
We’ve highlighted these six different types of motorcycle lids to consider when buying your first or replacement helmet. When looking for a helmet, consider when you expect to ride (warm months, cold months, etc.), where you plan to ride (on the street or off-road), and what characteristics you want in a helmet.
Full face, modular, ¾, and ½ helmets are more suited to street riding, whilst off-road and dual-sport helmets are more suited to riding in the dirt in the outback with a bit of tolerance for the occasional stretch of asphalt.
We strongly advise that you prefer to wear a helmet that meets or exceeds the testing requirements by the government and third-party organizations like Snell just to be sure it will safeguard you in the unfortunate event of a crash.
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative Government, educational and nonprofit organizations:
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 founded AGV Sports Group in cooperation with AGV Helmets
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