A beginner’s guide to motorcycle helmets and how to buy the right one for yourself12 min read

The modern motorcycle helmet is the single most important piece of safety equipment for a bike rider, be it in terms of fit and finish, size or quality. Whenever you think of helmets and bike riding, you should keep this in mind:

A helmet is an investment, not an expense.

What are helmets made of?

A helmet consists of the following components:

Parts of a motorcycle helmet (Courtesy: Shoei Helmets)
  • Outer shell (the shell on the outside with the brand’s logo)
    The rigid, outer shell usually consists of Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic or high impact ABS, polycarbonate, Kevlar, carbon fiber or a combination of those materials, its primary function is to protect your head in the event of impact or abrasion and prevent penetration from outside objects, such as rocks, etc. The shell materials are chosen specifically for their destruction properties – they should be able to break up slowly, and not catastrophically under impact or abrasion.
  • Impact-absorbing liner (on the inside)
    Inside the outer shell is the impact-absorbing liner, usually made of expanded polystyrene (EPS). This is a dense layer which has the all-important function of cushioning and absorbing the shock as the bike comes to a sudden stop due to impact (reduces the forces experienced by the rider).
  • Comfort padding (on the inside)
    This is the soft layer (made of foam and cloth). It helps in keeping you comfortable and the helmet fitting snugly. It absorbs moisture fast and spreads the wetness over a large area for quick evaporation. Some higher end helmets allow the rider to remove the padding for cleaning/washing purposes.
  • Retention system (chinstrap or buckle)
    The retention system keeps the helmet on your head in a crash. It can be safe to say that every time you put the helmet on without the strap fastened, it is as good as not wearing one. Most helmet straps/buckles, can withhold tensile load of up to 400 kg! So, always fasten the strap.

Image courtesy: Shoei Helmets

The above four components work together to provide you the protection you need, protecting your head against severe injury.

Types of motorcycle helmets

  • Full Face Helmet
    A full-face helmet gives the maximum protection since it almost completely covers your head as well as front of the face including the chin – this is a key safety feature that many helmets lack. These are quieter and offer very good protection from the elements. Thus, such type of a helmet is beneficial for protecting direct blows to the jaw area. Many full face helmets have ventilation to evaporate sweat, reduce visor fogging, and keep the rider cool while riding.
  • Half Face Helmet
    A half-helmet is like a cap but of thicker material, it protects less of your head. Such helmets cover only the top of your head and leave the rest of your face exposed, thus providing minimal protection. This type of helmet, offers good airflow but significantly less protection than any other type of helmet.
  • Open Face Helmet (Three Quarter Helmet)
    An open face helmet covers the top, back and sides of your head but leaves your face exposed. The lack of a chin bar, significantly reduces the safety of this type of helmet, leaving your face exposed.
  • Modular Helmet (Flip-up Helmet)
    For riders who desire the protection of a Full Face Helmet but like the openness of a Half Face or a Three Quarter helmet, can go for the Modular Helmet. The distinguishing feature of this helmet is that the chin bar (including the visor) can flip upwards to open up the front portion of the helmet. This type of a helmet is slightly heavier than a Full Face helmet.
  • Off-road Helmet (Motocross or MX Helmet)
    Off-road or Motocross helmets are designed for riders who frequently go for off-roading activities. These helmets have a different design compared to Full Face or Three Quarter ones. Equipped with a large visor and an elongated chin bar, these helmets are designed to allow more airflow and usage of riding goggles. Off-road riding is more strenuous than riding on city roads or highways. A rider needs more airflow in such situations.
  • Dual Sport Helmet (Hybrid or Enduro Helmet)
    Dual Sport helmets are a mix between Off-road and Full Face helmets and are designed for dual usage (on road as well as off road). It has a shorter chin bar and a larger visor than a full face one.

Certifications for motorcycle helmets

All helmets for on-road use must meet certain standards. Helmet dealers and distributors must ensure that all the helmets they sell are of good quality.

Helmet safety standard followed in India
BIS and ISI Mark: All Indian helmets must conform to the standards of the,Bureau of Indian Standards. The law requires that all protective helmets for motorcycle riders should meet or exceed the minimum performance requirements specified in the corresponding Indian Standard (IS 4151 in the case of protective helmets). These requirements include minimum impact and penetration capabilities; chinstrap retention qualities and a prescribed minimum field of view. The manufacturers place the ISI mark on the back of each helmet to certify that their helmets meet all the specifications of IS 4151.

Helmet safety standards followed in other countries
USA – DOT (Department of Transportation)
European Union – ECE 22.05 (ECE – Economic Commission for Europe)
Japan – SG or JIS
Canada – CSA CAN3-D230-M85
Singapore – PSB
As you can see, each country has a different standard for certifying motorcycle helmets.

Apart from the above, here are some of the motorcycle helmet safety standards issued by independent or private organizations:
Snell – USA
ACU (Auto-Cycle Union) Gold, BSI (British Standards Institution) and SHARP (Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme) – UK

You should definitely check them out to gain a better understanding of helmet safety and the various procedures used for testing helmets.

Tests for motorcycle helmets

Each helmet manufacturer has rigid procedures for testing their helmets. Before buying a helmet, you must ensure that it is a certified one.
As per Snell’s website
Helmet testing does not seek to precisely reproduce real life situations, it attempts to define a set of requirements that is analogous to the types of situations that might be encountered while engaged in a prescribed activity.
Helmet tests are designed to be repeatable, measurable and include a fixed range of situations a helmet might reasonably encounter. It is strictly a measurement of how a helmet reacts during an event to protect the wearer’s brain.

The major tests conducted on a motorcycle helmet include the following:
1) Impact test – The Impact test is used for testing the shock-absorbing capacity of the helmet. In this test, the helmet is dropped in a guided fall onto various steel surfaces. These surfaces simulate different kinds of impacts. If the maximum force experienced by the helmet exceeds a prescribed standard, the helmet is rejected.

2) Shell Penetration test – This test is to gauge a helmet’s ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object. A sharp object is dropped from a prescribed height in a guided fall onto the helmet. It must not penetrate the helmet.

3) Strap retention test (Dynamic retention test) – The dynamic retention test is used to gauge the chinstrap’s ability to stay fastened without stretching or breaking. The chinstrap of the helmet is placed under load in tension. It is tested under using various weights for different time periods. It should not break or the stretch should not exceed a certain limit.

4) Rigidity Test – In this test, the helmet is placed between two parallel plates and a load is applied to the helmet. The load is then progressively increased. The helmet should be able to withstand this load.

5) Visor/Faceshield Penetration test – This test is only applicable to a Full Face Helmet. The visor is tested with a pellet or pointed object being dropped directly onto it, from a specified height. The visor should not break upon impact.

Therefore, if someone tries to sell you one without the ISI mark, don’t even consider it. Whatever be your helmet choice, make sure it has proper certification.
If you can get an ECE certified helmet, you should definitely go for it – it is a really good standard for safety. Some helmets are both ECE and DOT certified, and some even exceed those standards. The good news is that helmets are getting better every year.

Don’t buy spurious and fake roadside helmets; it may cost you dearly in the long run.
Get the best helmet for your budget!

Functions of a motorcycle helmet

Okay, enough about helmets and their construction. But, why wear it in the first place? How does it help me and why should I get one?
A motorcycle rider’s greatest risk is striking something stationary at high speeds – when this happens, your head decelerates rapidly, resulting in extremely high forces and thus, injury.

  • Rounded Shape: All helmets are rounded/oval, without any edges, because round shapes absorb impact and distribute it evenly, much better than other shapes. Helmets don’t have edges which may compound the rider’s injuries, in the event of a crash. Moreover, round/convex shapes have the least amount of drag (air resistance) – this is important for open vehicles like motorcycles, bicycles and scooters.
  • Abrasion and impact protection: As discussed earlier, the shell materials (polycarbonates, fibreglass, etc.) are chosen so that they can break up slowly rather than catastrophically under impact or abrasion. Both the outer shell and the dense, impact-absorbing liner (usually made of polystyrene) are designed to compress, if hit hard, spreading the forces of impact throughout the helmet material. The more impact-energy deflected or absorbed, the less of it reaches your head/brain.
  • Sliding on road surfaces: The outer shell allows sliding on road surfaces – being rigid and having a convex shape allows the helmet to slide along a road surface.
    A helmet lessens the impact (g force) on your head by extending the time of impact, destroying itself in the process. This crucial increase in time increases your chances of survival and reduces severe injury.
    A helmet is pretty effective at what it does. You should get one, now!

How to buy the right helmet for yourself

Choosing the right helmet can be a daunting affair, specially when so many choices are available in the market. If you have questions like “how do I choose the right helmet for me?” or “where to get good quality helmets”, then this is the right place for you. Getting the right fit is crucial to the effectiveness of the helmet.
Here are some basic tips on how to choose your helmet:

How to measure your helmet size

If your head size falls between the numbers listed, try the smaller size first and give it time to conform to your head. If it still feels tight or uncomfortable after some time, then go for the next size. Most helmets are marked and sold as S, M, L, XL or in some cases XXL. Helmet sizes vary among manufacturers and model types, so you need to check for the best fit.

Helmet size guide: how to get the right fit

Steelbird, Vega and Studds are some of the reputed helmet manufacturers in India. A helmet is an important investment. Be sure that the one you choose is right for you.

Here are a few of the safest, top-rated helmets (updated every month) which we have chosen for you. You can directly buy them from these links:

STEELBIRD

2000+ ratings, 4.2 stars
Type: Full Face
– Removable inner lining
– Good ventilation
– Quick release visor

130+ ratings, 4.2 stars
Type: Full Face
– Good ventilation
– Big, quick release visor
– Big visor

280+ ratings, 4 stars
Type: Full Face
– Equipped with hands-free device
– Good ventilation
– Quick release visor

VEGA

950+ ratings, 4.2 stars
Type: Off road
– Removable inner lining
– Quick release buckle
– Good ventilation
– Dual visor

90+ ratings, 4.2 stars
Type: Full Face
– Removable inner lining
– Quick release buckle
– Good ventilation
– Dual visor

150 ratings, 4 stars
Type: Flip-up
– Removable inner lining
– Quick release silent buckle
– Good ventilation

STUDDS

180+ ratings, 4 stars
Type: Full Face
– Dual visor
– Removable inner lining
– Quick release strap
– Good ventilation
– Quick release visor

40 ratings, 4.5 stars
Type: Full Face
– Quick release visor
– Removable inner lining
– Quick release strap
– Good ventilation

120+ ratings, 4 stars
Type: Flip-up
– Quick release visor
– Quick release strap

Other considerations about helmets

If you are clear about the safety aspects of a helmet, you may want to look at other aspects such as looks, aerodynamics, comfort and the like.
Aerodynamics – Is my helmet aerodynamic enough? (This is an important consideration for superbike riders, lighter and non-aerodynamic helmets tend to lift up due to high wind speeds)
Weight – Is it too heavy, or too light to wear?
Looks – Does it look good? (Looks are subjective)
Comfort – Is it reasonably comfortable to wear?
Vents and exits – Does it have enough vents for good airflow?

Additional features of motorcycle helmets:
Bluetooth speakers – Some helmets come equipped with Bluetooth speakers for calling and listening to music (Buy from here – https://amzn.to/2nqN0sT)
Double visor – A darker one for the afternoon, a clear one for the morning and evening (some helmets have double visors) (Buy from here – https://amzn.to/2nrjzXF and https://amzn.to/2nrpGLB)
Removable inner padding – for washing the padding (Buy from here – https://amzn.to/2noA2vK)
Anti-Fog Shield/Visor – Face shields that have an anti-fog coating can be useful during dense fog in cold weather riding. Shield cleaning products are also available that can be useful in preventing fogging.
Reflective graphics – Some helmets have reflective graphics on the outer shell for enhanced visibility during night riding.

Read more about the riding gear available for bike riders.
If you have more questions, please let us know in the comments section below.

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Onemoto is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.in. Onemoto is not affiliated with any helmet manufacturer and all product selection is unbiased. All attempts have been made to select relevant and top-rated products for Onemoto customers.

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