When it comes to choosing a motorcycle helmet, there’s a number of important factors to consider. The type of riding you’ll be doing, where you’ll be doing it, and even the other gear you’re wearing can all have an impact on what type of motorcycle helmet is best for you. With all of these options, choosing a helmet can be confusing. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 10 types of motorcycle helmets differentiated by shape and material, in order to make selecting a helmet easier.
Motorcycle Helmet Types By Shape
Full-face helmets cover, quite obviously, the entire face, including the head, face, and jaw. These helmets are known for their round shape and full-face visor. Due to its full coverage, this type of helmet provides the highest overall safety rating of any helmet choice. Additionally, these helmets include a safety feature lacking in some other types of helmets: the chin bar. Without a chin bar, the likelihood of head trauma or severe injury from a motorcycle crash is much more likely.
A full-face helmet can be the right choice for all riders, irrespective of the type of bike or riding they may be doing. When it comes to safety, there simply isn’t a better choice. But beyond safety concerns, full-face helmets are also chosen by riders who want to limit wind resistance while they ride. Due to their round shape, this type of helmet offers the least wind resistance of any helmet choice.
In addition, a full-face helmet blocks out the most outside noise and thus will offer the quietest ride. For some riders, this noise cancellation may be a blessing, but for others, it limits the visceral experience that riding is all about. It’s up to you to decide.
A number of additional features are available for full-face helmets, from built-in Bluetooth speakers to tinted visors.
The half helmet covers only the top of the head, much like a typical bicycle helmet. While certainly much burlier and DOT approved, compared to a bicycle helmet, the area of coverage is about the same. Think of the stereotypical biker in your head. They’re probably wearing a half helmet. At one time the standard for motorcycle helmets, the half helmet is becoming less and less common, especially among new riders, as many riders switch to full-face or other safer helmet styles.
Still, these helmets have stuck around for a reason, and that is the sheer joy of feeling the wind rushing at you as you cruise along. Half helmets provide the most airflow of any style, no questions asked. One other important thing to note is that these helmets do not include any sort of visor or eye protection, so you will need to purchase riding glasses or goggles separately.
The open-face helmet, which is sometimes referred to as a ¾ helmet, can be thought of as the halfway point between the high safety profile of a full-face helmet and the ventilation of a half-helmet. This type of helmet provides coverage for the top, back, and sides of your head. The main difference between a full-face helmet and an open-face helmet is that the open-face helmet lacks a chin bar.
While open-face helmets typically come with a face shield, the lack of a chin bar leaves the face exposed to injury from crash or debris that may fly up off the road. Another important thing to note is that not all open-face helmets come with visors or face shields. For those that do, there is an additional choice between a full-face shield or a goggle type shield. For the rider who wants a helmet with a balance between safety and raw experience, the open-face helmet can be a perfect choice.
Modular helmets, sometimes referred to as flip-up helmets, further bridge the gap between the full-face helmet and the half helmet. If the open face helmet is halfway between the full-face and the half helmet, modular helmets are halfway between an open face helmet and a full-face helmet.
These helmets get their name from the design of the chin bar and visor, which can shift or flip-up from a normal riding position to above the head via hinges on the side of the helmet. When worn down, the helmet looks much like a normal full-face helmet.
The hinge feature is what causes this helmet to have a lower safety profile than a full-face helmet, but it ranks higher in this than both the open-face and half helmet. These helmets are typically designed to be worn with the chin bar and visor down while riding.
Off-road helmets are designed to be worn by dirt bike or other off-road vehicle riders. This helmet design looks markedly different than the typical street bike style, with a jutting chin bar and extended visor. These helmets are designed for maximum ventilation, but their shape also increases wind resistance.
Additionally, these helmets typically do not come with eye protection, so goggles or riding glass must be purchased separately. Due to the nature of off-road riding, most riders will choose goggles to protect their eyes from the dirt, mud, or sand they may be riding through.
Because off-road riding can often be a full-day activity through a variety of terrain, these helmets are designed to have minimal weight and be able to be worn comfortably all day long.
Dual-sport helmets are another type of helmet that seeks to find a balance between styles. This type of helmet is a cross-over between a full-face helmet and an off-road helmet. The design looks much like a typical off-road helmet, with a large visor and extended chin bar. However, the chin bar is often shorter than on an actual off-road helmet. Additionally, these helmets typically have a significant amount of interior padding, bringing them closer to the comfort of a full-face helmet.
These helmets offer a full-face shield, albeit one that can be flipped up and securely fastened to the top of the helmet. With some of the features of both full face and off-road helmets, this type is a perfect choice for a day of riding that may involve various conditions, from street to trail riding.
Motorcycle Helmets By Material
Beyond shape, there are a number of materials that can contribute to a motorcycle helmet’s weight, comfort, and safety profile.
Polycarbonate, or thermoplastic helmets, are formed by pouring hot plastic into a mold and allowing it to cool. Polycarbonates are very strong plastics, and they are also the kind used to make lenses. While still meeting national safety standards, polycarbonate helmets may not be as strong as other types of helmet material, and as such require more internal padding in order to be considered safe for riding.
Due to the nature of the material and the extra padding required, these helmets are typically heavier than helmets made with other materials. However, these helmets are often the cheapest helmet available. All motorcycle helmets, no matter the material, must meet minimum safety standards to be approved for sale, and as such a polycarbonate helmet can still be a safe choice.
Many other helmets are made out of a blend, or composite, of multiple materials. Material blends are usually selected to maximize strength and protection while minimizing weight.
Fiberglass helmets are harder and lighter than polycarbonate helmets. These helmets are formed through many layers of woven resin. Fiberglass helmets are brittle and can be known to crack even when dropped from the hands. While this may seem counterintuitive, their brittleness actually increases their safety, as the helmet’s breaking will absorb more of the impact of a crash.
Two of the most common materials used together in composite blends are carbon fiber and kevlar. Carbon fiber is an extremely light material used to make planes and car components, bicycles, and yes, helmets. Kevlar, while heavier than carbon fiber, is still a light material. Additionally, kevlar is an extremely strong material, used to make bullet-proof vests.
Together, these materials make a helmet that is stronger and lighter than any other material. For the highest safety rating at the lowest possible weight, there isn’t a better choice than a carbon/kevlar composite helmet.
As you can see, there are a lot of options to choose from when deciding which is the right kind of motorcycle helmet for you. Now that you’ve read this guide, your decision is sure to be easier. Whether it’s overall safety, weight, ventilation, or cost, there is a helmet for you. As always, make sure that your helmet is DOT, or Department of Transportation, approved before purchase.
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