Helmets and visors

There are hundreds of crash helmets on the market. This can make it difficult to decide which to one is best for you to buy. No matter how tight your budget is, you should always buy a new crash helmet.

Helmet cut away showing the layers and materials used in a helmet

A safety helmet works in a similar way to a crumple zone on a car. It’s designed to absorb the impact by crushing or compressing. As such a helmet can only work once. Modern helmets have tough outer skins typically made from either fibre glass or polycarbonate, which makes it very difficult to determine internal damage. A shiny outer skin is no guarantee that the impact absorbing polystyrene lining is still effective. Therefore don’t risk it, if in any doubt get a new helmet.

Helmet Standards

All road legal motorcycle helmets sold in the UK must conform to ECE 22-05 or the older British Standard 6658 (categorised as Type A (blue label) or Type B (green label). These stickers are normally located on the back of the helmet and will also include a batch identity number. ECE 22-05 helmets are tested by BSI, and have the BSI Kitemark on the label. If it doesn’t have a sticker or kitemark, don’t buy it, it may be an import and will not be legal on British roads.

The BSI 6658 and ECE 22-05 standards are among the toughest tests for motorcycle helmets in the world. They are generally accepted to be better than the American DOT and older European CE standards, although they are broadly equivalent to the SNELL M2000 standard. These standards don’t just test new helmet designs, but mandate testing of a percentage of all batches manufactured (typically around 1%) with ongoing continuous inspection and recertification. All this helps to reduce the risk to you in the event of an accident.

Your helmet may also have an Auto-Cycling Union (ACU) gold or silver badge. The ACU is the governing body of motorcycle sport throughout the British Isles, excluding Ireland. ACU accreditation is different from the BSI standards, however they typically match the standard, with ACU gold going to most BS6658 Type A helmets and Silver to Type Bs. The price of a type B will range from between about £40 to £100, while a Type A will start at around £70 to over £400. Always try to go for a type A/gold if you can afford it, as it will give better protection and should last longer. You will also be allowed to use it on a track day if you wish.

While it is not a legal requirement to have a visor, if one is fitted it must comply with the BS 4110 ZA or YA test standards. These standards define impact and scratch resistance as well as tint. Blacked out visors are not road legal as is any visor not marked with the BS stamp.

Crash Helmet Styles

In the UK you will typically have a choice of:


Full Face – Having an integral chin guard and visor that closes onto the chin bar

Open Face – Having only a visor or open face without a chin guard.

Flip – Having a chin bar that can be released, such as those used by the police.

If you have ridden in other countries you may have seen half face or skull cap helmets, but these will not pass the UK safety standards.

In the UK the Government has a safety scheme called SHARP

(Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme). This scheme helps riders choose a helmet based on its safety rating.

It is generally accepted that a full face helmet will offer the most protection as it will protect your nose, jaw, teeth etc. in the event of an accident. There are people who claim their chin bar and visor showed signs of melting during a face down slide, you probably wouldn’t walk away from a similar accident wearing an open face helmet. Also don’t confuse an open face helmet with a pop on chin guard as a full face helmet. Normally found on motocross helmets, these are there to stop mud & spray and will offer little protection (likely to pop off) in an accident.

A combination helmet, offers the best of both, but costs quite a bit more. It can also be hard to ride with the face up, as it acts like a parachute. In any case they are popular with instructors and police, as they don’t need to remove their helmet to give instructions. Although combination helmets are subjected to the same tests as any legal helmet, some are classed as open face helmets and as such not subject to the same tests as a full face helmet. This is also true for some full face like helmets like those made by Roof. It’s worth checking with your dealer, what classification the helmet has.

Typically these helmets will not carry the ACU gold sticker. In addition combination helmets can also weigh up to 40% more than the equivalently priced full-face helmet. Apart from adding to your fatigue on long journeys, this extra weight could increase the risk of neck injuries in an accident. For example the additional force applied to the neck in rapid deceleration (head on impact to the upper body) could easily be 20kg given a 60mph impact speed. Other benefits of full face or combination helmets, is that they will normally come with a visor which helps stop flies and grit going in your eyes.

Open face Helmets – The main limit of an open face is its inability to stop the lid from rolling back or forward during a slide. Any chin bar that stays in tact acts as an anchor during a slide keeping it in contact with the ground and not you. In the event that you slide face down and feet first, it is likely that the open face helmet will roll to the back of your head leaving your head and face in direct contact with the ground. This may result in some horrific injuries, which could have been avoidable.

Fitting & Comfort of your crash helmet

Helmet size and fit can vary with manufacturers, but here is a size guide:
XXS = 52 cm, XS = 53/54 cm, S = 55/56 cm, M = 57/58 cm,
L = 59/60 cm, XL = 61/62 cm, XXL = 63/64 cm.

As individuals we all have slightly different shaped heads, Obviously its important to choose a helmet that fits properly and is comfortable, so you should ensure you try on different sizes and makes. You will find that a 58cm (medium) in one model is not exactly the same as another. When checking comfort and fit you should check you have no uncomfortable pressure points (particularly on your forehead and ears) as these will only get worse during a ride. Make sure you keep your helmet on for at least a few minutes as this will enable you to decide if it is a good fit or not. Your helmet will soften and mould to your head slightly, so avoid lending it to someone with a bigger head, as it may not fit you properly when you get it back.

Fitting Guide

It is recommend that you invest time trying on as many helmets as possible. Once you’ve found those that fit you best, you can then choose the helmet with the highest SHARP rating for the best possible protection.

Every head shape is different, so we’ve pulled together some tips to help you choose the right fit.

1. Get measured

Your safety is too important to simply guess your size. Before trying on any helmets you need to make sure you know your exact head size. Measure around your head just above the ears and take a measurement at the forehead. This measurement is a good starting point and will correspond with a particular brand’s size (always bear in mind a medium in one brand may be different to medium in another). Getting the right fit is paramount, so don’t be tempted to go for another size if your dream helmet is out of stock.

2. Try it on

Ok, so you’ve chosen a helmet to try. Now place it firmly on your head, securing the chin strap so you can fit two fingers between the helmet and your jaw. If the helmet has a quick release buckle then take your time adjusting the strap. Once on, you should be able to feel the helmet against the whole of your head – without feeling ‘pressure points’ or the helmet leaving red marks. Once you’re happy, keep it on for a few minutes to make sure it’s comfortable.

3. Check the fit

Secure the strap and try rotating the helmet from side-to-side. If you’re wearing a full face helmet your cheeks should follow the helmet’s movement, while remaining in contact with the cheek pads firmly and comfortably. If the helmet moves or slips on your head it’s probably the wrong size. Next, try tilting the helmet forwards and backwards. Again, if it moves or slips it’s probably the wrong size.

4. Will it stay on?

You want to know the helmet you buy will stay firmly on your head in a crash. Make sure the chinstrap is done up and tilt your head forward. Ask someone to try and roll the helmet off your head by carefully pushing up from the rear of the helmet at its base. If you can roll it off in the showroom, then it’s sure to come off in a crash.

You should not be able to pull the helmet off, or twist it too far round, when the strap is fastened. Most helmets have a double D ring style strap or seat belt strap, which may be easier to undo. Both systems offer adequate security when fastened correctly (always give a quick tug on the strap to check it’s secure).

Most helmets are fitted with vents to allow air to circulate while riding. These help to ventilate your head and keep your visor from misting up. You will normally find vents on the front and sometimes on the back (exhaust) of the helmet to allow air to flow.

Other useful feature to look out for are quick release visors, removable linings and anti fog features. It’s also worth noting the weight, particularly if you intend to use the helmet for racing. High end helmets usually weight a little less than lower cost helmets without sacrificing strength. This arguably can help reduce the forces applied when riding and perhaps reduce whiplash.

Caring for your crash helmet

Buying a good helmet is not just a cash investment, but something which may save your life. Most helmets come with care and use instructions, but here are some general tips.

  • Cleaning – A soft wet cloth with one or two drops of washing up liquid is ideal for removing every day grime. Insects seek revenge, by ingraining themselves into the paint work. Cleaning your helmet and visor after use will help increase its life and ensure you can see properly.
  • Storage – helmet bags are a great idea, but you don’t need to spend a lot, a pillow case will do or anything that will protect it from chipping while it is not on your head.
  • What happens if I drop it? – Modern helmets are designed to withstand a minor knock, but a 1m high fall (particularly if its got stuff in it – which will increase the weight) could render your helmet useless. If in doubt contact the manufacturer to arrange an inspection or replace it.

Noise

Wind noise when riding along is made up of air rushing past the helmet. The type of helmet design, bike and screen used can make a massive difference to air turbulence and wind noise.

Helmets with smoother profiles (not too many air vents and parts jutting out) help to keep the wind noise to a minimum. Some manufacturers design their helmets to have smooth fronts with a one piece construction around the bottom of each helmet. Any gap between parts of a helmet breaks up the air when travelling which can create more wind noise and turbulence.

The fitting of the visor to the helmet and the seals around the visor when closed help to keep the air out. Wind noise can create an annoying whistle that can be tiring.

Some riders prefer to be able to hear more of what’s going on around them. If this is the case with you then wind noise might not be such an issue. Make sure to buy some ear plugs though as at high speeds the wind is so loud it can damage your hearing if you’re not wearing ear plugs.

Visor

The visor keeps rain, stones and grit out of your face and eyes, but the visor can actually create a problem as in wet or cold weather it can mist up. Some motorcycle helmet manufacturers have designed vents into their visors to help this problem.

You can also buy special ‘pinlock’ visors that enable you to put a plastic insert over the inside of the visor. This creates a double glazing effect that prevents any mist from building up.

It is impossible to completely stop mist from appearing so, as well as vents and pinlock visors, you can buy various anti mist products from bike shops that can be used to treat the visor. The best ones will stop mist from building up for about 2 weeks before you have to re-treat.

AND FINALLY ……..REMEMBER – NOT FASTENING YOUR HELMET IS THE SAME OFFENCE AS NOT WEARING ONE AT ALL!!

Our thanks go to Deals 4 Bike Insurance and SHARP for this information