Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Motorcycle Helmets 101 - The Basics

The technology behind building motorcycle helmets is amazing these days. The use of high tech plastics, padding and even carbon fiber has taken head protection to a whole new level. But even with all of this new technology, helmet basics remain the same.

There are some basic guidelines everyone should follow when considering a motorcycle helmet. States that require motorcyclists to wear helmets also require the helmet is DOT certified. Simply put, DOT certified means that any helmet manufactured for use in the United States must be submitted to the US Department of Transportation for testing. It must meet the minimum standards for protection as outlined by FMVSS 218. Once it passes, the manufacturer has the right to place the DOT sticker on the helmet. Helmets that do not or cannot pass this requirement cannot be sold as motorcycle helmets. Usually these are marketed as Novelty Helmets.

Some helmets are also Snell Certified. Snell certified is simply using a different set of tests to certify the product. However, these motorcycle helmets are still required to be DOT certified. That's why you will always see DOT and Snell certified together on these models. Snell certification is thought to be more stringent testing than just DOT testing but that is up for argument. Suffice it to say that Snell testing is very good and is worth any extra money it may costs.

The next thing to consider is very important. You must choose the correct size. Wearing a helmet that is too big or too small severely limits its ability to protect you and do what it was designed to do. Most companies provide sizing charts at their place of business or online. Follow them closely and read any customer reviews. You will learn if the sizes run big or small and this will help you if you're buying online. Choosing the correct size helmet not only maximizes the potential for protection but it's a must for comfort. Try riding for several hours with one that is too small or too big. It's very distracting and certainly not what you want to be focused on while riding your bike at 70 or 75 miles per hour.

Now it's time to check out all of the styles, colors and graphics. Take some time doing this as there are so many things to choose from. It really comes down to your personal tastes. Some things to consider when choosing your lid:

* Novelty Helmets - These are the smallest helmets you can buy. They sit very close to your head but offer no or little protection and are never DOT certified. Governing agencies do not acknowledge these as motorcycle helmets. I don't recommend these though I do have friends that wear them.

* Beanie Helmets - These are the best alternative to the novelty helmet. They are small and comfortable and many are now made so the," mushroom head" look is gone. They are DOT certified and look great. These types of helmets are very popular however they offer the least amount of protection when compared to the next three types. Make sure you wear eye protection with these.

* 3/4 Helmets - This type of helmet is named 3/4 helmet because that's exactly what it is. It covers three quarters of the head leaving only the face exposed. Most of these motorcycle helmets have shields or snaps to install a shield to protect the face. Many will argue this is the best all around lid. It offers great protection for the head and face and is very comfortable. Get one that is vented if you live a warmer climate which means there are small vents on top of the helmet to let air flow through. Just like the Beanies, your visibility is great wearing one of these as there are no obstructions in your field of view.

* Full Face Helmets - These are motorcycle helmets that cover the entire head and face. They offer the most protection of any helmet. Every part of the head from the top of your neck up is protected. The shield is smaller than 3/4 shields but vision is still very good. The only thing is your peripheral vision is much less with these. This a small price to pay if you're all about protection. Definitely want one that is vented as they tend to trap heat since they completely cover the head. Most of them are vented these days and most of them have flip up shields which is a nice feature. These are the heaviest of the helmets and you may experience some wind drag but you will adjust to it quickly. Beginners should definitely consider this type of helmet.

*Modular Helmets - Very similar to the full face models except that the front half of the helmet folds up. This is a very cool feature. Makes the unit easy to mount and remove from your head. It can be flipped up at a stop light if you want to talk with your buddy and snapped back into place instantly.

Now you are equipped to make a smart purchase and one that will fit your needs and riding style. Just be sure to measure your head several times to get a good measurement as this will help in getting the safest fit and most comfortable helmet. Happy and safe riding.

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