This article will break down the main different types of motorcycle helmets and guide you towards which one make sense for our own type of riding.
There are thousands of different options on the market but most of them fit into six broad categories (possibly seven in the near future!)
Lets dive in.
Full Face Helmets
A full face helmet covers the entire head, including the base of the skull to the rear.
The face and chin are also protected by a section of material which typically also cradles the visor.
These are the most common type of helmet you’ll see in the streets and take their styling (though muted somewhat) from Moto GP helmets.
Safety-wise, these are the best helmets you can buy for road riding.
35% of all crashes show major impact in the chin bar area. In the absence of this protective plastic/carbon/fibreglass, your face takes all that damage.
- Safest type of helmet for riding on the roads
- No hinges = fewer potential weak spots
- Hot (not a huge problem in the UK)
- Reduced hearing
- Potential feeling of isolation or disconnectedness from traffic
Modular helmets attempt to give you the best of both worlds.
They include a hinge, allowing the chin bar to be raised and lowered according to the wearer’s needs (even removed in some cases).
After full face helmets, these are the next most common type of helmet worn by commuters.
When checking the safety rating of a modular helmet, remember that ratings for the helmet in the open and closed position may be stated.
If safety ratings only exist for the closed position, the manufacturer doesn’t intend for the helmet to be used while open.
In such cases, the ‘open’ feature has been included as a quality of life addition.
The convenience of opening the front of your helmet to have a chat or order a coffee is nice, but many people prefer flip ups because they find them quieter.
A modular helmet is put on in the open position, meaning the opening at the bottom can be much smaller than a full face face helmet. This results in less air getting into the bottom opening and therefore a quieter experience.
- Convenient if your schedule has you hopping on and off your bike regularly
- Quality examples can offer comparable protection to a full face
- Many people find them quiet
- Generally not as protective as full face helmets
Motocross is a physically demanding activity.
Riders engaged in this sport need to vent heat much more rapidly than a typical commuter.
The chin bar and visor are therefore elongated away from the face, allowing better circulation of air and the use of protective goggles.
The visor protects from the sun, but also helps to shield the eyes and face from debris.
Paired with a good set of goggles, a quality off-road helmet can offer comparable protection to a full face helmet.
- Cool and easy to breathe in
- Excellent protection in off road conditions
- No visor
- Not as insulated against the cold
These helmets, as the name suggests, are open to the front with no chin bar – more common in hotter climates.
In tropical conditions, a full face helmet (no matter how good the vents) can be really uncomfortable.
Most open face helmets will include a snap-on visor to prevent insects from entering the users eyes.
Protection to the head and base of the skull can be equal to that of a full face helmet, but the face is completely unprotected.
- Feel the breeze on your face
- Say goodbye to your face in a crash
Half Helmet/Pudding Basin
These look just like they sound.
Popular with “bikers”, rockers and street racers, this helmet style has thankfully fallen out of favour in recent years.
They can offer some protection from brain injury, but absolutely none to the face.
They perform so poorly in both safety tests and real life that many UK manufacturers have stopped producing them.
Unless you’re dead set on impressing ‘Snake’ from your local Mongols chapter, avoid this kind of helmet.
- Street cred
- Face shred
Adventure/Dual Sport helmets are designed with both on and off-road riding in mind.
A boom in adventure riding in the last decade means most major manufacturers offer a few helmets in this category.
Common features include a wider face opening for better peripheral vision, enough space to wear goggles, a visor to block the sun/debris and good ventilation.
These helmets are equally at home on the road or on a trail.
Some high end models have a kind of goggle/visor hybrid that actually works really well.
Many offer multiple configurations, removable cold weather features and are suitable for just about any conditions you can throw at them.
- Safe, warm and highly adaptable
- Multiple configurations = best of several worlds
- Generally expensive (on account of all the features)
This is a pretty new addition to the family, and we haven’t seen any for sale in the UK.
That said, it’s only a matter of time.
The idea of customisable dual heads up displays, a touch panel, rear view camera and smartphone connectivity makes us feel slightly like Ironman.
It does seem like the way things will go.
No more messing around with headsets and speakers – direct connection between your helmet and phone.
Provided the safety features are comparable to more traditional options, Smart helmets will likely take off in the UK market.
- CrossHelmet XL – Not available in the UK yet.
- Possible “one and done” purchase for comms, music, phone and navigation
- We can’t get our hands on one yet, so we’re speculating
Q. What are the safest type of motorcycle helmets?
A. This is a tricky question.
It might be better to answer “What’s the safest type of helmet on a limited budget?”
In this case, I can unequivocally recommend a full face helmet.
If you’re on a budget, it doesn’t make sense to buy a cheap, inferior quality – but feature rich – dual sport or off road helmet.
Stick to simple units from well-known brands and check the helmet’s safety rating on the Sharp website.
Q. How many years does a motorcycle helmet last?
A. This will vary significantly depending on how much you ride.
A daily commuter will get through a helmet much faster than a weekend warrior, but we can give you some guidelines.
A good rule of thumb is to consider replacing your helmet every 3-5 years.
If lining or shell begins to deteriorate before this time, you should replace your helmet immediately.
As soon as it starts to feel loose-fitting, the foam has compressed too much and your safety is compromised.
If your once snug helmet starts to wobble about – it’s time to change it.
Q. Does dropping a helmet ruin it?
A. As far as I’m concerned, this is a scare tactic propagated by the industry to sell more products.
Unless you drop it from a height, your helmet should be OK.
If you drop a helmet, inspect it for damage by all means. But it should be absolutely fine.
Q. Is a motorcycle helmet still good after an accident?
A. If you hit your head and the helmet takes damage, it’s done its job – time to buy a new one.
That said, I’ve come off at low speed and not hit my head at all.
Motocross riders often hit the mud and take no damage.
Use common sense, inspect your helmet often and if it hits the road at all – it’s time for a new one.