How do I choose a motorcycle helmet?
Let’s keep it simple.
The choice of helmets available today is utterly staggering. There are dozens of brands offering a style for every riding niche. There’s a wide choice of shell materials, finishes and removable liners. And we haven’t even started on visors and communications. So with all this in mind, let’s keep this conversation simple. We’ll assume that you’re new to the world of motorcycle helmets. And if you’re not, stay with us. It’ll be fun, and you might just pick up a thing or two along the way.
Starting with safety standards
Way back in the early 70’s, laws were passed in Australia that motorcycle helmets worn in Australia meet certain standards – there are several that apply today. The two Australian Standards are AS 1698-1988 and AS/NZS 1698:2006. There’s also European Standard 22.05 or ‘ECE 22.05’. These standards have arisen through stringent safety testing that’s been conducted to properly protect your noggin in the event of a crash. Not only is it illegal in Australia to wear a helmet that doesn’t meet one of these standards, it’s also not smart. Get your head into the best possible protection and make sure that what you buy has a sticker on the shell denoting an acceptable standard. The standard might also be sewn into the liner. Needless to say, reputable motorcycle shops won’t sell helmets that don’t meet current standards in Australia.
Full face or open face?
Broadly, motorcycle helmets are available in two designs – open face and full face. Open face or ‘jet’ style helmets are just that – wide open at the front, with no protection at all for the face. Full-face helmets have integrated jaw and face protection, with an ‘eye port’ to accommodate a flip-down visor or goggles. Some people get a claustrophobic feeling the first time they try on a full-face helmet, but this usually passes as you become accustomed to this design. Once the bike is underway, the airflow helps take away the closed-in feeling, too. There are, of course, those who simply can’t handle wearing a full face helmet, or just like bugs in their teeth. These people choose open face designs.
Motorcycling is all about freedom but I’ll add this – if you have enough imagination to picture what could happen should you face-plant into a solid object at speed while wearing an open face helmet, you’ll choose a full face design. There’s a good reason they are the overwhelmingly popular choice, and that reason is maximum protection.
Choose features for how you ride
With safety standards and basic styles out of the way, we start to come to personal choices. These are dictated by how you ride. Commuters often value excellent airflow and a visor that’s easy to flip. Touring riders might prioritise low noise and the ability for a helmet to accommodate communications options. Adventure riders, like dirt riders, often opt for a style that will work well with a peak and a pair of goggles. And sports riders will be after light weight and killer looks. Be sure to take care of the practical considerations before you get carried away and simply buy the lid with the coolest graphics. You’ll spend a lot of time inside your helmet, so make sure it’s right for your ride.
If you’re new to motorcycle helmets, this can be a challenge. The correct fit in a new motorcycle helmet can be quite snug. Many people will take off a helmet that fits perfectly and opt for the next size up if good guidance isn’t at hand. There are two reasons to opt for a snug fit. Firstly, motorcycle helmet linings are compliant and will ‘wear in’ to a degree, becoming a little less tightly fitting over time. With this in mind, purchasing a helmet that’s not snug at all can result in a helmet that quickly becomes loose enough to move around on your head at speed. Needless to say this is dangerous, disconcerting and noisy, too. A motorcycle helmet is the number one piece of safety equipment a rider wears. When you choose yours, be sure to deal with a reputable dealer that offers a wide choice and expert fitting assistance.
What’s the best brand to buy?
Leading brands in motorcycle helmets include Arai, AGV, Airoh, Bell, HJC, Kabuto, KYT, M2R, RXT, SMK, Shark…the list goes on. What’s the difference? It’s often a very personal matter of fit and feel. Various brands have a subtly different fit, which often explains why experienced riders choose a certain brands and stick with it over the years. Try on several different brands to get an idea of how they feel.
The little things that make the difference
Now we’re really getting into the details of what a helmet will be like to live with. How smoothly does the visor operate, lock and unlock? (Pro tip – try this while wearing gloves!) Check that the visor can be easily removed and replaced without tools, and make sure that it’s a fog proof design, too.
Can the helmet’s liner be easily removed to be cleaned? How does the helmet fasten? If you’ll be using goggles, take them along and make sure they fit easily. If you’re interested in using a communications device, check that the brand offers an integrated option, or easily accommodates an aftermarket communicator.
Finally…the right helmet can’t be hurried
Get all the expert advice that you possibly can before you buy. Quality helmets are a significant investment and it’s worth making your choice with plenty of care and consideration.
Dealing with an established motorcycle store is always a great way to ensure you’re getting lots of choice and plenty of expert help. Stores such as Bikebiz Parramatta also offer the benefit of very competitive pricing due to their sheer buying power.
There’s real satisfaction in owning a helmet that’s perfect for you. It becomes a trusted friend and your thinking space as you ride. With a choice of graphics you love, it can also be your signature look when you’re out riding. Take your time, make an informed choice, and you’ll be proud to own something special that puts a smile on your face every time you wear it.