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How To Buy A Good Motorcycle Helmet
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How to Buy A Good Motorcycle Helmet

This is the first in a series of 6 articles on how to buy riding gear for your motorcycle. This article is about buying your first helmet. What's important is that your first helmet is Dot and or Snell approved and that your new helmet fits you properly. Please don't buy a used helmet unless you absolutely have to.

Keep this in mind. You don't need to buy the best helmet out there for your first. You want a good motorcycle helmet that you will actually wear. If it doesn't fit right and hurts your head, you won't wear it all the time. If you have unlimited funds, check out the photo to the right. That is the most expensive sportbike helmet available at the present time June, 2012. It's the Arai Corsair V Carbon. The cost is $3,900.00 online. Pretty spendy if you ask me. There are a few sponsored Pro Racers wearing it. I think a few Duc riders have them.

Dot and Snell Certification:

What is the difference between a Snell approved motorcycle helmet and a DOT approved helmet? There really isn't much except the testing methods used to receive their certs are a little different. The Snell Memorial Foundation uses some extra methods of testing and their helmet impact requirements are higher.

The Snell Foundation does all the helmet testing that is approved by the foundation while the DOT doesn't do all their own testing. DOT relies mostly on the individual helmet manufactures. Seems to me you want Snell Certification. DOT and Snell is even better. Some manufacturers have both certs. You will find the certified or approved decals on the rear of the helmet.

What about STYLE or Type?

This guide will work for most every style of motorcycle helmet. This article is more slanted to the sportbike or sport touring crowd. Of course there are Motocross helmets for the Dirt and ATV riders. There are the half shell helmets for some of the Harley crowd.

Even a football helmet is better than nothing. I know that in many states there are no helmet laws for adults. This is a personal choice and I'm not here to judge. A minor should be mandated to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle or quad in my humble opinion. But that's just me.

What about Kids Helmets?

The same thing goes with kids helmets. Definitely take your child to see a pro at your local dealership for her or his first helmet. You can always buy the same helmet cheaper online. We all do that. Think about supporting your local dealer. There have been quite a few motorcycle dealers closing up shop. Buy at least some of your motorcycle supplies from your local shop.

Open Face Helmets:

This style is for riders on cruisers or standard bikes. A rider can wear goggles or glasses with the open face helmet. Bikes with large windshields or windscreens will do a good job protecting the rider from the wind blast, the rain and the "bugs". Open face helmets work well with the boom microphones on communication devices. Open face helmets were the standard for many years. They are still very popular today.

Full Face Helmets:

The sportbike rider wants a full face or fully enclosed helmet. These helmets are the most protective of all the motorcycle style helmets. Sportbike riders tend to ride at higher speeds. the Sportbike windscreen is very small. It's there to deflect the wind just over the rider's helmet when the rider is in a "full tuck".

The sportbike helmet must fit snug. When the helmet is brand new it will almost feel tight. It will loosen up a little in the first hour of use. There cannot be any hot spots. The average sportbike holds 4.5 gallons in the gas tank. This includes a .9 gallon reserve. You have about 3.5 gals of gas per tank for your ride. At 32 mpg you have about 100 miles between fill ups. Your helmet must be comfortable enough for at least an hour and a half. Enough said.

The sportbike helmet must be very aerodynamic. When the rider "head checks" and turns his head to check the view behind, the wind blast shouldn't upset the rider in the saddle with excessive wind drag. The helmet face shield will fit almost flush with the full face helmet shell. The shield can be "cracked" a little to let in just the right amount of ventilation at low speeds.

The better full face helmets will have excellent head cooling properties with air vents at various locations at the top, sides and rear of the helmet. There maybe adjustable spoilers for extreme high speed use. These same full face sportbike helmets are used at the track. Speeds at the track can approach 180 mph.

As you go up in price you will notice that sportbike helmets get lighter. Carbon fiber is just starting to be a material used in the manufacture of motorcycle helmets. Carbon has been used in the F1 level auto racing helmets for some time. Cost is not an issue with F1 teams. Prices of real carbon and carbon-look helmets will very wildly.

What about FIT?

This is probably the most important aspect of buying your first or any helmet for that matter. Fit applies to every style of motorcycle helmet. You can measure your head yourself using a clothing or taylor's soft tape measure. If it has centimeter markings on the tape, it would be ideal. As far as I know, there are no gender specific motorcycle helmets. Maybe there are. There are males that happen to like Hot Pink and flower designs. Some women like the skull and crossbones design. I just say buy a helmet that fits.

Many of the helmet manufacturers are in Europe or Japan. There are a few in the US. Just remember, even though you buy the correct size according to your measurements, there is no guaranty that the helmet will fit you without some pain. You need to put the helmet on for a good 15 minutes to see if any "hot spots" develop. You will know what a hot spot is because your head will start aching or stinging in a certain spot. take the helmet off. It is not going to get any better, only worse.

Well, you either have the wrong size helmet or the Brand you have chosen is just not compatible with your head shape. If you are at the motorcycle dealer or a motorcycle retailer like Cyclegear, you can easily try on something else. The motorcycle retail sales person is your friend. They are enthusiasts just like you and only want to help. You should find helmets at many price points at the dealer.

What about PRICE?

Ok, so found something that fits right. Hopefully the manufacturer you have chosen will be in your price range. If not, ask your sales person. You should be able to find a good motorcycle helmet in the price range from $180.00 to $400.00. You usually get what you pay for here. The wild and colorful graphics are going to cost more than the solid colors. Price doesn't equate to safety. Inexpensive helmets with both certs are just as safe as the high priced helmets.

The high end helmets are lighter and have better ventilation. They are more comfortable and have more features. They can be highly customized to your exact face shape. There will be more shell sizes available. The paint quality will be better and the graphics can be downright wild. Some of these helmets are the same ones worn by professionally sponsored racers. Is it worth it? It is to me. I love my sport and it makes me feel good. I'm an Arai guy. I own 3.

What about COLOR?

Think about buying a black helmet for your first "Lid". That's slang for helmet. You can get black in gloss black, matte black, flat black, frost black, diamond black and metallic black. Lots of shades of black, right? Black is good because it goes with everything. Many beginning riders are very color coordination conscious. After 5 years of riding, you may care less about matching this and that. Maybe not. If you decide to sell the helmet later on, it will be easier to sell a black one.

What about the HELMET FACE SHIELD?

I'll touch briefly in this one. Every manufacturer designs their own face shield or shield. You cannot swap shields between manufacturers. The method of shield attachment varies widely. Some of the newer design shields are built into the helmet and can be flipped down in order to filter the bright sun.

Usually it's the color that becomes the issue. Almost all helmets are supplied with a clear shield from the factory. This is for obvious reasons. There are dozens of colors offered. You can buy a shield designed by the helmet manufacturer or an aftermarket manufacturer. The OEM shield manufacturer is really the best way to go. It is more expensive. You are assured with the proper fit and consistent good quality with OEM.

Dark smoke shields are just too dark for night riding. The light smoke and even the mirror shields are also marginal at night. You be the judge. There are yellow and orange hi-def shields that are available for improved night vision. I've never tried one. I like the silver mirror shield for day riding.

There are other specialty shields available. Pinlock and race post and max view and lots of others are available. There are some local jurisdictions that require your face shield to be completely closed while your motorcycle is in motion. Find out what your local laws are. It may save you some money.


I hope this article has helped you in your quest to buy your first motorcycle helmet. I've tried to share some of my personal experience on the subject. We've picked a very dangerous sport to participate in. Good protective gear is a necessity. See you out there on the street, gang.

Street Talk


My dad needed a motor cycle helmet! I'll send him this!

  about 1 decade ago

Thanks Brandon. You are the first person to reply to the few articles I've written so far!! Say Hi to your dad for me.

  about 1 decade ago
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