Choosing a crash helmet
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.
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.
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, do check that your insurance covers this as most will not.
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.
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. I have heard of 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 such as the Shoei Sychrotec, 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.
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. These are typically available on the higher end range. 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
Whether you buy a £40 helmet or a £400, helmet you'll need to look after it. It's 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 it's 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.
- Never sit or stand on your helmet as this may stress or weaken it.
- Never hang it of your handle bars, foot pegs or wing mirrors as this may damage the impact absorbing lining.
- Never rest it on your seat as it can easily fall off.