A Beginners Guide to Choosing a Safe Helmet


Buying a motorcycle helmet is the most important purchase you will make when outfitting yourself for your first bike ride. Shopping for a bike is enjoyable, but a helmet will keep you safe in the event of a crash and could save your life. The problem is that there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and the information that is accurate can be quite confusing. With so many helmets to choose from, how do you go about finding the right one for you? The basis of your search should not start with color coordinating your helmet to your motorcycle or finding a style that looks cool. Safety is king when it comes to protecting your head, so begin by examining the necessary safety features of a helmet.

DOT and Snell Certifications

Helmets, like many other things, are tested and approved by various experts before hitting the store shelves. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) approves helmets based on their ability to absorb the impact of a crash, stay tightly fastened, and prevent foreign objects from penetrating the shell. There are other issues that are considered, but where the safety of the head is concerned, these are the main issues. DOT approved helmets are easily recognizable by a sticker confirming the testing and certification. Certifications from the Snell Foundation are similar to those administered by the DOT, so it only serves to ensure safety by purchasing a helmet that is both DOT and Snell approved.

Helmets Offer Protection and Prevention

It’s prudent to stop for a moment and discuss why it’s important to seek out these safety standards. Numerous studies in the US and abroad indicate that those who wear helmets are less likely to crash and those who do have an accident while wearing a helmet are less likely to die as a result of the crash. Furthermore, those who are injured in an accident while wearing a helmet are less likely to experience long term or permanent disabilities as a result of traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. This isn’t because riders who wear helmets are better drivers, it’s because a helmet helps decrease wind noise around the head, allowing riders to hear other sounds better. Helmets protect ears and eyes from the wind which means riders strain less to hear and see, keeping the rider more alert. Finally, a bright colored helmet keeps riders in plain sight of others on the road, reducing the chances of an accident.

Issues of Fit, Retention, and Comfort

Following many of the guidelines that are required for DOT approval, factors of fit, retention and comfort are important considerations when shopping for a helmet so it’s prudent to discuss these issues in detail. Much like children’s bicycle helmets, motorcycle helmets should fit snugly against the head and not allow movement when the head is shaken in any direction. Aside from the skull itself, other facial features such as the jaw and cheeks should also be held securely if the style of helmet covers these areas. Choose size based on specifics of the manufacturer as sizes are not standardized across the board. It is of utmost importance to try on a helmet before purchasing to ensure a proper fit. Retention refers to the ability of the helmet to remain on the head in extreme motion. A quick test is to put the helmet on and try to pull it up and off the head from the back. A proper tight fit and a secure chin strap should prevent the helmet from rolling off the head in testing and in the event of an accident. Finally, a good helmet is a comfortable helmet, as long as it meets safety standards. Riders should try on a wide variety of helmets to find one that feels good on the head. If a helmet is not comfortable, a rider is less likely to wear it. If he does wear an awkward helmet, the rider is more likely to be distracted by constant adjustment and discomfort, therefore endangering his own life and the life of others on the road.

There are many different styles of motorcycle helmets to fit a variety of needs and preferences. Start by seeking helmets that meet the standards discussed above, then move on to discerning which style is preferred. Helmets should meet DOT regulations at the minimum and Snell approval is a bonus. The bottom line is that a rider should choose a helmet that is comfortable, which will ensure fewer distractions when on the road. A good fitting helmet that meets safety requirements will offer the rider significant protection in the event of an accident.

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