Keeping Your Head
RETIRED CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 ROBERT B. REYNOLDS
U.S. Army Africa
A motorcycle helmet is not a novelty; it’s a serious piece of safety gear that should be carefully selected and maintained. While manufacturers strive to make helmets stylish and flashy, the primary concern is the protection they provide. Here are some helmet basics you need to know for your safety and comfort on the road. The components
While there are many different helmet styles to choose from, all have four major components: a rigid outer shell, an expanded polystyrene (EPS) impact-absorbing liner, padding for fit and comfort, and a retention system. Your helmet, at a minimum, should meet Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements. Shell construction
Helmets typically offer one of three types of outer shell construction: thermoplastic, fiberglass or carbon fiber. Each has different qualities worth examining.
- Thermoplastic shells are a single-layer, injection-molded material. Due to its single-layer construction, a thermoplastic helmet requires a larger inner impact liner. This, in turn, increases the shell size and weight.
- Fiberglass shells are generally stronger than thermoplastic shells because they are made of multiple layers of fiber cloth combined with multiple layers of resin. The strength of the fiberglass weave permits the use of a smaller inner liner, allowing fiberglass shells to be lighter and more compact than thermoplastic shells.
- Carbon fiber helmets are made of multiple layers of extremely strong, carbonized Kevlar fibers along with multiple layers of resin. Due to the inherent strength of both carbon and Kevlar, less material is needed to achieve maximum strength and durability. As a result, carbon fiber helmets are significantly lighter than comparable thermoplastic or fiberglass shells.
While there are a variety of helmet designs to fit the tastes of different riders, the best ones protect both the head and the face.
Does it fit?
- Full-face helmets provide optimum face and head protection. Equipped with flip-up face shields and flow-through ventilation, they can be warm in the winter and comfortable in the summer.
- Three-quarter open-face helmets don’t offer the face and chin protection of full-face helmets. If you use an open-face helmet, you should have a snap-on face shield in place when you ride, or buy a pair of goggles that can withstand the impact of stones and other debris. Prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses do not provide sufficient protection.
- Modular helmets combine the benefits of full-face and three-quarter helmets. Flipping up the face/chin module makes these helmets easier to put on and take off and allows for full-face exposure when riders are stopped and need extra ventilation for cooling. Riders should always ride with the module in the closed position.
- “Shorty” half-helmets protect even less of your head and are more likely to come off upon impact. These helmets are not recommended.
Ensuring your helmet fits properly is vital to its performance and effectiveness. Here are a few tips to help you get the right fit.
- Measure the width of your head by placing a standard tape measure approximately 1 inch above your eyebrows. This will give you a starting point in selecting the proper-size helmet. The following link will provide you a measuring tape with gradations showing the suggested helmet size: Mototcycle Helmet Sizing Chart.
- Put on the helmet by grasping the chinstrap in each hand and pulling it over your ears until you feel the inner lining touch the top of your head. If the helmet feels too tight — for example, you cannot pull the helmet down over your ears or the helmet is painful — try the next larger size.
- Ensure the helmet is not too loose. Properly secure the chinstrap and then grasp the chin bar and try to move the helmet up and down and side to side. If the helmet slides on top of your skin and hair, then it is too loose. If your hair and skin move with the helmet, then it is properly snug. Also, try rolling the helmet forward and backward to ensure it does not slide off your head.
- Wear the helmet for at least 15 minutes before buying it to ensure there are no uncomfortable pressure points. If you do encounter pressure points, try the next larger size.
- If you typically wear eyeglasses or sunglasses, bring them along to ensure they will fit inside the helmet without causing pressure points at your ears and the bridge of your nose.
Here are some tips to maximize the life and effectiveness of your helmet:
Keep it clean
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on helmet care.
- Never expose a helmet to chemicals or excessive heat. These may degrade the protective properties, even if the damage is not visible.
- Never hang a helmet on a motorcycle’s mirror, turn signal or sissy bar. The EPS impact-absorbing liner can be damaged easily.
- Before riding, ensure chinstraps are tightened properly and not frayed. Also ensure the visor locking mechanism and face shield are tightly affixed.
- If you are in an accident and your helmet suffers an impact, replace it immediately. Impacts may fracture the outer shell or compress the impact-absorbing liner, causing damage that may not be immediately visible.
- Manufacturers recommend that helmets be replaced every three to five years, depending on use. Glues, resins and other helmet materials break down over time and hair oils, sweat, cosmetics and even the sun’s UV rays can add to helmet deterioration.
- Use mild soap and water to wash the outer shell. Clean the face shield with warm water and a soft, lint-free cloth.
- Avoid using a dry cloth, as it may scratch the shield.
- Hand wash all internal liners with mild soap and allow to air dry.
- Use compressed air to clear helmet air vents and channels.
- Do not use solvents or chemicals to clean any part of the helmet or shield, as they can destroy protective coatings and compromise the helmet’s structural integrity.
Editor’s note: Material for this article was derived from MotorHelmets, available online at https://motorhelmets.com, and from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.