This section deals with selecting a motorcycle helmet
Some examples of motorcycle helmets
Which part of the helmet offers the protection?
Most people think that it is the helmet's outer shell that protects the head. (If this were the case we would all be wearing steel army helmets from World War II). Instead, protection is provided by a combination of 'crumble zones' involving both the outer and inner layers. Therefore a helmet is actually a fragile item designed to break on impact. This fact has serious implications when it comes to topics like how to care for your helmet.
Finding the correct size of helmet
A correctly fitting new helmet will have the following attributes once on.
1) Use the chin straps to pull the sides of the helmet apart as you pull (not slip!) it on.
2) Once on, it will still feel a bit too small. People new to biking will naturally want to choose a helmet one size too big as they are unaccustomed to the closed-in sensation. This sensation will go away!!
3) Once on, grasp the helmet with both hands and try to move it side to side and up and down. Your skin should move with the helmet.
4) A correctly fitted helmet will start directly above the eyebrows.
5) Secure the chin strap. Leave the helmet on for a least 5 minutes in order to feel for excessive pressure at particular points. A well fitting helmet should place even pressure throughout. In the shop you may feel claustrophobic doing this. Don't worry! this sensation will probably vanish once you are on the road.
6) The soft inner of the helmet will mould to your head and face over time - this is why it is important to choose a snug fit when you purchase it.
7) Try on a number of different makes as each have their own particular idiosyncrasies - just like the shape of your head. There are basic dimension differences between European, American and Japanese heads - there are reasons for this but we won't go there!!
Check out the Bell Helmet web site for an excellent helmet guide Bellhelmets.Com (Find links page on the Navigation page)
Care of your Helmet
Do not paint it or attach decals to it unless you have the go-ahead from the manufacturers. The chemicals used in glues and paints can damage the helmet.
Look after your helmet like gold. Store it in a soft, protective helmet bag. Do not bang it, scratch it or drop it as it is designed to self-destruct on impact, thus protecting your head and neck. If you do, have it check out professionally.
Keep it away from strong chemicals. This means all those household cleaners under the kitchen sink. Cleaning it with plain toilet soap and warm water is always best.
Do not store it in direct sunlight. If the inner gets very wet during a thunder storm allow it to dry naturally.
Replace it every two to five years depending on its condition and the amount of riding you do.
The helmet inner can become smelly over a period of time. Some helmets have a system whereby the soft inner lining of the helmet can be removed for cleaning. This is a major advantage in a country like ours where it is so hot. One can also wear a type of head bandana made out of a thin cotton under you helmet (try a flee market for one). This can easily be washed thus keeping your inner, mould-free! When you do need to wash your helmet inner ordinary toilet soap and warm water does the trick. As helmets are all-weather items a little water cannot harm them so do not be shy with it when washing the inside. Then allow it to dry naturally.
All helmets have a combination of ram air and vacuum vents that draw fresh air through the helmet. In the more efficient examples as much as 15 litres of air per minute can flow through a helmet at 120kph. This is good, but in combination with the 'wrong' screen, can be a a major source of wind noise that can damage your hearing with noise levels as high as 109dB(A) at 120kph (a jackhammer at 1 meter distance is only 100dB(A). Therefore long distance, high speed bikers should always wear ear plugs to protect their ear drums.
In addition, wind noise creates stress defeating the reason why most people motorcycle in the first place. The "Silencer" helmet made by Baehr is an excellent example of a quiet helmet.
Setting the record straight
A helmet protects the rider from danger in many different ways . . .
• It prevents collisions with flying insects that could
cause loss of control
You may be lucky enough to never have your helmet protect your nut from violent impact, but it will serve these other roles every time you ride. With this list in mind it is clear why the beanie helmet is not a good choice of helmet style. In fact most Hog owners who have these cruiser beanie type helmets have a 'real' helmet for long distance high speed travelling.
Choosing the correct type of helmet
Most sources will tell you to buy the most expensive helmet you can afford. This is true up to a point i.e. certainly do not spend less than R1500-00 (150 USD) and make sure that the helmet is safety approved for your country e.g. DOT. However the main difference between a helmet costing R1800-00 and one costing R3500-00 is that of weight. The more expensive one offers similar protection, but with less weight and, perhaps more comfort and, maybe less wind noise.
• Full face and Motorcross helmets protect the facial region as well as the head, in particular the jaw.
• Three quarters, Motorcross and cruiser helmets leave the face area open and thus a pair of goggles is needed to keep dust out of the eyes.
• A Flip up helmet is a full face where the chin guard can be pushed right up exposing the face.
At maximum speeds a fixed, full face helmet is the only option. Beside the obvious protection they offer, they keep icy wind out and prevent flying bugs, bees etc from entering the helmet. When travelling in excess of 100kph, flying insects can only be described mini scud missiles.
One of the major advantages of the flip-up design is for people who wear glasses - a flip up is just a lot easier. It also offers convenience when stopping briefly e.g. for petrol. You can get some fresh air and can communicate without having to take the whole helmet off. (This is important when talking to traffic officers!). The disadvantages are an increase in price, weight and wind noise level. They are also not as watertight during a downpour and the hinges are prone to wear.
A three quarters helmet is usually used when speeds are less than 120kph most of the time. If you ride a dual purpose bike (e.g. BMW GS range) and you ride a lot of trails, you will need a three quarters helmet with goggles. This is because trial riding is very physical and your brain will fry in a closed helmet with the visor down. By contrast, the open helmet will assist with cooling (and are therefore are not suitable for cold weather). Wind noise is highand they should be sold with a year's supply of lip balm and sun screen!
Choose a helmet that offers a variety of ways to ventilate your head and face - you need it on hot, summer days.
It is interesting to note that helmets designed in Europe prefer more solid colours while those designed elsewhere favour more elaborate designs. Often the busy design is not as visible to other road users as a helmet that features solid colour. Most accidents happen when a driver does not see the motorcyclist and a helmet with a solid high-visibility colour is a wise choice.
Is is common to see riders who use a cruiser helmet (generally the Harley crowd) wearing a bandanna over the face to give some measure of protection against insects and sunburn. Most cruiser owners who sport a cruiser helmet on Sundays have a full face helmet as well for the longer rides.
If you own a helmet where your face is exposed you must use sun block during the summer months and for long distances.
The clear visors have to be replaced every two years or so as they become scratched - not so much as a result of abuse, but due to the abrasion of moving through dust laden air. Thus there are two factors here i.e. will you be able to get spares years down the line and how easy is it for the visor to become detached from the helmet?
They should also be treated regularly with an anti-fogging solution. Riding in a heavy downpour is bad enough without having your visor misting up as well.
Experienced South African bikers swear by the household aerosol cleaning product called 'Mr Min' to keep their visor and helmet clean. Do not however spray the cleaner directly onto the helmet as the propellant (usually butane) destroys some of the materials used in helmet and visor construction. Instead spray it onto a clean cloth away from the helmet and then apply it.
Today many bikers consider radio / intercom communication, music, radio, telephone and audio GPS navigation a must-have. This is made a lot easier if the helmet has integrated speaker and microphone hardware. Attempting to fit these accessories into a regular helmet is never as successful or as comfortable as integration at design level.
Note that at present (2007) Blue Tooth has no international standard and therefore will not automatically work with other blue tooth hardware. Therefore, for the moment wired technology is the most reliable and offers superior clarity and volume without the hassle of having to recharge batteries that are built into the helmet.