Motorcyclists always seem to have more fun on the road than other drivers – speeding away from every intersection, parking in convenient spots, and saving money at the pump. But those benefits come with a higher risk of injury in the event of a crash.
Motorcycle wrecks tend to be far more serious than passenger-vehicle accidents. Per mile traveled in 2015, motorcyclists were killed 29 times more often than occupants of passenger vehicles.
If you’re in the market for a new motorcycle helmet, a full-face model is a sound investment. The obvious plus here is that you’re getting protection for your entire head – not just the top of your noggin like a half-helm. There’s also a visor to safeguard your eyes from debris so you don’t have to don any riding googles.
But which full-face helmet is best for you? Below are five qualities to consider when comparing your options:
1. Safety Standards
Your new helmet should be certified by a federal or independent body that it meets certain safety standards. Look for the letters DOT, ECE, or Snell on your new helmet.
A Department of Transportation (DOT) certification shows that the helmet meets mandatory minimum standards required by the U.S. government. ECE, which stands for the Economic Community of Europe, sets a slightly higher standard for helmet safety based on more rigorous performance tests. And the Snell Memorial Foundation, a private U.S. organization, issues another helmet safety standard, though its tests require the buy-in of manufacturers.
2. Material Construction
Helmets respond differently to impact depending on the materials they comprise. That means different helmets offer different levels of protection in the event of an accident.
Most motorcycle helmets feature an outer shell made from one of the following materials:
1. Polycarbonate, which is the least expensive but flexes on impact;
2. Fiberglass composite, which splits and is crushed when hit very hard; and
3. Carbon fiber, which is the most expensive but is highly effective at distributing the energy of an impact away from the head.
The lining is another important consideration. Check to ensure the inner shell of your new helmet is lined with expanded polystyrene (EPS), a densely compacted foam material that will absorb the shock of a collision.
Polycarbonate, fiberglass composite, and carbon fiber are all effective for protecting your head and brain from impact, but only if your helmet is in good condition. Accidents can cause a the outer shell of a helmet to scuff and crack, and if a subsequent collision occurs, the helmet could split and fall apart, leaving your head exposed.
EPS is also prone to damage. Much like a styrofoam coffee cup, this lining should be regarded as a single-use item; a collision will leave indents and gouges that may not be immediately visible, and these dents will weaken the lining as a whole.
If you are unable to verify the condition of a used helmet with less than 100 percent accuracy, buy a new one instead.
4. An Effective Visor
Motorcycles are performance vehicles, which means they’re capable of taking on traffic at great speeds, weaving through jams and negotiating tight corners with ease. All of which adds to the thrill, of course – but if you want to get from point A to point B unscathed, you need great visibility.
At a high speed, other vehicles and obstacles on the road can come out of nowhere, and if your line of sight is unclear in even the smallest way, you’re at a higher risk of crashing. While some eye shields are injection molded to offer a clear view, others have been bent to fit the shape of the helmet and are prone to distorting your field of vision.
Test before you buy. Wear the helmet and walk outside to gauge its ability to eliminate glare from the sun. Check to see if the helmet comes with a built-in anti-fog shield, which may save you from costly sprays and coatings.
5. Proper Ventilation
A motorcycle helmet is naturally stuffy, so a good ventilation system is crucial for ensuring a comfortable ride. Also, traffic can be toxic as exhaust and other fumes build up in front and around you. Proper airflow inside your helmet will help dilute these gases and keep your air safe to breathe. Make sure there is a clearly defined air vent in the chin area, then look for small air holes in the EPS lining, and check that they line up with the holes along the outer shell.