(…and other stuff to think about when buying a helmet)
At Billy’s Crash Helmets, we’ve made it our business to find out as much as we can about motorcycle helmet safety so we can offer as much advice to you when you’re looking for that new helmet. We’re not saying we’re the last word, but in the world of protective gear, we’ve picked our way through as many tests/papers/studies as we can so we can help you get the best.
So, if you’re after buying a helmet that’ll give you maximum protection, here’s what we advise you to do.
Buy a full face helmet
Full face helmets offer the best protection. End of. So if you want maximum protection, buy a full face.
They cover all the head – including the chin and face – so not only give you weather protection but protection to all the head in an accident.
Why not a modular or open face?
Modular helmets feature removable chin guards – and because they’re removable, they’re always a potential weak point.
At the time of writing, Snell hasn’t certified a single modular helmet – though they say they’re not averse to testing flip-up helmets so maybe we’ll see some Snell modulars in the not too distant future.
Some flip-up helmets have been tested by SHARP in the UK (see below) and given maximum marks for safety. But even so, there’s still always potential for their chin bars to unlock and open in an accident.
Indeed of all the modular helmets that have been SHARP 5 star rated (the maximum score) only one has ever managed to keep their chin guards closed and locked through all tests. And that helmet (the BMW System 5) is now discontinued.
Buy a Snell Certified or SHARP five star helmet
The Snell Foundation tests US helmets to a demanding level – though with Snell, manufacturers have to submit and pay for Snell testing, which isn’t ideal. Snell covers only DOT certified helmets.
In the UK, Government testing agency SHARP (short for Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Program) is an independent testing organization whose testing regime is directly drawn from the most comprehensive real-world study on helmet safety. Helmet makers don’t have a say whether their helmets are tested nor do they provide the helmets – they buy ECE helmets straight from the distributor.
SHARP helmets are graded 1-5 stars, with 5 stars being their maximum safety rating.
Snell helmets either pass or fail – Snell certified helmets come with a Snell sticker.
So if you want a helmet you can rely on, it’s best to go for one of these helmets.
Buy a helmet that’s DOT or ECE certified
If you wear your helmet in mandatory helmet law states, they must be DOT certified to be legal – so always make sure your helmet carries the relevant DOT approval sticker on the back.
In the UK or Europe (and some other places like Oz), any helmet on sale should be the equivalent which is ECE 22.05 approved.
With DOT, manufacturers have to certify that their helmets are compliant to the standard and random helmet testing takes place to uphold the standard. Whereas all ECE helmets all have to go through mandatory and independent testing before getting approved, at which point they can then go on sale.
Either way, ensure your helmet has the appropriate (and genuine!) DOT sticker on it so you know it’ll meet at least minimum safety standards.
Buy a helmet with other safety features
There’s always new features being added to helmets which all help with safety. Here’s a few to look out for…
Stands for Emergency Quick Release System – basically a helmet with a couple of tabs at the bottom that paramedics can pull to extract the cheek pads safely and without disturbing your neck after an accident. Get a helmet with these if you can – esp if you take your bike on the track or dirt.
Quite a few helmets are designed with really wide faceshields to give you better peripheral vision, so you don’t get caught out with cyclists and the like sneaking up on you.
Stands to reason you need a nice clear shield to keep your vision clear. But things like rain, cold or humid weather can cause your shield to fog up. Stick in a Pinlock anti-fog (preferably a Max Vision that covers all the shield) and your vision will stay clear in all but the most extreme circumstances.
Riding into a low sun can be really dangerous, so a helmet with an integral sun visor is always there to flip down and give you some protection.
Buy a helmet that covers some or all these features and you’ll be well protected when you ride your bike.
At the time of writing, no single helmet ticks all these boxes – but talking of ticking boxes, use our Smart Filters to identify two or three features that you really want from your next helmet and quickly zoom in on the best helmets for you.