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Choosing the Best Motorcycle Helmet

A motorcycle helmet is the second most essential piece of equipment for a motorcycle rider (the first being your motorcycle). Composed primarily of expanded polystyrene for lightweight impact absorption, an outer shell of polycarbonate to protect from punctures and abrasions, and comfort padding for fit, a proper helmet will reduce the risk of head injury by 69%, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Ensure you’re buying the helmet that best suits you.

When choosing a helmet, start with your hat size. Measure the circumference of your head just above your eyebrows to get an idea of how big your helmet needs to be. When trying on helmets in person, hold the helmet you’re testing by the chins straps with your thumbs and face the front down, then spread the sides apart and pull it over your head. The helmet should fit snug with little movement. The brow pad should touch your temples and the cheek pads should touch your cheeks, but not press in uncomfortably. On full-face helmets, the helmet or face shield should not touch your nose or chin. In addition, with the chin strap fastened, you should not be able to roll the helmet forward and off your head. Make sure to check for ventilation, peripheral vision, and that the face shield screen doesn’t obscure objects.

Try different types and brands of helmets to find one that fits comfortably. There are several you could test out, including:

  • Full-face helmet — Offers the most protection and features a moveable face shield to protect the eyes.
  • Open-Face Helmet — Eye protection and neck protection are not built in.
  • Half-Helmet — Generally lighter in weight, but provides little protection or coverage from wind noise.
  • Flip-Up Helmet — Similar to a full-face helmet, the built-in moveable face shield may be “flipped up” to be worn like an open-face helmet.

After narrowing down your helmet choices, make sure they’re all approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Since 1980, all motorcycle helmets are required to meet DOT standards, and all helmet dealers and distributors are required to ensure their helmets are DOT-approved. Snell, founded in 1957, is another organization that standardizes safety helmet requirements. Snell testing is voluntary, but the testing criteria are updated as developments in helmet manufacturing improve (unlike DOT standards).

Helmet prices range from $40 to $600-plus. Comfort levels and aerodynamics tend to be more conventional in higher-end helmets, but lesser-known brands and midrange models may provide just as much high-quality protection as mainstream brands like Shoei, Scorpion, Icon, Arai, or Bell. Just be sure to check the quality of construction in the helmet you choose, such as looking to see if there are gaps in between the shield and molding, evaluating the lining, and testing the visibility and ventilation.