Your brain is soft, your head is fragile, the road is hard. Sometimes the unfortunate happens and your head meets the road. Not good. Motorcycle helmets have been designed to protect our fragile heads and soft brains, but how do you choose the best one? Is expensive better? Are certain ratings the proof we need to know we’re safe from harm?
Motorcycle Helmet Test
Motorcyclist Magazine did a great article on helmets explaining in detail the current thinking on helmet design. If I can summarize their lengthy article:
- Our brain is damaged by the rapid deceleration that occurs when our heads impact the asphalt. Deceleration, measured in g’s, indicates how much force our brain is subjected to. Fewer g’s are better. (No surprise there) Acceptable levels vary widely among various rating systems. (Somewhat surprising)
- The kinds of accidents most riders think they need protection from are not the kinds of accidents that usually occur. Most accidents are low speed and close to home caused by cars pulling out in front of the motorcycle. After braking and skidding it is often below 25mph.
- Snell rated helmets must pass a very difficult (two hits in the same place) test quite unlike real world collisions and the construction necessary to pass the test results in higher g forces transmitted to the head than is considered safe by most everyone other than Snell. (Big surprise)
- The hard outer shell of the helmet protects against abrasion and penetration by sharp objects. Penetration is the least of your worries in an accident. The inner lining of expanded polystyrene, EPS, is what slows your head down in a controlled fashion and is most important in a crash.
- Price has no relation to how well the helmets work at reducing g's.
If you are one of the ride free, forget the helmet crowd then all of this is useless information. If you value your brain and think a helmet might be handy in an accident, this is critical.
Motorcyclist tested 16 helmets, a relatively small number compared to the number of helmets on the market but enough to show some differences.
CAUTION: Do not jump to conclusions or make hasty judgements on the basis of this one study. There were no real losers here.
Motorcycle helmets have improved a lot
All helmets have improved a great deal over the last 5 to 10 years. If you have an old helmet, that’s a very good reason to get a new one now. Any helmet is far better than no helmet because even the ones that transmit higher g forces than some others are better than the helmets of the recent past.
Sometimes, price differences reflect things beyond pure protection such as ventilation, fit and finish. Comfort, fit and ventilation can become very important on those long rides on a hot day. If your helmet makes you miserable, your attention to riding will decrease and the likelihood of doing something stupid goes up. Don't neglect those factors.
All motorcycle helmets do a good job
None of the helmets Motorcyclist tested were unsafe or unacceptable, again, because of the vast improvements over the recent years. Like shopping for a new motorcycle, It’s hard to go really wrong though some are better than others when considering only one factor.
You choose which one - but do wear a helmet
We offer all of the helmets and let you make your own choice. What you find most important is up to you and your sources for information may have different conclusions. Whatever you decide, though, please do wear a helmet.