Fifty-dollar Head… Fifty-dollar Helmet…
A guide to buying a motorcycle helmet. The Safety and performance of a helmet is foremost.
Helmet law, riders should look for a label saying the helmet is compliant with either AS 1698:1988 or AS/NZS 1698:2006 Australian/New Zealand Safety Standards or NZS 5430 and UNECE 22.05 the European equivalent, which is allowed in Australia. It is also legal for retailers to sell helmets that are compliant with DOT, Snell, and BSI standards. The Safety Standards will be stitched into the lining of the helmet, if that has gone, then you can cop a hefty fine, so be aware of that.
New Zealand motorcyclists, also have British and Japanese standards accepted.
Priority, within your price range, should be:
You want the best you can afford, so tell the shop assistant what purpose and type of protection you are after and the price range you are looking for. Do some homework, before going to buy… ask friends, research brands and functions so you have a good idea of at least three – five different helmets you’d like to start with.
Have an idea what you prefer to wear but try and keep an open mind to all options, if not 100% sure. The main styles are:
For maximum safety is the full face, as almost 20% of motorcycle accidents, impact the chin. They have come a long way over the years with features and giving more peripheral vision.
Convenience because the chin bar flips open and look similar to full-face helmets but often have lower safety ratings.
These provide great protection to the ears and the side of the head but have no chin protection. Great for warmer days, but face exposed.
Look like the old war helmets, though if safety is a priority, don’t go near them; they kind of protect half of your face, but that’s about it. Some are approved for use in America and Australia, but not in Europe, must be something in that, hey. Chin and most of face exposed.
A full-face styled helmet great for both on-road and off-road riding featuring a face shield that gives space for goggles when you’re riding off-road. We reviewed the Airoh helmet last edition and whilst it came up really well, upright riding position fared well, both on and off road; riding a sports bike though, didn’t go down too well, with the chin piece catching air, due to leaning over the tank.
Dual Sport helmets are a good choice if you are a road and off-road adventurer, yet budget won’t stretch for two separate helmets.
So you’ve chosen a few to try, now get the fit right. You need to be comfortable wearing it, takes time to suss out. There is no rush. Don’t be swayed by the latest brands, colours and extra features, just yet.
Head shapes all vary, so important to get the feel perfect. No uncomfortable pressure onto your temples, or around the back of your head. It should be quite tight to get on, as in it will take force to pull it over your ears, but shouldn’t feel tight around your head when once on.
It should feel firm at your forehead and your cheeks should feel pushed in, (with a full face style), so if you were to take a bite down, you’d probably take a hunk of cheek out… if you feel this on the first helmet you try, go down a size and check if that still feels good around your head, but your cheeks can be chomped on even more. Why? Because this will stretch over the next few rides… and this is a main part of what is holding it onto your head. If the helmet is obviously too tight around your head, then this is not a correct fit… at least you will have a better idea of your sizing.
Obviously having a chin strap is going to stop the helmet being flung off in a crash, but when you’re hooting on down HWY1 getting that long overdue throttle therapy, the last thing you want is your helmet lifting and your chin strap choking you; having it firm on your forehead and moulded into your cheeks, will prevent that.
When I go helmet shopping… I place my hands up to about ear level and wiggle my fingers… then I take them back as far as I can, still wiggling until I can’t see them anymore, so I know where my peripheral vision ends. About now, a few peeps in the shop are looking at me strangely, but hey… what’s new. Peripheral vision is what you see off to the side of your central focus when looking straight ahead; your ability to see things without moving your eyes or turning your head. Why is this important? For shoulder checks and for seeing other vehicles coming up beside you. The more peripheral vision you can get with your helmet, the safer you will be.
I remember back in ’85 when I bought myself a brand new BMW R65 and was told I could choose any helmet I wanted off the shelf. I grabbed a Bell down and tried it on… felt like the weight of a concrete brick, so put that one back… hey, we’re talking technology from nearly 40 years ago here. I then grabbed down a real flash looking Shoei, worth about $300 back then, so top shelf kinda stuff! Tried it on, felt a little claustrophobic as until then I had only ridden with open faces, so to be expected. It felt nice on though, was all shiny and pretty and I was coming to an age where I was a little more safety conscious, so I grabbed it.
Blimey! Did I ever regret that choice… went on up the road about 10 km, then needed to change lanes… my first shoulder check since putting it on… I could barely see my shoulder! Shikes, talk about freaky! There was no way I could do a proper shoulder check without moving my body around on the seat… I felt quite frightened at that moment and realised I’d stuffed up big time. Yeah I should have taken it back, but hey young and not brave enough to have done that back then. I ended up selling the bike within the year and the guy who bought it was happy with the helmet too… for his pillion.
So moral of the story… major safety factor… check the amount of peripheral vision.
There are various features for all different styles of helmets, but these would be the main ones to consider:
- Weight – the lighter the better
- Vents – super important… for both hot and cold, for airflow and to help prevent fogging
- Visor – coz who likes chomping on dragonflies or having an elephant beetle whack you in the eye
- Pinlock adaptable – there are accessories called Pinlock anti-fog lens which is a flexible visor to fit inside the helmet visor, aimed at preventing fogging, due to temperature differences, rain and foggy conditions. There will be little plastic pins on the helmet visor. A great feature to have.
- Glasses Groove – one of the most overlooked, yet best invention ever, for helmets. Glasses can go on and off just like normal, as if your head didn’t have a big fibreglass growth attached
- Removable and adjustable lining for cleaning and fitting adjustments
- Flick down sun visor – great if you’ve forgotten your sunnies, but beware it can add considerable weight to a helmet so think… is it really worth it, when you have a decent pair of sunnies?
- Tinted visors… yeah not convinced on these personally, do you carry a spare clear one for night riding?
- Different types of fasteners –D ring or Micrometric/micro-ratchet
- Wind and noise buffer which is a removable piece of material placed in under the chin bar. Great in winter and helps with road noise.
We can’t all afford a $1,000 for a helmet, however, if looking for a mid-range and still decent quality, be prepared to pay at least $300 – 500.
What is your head worth to you… which is where the saying fifty-dollar head, fifty-dollar helmet comes from. Many accidents would have been a walk away, as compared to dead, if they’d been wearing an appropriate and correctly fitted helmet.
Always your choice; remembering your helmet is the most important of your safety gear to get right, as best you can. Just try not to put style, colour or coolness above the safety level you’re aiming for. Oh… and never ever buy second hand, no matter how good it looks.
Did you know:
- Fixed full face styled helmets offer the highest protection, then modular and open face coming in third place
- The most commonly damaged body parts in an accident, are the forehead and chin
- Having a well fitted helmet with no movement of head within, is what gives the protection.
If you wear your helmet consistently the general rule of thumb is approximately 3-5 years unless it’s experienced a harsh impact or accident, as it becomes exposed weather, UV rays, road grime which eventually can weaken the resins and glues that hold the helmet together. Pay attention to any changes of feel or anything that looks different; maybe include a helmet check on a regular basis, when you do your servicing, or more regular, like fortnightly, monthly, depending on your usage. The inner foam shell and lining deteriorate also, especially from make-up residue.
It’s not law, but manufacturers recommend the five years… there’s a lot of new technology come around in 5 years, so worth it just for that. Who goes out and gets the latest iPhone, but has a shabby, nine year old helmet? I got four solid years out of my last one and that was wearing it almost every day and wearing it over 65,000 km, so totally got my money’s worth. I grabbed it for a road trip in early 2020 and it basically fell apart… I had noticed the lining and stuff around the outer edges coming apart, over time, so was pushing it to the limits. Basically a lot of common sense involved here and hey, don’t we own plenty of that! When throwing a helmet out, cut off the chin strap… so it can’t be used.
There will be a manufactured date stitched into the helmet also. While this is the age of the helmet, it has nothing to do with replacement. It is just the shelf life… and the majority of retailers will store them correctly, in a cool, dark place. It’s not uncommon to purchase a helmet with a manufactured date 3-4 years prior to purchase so don’t be concerned… helmets don’t expire as such; they would need an expiry date if that was the case.
The helmet’s life starts from when it’s worn.
In addition, if involved in an accident or have dropped it from considerable height, that will compromise the helmet’s protection function, so advisable to replace… yep even if it’s brand new.
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