Ride a motorcycle and you’ll need a crash helmet. The fact that it’s the only piece of personal protection equipment mandated by law tells you everything you need to know. It’s the single most important piece of safety equipment for any motorcyclist, but for the new rider (and even a few seasoned veterans) the amount of choices can be bewildering at times.
So, setting aside the various brands on the market, we took a look at the different types of motorcycle crash helmets you can buy. There are a number of other things you need to be aware of when buying a helmet, such as making sure your helmet fits well and has been thoroughly tested before going on sale, but for now we’re going to go through the different styles available, and why you might want to choose one over the other.
The helmet that we’re all most familiar with is the full face type motorcycle helmet.
There are a host of sub sectors within the full face genre, from seventies style retro lids, through to super expensive race types. It’s the most common type of modern day helmet by far.
With an integrated chin bar, a full faced helmet is commonly regarded as among the safest type. Visors are attached to the helmet and can be flicked up and down easily with a gloved hand, while the streamlined shells are usually quieter than off-road type helmets.
Why choose a full faced helmet? Usually offers best protection. Good all-round performance that’s compatible with all kinds of riding.
What’s the disadvantage of a full faced helmet? Can be warm in the summer. Can feel claustrophobic for some riders.
Less common these days, but still popular with riders of classic bikes and cruisers is the traditional open face lid.
They offer no eye protection as standard, so need to be worn with goggles or specially designed wrap around sunglasses. Some will have the option to add a face shield style visor using press studs.
They can look really cool, but the downside is that they’ll offer no protection if you fall flat on your face. And you’ll be freezing cold in the winter too!
Why choose an open faced helmet? Light to wear and carry around. Open and keeps you closer to the elements. Cooler in the summer.
What’s the disadvantage of an open faced helmet? Offers less facial protection than a full-faced helmet. Can be unpleasant to wear in cold and wet weather. Can be uncomfortable at speed.
Like so many helmets, a jet helmet is a kind of hybrid. It’s most closely related to an open faced helmet, only with a full face shield visor that can be lifted up easily – a bit like a fighter pilot’s helmet…
They give most of the benefits of an open faced lid, without the need to wear googles. They’re popular with scooter riders on the continent and can also work well with big touring bikes, where the rider is cocooned behind a big windscreen.
British riders have never really taken to jet helmets, but they’re most popular with urban riders of twist and go scooters and mopeds.
Why choose a jet helmet? Light to wear and carry around. Keeps wind off face. No need to wear goggles.
What’s the disadvantage of a jet helmet? Still offers less facial protection than a full-faced helmet. Can be uncomfortable at speed and not considered particularly stylish by some.
As the name suggests, a half helmet is the most minimal of all helmet designs. It is essentially the top half of the helmet, covering the skull and stopping just above the ears. They’re most popular with riders of cruiser and custom bike riders, who love the lightweight, wind-in-your-face feel, but the minimalist design does offer less protection than most.
Worn with a pair of shades, they certainly look cool on a sunny day and give that rebellious look.
Why choose a half helmet? You like the look/feeling. Keeps you cool.
What’s the disadvantage of a half helmet? Less safe than most other designs. Weather protection is minimal.
Flip front helmets are supremely practical, offering most of the benefits of a full-faced helmet but have a hinged front section, which can be lifted up when stationary.
These ‘modular’ helmets are popular with working riders, like instructors, couriers and police, who like the fact that they don’t have to remove their helmets and put them back on throughout the day, but they’re well liked by riders of all kinds of bike too.
There are some downsides though. Perhaps it’s due to the association with police riders, but modular helmets do suffer something of an image problem, being seen as a bit fuddy duddy by sports bike riders. They’re typically also a little bit heavier than a traditional full face lid.
Why choose a flip front motorcycle helmet? Practicality. Comfort.
What’s the disadvantage of a flip front motorcycle helmet? Usually heavier than a full-faced helmet and not considered as safe. Style and image is not to everyone’s taste.
As the name suggests, motocross helmets are designed to be worn by competitors in motocross and other off-road disciplines.
The helmet has a peak, which helps keep the sun out of the rider’s eyes and will offer some protection against mud splats. A motocross helmet has a jutting chinbar and if designed to be worn with special goggles, which can be fitted with tear offs – disposable clear visors which can be ripped off on the fly when they get covered in dirt.
The peak does little for aerodynamics at speed and will probably buffet your head on a long run, but around town they can be popular with some riders.
Why choose a motocross style helmet? You like the look. You want to ride off-road and use goggles.
What’s the disadvantage of a motocross style helmet? Noisy and uncomfortable at motorway speeds.
Dual sport helmets are relatively rare but still command a following with riders of big adventure bikes like the BMW GS and Triumph Tiger models.
These helmets are hybrids and have a peak, like a full-on off-road, motorcycle helmet and a polycarbonate visor like a traditional full face item. Some also have a flip front mechanism for even more flexibility.
In many ways they offer the best (or worst) of all worlds. The rider can remove the visor to create a motocross helmet, or take the peak off to make a regular full face helmet.
Why choose a dual sport helmet? You want to go touring, and take in some green laning at your destination. You like the look. Good for occasional off road riding.
What’s the disadvantage of a dual sport helmet? Can be noisy and uncomfortable at motorway speeds, especially if the peak is fitted. Usually expensive.