If you ride a moped, scooter or motorcycle I think you should wear a helmet. As of today, the State of Minnesota only forces you to wear a helmet in certain circumstances (rider permit, etc.). I'm not saying that I think there should be laws forcing you to wear a helmet when you ride, I sincerely want you to wear one because it's a simple step you can take to help protect yourself from THEM.
THEY are out to get you every minute that you are on the road. THEY don't see you, are in the middle of a very important phone call, or are texting their new Middle East peace plan to Obama. THEY simply can't be bothered to actually drive and if you're stupid enough to be on the road at the same time THEY are, well, it's your own fault when THEY kill you.
Of course I also want you to wear a helmet because both my wife and I are survivors of two-wheeled accidents and helmets played an important role in our protection. My wife was hit by a left-turner (who fled the scene) and she had a hard, fast meeting with Mr. Pavement. She ended up with a broken collar, but no other injuries and believe me, her head hit the pavement hard. I have had a few meetings with Mr. Pavement and in one of them a helmet almost certainly saved my life (I actually met with Mr. Concrete that time).
If you've read this far, you're likely to be at least considering a helmet. In this article we're going to look at the basic types of helmets available and give some pointers on selecting a helmet that will be right for you. I'd like to thank Scooterville/Mill City Motorcycles for letting us utilize their extensive helmet inventory for pictures. I'd also like to thank Camille Ramirez-Smith for modeling. Before you start sending emails asking - yes, Camille is THAT gorgeous and no, she is not available. She's married and even if she weren't, I saw her first.
The most common certification procedure for motorcycle helmets available for purchase in the USA is the DOT (Department Of Transportation) standard. A helmet that has been proven to meet the DOT standards will have a "DOT" sticker on it. Snell (Snell Memorial Foundation) certification involves different standards than DOT. It is more commonly seen on European helmets. The argument about which standard is "better" would be too long to repeat here. Contrary to popular belief, DOT certification is required in the USA and having a Snell certification (which is voluntary) does not remove the requirement for DOT certification.
Next to the shell is typically a safety liner. This is made from EPS (expandable polystyrene, like a disposable coffee cup) and absorb impact energy WITHOUT passing that impact on to your head. Not all helmets have this layer.
The padding that actually rests against your head is a comfort liner. It should be "breathable" and absorb sweat. Many helmets make this layer removable (in whole or in part) and washable which can be very nice, especially after several long, hot rides.
The last general construction component is the chin strap. This is what holds the helmet on your head, is generally made of woven belting, and has a locking system. Double "D" rings are the most common. Two rings will be together on a short piece of webbing on one side of the helmet. One passes the longer strap through both rings and double back through one ring, securing the helmet. Aftermarket quick-release systems are available that attach to the D-rings and there are some helmets that have "native" quick-release systems and no D-rings.
Ventilation systems, communication systems, integrated sun-screens, and many other components exist in some helmets and we'll touch on some of those in a bit.
The Half Helmet generally offers just a little more protection than the Shorty. The example pictured above includes the common features of a snap-on sun visor and a removable neck cowl that also includes some more padding for the ears and cheeks. The white version of this helmet is sometimes referred to as the "Highway Patrol" or "CHiPs" helmet.
The Three-Quarter (or open face) helmet offers good protection to the skull with the exception of the lower mandible (jaw & chin) and is generally what I consider the "minimum" as far as a safe helmet is concerned. This shell shape is what the majority of new riders buy. This shape is going to protect the side and back of your skull and is available in MANY variations.
The Full Face helmet is designed, as the name implies, to protect your entire head. To maximize your riding safety, this is what you should wear. Some people feel "claustrophobic" in Full Face helmets and feel that the chin section could interfere with their vision. I have found that any slight feeling of claustrophobia passes quickly and haven't experienced any reduction in field of vision.
There are all kinds of variations on these four basic shapes. For example, the "Polo" helmet shown below is very similar to the Shorty but includes a slight visor integrated into the shell of the helmet:
In some cases, the basic shape might be the same, but different features are added. The Scorpion EXO-100 pictured below in a nice Half Helmet with a neck cowl AND and integrated sun-screen/shield:
As I mentioned previously, the Three-Quarter helmets offer a lot of variety in configuration. One popular style is the Copter helmet. It derives its name from the type of helmets associated with helicopter pilots and features a face shield with a cut-away around the nose and mouth - to make room for the oxygen mask worn by pilots. Though I almost never need additional oxygen when riding, I do like this style of helmet and have a couple that I use on hot days.
The Bell Mag-8 helmet pictured below has both a fixed position visor integrated with the helmet and a flip-down face-shield:
Another Three-Quarter that I like is the Fulmer 9B helmet pictured below. It's got an aerodynamic shell shape, a good-sized face shield AND an integrated narrow sun shield that is operated by a lever on the top of the helmet:
One significant option in the Full Face family of helmets is the modular design. The Fulmer M1 Modus pictured below is a two-part Full Face helmet in which the entire chin bar unlocks and pivots up to make it easier to get the helmet on and off:
Enough choices for you? OK. Let's get on to buying a helmet
Comfort and Fit
When you put the helmet on (and secure the chin-strap) the fit should be just a little snug and you should be able to shake your head and have the helmet stay secure. If the helmet "pinches" you, especially in the forehead area, it's too small or the wrong shape. Nothing is worse than a helmet-headache from bad fit - it can ruin an otherwise good ride.
Make sure there is room for your ears and glasses (if you wear them) or sunglasses/goggles. The interior of a helmet will adapt a bit to fit your head, BUT ONLY A LITTLE.
If you are buying a Full Face helmet, consider what kind of ventilation system the helmet has - does it have intake AND exhaust vents? Most Full Face helmets will fog up a bit inside - can you open the visor just a crack to clear that condensation and have the visor hold that position? How heavy does the helmet feel on your head? As a general rule, high quality and light weight can be tough to achieve and may cost more, but it's worth it especially on long rides.
Make SURE the helmet doesn't "ride up" on your head. This is an almost sure sign that the helmet is too big and becomes just about unbearable when riding. Image the wind pushing against your helmet as it rides up your forehead as the chin-strap strangles you... NOT pleasant.
Spend some time and be picky when trying out different helmets. Flaws in helmet fit will become magnified over time.