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Enfield C5

Helmet Guide

HCI Helmet Review


Twin Cities Rider Helmet Buyer's Guide

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.

Helmet Certifications
There are standards that helmets need to meet in order to be "certified" and in states that require helmets, a certification is mandatory. An uncertified helmet is considered a novelty helmet.

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.

Helmet Construction
There are two common types of helmet shells - polycarbonate mixtures and fiberglass. Generally, a helmet shell is cast in one piece (modular helmets would be one exception) which is a good thing because the job of that shell is to dissipate impact, spreading the force over the entire shell of the helmet. Fiberglass helmets generally have a very high impact resistance, are stable and will last a long time. Ploy helmets tend to be lighter in weight, but the material is sometimes not quite as stable or durable as fiberglass.

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.

Helmet Types
Let's start with the four basic shapes: Shorty, Half, Open Face (or Three Quarter) and Full Face. The "Shorty" helmet is the simplest type of helmet. TheyShorty Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model offer no side or chin protection and are referred to as "bicycle helmets" by some condescending motorcycle riders. Though I don't usually recommend these when people ask me, I'll admit to owning a couple. There are several style variations on the Shorty, one of which is the British "Pudding Bowl" retro style helmet and, yes, I have a couple of those in the garage. I'll even go so far as to admit wearing them to retro-themed events like Mods vs. Rockers and the like. Shorty helmets tend to be very inexpensive and it's my belief that ANY helmet is better than NO helmet.

Motorcycle Half Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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.

Three Quarter or Open Face Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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.

Full Face Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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:

Polo Style Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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:

Scorpion EXO-100 Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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.

HCI Copter Style Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

The Bell Mag-8 helmet pictured below has both a fixed position visor integrated with the helmet and a flip-down face-shield:

Bell Mag-8 Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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:

Fulmer 9B Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

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:

Fulmer M1 Modus Motorcycle Helmet Camille Ramirez-Smith model

Enough choices for you? OK. Let's get on to buying a helmet

Comfort and Fit
You've probably got some idea of what type (or types) of helmet you're interested in. IMPORTANT - go to a bricks & mortar store to do your helmet shopping. I have nothing against online businesses , but it is VERY difficult to buy a helmet you'll be happy with online. The variety of shapes, features and fit are HUGE and you really, really, really need to try helmets on in person. Different helmet brands and models will have different shapes and sizing. There are helmets that are almost round, others that are narrow ovals and some that are egg shaped. Sizing is different as well. You may fit in a "Large" Fulmer but need and "Extra-Large" Bell to be comfortable. Some brands may not feel comfortable at all on your head shape. I'm sorry to say that most Bell helmets don't fit me at all which really sucks because I love some of their designs. I'm glad to say that I've never found a Nolan XXL that DIDN'T fit my melon almost perfectly. The point is that you need to try on different helmets and be sure to get one that fits you and is comfortable.

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.

Again, any helmet is better than no helmet. This is not the time to go cheap. There are good helmets out there in the $100 - $200 range but if you have to spend more to get one that really fits you DO IT. One of my favourite modular Full-Face helmets cost me about $500, but it fits me like a glove and provides excellent protection. Don't plan to keep a helmet forever. Life expectancy of a helmet varies, but five years is a good rule of thumb. If you have an accident or fall with a helmet - REPLACE IT. Even if the helmet doesn't show outward signs of damage, absorbing impact weakens the helmet's ability to protect you. Buy your helmet(s) at a bricks and mortar store. With a good helmet that fits, you'll ride in greater comfort (I can't imagine riding in the rain or cold without a helmet) and you'll be safer.

David Harrington  

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