How many different kinds of motorcycle helmets are there?
It has long been established beyond any doubt that in the event of an accident, a motorcycle helmet can reduce the chances of injury or death. A CDC study showed that in 2017, helmets saved 1,872 lives across the country , while NHTSA data showed that 5,579 motorcyclists were killed on our roads in 2020 . For the sensible rider, the only question now is "What is the right type of helmet for me?"
In the end, much of your choice will depend on how you ride, your personal style, the type of motorcycle you ride, the environment in which you ride it, and what feels comfortable. Here is a look at the main helmet types and their pros and cons to help you find the right one for you.
The full-face helmet
These are probably the most common type of motorcycle helmets in use today. They offer full face protection, complete with a chin bar and a visor, and they are favored by riders of high-performance superbikes and used by almost all track racing motorcyclists.
The design of these helmets can vary depending on the intended use. For example, a high-speed racer will need a helmet designed not to lift at very high speeds. These helmets were, in fact, pioneered through motorsport and first appeared in the latter half of the 1960s.
For those old enough to remember, the helmet was popularized by stuntman Evel Knievel around this time. While there is no doubt that full-face helmets offer the greatest all-around protection, they do have some downsides. They can be heavy unless you opt for expensive lightweight composite options such as carbon fiber. They can feel slightly suffocating, and in certain conditions, they are prone to fogging up. However, some modern full-face helmets have systems that will mitigate this to a certain extent, such as ventilation and anti-fog coatings on the visor. This suffocating effect is naturally amplified in hot climates or on long rides.
If you want to drink or talk, the helmet will need to be removed. These helmets can be cumbersome and difficult to carry or store when you are not riding. Moreover, some people dislike the mushroom-headed profile you get with these.
The modular face helmet
A modular helmet looks similar to a full-face helmet, but the chin bar can be opened, usually in a flip-up style, so that drinking and talking is possible on the go without removing the helmet completely. Some modular helmets have a separate chin bar and visor opening, but most open together. The mechanisms for this add even more to the weight, making them generally the heaviest helmets out there.
The lack of one-piece construction that you get with full-face helmets gives them less protection, making the modular helmet a compromise for the sake of convenience. For couriers and delivery riders, however, they can make sense. Both the modular and full-face helmet types are available these days with bluetooth speakers incorporated into their design.
The three-quarter helmet
These are the classic style of motorcycle helmets. Their heyday was in the '50s and '60s, and those who ride a classic motorcycle and want to keep that vintage look may still seek them out. They cover the head and ears but leave the face open, although they can be worn with goggles. With these helmets, you lose the chin protection but gain that open road, wind-in-the-face experience. In addition, they are a little lighter on the head.
Like the modular helmet, they don't need to be removed to talk, eat or drink. The open face naturally reduces that stuffy, claustrophobic feeling that you can get with full-face variants. These are one of the favorites among cafe racers and cruisers. As with modular and full-face helmets, they are available in a range of materials, including lightweight options.
These sleek, low-profile helmets are the stylish choice, available in Beanie style or a peaked reversible style such as the DOT-approved Microdot Twister Original. You can wear it peak forward for sun protection or peak backward for that aerodynamic look. With the Beanie, the face and ears are fully open for that all-around road trip or cruising experience.
They come without a visor, allowing you to pair them up with your favorite shades and dust protector depending on your mood, the road and weather conditions. For those looking for something different, there is even a classic German-style DOT-approved helmet, available in a number of finishes. Their lightweight nature means they are easy to wear and easy to stow in a backpack when you are not riding. These helmets are held firmly in place with quick-release straps, making them a no-fuss option.
The dirt-bike or off-road helmet
These are specific helmets designed solely for those who prefer their riding down and dirty. They are much like the full-face helmet, except they do not have a visor as dirt bike riders generally prefer specialist goggles that seal against the face, providing protection from dust and dirt intrusion in a way that visors can't. In addition, the open face means there is no chance of fogging.
A variation on these helmets is the dual-sports helmet, which features a visor that can be snapped up if goggles are preferred. Dirt bike helmets are peaked to keep flying mud and dirt from the rider's face and goggles as much as possible. The chin bar is extended to provide added protection and extra much-needed ventilation, whether you are dirt bike racing or just doing it as a hobby.
Sometimes the chin bar will be extended upward to cover the nose, again providing dust and dirt protection. They are generally very tough one-piece helmets, and outside of sport or trail use, these helmets will provide little extra benefit to regular road users over a normal full-face helmet.
The motorcycle helmet has come a long way since those early days of leather or even cloth caps. The use of modern high-grade materials such as ABS plastics, Kevlar and carbon fiber has greatly improved their efficiency, and improvements to safety standards in motorsport have filtered down and benefited the road user, too.
There are, of course, many factors involved in enjoying the open road safely, including riding a well-maintained motorcycle, being sufficiently skilled to control it, only riding sober, and being aware of the potential dangers from other road users. However, getting yourself a well-fitting, comfortable, DOT-approved motorcycle helmet should be very high on the list.