I’ve read a lot online lately about protective gear for motorcycle riders, and I’ve even written on the topic myself. But even if you forgo the benefits of jackets, gloves and boots, once you get right down to it, the single most important piece of gear is probably the most controversial: the helmet. Whole forests have been cleared just to provide the volume of paper it’s taken to write the many arguments both in favor of and in opposition to helmet laws. My purpose isn’t to debate helmet laws, though. I’m more concerned about the proper usage and care of them.
Even in Texas, where it’s currently very easy to be exempt from mandatory helmet use, I’m starting to see more and more voluntary wearing of protective headgear. Which is a good thing, because I don’t care how tough you are, I guarantee the asphalt is harder than your head.
I wonder, though, how many people are just ordering online or running in and grabbing any ol’ helmet. Or worse: buying a used helmet. I wonder, too, how many people know how to properly take care of their lid?
First off, fit is important. If a helmet is too tight, it’ll compress the liner and allow too much force to be transmitted to your head. Plus, it just won’t feel good to wear.
If a helmet fits too loosely, it presents multiple problems. For one thing, if it’s loose in the extreme, it might actually come off your head during an accident. Loose helmets can also shift on your head, providing a distraction and possibly affecting your field of vision. A very important factor in fit is that if the helmet isn’t snug against your scalp, then it’s not protecting you – it’s just the thing your head will land on in a crash.
To make sure you get a proper fit, you need to remember that the plush, cushy part of the lining will break in fairly quickly – usually within a few hours of ride time; somewhere between a couple of weeks and a couple of months, depending on your riding habits. So, you need to make sure you have a nice, snug fit when it’s new. When the helmet is in place, you shouldn’t be able to rock it back and forth without it moving your scalp. With the chinstrap firmly fastened, try rocking the helmet forward. If you can unseat it from your head, it’s too big. Put both hands at the back of your head and push the helmet forward. This will compress the comfort liner, simulating how it will fit once it breaks in. Have a friend or helmet salesman try to insert two fingers (stop that snickering) into the helmet at the forehead. They should just be able to get up to the first knuckle. Any more is too loose.
Now, to understand a couple of things I’m about to point out, you need to know a bit about helmet construction. There are three basic layers: the shell, the impact liner and the comfort liner. The shell is typically made of polycarbonate (just a fancy word for plastic), but higher end lids will be made of fiberglass, and may incorporate aramid fiber (Kevlar) or even carbon fiber into the mix. The main purpose of the shell is to protect against abrasion. It’s the part that holds everything together while you’re sliding down the asphalt. Underneath that is the impact liner. The impact liner is made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is basically dense Styrofoam. This is the part that protects you from the forces of impact. It works its magic by compressing on contact, absorbing and dispersing most of the energy before it’s transmitted to your skull, which isn’t nearly as well equipped for dispersing concussive energy. Then, inside the impact liner is the comfort liner. This is basically some foam padding to allow for proper fit and comfort, covered in cloth, again for comfort.
You also have to take into account the growing use of technology in helmets. Some of it comes built in these days, you can find an extensive list of bluetooth helmets here. Alternatively, if you love your helmet or have found a helmet that you love and want to add some tech to it, you can simply look for bluetooth additions on Amazon.
Now, if you only wear a helmet when the law tells you you have to, or to keep rain or cold winter wind off your face, and you gladly go without cranial protection when allowed, you can basically stop reading now and disregard the rest of the article. Then again, if this describes you, you’re probably not reading any more, anyway. If on the other hand you’d like to know how to care for your helmet, check out the next page.Next Page
Want more advice on how to buy a motorcycle helmet? Check this out: