Guide to Motorcycle Helmets

The humble motorcycle helmet serves as a biker's crown, their knightly armour, and sometimes, let's face it, a source of monumental bad hair days. If you've been underestimating this essential piece of gear as just a glorified coconut shell for your noggin, it's high time for a rethink! We're talking about protecting that grey matter of yours, which is busy contemplating life's vital questions—like which roadside café does the best bacon butty. Picking the right helmet isn't just a purchase; it's a science, an art, and a fashion statement rolled into one fabulous package. Yes, it's as complex as explaining the dark arts of folding a fitted sheet.

motorcycle helmets

Types of Helmets for Motorcycle Touring

Not all helmets are created equal, especially when it comes to motorcycle touring. Now, that's not to say your short spins around the block aren't important. They are! It's just that on those brief jaunts, you might not notice the subtle comforts—or discomforts — a helmet can offer. But trust me, spend hours on the road, and you'll wish you'd given more thought to your lid. So let's delve into the kinds of helmets that are going to be your loyal companions on those longer trips, shall we?

Full Face

Consider this the Rolls Royce of helmets - elegant and exceedingly safe. A full-face helmet offers 360-degree protection, enveloping your entire head, including the face and chin. You see, when you're cruising on two wheels, you're living the dream, but you're also a bit vulnerable. That's where a full-face helmet comes in, giving you top-to-bottom head protection, jawline and all.

Now, any old rider knows that control of your bike is key. These full-face marvels are crafted like an F1 car, aerodynamically designed to slice through the wind, keeping you stable even when you're tearing it up at top speeds. It's like having a wind tunnel test every time you pop out for a ride.

Another unsung hero in this helmet story is the blissful reduction of road noise. Less racket, fewer distractions, and more focus for you, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the ride and staying safe.

Of course, many of these beauties have been through the wringer in terms of safety testing. It's like they've graduated top of their class from Helmet University, holding certifications that assure you they're up to snuff.

Modular Helmets: A Jack of All Trades, But A Master of None

Modular helmets offer a tempting middle-ground in the helmet world. With the flip-up functionality, you get more freedom than a full-face helmet can offer, without sacrificing all the protection. That said, it's crucial to note they generally don't match full-face helmets in terms of safety.

However, many touring bikers still swear by modular helmets. Why? Well, besides the flip-up feature—which isn't just for snacks and chats, by the way - these helmets often come equipped with extra amenities like integrated slots for communication systems and built-in dark visors. These additions make them incredibly versatile, particularly for riders who find themselves in varying lighting and weather conditions. So while they might not be the undisputed champs in the safety department, many consider them the best touring headgear when you factor in all their other benefits.


Dual-sport helmets are designed for riders who don't like to be confined to tarmac and sometimes venture off-road. They don't necessary offer the aerodynamics of a full-face helmet but offer the comfort and ventilation of an off-road helmet. The visor and face shield are designed for both high-speed and rugged terrain, giving you the best of both worlds.

So, in the grand arena of motorcycle touring, these are your gladiators. Choose wisely; your comfort and safety hang in the balance. Remember, it's not just about looking like a legend; it's about ensuring you're snug and secure, mile after mile.

Safety Standards

When it comes to motorcycle riding, ensuring your helmet meets certain safety standards is as vital as making sure you've got petrol in the tank. These are not just random stickers or badges on the back of your helmet; they're your ticket to peace of mind.

While both DOT and ECE aim to ensure that your helmet will serve as your personal Fort Knox in the event of an accident, they go about it in slightly different ways. Here's a breakdown:

DOT (Department of Transportation)

Primarily a standard used in the United States, but you'll find helmets with DOT certification all over the shop. The DOT standard ensures your helmet can handle 'impact, penetration, and even a good old noggin squeeze,' also known as retention. This standard is self-certified by manufacturers, so some reckon it's a bit like marking your own homework.

DOT Testing

Impact Testing: DOT tests for 'peak acceleration' when the helmet is dropped from a certain height. It tests two impacts: one on a flat surface and one on a rounded anvil.

Penetration Testing: A pointed striker is dropped onto the helmet to check if it can penetrate the helmet's surface. You definitely don't want anything getting through there!

Retention System: DOT also tests the chin strap's retention system to make sure it won't stretch too much or snap under force.

Manufacturer's Honor System: Interestingly, the DOT system works largely on an 'honor system,' where the manufacturers self-certify that their helmets meet the standard. However, random samples are taken and tested for compliance.

ECE 22.05 and 22.06 (Economic Commission for Europe)

Europe's answer to DOT, the ECE standard is recognised in over 50 countries. It's a bit stricter, involving independent testing of not only impact and retention but also field of vision and even abrasion resistance. If you're touring across Europe, this is your go-to standard.

ECE Testing

Impact Testing: Like DOT, ECE tests for impacts but also adds a 'kerbstone' test which simulates hitting the edge of a curb. They test at multiple speeds and angles to account for different accident scenarios.

Penetration Testing: ECE also conducts this test but uses a different shape of striker and often more than one type of material to simulate different kinds of objects you might encounter.

Retention System: ECE tests not just the strap but also the buckle and any quick-release systems for durability and functionality.

Additional Tests: ECE includes other tests like abrasion resistance and even testing the field of vision offered by the helmet. It also examines ease of removal, which is essential in emergencies.

Third-Party Verification: Unlike DOT, ECE involves third-party labs in the certification process, ensuring an extra layer of oversight.

In a nutshell, DOT is more about 'Can this helmet take a good hit?', while ECE digs deeper into various real-world scenarios, like 'What happens if you slide across the road or hit a kerb?'


The Snell Memorial Foundation is like the overachiever of helmet safety standards. It conducts extremely rigorous tests, going above and beyond government requirements. Helmets with Snell certification are often pricier, but you're essentially paying for an extra layer of peace of mind.

A bit more elitist, somewhat more rigorous, and definitely for those who seek top-shelf protection. Here's what makes Snell stand out:

Snell Testing

Impact Testing: Like DOT and ECE, Snell conducts impact tests, but it goes a few steps further. Helmets are subjected to multiple impacts at various speeds and against different shaped anvils, including flat, hemispherical, and edge-shaped ones.

Shell Penetration: Similar to the other standards, but Snell uses a heavier, more pointed striker. In the realm of "things you don't want piercing your helmet," Snell sets the bar high.

Face Shield Penetration: Unique to Snell, this test fires an airgun pellet at the visor to ensure it won't be penetrated. Handy for those moments when a pebble decides it wants to be a bullet.

Retention System: Snell also tests the chin straps but adds a twist—literally. They conduct a roll-off test to ensure the helmet won't roll off your head when fastened.

Flammability: Believe it or not, Snell tests to see how the helmet holds up to fire for a short period, just in case you find yourself in a “Fast & Furious” scenario.

Stability Test: Your helmet needs to stay put, no matter what aerobatic manoeuvres you're pulling on your bike. Snell tests for this with a dynamic stability test that simulates real-world forces.

Third-Party Verification: Much like ECE, Snell uses third-party labs for independent verification. They also have follow-up tests for helmets already on the market, just to keep manufacturers on their toes.

motorcycle helmets

Material Matters: Polycarbonate vs. Fiberglass vs. Carbon Fiber

So you've navigated the maze of safety standards and helmet types, and you're feeling like a knight in shining armour. But wait, what is this armour made of? Let's break down the three most common materials you'll encounter: Polycarbonate, Fiberglass, and Carbon Fiber.


Think of this as your everyday, reliable cuppa tea. Polycarbonate is the most commonly used material and tends to be found in less expensive helmets. It's flexible and absorbs energy by flexing upon impact. However, due to its flexibility, it's generally thicker and might result in a slightly heavier helmet.


Stepping up the ladder, we have fiberglass. Imagine this as your craft beer of helmet materials—more refined and generally better quality. Fiberglass is lighter than polycarbonate and is good at spreading impact energy over a larger area. It's a bit less forgiving when it comes to flex, but it makes up for this with increased rigidity and durability.

Carbon Fiber

The single malt Scotch of helmet materials. Carbon fiber is lightweight, super strong, and generally the go-to for the high-end, take-out-a-second-mortgage kind of helmets. It offers excellent energy absorption and is often used in racing helmets. If you're after top-of-the-line protection and are willing to splurge, carbon fiber is your chap.

motorcycle helmets

Size and Fit

Getting your helmet to fit just right is a bit like finding the perfect pair of jeans. When it's on point, you feel like a million quid; get it wrong, and you're in for a world of discomfort. Let's delve into the basics of how a snug helmet should feel and what you need to look out for.

How Should a Helmet Fit?

A well-fitting helmet should be snug but not so tight that you're squishing your brains out. It should sit level on your head, and the top pad inside the helmet should press down on the crown of your head. The cheek pads should also be in contact with your cheeks without feeling too pushy. And remember, helmets will break in a bit over time, so it's okay if it's a smidge tight at first—just not headache-inducing tight.

Cheek Pads and Comfort Liners

Ah, the cushiony comfort that separates a good helmet from a great one. Cheek pads do more than just cuddle your face; they play a vital role in the helmet's fit and safety. They should be firm enough to hold your face steady but flexible enough to allow for easy speaking and facial expressions—because you'll want to smile when you're riding, right?

Head Shapes: One Size Doesn't Fit All

Believe it or not, the shape of your noggin is a significant factor in determining how well a helmet will fit you. Generally, manufacturers categorise head shapes into three main types:

Round Oval

Imagine a football, and you've got a round oval shape. This means the length and width of your head are almost identical. Helmets designed for this shape offer more room on the sides but might feel a tad tight at the forehead and back.

Intermediate Oval

This is the most common head shape and is a bit longer front-to-back than it is side-to-side. Think of a rugby ball, but less exaggerated. Most helmets are designed with this shape in mind, so you've hit the jackpot if you fall into this category.

Long Oval

In this case, your head is significantly longer from the forehead to the back than it is wide. Helmets designed for long oval shapes will have a tighter fit on the sides and more room at the front and back.

So when you're trying on helmets, it's not just about the size, but also the shape. A mismatch can lead to pressure points and discomfort, especially on those longer rides. That's why it's crucial to try before you buy and spend some time wearing the helmet in the shop before making that investment.

Ventilation: The Breath of Fresh Air You Didn't Know You Needed

We've all been there: It's a scorching summer day, and you're out on the open road. Your helmet starts to feel like a portable sauna, and you're about two seconds away from trying to invent air-conditioned headgear. That's where ventilation comes in.

Good ventilation is like the difference between riding through the rolling hills of the English countryside and being stuck in a stuffy tube carriage during rush hour. It can seriously make or break your journey. Proper airflow not only keeps you cool but also reduces visor fogging and enhances your overall comfort. Imagine cruising down the motorway, feeling the wind in your... well, not hair, but close enough!

girl fixing a bike

Especially for those marathon summer tours, a well-ventilated helmet is not a luxury—it's a necessity. It'll keep you focused, more comfortable, and less grumpy when you finally roll into that motorway service station for a much-needed cuppa.

So next time you're helmet shopping, don't overlook those strategically placed vents, sliders, and even exhaust ports. They're not just for show; they're your ticket to a cooler, more enjoyable ride.

Budget Consideration: From Penny Pinching to Premium Picks

No matter how deep your pockets are, there's a helmet for you. But remember, while a good helmet doesn't need to break the bank, it's not the place to cut corners either. Here are some guidelines based on different budget levels:

Low-End Options

If you're counting your pennies but still want a safe, no-frills option, aim for a helmet that meets at least the minimum safety standards, like DOT or ECE. Typically made of polycarbonate, these helmets might skimp on some of the luxurious features but will still get the basic job done. Prices usually range from £50 to £150.

Mid-Range Options

Here, you start seeing some extra features creep in, like better ventilation, removable liners, and even some basic Bluetooth capability. Often made from a blend of polycarbonate and fiberglass, these helmets offer a good balance between cost and comfort. Expect to shell out between £150 and £400.

High-End Options

For those who want the crème de la crème, high-end helmets offer superior materials like carbon fiber, advanced safety features, excellent ventilation, and high-tech add-ons like advanced Bluetooth systems and Pinlock visors. If you're willing to invest, these helmets can set you back anywhere from £400 to well over £1000.

So whether you're a budget-conscious rider or someone with champagne tastes, there's a helmet out there for you. Just remember, you can't put a price on safety—or comfort, for that matter.

Care and Maintenance: Keep Your Helmet Happy and It'll Return the Favour

Look, you wouldn't buy a nice motorbike and never change the oil, would you? The same applies to your helmet. A little TLC can go a long way in prolonging its life and ensuring it does its job when you need it the most.


When it comes to cleaning, think 'spa day' rather than a quick dunk in the sink. Use gentle, helmet-friendly cleaners to clean the shell, and if your helmet has a removable liner, pop it out and give it a wash regularly. If you sweat a lot or ride in dusty conditions, you'll want to do this even more frequently. Make sure everything is completely dry before putting it back together, mind you.


Helmets come with an expiration date, just like that jar of mayo lurking at the back of your fridge. Generally speaking, a helmet has a shelf life of about 5 years from the date of manufacture or 3 - 5 years of regular use. Why? Materials degrade over time, reducing their ability to protect you.

When to Replace

If you've taken a knock in an accident, replace your helmet immediately—even if it looks fine. The internal structure could be compromised, and it may not protect you in another crash. Also, if you notice any cracks, loose padding, or other signs of wear and tear, it's time to go shopping.

motorcycle helmets


Choosing a helmet is a lot like choosing a good mate for a road trip. It needs to be reliable, comfortable, and well-suited to your needs and lifestyle. Most importantly, it should make the journey enjoyable. So take your time, try on a few, and find the one that makes you say, "This is it!"

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Don't Skimp on Your Skid Lid!

Thinking about saving a few quid on a cheaper helmet? Remember, if you've got a £10 head, get a £10 helmet. Invest in quality. Your brain will thank you!

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Looking for a top-notch Arai helmet without breaking the bank? You're in luck!

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Fun Facts

Did you know the world's longest motorcycle was over 26 meters long. It was presented and measured at Lakhota lake, Jamnagar, Gujarat, India, on 22 January 2014. The bike was more than 4 m (13 ft) longer than the previous record holder's.

To ensure that his super-stretched motorcycle would be able to perform like a conventional motorbike, the constructor rode it along a road for 100 m (328 ft) without putting his feet down.

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The aerodynamic drag on a motorcycle can increase by up to 40% just by the rider sitting upright instead of in a tucked position. It's a wind-resistance thing—like trying to walk through a pool vs. gliding through it!

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