Wearing a motorcycle helmet is not just the law in most states; it also indicates that you take safe riding seriously. A helmet shields you from the elements and noise, but also protects against potential head injuries.
“Motorcyclists do crash; we are all human,” says Hong Zhang from the Snell Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to riding safety. A proper helmet, she said, can be the difference between life and death.
With that in mind, here are five things to remember when you’re buying your next helmet.
Avoid flimsy “brain buckets.”
Good helmets work by cushioning your head during a crash and deflecting the force of an impact away from your brain. But cheap ones with thin liners—also known as “half helmets”—don’t do that. In a serious crash, they’ll leave you with little protection.
Buy only certified gear.
Look for the Snell or U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker inside or outside the helmet you’re considering purchasing. This ensures it complies with the safety standards of the DOT or Snell (which has been evaluating helmets for more than 50 years). The extra protection these helmets provide can make all the difference in a crash.
Get the size right.
Fit is crucial when it comes to choosing a helmet. Too tight and it will cause headaches. Too loose and it will bounce around making it hard to see or can slip off your head in a crash. Aim for a snug fit that allows you to comfortably move your head from side to side. You should also keep the helmet on for a few minutes before buying it to get a better feel for how it will actually perform. Because of that, Zhang says, you should never buy online.
Safe helmets don’t have to cost a fortune.
The most expensive part of a helmet isn’t the padding or the face shield or any of the other things that keep you safe, says Zhang. It’s cosmetic flourishes, like the paint job. If you’re willing to forgo a little style, you can find DOT-approved helmets for under $200. Also, Snell recommends replacing your helmet every five years as everything from hair oils to regular “wear and tear” can affect the helmet’s materials and subsequently impact its performance.
Don’t succumb to peer pressure.
Your friends may be tooling around in Second World War-era replica helmets, but that doesn’t mean you should be. “You get people wearing bogus helmets (because) of peer pressure,” says Zhang. Fashion is a consideration, she says, but you shouldn’t let it cloud your judgment when it comes to safety.
For more information about how helmets work and why they’re important, visit the Snell Memorial Foundation website and check out this video. Additional information on what to check for when shopping for a helmet can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
By Andrew Raven