Picking a right helmet is a challenging task for anyone. Be it someone new to biking, or an experienced rider. We will take you through few basics for helmet selection. Buying a helmet from a reputed brand is a good investment as they have years of R&D and experience, the dependability that comes during the hour of need. Your helmet isn't made just to save your skull, but also the soft, delicate brain inside. Bell's Race star and Pro star helmets do that job the best with their three layer impact absorbing materials and Flex technology.
1. First and Foremost, Pick the Right Helmet: Helmets can be roughly classified into four categories.
a) Half Face Helmets: Nothing beats the weight, field of vision, comfort and ease of use of half face helmets, but at the cost of exposed face and not-the-best aerodynamics. Can get noisy pretty fast on highways and the wind drag causes neck fatigue.
b) Modular/ Flip-up Helmets: Modular helmets can be opened up from the front once the rider stops, which can be pretty convenient given the situations. They are safer than the half face helmets in closed position, but not as much as a proper full-face helmet. A good middle-ground solution between a full face and a half face helmets, modular helmets however are heavier as they carry extra weight along due to hinges, and other movable parts.
c) Full Face/ Street Helmets: Full face helmets offer the best protection amongst all kinds, giving way to better safety standards like Snell certification. They have the best aerodynamics of the bunch and lesser wind noise levels. A good full-face helmet will help log in more happy hours on your bike. Our go to choice for safety over anything.
d) Adventure/ Dirt Helmets: These helmets are made for off-roading, trail blazing, dirt tracks, etc. The peak helps to prevent sprayed mud, rocks, branches or anything from getting thrown at you while trailing someone. Using a peak to block off the sun can work out depending on various factors. They are pretty well ventilated, coupled with a large field of vision and a removable peak (though peaks can come uncomfortable at high speeds as they act like a wing and cause neck fatigue).
2. Picking a Right Size: One can buy an expensive helmet, but a wrong size won't help much in saving your head during a fall. The right fitting helmet will ensure that it stays put and doesn't move around or shake at higher speeds.
3. Safety Standards: Three important international safety standards are DOT, ECE and Snell. Avoid buying a DOT-only rated helmet from a not-so-reputed manufacturer as they are allowed to give certification independently. Most good helmets will be either ECE rated only or DOT and ECE standards at the same time. Then comes Snell, being the toughest safety standard and very hard to earn. Snell rated helmets are 40-110% safer than DOT and ECE rated helmets, but tend to be heavier due to a thicker shell. Some race tracks even have Snell rated helmets as mandatory for track use.
4. Field of Vision: Buying a helmet with good side vision helps eliminate blind spots on the sides. Especially on the chaotic Indian roads, more the vision, and better awareness of one’s surroundings goes a long way in reducing mishaps (Superbikes tend to attract unnecessary attention with people trying to come close to your sides to check the bike out!).
5. Ventilation: Full face helmets have air vents, but the number of vents, their duct size, the way air flows in through them, the exhausts, the aerodynamics, etc. vary from model to model and from brand to brand. For the Indian hot summer, more ventilation is a boon as it helps rider to stay focused and alert on the road. Yes, other three categories can be more ventilated than the full face helmets, but some manufacturers like Bell Helmets, are known for their legendary ventilation, specially their Star series of helmets.
6. Composition of shell: Helmet shells are made of various materials like Polycarbonate, Fiberglass, Organic fibers, Carbon Fiber and composites.
The most affordable is the Poly Carbonate shell, followed by Fiberglass, composites and Carbon Fiber being the most expensive out of the bunch.
The more expensive materials not only make the helmet lighter, more rigid and more durable, but also help to absorb impact better than Polycarbonate helmets as they delaminate and disperse impact. They are also less prone to cracking. Buy the best that you can afford.
7. Optics: Bad, distorted visors can really cause eye fatigue and ruin night riding experience to a great extent. Some helmets come with drop-down shades that are a reasonable and effective method to cut down the sun glare. But these do have some drawbacks such as more distortion, space between the main shell and EPS liner inside, etc and are not anti fog. There are better alternatives like photo-chromatic visors available, which adapt to the brightness and get darker accordingly.
8. Chin Straps: It's just a strap, but it plays a rather important role! Without a chinstrap, your helmet is a cap ready to fly off during an impact. Chinstraps come in two variants - Buckle lock and Double D ring locking systems. If one is to talk about convenience, the buckle locking system is the easier one but is less reliable compared to a D ring lock. Its a matter of getting used to the D ring locking system and you can be sure it won't fail when time comes to keep the helmet firmly on your head.
9. Helmet looks too big on my head despite the right size! : Do not let this thought sink in while buying a helmet! You can find a cheap helmet with literally no EPS liner, that’ll look smaller on your head, but will not protect your head during an impact. Here’s a tip: Wear a riding jacket and it will compliment the helmet's size. Your safety should always be a bigger concern than what people 'might' think of your helmet's size!
10. Aerodynamics: Helmets with advanced aerodynamics are not just for track usage or for sport bikes. While cruising down the highway sitting in a relaxed position on your bike, you helmet faces huge blasts of wind, building up fatigue pretty fast and might also cause buffeting. Good aerodynamics not only aid in stability, but also in better ventilation, as they create suction behind the helmet that sucks out the air from exhaust ports.
11. Weight: Some of you might've noticed that two helmets may have different weights, despite of being made from the same materials. How does this happen? It comes down to the thickness of the outer shell and the weight distribution. A helmet’s aerodynamics should be a higher priority than fatigue from a heavier helmet. ECE rated helmets tend to be the lightest of the bunch with Snell rated helmets coming with thicker shell.
12. Anti-Fogging: Majority of helmets come with a pin lock shield - a cheap and effective way to make the visor anti-fog and prevent total blur moments at slow speeds in the winters. It creates a gap between the main visor and the shield, preventing temperature variations and thus eliminating instant fogging. But, is it the best solution? Not exactly. Since the pin lock shield doesn't come with a scratch resistant coating, it develops swirl marks the moment you try to clean it with even the softest cloth. You might not see the swirls immediately unless they become prominent or you have a spotlight. And during night riding, especially in India where roads are not properly lit, when oncoming traffic with their high beams makes visibility a nightmare, these swirls will just further ruin your riding experience. A better alternative is to buy a helmet with an anti-fog coating on the visor. Bell helmets for example, come with an anti-fog coating on all their helmets.
13. Warranty, spare parts and after sales service: Buying Helmets from reputed distributors/ dealers eliminates any possibility of first copies, provides a good warranty backup and ample supply of spare visors/ parts if ever needed. You don't want to be stuck with a helmet without a spare visor!
Make sure to pick the right helmet and treat it with respect, as it may someday return the favour. Helmets don't get expensive, they only get better and safer!
Keep a look out for our next blog about how to maintain your helmet.