Motorcycle Helmets: The Essentials

Here we take a look at the basics you need to know about selecting and owning your motorcycle helmet:

  1. Materials
  2. Types of fit
  3. Straps
  4. Sizing
  5. Cleaning
  6. Storage
  7. Replacement
  8. Regulations

A review in 2008 (Liu et al) concluded that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by around 69% and death by around 42%. Facial and skull damage may heal but brain damage often does not, so most importantly the helmet’s primary focus is to protect the brain of the wearer. Here’s how this is achieved:

1. Materials

The Outer shell of a motorcycle helmet is generally designed to expend the energy of the impact across the helmet shell rather than the wearer’s skull, most helmet manufacturers but not all now design the outer shell to distort in a crash which is believed to help with the dissipation of the energy of an impact.

Modern helmets have two basic constructions either from polycarbonate or a fibreglass composite - as a rule cheaper helmets are constructed in polycarbonate and premium price helmets are generally made with a composite of fibreglass reinforced with Kevlar and/or carbon fibre; composite products are generally a lightweight shell yet very strong but they are usually more expensive but do have a longer recommended lifespan over a polycarbonate option.

Arguably the most important element in construction, the inner EPS “Expanded Polystyrene Foam” is designed to cushion or crush on impact to help prevent head injuries. Technology is getting even better with the EPS and many premium helmets are using multi density foams to increase safety and comfort.

Helmets generally have fabric and foam interiors for both comfort and protection.

2. Types of fit

There are five main types of fit:

Full Face

Covers the entire head, including the base of the skull. Studies have shown that full-face helmets offer the most protection to motorcycle riders because 35% of all crashes showed major impact on the chin-bar area.Wearing a helmet with less coverage eliminates that protection — the less coverage the helmet offers, the less protection for the rider.


A partially open-faced helmet for increased airflow (usually worn with goggles to eliminate flying debris).


Resembling a Full Face helmet when fully closed, but has a moveable chin bar that pivots upwards. The rider may thus eat, drink or have a conversation without unfastening the chinstrap and removing the helmet – popular with the police force and riding instructors.

Open Face/Three Quarter Helmet

Covers the ears, cheeks, and back of the head, but lacks the lower chin bar of the full-face helmet and therefore significantly less protective. A visor can sometimes be added to protect the eyes from debris.

Half Helmet

The “Pudding Basin”, this offers no protection to the back of the head or face.


3. Straps

There are two types of strap fastenings available are Double D and micrometric lock buckle (‘Micro Lock’), both are safe and secure, so the choice will depend on your preference. Normally a helmet used towards a more sportive bias - track, touring, and sports roadster - the choice would be a helmet with a double D fastening. Micro Lock is often chosen for urban use, commuting, or for convenience.


4. Sizing 

To be able to offer effective protection whilst remaining comfortable, a helmet must be perfectly adapted to its user. Choosing the right size is essential – the best helmet is the one that FITS, not the brand!

Measure your head circumference using a tape measure. Position it about 2 cm above the eyebrows and take a measurement around the widest part of your head placing the tape across the temples and around the back of the skull and back to the forehead. If you fall between sizes always start your test with a smaller size of the two.

Try the helmet on by expanding the opening with your hands and then sliding it onto your head. To avoid ripping them, don’t pull on the chinstrap covers, only the chinstrap itself.

The top liner should fit your head; cheek pads squish your cheeks in and are snug against your brow line (you shouldn’t be able to get your fingers inside the helmet at the brow line).

It’s important to do the ‘wiggle test’ from back to front and not just side-to-side. There is only one way a helmet can come off and that’s from the back and over your head, even when strapped.

You should feel an all over even pressure across your head with the helmet unable to twist or move around, a firm but comfortable fit without pain. If you feel a hard contact point or major discomfort, try the larger size.

Keep it on for 5-10 minutes to get used to the fit, as it should start to feel more comfortable once it’s bedded in.

 5. Cleaning

Your motorcycle helmet will get grubbier by the day, both externally and internally, so it’s important to keep it as pristine as possible for the sake of decent visibility and hygiene. It only takes a few simple steps, ideally after each ride:

  1. All plastic parts are sensitive to agents containing solvents, detergent or alcohol including window cleaner so DO NOT USE THESE. Use ordinary hand and face soap or a specialist helmet cleaner and warm water only.
  2. Spray the surface of the helmet.
  3. Wipe with a soft cloth/kitchen roll.
  4. Remove the interior components of the helmet (if applicable)
  5. All removable parts of the interior comfort liner should be removed and washed by hand or in a washing machine at 30° C with the use of a washing bag and neutral cleaning agent. Fixed padding should be wiped with a damp cloth, again using only a neutral cleaning agent. Antibacterial detergents have proven useful in removing smells.The EPS liner can also be wiped down with a mild cleaner.  As EPS is neither solvent nor heatproof, the impact absorption liner must be treated with particular care during cleaning. As in all other cases, the EPS liner should be cleaned using only a damp cloth in order to avoid scratches or indentations.
  6. Rinse
  7. Air-dry naturally


6. Storage

Helmets are quite a fragile item and care should be taken with them. Helmets should be stored in a room temperature dry location never in a loft or a garage. NEVER put your gloves inside the helmet as they will be contaminated with road grime and petrol fumes which can damage the interior of your helmet and remember your head goes in it! There are storage bags available on the market WHICH would be a good investment.


 7. Replacement

Ultimately, the useful service life of a safety helmet is dependent on the intensity and frequency of its use. Helmet replacement is recommended even if only one of the under-mentioned points applies:

1. The helmet was subjected to an impact.

2. The comfort padding or the retention system has become loose due to heavy use or display signs of deterioration. Test: with the retention system fastened, the helmet turns to the side when you gently shake your head.

3. The EPS liner has come away from the helmet shell.

4. The EPS liner shows signs of wear and is beginning to break up, or if it has been exposed to heat or a solvent and has melted. There are indentations in the EPS liner and/or white scratches can be seen on surfaces with black paint.

5. Even if none of these is applied, the rule of thumb is to change every 5 years at least due to EPS and shell degradation.

Changing the visor: As soon as the scratches on your visor no longer allow a good vision, you should change it as it could restrict your view, especially at night time.

 8. Regulations

 Worldwide, many countries have defined their own sets of standards that are used to judge the effectiveness of a motorcycle helmet in an accident, and define the minimal acceptable standard based on this.

 There are 3 main standards that you may hear of: ECE 22.05, DOT and Snell.

In the United Kingdom our helmets have to conform to the ECE 22.05 legislation, DOT (FMVSS 218) is the American standard, Snell is an independent organisation who do specific work in relation to head injuries.

 Many riders in the UK look to choose a helmet bearing an Auto Cycle Union (ACU) Gold sticker as it is believed to be a stricter standard than the legal minimum ECE 22.05 specification but it is not. The ACU is an independent tester that approves Helmets for Track day or Race use. Only helmets with an ACU Gold sticker attached are allowed to be worn in competition or at track days.

Sharp is also an independent UK testing body that tests helmets in different impact areas on helmets to that of the ECE 22.05 standard and analyses real world accident data.


We hope this was an interesting read and wish you safe riding!
The LadyBiker Team
©, 2019