Types of Motorcycle Helmets – 2020 Comprehensive Guide

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When choosing riding gear, protecting your head with the right helmet is the most critical consideration. 

There are many types and styles of motorcycle helmets to choose from, all with different uses, features, and styles. 

We’ll discuss the different types and guide you through how to choose the best motorcycle helmet for you. 

Motorcycle Helmet Types

Motorcycle helmets come in many different types. It is important to know the main varieties of helmets to choose which style will best suit your needs. There are six main types to consider.

Motorcycle Helmet Types

Full Face Motorcycle Helmets

Full face helmets provide full 360º complete protection of your entire head and face, as well as your chin. Full-face helmets are the safest type of helmet for motorcyclists and are one of the only types capable of protecting your chin and jaw by using a chin bar feature. 

Modular Motorcycle Helmets

Modular helmets combine the design of full-face helmets with ¾ helmets. Modular helmets are designed like full-face helmets, but the chin bar and visor are connected to a hinge, allowing them to be flipped up out of the way. The hinge action makes them heavier and slightly weaker than full-face helmets. 

Motorcycle Half Helmets

Half helmets provide the minimum protection necessary and only cover the skull’s top, leaving the face unprotected. This type of helmet sits on top of the head and is secured with a strap under the chin. Half shell helmets are a favorite among riders who like to feel the wind on their face.

Open Face Motorcycle Helmets

Open face helmets (also known as ¾ helmets) have a similar build to full-face helmets, but they lack face protection and a chin bar. 

The vintage style helmets cover the top, back, and sides of the head and sometimes have an optional visor or a spot to clip on your visor.

Dual Sport Motorcycle Helmets

Dual sport helmets incorporate design elements of full-face helmets and off-road helmets and are designed to be used on and off-road. Just like a full-face helmet, these models give full protection and feature a chin bar. They feature a sun peak, and you can flip the face shield up or down. 

Off-Road Motorcycle Helmets

Off-road helmets are designed to be lightweight and streamlined for riding on dirt roads. These helmets are designed to be used with goggles rather than face shields for better airflow. They also feature a sun peak to shield the rider from the sun and flying dirt and mud. 

Youth Motorcycle Helmets - How Do They Compare?

Youth motorcycle helmets are made the same way as adults and offer the same degree of protection. However, you likely won’t find any open-faced models for children because the safest helmets by far are ones that cover the entire head and face. 

Helmets for kids generally come in three options - full-face, half-face, and modular. 

  • Full-face models fit tightly around the head and face and leave nothing uncovered and unprotected. 

  • Half-face models leave the eyes uncovered, so the child can wear goggles if desired. 

  • Modular models are a combination of full-face and half-face. They’re designed like a full-face helmet, but the face shield is on a hinge so that it may be open to a half-face position.

No matter the type you choose for a child, the most important thing to consider is how it fits. The helmet should fit snugly with no gaps between the head and the inner shell. Kids grow quickly, so you may need to move up sizes often, but it’s important not to buy a helmet that’s too big. 

Look for helmets that are DOT approved or rated by SNELL for added safety assurance. Also, be sure to check the helmet for cracks or signs of damage before each ride. 

Comparison Overview

With so many options on the market, it can be hard to decide which style is best for you. Let's compare a few models to see how they differ.

Modular vs Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets

Both modular and full-face helmets provide complete coverage and protection, but there are some key differences. Full-face helmets are designed for maximum safety and protection, while modular helmets are for those looking for safety and easy-to-access to fresh air. 

With modular models, you can flip up the chin bar to get fresh air without taking off the helmet, but this feature makes the helmet weaker than a full-face model. 

Open Face vs Full-Face Motorcycle Helmets

Full-face motorcycle helmets are safer than open-face helmets by far, but open-face models have their advantages. Some people feel suffocated in full-face masks and experience blind spots and reduced hearing. Open-face models leave your face exposed for better visibility and breathability. 

Motorcycle Helmets Full-Face vs Half

Full-face and half-face helmets sit on opposites of the spectrum. To decide between the two, you have to ask yourself if you would prefer the feel of open-air freedom or full safety and protection. Half helmets are very lightweight, and it’s even easy to forget you’re wearing them. But half helmets lack the superior safety of full-face helmets. 

Motorcycle Helmets Dual Sport vs Street

Dual sport helmets incorporate many of the benefits and safety features of both street helmets and off-road helmets. However, if you primarily stay on roads, a dual sport helmet may allow too much airflow, and the sun peak may cause problems at high speeds. But if you typically ride on highways just to get to off-road trails, a dual sport helmet may be a good option. 

Custom Motorcycle Helmets

Personalized and custom helmets are a great way to stand out from the crowd and make riding that much more fun. Here are a few ideas to get your inspiration going. 

Bluetooth Motorcycle Helmet

A Bluetooth helmet allows you to make calls, listen to music, or even listen to GPS directions all from within your helmet while you’re riding. 

Motorcycle Helmet with HUD

HUD stands for “heads-up display.” With HUD, smartphone features are displayed in the corner of your helmet’s visor using a small projector, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. 

Women’s Motorcycle Helmets

There are more female riders on the road than ever before, and there are some incredibly sleek and stylish helmets out there specifically made for women

Predator Motorcycle Helmet

These custom helmets inspired by the movie ‘Predator’ demand attention with meticulous paint designs and the fierce dreadlocks reminiscent of the famous character. 

Mandalorian Motorcycle Helmet

To celebrate the first live-action TV series in the epic Star Wars franchise, we can’t leave out the fantastic possibilities of custom Mandalorian motorcycle helmets. 

Batman Motorcycle Helmet

If being the Dark Knight was ever a dream of yours as a kid, then look no further than this custom Batman motorcycle helmet. 

Star Wars Motorcycle Helmet

For those who are drawn to the dark side of the force, then you’ll love the custom possibilities of a Star Wars helmet like this stormtrooper one.

What Are Motorcycle Helmets Made Of?

Motorcycle helmets are composed of three layers and are designed with materials that guarantee safety, comfort, and style. The three layers of construction consist of a padded liner, an inner crush foam, and a hard outer shell. 

Padded Liner

The padded liner is the soft part that sits against your face and head. It’s typically made from soft rubber foam and a fabric liner. 

Inner Crush Foam

The inner crush foam sits between the padded liner and the helmet’s hard outer shell. The purpose of this expanded polystyrene foam layer is actually to crush during an impact. When this layer crushes, the impact’s force is distributed throughout the foam to protect your head from taking as much force as possible. 

Hard Outer Shell

The hard outer shell of a helmet takes the brunt of the impact and helps deflect sharp objects and surfaces. The materials used for the outer shell can vary between brands and manufacturers, but there are four primary materials you’ll see being used. 

  • Fiberglass -- Hard but brittle material used in premium helmets

  • Thermoplastic -- Common, inexpensive, and slightly bulky option 

  • Carbon Fiber -- Stronger and lighter than steel and makes a great racing helmet

  • Kevlar -- Strongest but most expensive material

Can Any Helmet Be Used for All Motorcycling Activities?

Yes and no. The most important function of a motorcycle helmet is safety. In that regard, full- face, dual sport, modular, and off-road helmets should provide excellent protection for your full head and face in any circumstance. But the only helmet that might work for all types of motorcycling activities is the dual-sport helmet. 

Full-face and modular helmets don’t allow enough air circulation for off-road activities, and they lack the right features, like a sun peak, for protecting the rider from sun and dirt. Similarly, the off-road helmet’s sun peak and extra space in the chin bar for ventilation make it unfit for the highway’s high speeds. 

Are All Motorcycle Helmets Approved for Street Use?

Nearly all motorcycle helmets are approved for street use, but to make sure, it should have a DOT symbol on the back. All motorcycle helmets sold in the United States must have the DOT certification label and meet the federal standard. Be wary of helmets that don’t have this symbol as they are most likely novelty helmets and won’t protect you in a crash. 

DOT Approved Motorcycle Helmets

DOT stands for the Department of Transportation. Motorcycle helmets that are DOT approved meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218. The DOT label on helmets made after May 13, 2013, will be on the helmet’s back and state the manufacturer or brand, the model, DOT, FMVSS No. 218, and CERTIFIED. If a helmet doesn’t have a DOT sticker, it’s not legal or approved for use on public roadways. 

Snell Approved Motorcycle Helmets

The Snell Memorial Foundation was created after the death of auto racer Pete “William” Snell. Snell is a non-profit that is dedicated to improving the safety of helmets. Snell standards are widely considered to be the superior certification for helmets because Snell approved helmets are put through very rigorous testing. Snell even does testing on prototypes to aid manufacturers in producing the safest helmets. Snell updates its certification standard every five years. 

Safety Considerations for Choosing a Motorcycle Helmet Type

Safety is the main purpose of a motorcycle helmet. What key features should we consider for the best safety measures?

Size and Fit

One of the most important considerations in ensuring your helmet is safe is to make sure it fits properly. If it’s too loose, it will move around on your head or, worse, fall off. If it’s too tight, it’s going to be incredibly uncomfortable if it fits at all. 

Your helmet should fit snugly on your head and not move around freely. You should not be able to insert four fingers between your forehead and the helmet, and you should feel even pressure around your head and cheeks with no pressure points. A full-face helmet will provide the most protection. 

Safety Standards and Materials

The safest motorcycles will be made from quality materials and have the right certifications. Composite fiberglass is a great option and will take the brunt of the force from a crash to effectively protect your skull. 

If you intend to ride on public roadways, then the helmet will have to be DOT certified at the very least. For added safety, consider a helmet that is also Snell certified. Snell approval goes far beyond the minimum requirements for safety. 

Conclusion 

When choosing a motorcycle helmet, you have to consider how often and far you ride, the weather you typically ride in, if you enjoy off-roading, and the level of safety versus freedom you would like. 

Whatever type of motorcycle helmet you ultimately choose, make sure it fits properly to ensure safety. By far, the most important thing to say about motorcycle helmets is to wear them and stay safe.