A motorcycle is inherently unbalanced, moves forward on a contact patch as big as your credit card, and has to stay upright in an atmosphere full of constant risk. When you decide to ride one while being exposed to all the hazards, the probability of hitting the ground is always high. In the event of a fall, a helmet is the sole protective cocoon that will save your precious and extremely delicate head and all those dreams inside.
However, there are many who choose to ignore the importance of wearing the right helmet. Most of us live dangerously by picking a poorly made unit just to fulfil the legal obligation of wearing one. While on the other hand, even those who are aware and invest in a well-made helmet, often wear the wrong size or the wrong type. Since it makes all the difference between life, death, and the serious injury in between, here are the basics you must follow before purchasing a new lid. Even if you have one already, after reading this, chances are, you might have to replace it.
Size And Shape
The shape and size of your head is unique. It could be longer front-to-back (from forehead to the back of the skull) than it is side-to-side (ear to ear), or vice-versa. It is advisable to purchase a helmet in a brick-n-mortar store, to figure, which shape matches closest to that of your head. Once you identify the right shape, it is time to figure out the right size. To measure it, wrap a measuring tape around the fullest part of the head – this will be just above the ears and about a half-inch above the eyebrows for most – and take the measurement at the forehead. Match the number with the manufacturer’s size chart and find the one which will fit you best. Each manufacturer follows sizing which is specific to their own models. So if you are comparing two or more lids from different manufacturers, follow their individual size charts.
The ideal weight of a motorcycle helmet is said to be between 1200 to 1350 grammes. A helmet which is too heavy is not necessarily safer. It will create unnecessary pressure around your head, strain your neck muscles, call for more effort every time you turn to look around, and cause discomfort.
Fit And Strap Type
Your head should never slide easily inside the helmet when it is first worn. It should be slightly tight, with the inner padding pressing into contact with the maximum surface area of your head and cheeks. The fit should be tight, although not so much that it causes pain. Moreover, the pressure it applies should be even, rather than at specific points of your skull or face. Having said that, it should not move around freely and fit as a glued extension. One way to figure it is by rocking your head side-to-side and vertically. If you experience any movement, look for a smaller size or denser padding. There’ a finger test too, where if you try putting a finger between the helmet’s interior and the head, it shouldn’t fit easily.
With time, the padding inside your helmet will “break-in” and loosen slightly to adjust itself to the shape of your head. However, it should never develop too much slack for the helmet to turn easily from side to side. Most well-made helmets will allow for the inner padding to be removed and washed. Try to look for one which is germ resistant and skin friendly. An added plus will be if your helmet comes with a chin curtain and a breath guard. The former reduces the amount of wind, dust and other debris which enters inside, while the latter helps in deflecting the flow of breath towards the visor, which otherwise causes fogging.
There are three different types of buckles which help you in strapping the helmet securely on your head. The quick release buckle offers a seatbelt type mechanism, where a metal end goes into a spring operated catch. The ‘Micro Metric’ buckle system works by using a ‘toothed’ strip on the end of 1 strap which goes into a spring operated ratchet on the other end. This is the easiest buckle system to be operated with your gloves on. However, the ‘Double D’ ring system, although the most basic, is also arguably the safest strapping system for motorcycle helmets. A simple design means it hardly ever fails and also offers the maximum adjustment for the correct tension when you put the helmet on.
Visibility And Ventilation
The helmet should sit on the head even with the upper edge of the opening sitting just above your eyebrows. There must be enough transparent area from side-to-side to allow good peripheral vision. Make sure the type of helmet you buy is specific to the environment you will be riding in. A helmet built for track use will have a wider opening at the top for the rider to see better when tucked in behind the windscreen. A lid meant for everyday use should offer great all-round visibility, especially at the sides and the bottom, since you will be mostly riding upright and will need to be aware of the hazards under the wheel and around you.
A scratch resistant visor will make all the difference in visibility, as your cover more miles with the lid on. Ensure that it shuts watertight throughout the opening. If it allows for any air to enter, it will also allow rainwater and wind noise to seep in. A good quality helmet’s visor will open and shut in stages, rather than easily sliding down. A quick release mechanism will make it easy if you have to switch between visors. Get a clear type screen, which will serve the purpose well during both night and day. If you do buy a tinted visor for most of the riding that you do in the Sun, ensure you buy and switch with a clear type, whenever you venture out in the night.
A good helmet will offer multiple ventilation points up front. One or more near the chin area, a few, above the visor, and maybe one main vent right at the top. It helps in different weather conditions if they offer a shut/open mechanism. Along with these intake vents, high-end helmets will also have exhaust openings which help in better circulation.
Construction And Certification
Indian made helmets follow ‘ISI’ guidelines, which are very basic and outdated. Instead, purchase one which fulfils the guidelines laid out by DOT (United States), ECE (Economic Commission for Europe), SNELL or SHARP (Individual Agencies). Among these, a SNELL certification is considered as the Gold standard in helmet safety, whereas, SHARP provides an impact rating enhancement to the ECE standard.
Besides everything, do not fall for visual appearance alone and compromise on any of the aspects above. Place function over form and if you settle for a poorly made helmet in the interest of cost saving, remember that you are putting a price on your life and that head. Purchase one in a lighter shade which will make you more visible on the road and it will also help with the temperature inside on a hot, sunny day. If there’s someone who sits pillion, make sure they have one similar to yours.