We know helmets. We’ve seen our dads wear one on the commuter scooters (remember the humble Humara Bajaj), or our elder brother wear them on the Rx100 when we were growing up. We’ve seen the Supreme Court make it compulsory for 2-wheeler riders to wear a helmet across the country in recent times. We use our helmets everyday. We know what helmets do. So, what’s to more to know about helmets now? A helmet is a helmet is a helmet, right?
Well, as it turns out, a helmet is not as simple as it seems. The first time we were exposed to international markets and the plethora of helmets that were available along with their jaw-dropping prices, we were shocked. Some people we know personally have spent many-many hours and a lot of moolah to get the helmet they wanted. So why did they go through all the effort? Let’s try to unravel this mystery.
Size and fitment
Helmets, like all things humans wear, come in different shapes and sizes to account for our different body types and different body sizes. The basic rule of thumb for any helmet is that the helmet should fit snug on the head, and should not wiggle around the head if the head is shaken vigorously from side to side or is raised and lowered quickly. The best way to ensure that the helmet is the size meant for one’s head is to wear the helmet and test it for undue space and movement. If the helmet is not the proper size of one’s head, it will either move around or it will be too tight to wear. Of course, if helps if we measure the size of our head first and then choose the helmet according to the manufacturer’s size chart. This can be easily done using a standard measuring tape to measure the widest part of the crown (i.e., just above the eyebrows), all around the head. As an example, a 58 cm size usually corresponds to a Size Medium in most if not all size charts across manufacturers.
However, size isn’t everything. Another important aspect to consider is the fit. It’s Fit is important not only because we want to avoid any pain points on our head but also because an improperly fit helmet is practically no better than a head without a helmet. Now there is a multitude of head shapes and a particular helmet cannot possibly be the same fit for all these shapes. Without getting into too many details, most helmet manufacturers produce helmet shells suited to intermediate oval shape, which is the most common shape of head that is found, sort of like having O+ve blood group. So chances are that most of us will be comfortable in most of the helmets available. However, like blood groups, not all heads are the same and the best way to determine the right helmet fit is the most obvious one – wear it! If that is not an option available, ask someone to confirm the shape of your head (this is the shape of your head when seen from directly above you, not to be confused with the shape of your face), and ensure that the particular helmet you fancy is suited to your head shape as well. A well-fit helmet will feel snug, but not too tight and will not have pressure points, which can cause pain. The weight of the helmet will be distributed evenly across all contact points, thus minimizing rider discomfort and ensuring that the helmet stays on the head at all times.
Basically, there are three types of helmets – Open face, Modular, and Full face helmets. Before one chooses anything else about a helmet, one needs to know what kind of a helmet they want. So what are these different types of helmets?
- Open face. Open face helmets are exactly what the name denotes. These are helmets which cover the head and temples, but not the face or jaw. Typically worn in hotter climates to account for the excessive heat through air circulation, these are best used for in-city riding due to the limited safety they offer. These are also the lightest helmets available, due to the simple fact that they use significantly lesser material in construction. Those chasing the classic look prefer an open face helmet and these are the most comfortable of the three types of helmets available. However, the trade off against the comfort and the wow factor is the compromise on safety.
- Modular. A modular helmet seeks to marry the best of an open face helmet and a full-face helmet. Essentially, a modular helmet has a mechanism, which lifts the whole of the front of the helmet above the crown, thus transforming it from a full face helmet to an open face one! Quite a nifty feature, and preferred by riders who like to have a little more flexibility in their helmet. While a modular helmet may not have the rigidity and therefore the solidity of a full face helmet, it nevertheless is quite a good option in the city and for low to moderate speeds. There are a few companies which manufacture modular helmets, one of which is Shark who have in their range, the Shark Openline, plush, modular helmet with all the creature comfort one could want.
- Full-face. Full-face helmets are the most commonly seen helmets on the road. These helmets have the protection at the back of the head and temples, ala an open face helmet, in addition to full chin and jaw protection at the front. These helmets have an opening in front of the eyes and nose, which is covered by a shield or visor, which can be opened or closed like a window. These are the most protective type of helmets available and are used across the entire spectrum of motorcycling, from city rides to highway touring to the track. All manufacturers make full-face helmets and the choices are so many that it is mindboggling to select the right one. We like this particular value for money offering MT Blade SV, as it combines some nice venting, decent liners, tremendous vision and protection certified by global bodies, all at a price that won’t break the bank.
I understand size and type, what else do I need to know
There are too many things to discuss about helmets so let’s focus on the main points for the sake of simplicity.
Safety – A helmet typically is manufactured to meet certain established quality standards. A few of these are DOT, Snell, ECE and Sharp. Each individual will prefer one standard to another, but it is generally acknowledged (even though there is no universal agreement) that the Snell ratings are usually thorough and make for the best safety standards under normal circumstances. Snell revises its ratings every 5 years, so if you are keen on a Snell certified helmet, look for the Snell standard that the helmet conforms to, to determine whether it is indeed the latest and safest. Many people also like the Sharp ratings (which provide a star system to denote the safety of the helmet). DOT is the standard mandated by law in the US (akin to the ISI in India) and ECE is the standard mandated in Europe (and in almost 50 countries worldwide).
Shell – The outer layer of any helmet is the shell. The shell determines how much the helmet weighs and more importantly, how much energy it can disperse from an impact. The top helmet manufacturers of the world all have their patented materials that they use in manufacturing the shell and each claims some form of superiority over another. Typical shells are made from polycarbonate (on the heavier side), fiberglass (middle-weight) or some form of fiberglass and carbon fibre build (lightest shell type). A carbon-fibre shell is extremely lightweight while still being quite protective and is desired by many riders. However, carbon fibre shell helmets are usually on the expensive side.
EPS – The EPS is the part of the helmet that we don’t usually see. It lies between the shell (outer layer) and the comfort liners (inner layer). This is arguably the most important part of the helmet as far as safety goes, as the EPS is what absorbs impact energy and prevents it from travelling to the brain. EPS visually resembles Styrofoam and one can see and feel it in the helmet if the comfort liners are removed.
Shield / Visor – This is the ‘window’ through which we can see from inside the helmet. Typically made from shatter-proof plastic compounds, it’s important that the visor be distortion free for clear vision and lock securely to prevent air seepage inside the helmet, once worn. Shields can be switched from clear to smoked to the comfort of the rider. Some shields also come with Pinlock posts, which enable the use of a pinlock visor on the inner side of the main visor to prevent fogging.
Vents – Vents are tiny openings in the front and on top of the helmet to provide airflow inside the helmet. The vents are usually operated with a lock to open and close the vent. Intake vents in the front are used in conjunction with exhaust vents at the back to enable hot air to flow out the helmet when riding.
Comfort liners – The padding inside the helmet is known as the comfort liner. As the name implies, comfort liners are meant to provide comfort to the rider, primarily in the cheeks, temple and crown areas. Top of the line comfort liners will feel plush to the touch and will incorporate sweat wicking and cooling technology. Washable comfort liners can be removed from the helmet and washed to clean before they are fit back inside the helmet.
Price – Prices of helmets can vary greatly. In our country, as an example, one can find a full-face helmet for as little as Rs 800 to as high as Rs 250,000. Generally, a helmet below a certain price point will compromise on factors like safety, comfort, venting, etc., and is not recommended to use. As of today, the base price for a reasonably safe full-face helmet in our country should be about Rs 5,000. As more requirements are added to the mix, the price will increase. Bear in mind that the choice of graphics can also significantly influence the price of a helmet.