Most activities have their own suitable protective gear and equipment. Motorcycling is no exception. Every rider and passenger should wear over-the-ankle footwear, long pants, a long-sleeved jacket, full-fingered motorcycle gloves, and a helmet manufactured to meet DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) standards.
Helmets work. Helmet effectiveness has been confirmed by responsible studies, while helmet myths – “helmets break necks, block vision and impair hearing” – have been consistently disproved. Safetyconscious riders wear helmets by deliberate choice every time they ride; we know that you will, too.
What a Helmet Does for You
First, it is the best protective gear you can wear while riding a motorcycle. Think of it at the same time you think of your ignition key: Pick up the key; pick up the helmet. They go together. Helmet use is not a “cure-all” for motorcycle safety, but in a crash, a helmet can help protect your brain, your face, and your life.
Combined with other protective gear, rider-education courses, proper licensing and public awareness, the use of helmets and protective gear is one way to reduce injury. You hope you never have to “use” your helmet, just like you hope you
won’t ever need to “use”the seatbelt in your car. But crashes do happen.
We can’t predict when or what kind they will be. You should not say to yourself,“I’m just running down to the store,”and not wear your helmet. In any given year, a lot of people make good use of seatbelts, and a lot of riders give thanks that they were wearing helmets. Second, a good helmet makes riding a motorcycle more fun, due to the comfort factor: another truth. It cuts down on wind noise roaring by your ears; on windblast on your face and eyes, and deflects bugs
and other objects flying through the air. It even contributes to comfort from changing weather conditions and reduces rider fatigue. Third, wearing a helmet shows that motorcyclists are responsible people; we take ourselves and motorcycling seriously. Wearing a helmet, no matter what the law says, is a projection of your attitude toward riding. And that attitude is plain to see by other riders and non-riders alike.
How and Why a Helmet Works
Different helmets do different things. There are hard hats on construction and heavy-industry heads; football helmets on athletes’ heads, and Kevlar® caps on military heads. None are interchangeable. Motorcycle riding helmets are very sophisticated and specialized for the activity. They’ve been developed carefully and scientifically over the years.
Four basic components work together to provide protection in the motorcycle helmet: an outer shell; an impact-absorbing liner; the comfort padding; and a good retention system. What we see first is the outer shell, usually made from some family of fiber-reinforced composites or thermoplastics like polycarbonate. This is tough stuff, yet it’s designed and intended to compress when it hits anything hard.That action disperses energy from the impact to lessen the force before it reaches your head, but it doesn’t act alone to protect you.
Inside the shell is the equally important impact-absorbing liner, usually made of expanded polystyrene (commonly thought of as Styrofoam). This dense layer cushions and absorbs the shock as the helmet stops and your head wants to keep on moving. Both the shell and the liner compress if hit hard, spreading the forces of impact throughout the helmet material. The more impact-energy deflected or absorbed, the less there is of it to reach your head and do damage. Some helmet shells delaminate on impact. Others may crack and break if forced to take a severe hit; this is one way a helmet acts to absorb shock. It is doing its intended job. Impact damage from a crash to the non-resilient liner may be invisible to the eye; it may look great, but it probably has little protective value left and should be replaced. The comfort padding is the soft foam-and-cloth layer that sits next to your head. It helps keep you comfortable and the helmet fitting snugly. In some helmets, this padding can even be taken out for cleaning.
The retention system, or chin strap, is very important. It is the one piece that keeps the helmet on your head in a crash. A strap is connected to each side of the shell. Every time you put the helmet on, fasten the strap securely. It only takes of couple of seconds. To ride without your helmet secured would be as questionable as driving without your seatbelt fastened.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a national, not-for-profit organization promoting the safety of motorcyclists with programs in rider training, operator licensing and public information. For the Basic or Experienced RiderCourse
SM nearest you, call the national tollfree telephone number: (800) 446-9227. The MSF is sponsored by
the U.S. distributors and manufacturers of BMW, Ducati, HarleyDavidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Piaggio/Vespa, Suzuki, Victory and Yamaha motorcycles.
The information contained in this publication is offered for the benefit of those who have an interest in riding motorcycles. The information has been compiled from publications, interviews and observations of individuals and organizations familiar with the use of motorcycles, accessories and training. Because there are many differences in product design, riding styles; and federal, state and local laws, there may be organizations that hold differing opinions.
Consult your local regulatory agencies for information concerning the operation of motorcycles in your area. Although the Motorcycle Safety Foundation will continue to research, field test and publish responsible viewpoints on the subject, it disclaims any liability for the views expressed herein.
It is not wise to store helmets near gasoline, cleaning fluids, exhaust fumes, or excessive heat.These factors can result in the degradation of helmet materials, and often the damage goes unnoticed by the wearer. Read the information that comes with the helmet so you know how to care for it. Definitely read the instructions about painting, decorating,
pinstriping, or applying decals to your helmet. Never hang your helmet on the motorcycle’s mirrors, turn signals, or
backrest. The inner liner can easily be damaged from such handling. In fact, avoid carrying a spare helmet on your motorcycle, unless it’s well protected or on your passenger’s head. Even the bumps and jarring from normal riding can damage a spare. If it is strapped near hot engine parts or exhaust pipes, the inner liner may distort or melt
at the hot spot. The outer shell may not show the damage, but if you’ve seen the effects of a foam drink cup placed too near excessive heat, you can understand what happens.
When you take your helmet off, find a flat, secure place for it.You could set it on the ground, secure it on a rack, or stow it on a shelf. On some bikes, putting it on the fuel tank may expose it to fumes. If you place
it on the seat, make sure it won’t fall off. If you plan to use a CB radio when you ride, find a model that doesn’t
require drilling speaker holes in the outer shell. Before you purchase your speakers, check with your state’s laws regulating their use in helmets. Some states prohibit them.
Replacing Your Helmet
Replace your helmet if it was involved in a crash; it probably absorbed some impact shock. Some helmet manufacturers will inspect and, when possible, repair a damaged helmet. If you drop your helmet and think it might be damaged, take advantage of this service. Most helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every two to four years. If you notice any signs of damage before then, replace it sooner. Why replace your helmet every few years if it doesn’t appear
damaged? Its protective qualities may deteriorate with time and wear. The chin strap may fray or loosen at its attaching points; the shell could be chipped or damaged. The best reason is that helmets keep improving. Chances are that the helmet you buy in a couple of years will be better – stronger, lighter, and more comfortable – than the one you own now. It might even cost less! Can’t remember when you bought your present helmet? Check the chin strap or permanent labeling. Since 1974, all helmets must have the month and date of production stamped on it. If there’s no date at
all, you should definitely replace your helmet – now!
State Helmet Requirements
Many states require a specific amount of retroreflective material on a helmet. Thoroughly read the manufacturer’s information. Your local motor-vehicle department can give you exact information on the location and number of square inches of retroreflective material required in your state.
Wearing a helmet properly strapped on your head is mandatory in many states. Laws are always changing, so double-check with the state department of motor vehicles for the most current information. Are you planning a tour through several states? Plan to wear your helmet in all states, regardless, and remember that laws apply to travelers as well as residents. Don’t leave home without the information you need.
Getting More Information
You’ve now read that there are many things to consider when buying a helmet. Get all the information you can. Contact helmet manufacturers and read their literature. Consult recent motorcycle-enthusiast magazines for up-to-date information to help in your decision. Two authorities you may contact are:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of Traffic Injury Control Programs
400 Seventh Street, SW, Room 5130
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-4913; www.nhtsa.dot.gov/
Snell Memorial Foundation, Inc.
3628 Madison Avenue, Suite 11
North Highlands, CA 95660
(916) 334-5073; www.smf.org; email@example.com
While gathering information on protecting your head, why not get good tips on other personal protective gear? Read MSF’s CycleSafety Information (CSI) sheet, “Personal Protective Gear for the Motorcyclist,” available from the MSF at no charge.
Wear your helmet, every time you ride.
For more information on Colorado motorcycle training or how to get your Colorado motorcycle license, please visit our Colorado motorcycle class informational site.