Black motorcycle helmets are easily the most popular.
Not only do they look stylish, but they also hide trail dirt, street grime, dead bugs, and knicks and dings better than any other color.
And let’s be honest, they look tough.
Black brain-protectors may look iconic, but do black motorcycle helmets get too hot in the sun? Find out in this article.
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Here’s the short answer to do black motorcycle helmets get too hot in the sun?:
While the surface area of a black motorcycle helmet does indeed get hotter in the sun than that of a white helmet, the noticeable difference isn’t significant to the rider in the helmet. Your head is buffered by inches of plastic, protective padding, and foam. Ventilation is more important.
Are Black Helmets Hotter Than White?
Black Motorcycles are technically hotter than white helmets on the surface. The black finish allows them to absorb more solar radiation. However, the difference inside the helmet is nominal, if not unnoticeable, as the helmet’s padding and lining buffer your head.
On your way to this article, you probably saw a lot of conflicting information on black vs. white helmets and the effect a motorcycle helmet has on the rider’s comfort level.
Several studies exist that confirm black helmets are indeed hotter than white.
If you analyze the studies and cross-reference them with real-world data, you’ll see that the rider’s experience is pretty similar regardless of helmet color—let’s pop up the visor and take a closer look.
The question of heat transfer brings us to the realm of thermodynamics, a complex domain for sure.
That said, what we’re after here is applicable real-world data, the information we can apply to our daily motorcycle riding experience.
The hotness of my helmet’s surface area isn’t my concern when I’m riding; I’m thinking about how hot my face is.
There are myriad factors that have a much more significant effect on how hot the inside of a helmet is, including:
But we’ll get more into that in the following section.
For now, let’s consider where the misleading notion that black helmets are hotter than white helmets comes from.
The two primary considerations are:
- Solar irradiance and its effect
- Radiation-caused heat loss
The data already shows that white and black helmets behave pretty similar in the heat transfer process.
- Black helmets radiate more heat than white ones. Radiating heat means that the helmet is transferring, or shedding, heat.
- That said, black helmets absorb significantly more heat than white helmets. The black helmet may drop a bigger heat load, but the white helmet absorbs less heat to begin with.
- As far as technical science is concerned, white helmets are cooler than black helmets.
That said, the white-helmets-are-cooler-than-black model fails to consider conduction-related factors like ventilation/convection.
In the real world, the critical components of the heat transfer process close the gap between how hot the rider is inside a black versus a white one.
So, in the real world, the experience of wearing a white and black helmet is pretty similar, provided you have the same level of ventilation in each helmet.
The studies cited confirm that, if nothing else, the surface of a black helmet will be hotter to the touch than that of a white one.
What Else Impacts How Hot a Helmet Is on the Inside?
The major factors that affect how hot a helmet is on the inside are:
- Helmet style
- Visor style
- Type of padding
- Fit of the helmet
Convection/ventilation is a critical component of the heat transfer process, which is the physics behind cooling.
A helmet designed with ventilating in mind will be cooler than a helmet with less ventilation, regardless of the helmet’s finish color.
Ventilation increases airflow and this does more than reduce the rider’s comfort—it prevents sweat, reducing the amount of fog on your visor.
And that’s not to mention the increase in the lifespan of your safety padding.
Sweat erodes much of the helmet’s interior over time unless you wash them regularly, which you should do regardless.
But wearing a helmet with proper ventilation means:
- Less sweating
- Less helmet-pad washing
- Less corroding moisture
- Less visor fog
- Longer helmet life
- Less heat
If you live somewhere with a rainy or cold-windy climate and have an aversion to vents on your helmet, many manufacturers now produce helmets with adjustable vents on them.
Adjustable vents allow riders to use switches and sliding devices to open and close the helmet’s vents at will, meaning you don’t have to commit to ventilation, but you have the option should you decide your helmet is getting too hot.
This gives you more agency for changing your mind than picking a helmet color you’re not stoked on just because the helmet’s surface might stay nominally cooler.
How Does a Motorcycle Helmet’s Ventilation Affect the Temperature Inside a Helmet?
A motorcycle helmet’s vents initiate the heat transfer process of convection/ventilation, which disperses the heat. Vents holes on the front and top of the helmet allow air to enter the shell. Channels direct the air through the protective polystyrene lining and to the rider’s head.
Most helmets have a fabric lining which acts as a buffer between the rider’s head and the protective padding to hold the head in comfort.
- The fabric lining is generally perforated, letting the incoming air breathe through the padding and directly onto the rider.
- Most helmets have an exhaust vent on the back. These vents act like exhaust valves and let out the hot air in the convection process of heat circulation and ventilation.
- Most well-ventilated helmets also employ chin bars to route air onto the face side of the shield or visor to help prevent fogging.
What Are the Best Helmet Colors for Cool Temperatures?
While white is considered the helmet that stays at the coolest temperature, the study this statistic is based on considers the surface temperature of the helmet’s finish, not the temperature inside the helmet. Helmet color affects the rider’s experience less than other factors, like ventilation.
As far as which color is cooler than which, again, this is a question of the surface temperature of the helmet.
The only study I could find on the topic only compared white and black helmets, but the surface temperature of the white helmet was undoubtedly lower than that of the black helmet.
- The lighter the color of the helmet, the less solar irradiance it absorbs, meaning a more lightweight helmet absorbs less heat.
- The darker the color helmet, the more it will radiate, meaning a darker helmet sheds more heat than a lighter colored helmet.
- That said, the lighter helmet absorbs less heat, to begin with, meaning the lighter the helmet’s color, the cooler to the touch the surface of the helmet is.
Here’s the deal; there’s no doubt that brighter colors are cooler to the touch. Unfortunately, layers of protective plastic foam and cloth padding have little effect on the temperature inside the helmet, where the rider’s face is.
The fact is that riding a motorcycle puts you outside in the elements. The sun is part of the joy of riding.
Of course, you don’t want to overheat and have a stroke, but shaving a few degrees off of the surface temperature by wearing a color helmet you don’t particularly enjoy seems excessive to me.
Instead, look for a helmet that’s well ventilated, something with an effective visor style and good airflow.
Then, put your face in the sun and your knees in the breeze, pop that visor, slide open your vents, and let the wind cool you off.
Can You Paint a Motorcycle Helmet?
You can paint your motorcycle helmet using acrylic paints, but it seems that the painting of motorcycle helmets is a legal gray area in most parts of the world. Painting the helmet itself might not be illegal, but using corrosive paints has the potential to alter the helmet’s integrity.
The primary concern in painting my helmet would be covering the DOT or ECE safety stickers.
A helmet is only legal if it meets national safety standards.
Whether a motorcycle helmet meets those standards or not is indicated by the presence of a DOT or ECE sticker stating the helmet’s status as legal.
This sticker also validates the helmet’s ability to pass a safety inspection.
And finally, if a cop pulls you over in a state, province or region that requires wearing a helmet that meets national standards, this sticker alerts the authorities that your helmet is legal.
Therefore, removing these stickers is illegal, and painting over them could qualify as removing the sticker, as far as the officer you’re dealing with is concerned.
Some places require riders to stick reflecting stickers on their helmets.
If that’s the case where you live and you’re considering painting your helmet, consider the implications of painting over your reflective stickers.
- Helmet laws vary so drastically from region to region. Check the requirements where you live and decide if painting your motorcycle helmet is what you want to do.
- If you decide to move forward with motorcycle painting, consider the paints you’re using. Certain solvents and other corrosive chemicals in some paints might weaken the helmet’s structural integrity. Research both the helmet and paint ahead of time to prevent that from happening.
Painting your motorcycle helmet with a striking pattern or bright color could increase your visibility, making you more noticeable to car drivers on the road. In this scenario, the paints don’t damage the helmet; painting the helmet might make it safer.
That said, painting a helmet with dark colors that camouflage you to the city streets might make you less visible—just something to consider.
What’s the Best Paint to Use on a Motorcycle Helmet?
Acrylic and spray paints are the best for painting helmets. It’s essential to use quality acrylic and spray paints that won’t jeopardize the helmet’s protective quality or its general structural integrity. Bright colors and patterns are better for safety.
- Applying acrylic paint onto a motorcycle helmet with a paintbrush allows for some detailed designs. Small brushes will enable you to do fine lines, making for some less intrusive helmet artwork. If your goal is to paint large sections of the motorcycle helmet, a large brush can knock it out quickly.
- Spray painting your motorcycle helmet gives it an urban vibe. Taking a rattle can to your dome-protector gets the job done quickly, but it’s difficult to do detailed trim work and intricate patterns or images without a brush. Spray paints are much cheaper and readily available in myriad colors.
- Consider acrylic paint markers for another option; a different style of helmet artwork.