We all know we’re supposed to wear helmets, but how many of us really know how and why helmets work?
In this article, we’ll discuss this question in depth and explain exactly how your helmet works to protect your head.
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How Do Helmets Protect Your Head?
Helmets are actually an energy management device. They are made of materials that deflect and absorb impact energy from collision or other large impact. When you hit your head while wearing a helmet, it takes the hit for you.
What Is the Basic Protection You Get From a Bike Helmet?
Helmets protect your head against head injuries. It’s important to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle because if you have an accident, it’s likely that’ll you’ll hit your head, risking a concussion, contusions, intracranial hematomas, and even skull fractures.
The more helmet you wear, the more protection you’ll have on your head. Full face helmets, which offer the most coverage, can protect your face against road rash as well as protect your eyes from UV rays, wind, and debris.
What Really Happens When You Hit the Ground With a Helmet?
When your head hits the ground while wearing your helmet, it’s an example of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction.
Your head crashing down is the action, and the ground bringing you to a sudden stop is the reaction. This is when brain damage and fatalities happen. However, when you wear a helmet, you greatly reduce the chances of either of those things happening.
Your helmet is an energy absorbing device. That means when the helmet around your head hits the ground, it disperses the energy that would have splatted your head around and lessens the impact.
If you wear a helmet that fits properly and experience a soft impact, you’re not likely to feel anything at all. If you experience a more substantial impact while wearing a helmet, you may still feel some of the energy, but not as much. The pain and damage you would experience, had you not been wearing a helmet, would be much worse.
The helmet is able to do this because of the materials it is made of. Helmet companies use a material called expanded polystyrene, or EPS, to create an energy absorbing layer.
When this material is put to the test, it compresses as it absorbs energy. BUT even though EPS does a great job of taking a hit, it’s a one and done kind of thing.
There are different densities in helmets which protect you better against hard or soft impacts. The more dense the EPS liner is, the more likely it can protect you against hard impacts. Many manufacturers integrate a dual density EPS liner to help cover the bases since accidents are unpredictable.
What Do Bike Helmets NOT Protect Against?
In most cases, helmets DO save lives, but that doesn’t mean they can make you invisible or protect against everything. Helmets aren’t made to take bullets or jump off high places head first.
Helmets don’t protect against stupidity.
There are many videos and photos on the internet of riders and their helmets being completely destroyed. More often than not, that damage is caused by riders who were riding beyond their limits, causing an accident of some sorts.
How Do I Make Sure My Helmet Is Safe Enough?
Here are ways to make sure your motorcycle helmet provides maximum safety:
1. Make Sure Your Helmet Has at Least 2 Safety Ratings
In the U.S., helmets are supposed to have a DOT safety rating. The problem with this safety rating is that it’s self regulated, meaning DOT doesn’t actually test the helmets before they go to market. The requirements to pass the test are also very minimal and unrealistic to what the helmet might endure in a real crash.
For this reason, I recommend the most safety conscious riders find a helmet with one other safety rating, either ECE or SNELL. The verdict is still out whether one of these is better than the other, but they work as a good check and balance against DOT.
Both ECE and SNELL put helmets through rigorous testing before allowing them to go to market with their respective ratings.
2. Check the Helmet Is Not Too Old
The age of a helmet can decrease its effectiveness against collision and impacts.
Inside every helmet is a sticker that has the manufacture month and year. Make sure the helmet is less than seven years old. If it’s older than seven years, replace it when you get your next paycheck.
3. Replace a Helmet That Has Been Dropped or Damaged
As we mentioned above, and in other articles, helmets are one hit wonders. Once the EPS has been compressed, it’s no longer effective. Since there’s no way to tell if a helmet has internal damage from a previous impact, if it looks damaged, don’t wear it. It’s also NOT recommended to buy a pre-owned helmet, for hygienic and safety reasons.
What Are the Safest Bike Helmets Out There?
A full face, multi density, multi safety rated helmet is the safest helmet on paper, but the helmet you wear will be the safest helmet for you.
Whether you opt for a full face race helmet, a half shell helmet, or something in between, wearing a helmet is always better than wearing no helmet at all.
There are several brands on the market that make safety a priority when designing helmets. Some of the safest helmet brands (in my opinion) are:
Arai helmets were founded in Japan during the 1950s by Hirotake Arai. When creating helmets, Arai only focuses on one thing, and that’s protection.
Every design feature of an Arai helmet is strategically engineered to protect the rider. Even the distinctive round design of the helmets is made for sliding and glancing in the event of an accident. These actions decrease impact energy from reaching your head. Arai also integrated a multi-density EPS liner inside the helmet to cover a wide range of impacts. What they lack in flashy design, they make up for in safety.
AGV is an Italian helmet company founded by Gino Amisano in 1947. The company is a very popular helmet brand and has been worn by Moto GP champions, including the 2020 champion Joan Mir and racing legend Valentino Rossi.
AGV has earned recognition as a top helmet brand by continually creating innovative designs while also raising the bar for safety. None of which they could do without input from their world class racers.
Schuberth is a German company founded in 1922 by Fitz Schuberth. The company’s history is filled with many first and pioneering innovations in the safety industry.
What’s most interesting about Schuberth is that the company didn’t start off making helmets. They were a beer crate company until 1929, when Schuberth patented a process of creating leather helmet liners for the military. In 1952, Schuberth premiered the first industrial safety helmet for mining and since then has achieved numerous “firsts” in helmet design and innovation.
Schuberth premiered the first full-face helmet, first company to have a wind tunnel, patented single hand use flip up visors, presented the first modular helmet, and the first helmet to be DOT & ECE approved.
We have a lot to thank Schuberth for. But these accomplishments weren’t just for recognition but for necessity. All of Schuberth’s accomplishments derived from a need for safety. Today they are world leaders and innovators of safety helmets, protecting not just motorcyclists, but Formula 1 drivers, firefighters, and police officers.
Will a DOT Approved Helmet Always Be the Best Option?
A helmet that is at least DOT approved will always be better than a novelty helmet or no helmet at all. If a helmet is DOT approved, it can be assumed that the helmet can withstand impact and penetration as determined by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
However, I always recommend that riders who are most concerned with safety find a helmet that has an additional safety rating, whether it be from ECE or Snell Foundation. This will give you reassurance that you’re getting the best protection from your helmet.
Regardless of how much you paid for your helmet, or the safety ratings it comes with, a helmet can only protect you if you wear it and it fits you properly.