Like anything worth doing, motorcycle riding comes with inherent risks.
At the top of that list is the danger of a collision, a hazard riders and enthusiasts alike often associate with a lack of visibility.
While factors such as bike size, refined riding habits, and illumination help make riders more visible, does wearing a black or white motorcycle helmet make a difference?
Here’s why the Color of Your Helmet Makes a Difference:
While black helmets are more popular since they hide dirt and are considered more stylish, studies have shown that white helmets reduce the risk of a collision by 24%. While white helmets may require more maintenance, they are brighter and more visible, and could save your life.
Are White or Black Motorcycle Helmets More Popular?
Black helmets are more popular, as motorcyclists considered black helmets iconic and easier to clean.
Are Black Helmets Easier to Keep Clean than White?
Contrary to a popular misconception, gloss black helmets are not easier to clean than white helmets; they hide the dirt better. Most gloss helmets are cleaned the same way.
That said, a matte black finish or “flat black” is more complicated to clean than both a white or black gloss helmet.
Matte finish products tend to catch oils and specks of dirt on them, and scouring them down with any old cleaner and scrubber risks damaging that fly helmet finish you probably paid good money for.
So, how do you clean a Matte Black helmet?
- Always try warm water and mild, diluted dish soap first. Use a soft sponge (never the scouring side) or a microfiber towel. Wet your gentle towel or sponge into the warm soapy water and rub the surface of that flat black helmet until the dirt or oil smudge is gone.
- Clean the sponge or towel of all soap remnants, and switch to warm water that is clean and soap free. Use the warm water to rinse off all the soapy water from the helmet.
- Pat your helmet dry with a soft, microfiber towel.
What Is Really the Best Color for a Motorcycle Helmet?
Studies show that a motorcyclist in a white helmet is 24% less likely to get hit by a car and that light color helmets are 19% safer than dark-colored helmets. That said, a helmet is intended to protect your head, and the color is irrelevant to that function.
The way they did the study was by gathering data from real-world examples of people who had been hit. It gets difficult to discern if the 24% increase in accidents with riders in black helmets is attributed to a lack of visibility or because black helmets are significantly more popular.
If you have your sights set on that sweet matte black helmet after reading that fact, don’t fret—I just bought a new one myself.
That isn’t the end of the study, which offers a few other tips to those asking themselves, what are the best ways to stay safe riding in a black helmet?
- Keeping your headlights on during the day lowers your risk of poor visibility by 27%
- Wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing reduces your risk by 33%.
Let’s forget that there is a myriad of helmet colors and styles available beyond black and white. The study I referenced noted that light-colored helmets were 19% safer than the darker colors, so let’s look at a few other options.
Red can be categorized as light or dark-colored helmet, depending on the tone and shade. I’ve seen dark, matte candy apple reds and sunbursts so bright they look like they glow in the dark.
I’ve heard riders say red absorbs heat, though, but that never contributes to my decision-making when it comes to helmets. The surface temperature may increase in the sun, sure, but there are two inches of foam between my head and the helmet’s surface; I don’t think it makes that big of a difference.
Orange screams safety. It’s a color that’s become synonymous with “lookout!” We tend to use orange to signify hazards and dangers and grab attention because of how the human eye perceives light and color; orange is one of the colors we perceive the brightest.
Orange is visible in all weather, giving it an advantage that even white doesn’t have.
What’s the drawback of an orange helmet?
It’s difficult to pair orange with riding gear and a bike that’s not the same color (although as I type this in a cafe in Roswell, an orange Road Glide rips down Main Street outside of the window, no joke).
Still, orange only goes with orange if they’re a similar shade.
Yellow is a nice cool color that reflects heat well, but it absorbs light, making it less visible at night. That said, neon or fluorescent yellow helmet is one of the safest.
Yellow is a hard color to pair with a motorcycle finish, as well. I haven’t seen too many yellow bikes, but I’m sure they’re out there.
Green is similar to red in that it can be considered a light or dark helmet color depending on the shade and tone.
A fluorescent green helmet, for example, is one of the most visible helmet options available. A dark forest green helmet, and you’re basically camouflaged.
Green is also said to deflect heat like trees do when they cast shade.
Blue stands out, and unlike orange, different shades of blue balance well together, making pairing a blue helmet with a blue bike an easy task for a stylish rider.
Like red, blue is a primary color, meaning it pops when held up against other colors. And I’d say that works to your advantage if visibility is your main concern.
However, blue comes in just as many shades as any other color, if not more, and can be considered a dark or light color depending on the shade, like a few of the other colors mentioned above.
Nothing pairs with a purple bike like a purple helmet, and it’s a color I consider striking. That said, purple is on the list of dark colors, meaning it’s not only less visible but also reflects heat.
There’s no way around it. Black motorcycle helmets look tough. They’re iconic.
Black motorcycles are one of the most popular colors, so it’s no surprise that black helmets are a popular choice, and they come in a wide variety of shades and styles, from high gloss to flat matte.
Obviously, black helmets are in the dark, low visibility category, and they tend to draw in more heat.
But as I said, there are inches of pads and foam between your head and the surface of the helmet in question.
White is the most statistically backed choice for a safe helmet. White not only provides a clear and visible advantage, but it doesn’t absorb eat in the way darker colors do.
Riders tend to sway from white helmets, though, as they’re often considered bland.
Some of the more artistically inspired riders I know buy white helmets to deck them with marker art or splash them with paint.
Besides its subjective and speculative blandness, the downside to the white helmet is that it affects snow visibility. Riding in heavy snow may not be common, but it happens, and wearing white in heavily trafficked areas while it’s snowing can adversely affect your visibility.
What Color Motorcycle Helmet Is Most Visible on the Road?
While white is considered the most visible helmet, light-colored helmets like orange, bright red, and neon green are highly visible and statistically advantageous.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the helmet covers the 2004 study deemed to be the safest, along with the respective percentage of risk reduction, in order from the lowest to highest:
|Helmet Color||Percentage of Risk Reduction|
Those numbers look good, and as you can see, there are only a few points of difference between red, yellow, orange, and white.
I was surprised that green hadn’t made it into the study and can only assume that the various shades of green, from safety-associated fluorescent to the dark matte green-black, are too drastic to study.
Here’s the deal; there’s no doubt that brighter colors are easier to see. If you want an optimum sense of security and the clearest possible visibility, a white, orange, or fluorescent colored helmet is the way to go.
Motorcycles are a fraction of the size of a car, and they hide in blind spots drivers aren’t used to checking.
Accidents happen. Riding motorcycles is about having fun and being free; if wearing bright colors and maintaining visibility liberates you from the fear of getting hit, that alone is worth the wardrobe switch.
But if that’s too much juju for our more down-to-earth riders, consult the table above.
Are Bright Colored Helmets More Visible if they have a Solid Color or Pattern?
Solid bright-colored helmets are more visible than helmets with patterns, even if the patterned helmet has bright colors. Patterned helmets can behave like an optical illusion in particular climates and surroundings, like hunting camouflage.
Do Motorcycle Helmets Come with Reflector Stickers?
Some motorcycle helmets come with reflective stickers or panels that increase rider visibility, especially at night.
If the helmet you’ve been window-breathing at doesn’t have reflector stickers and you think it’s a break-it moment, generic aftermarket reflector stickers are available that fit most helmets. Those generic reflection stickers are relatively cheap.
Will Reflector Stickers Make a Black Helmet More Visible?
While a reflective sticker doesn’t do much to improve daytime visibility on a black helmet, a high-quality reflective panel will make a noticeable difference in motorcyclist visibility at night.
What Else Should You Consider Besides Color?
The following are other factors to consider when choosing a helmet:
- Safety: Color isn’t the only characteristic of a safe helmet. Make sure you’re getting a DOT-approved helmet that’s rated for the style in which you intend to ride.
- Style: From half shells to 3-quarters, to full face, to modulator helmets, it helps to do option research ahead of time and know what style you’re looking for.
- Cost: Know your price range. Helmets are intended for a variety of purposes. While in some situations, it is true you’re paying for the brand name, in many situations, a more expensive helmet will be more comfortable, safer, and longer lasting.
- Helmet Class and Features: From modulator flip-ups to Bluetooth speaker options to group talk features, the future is here, and helmets have assimilated. There are a lot of features out there; what features are you looking for?
- Comfort: As important as the first point of safety, comfort is a big one. Your mental health is critical for the safe operation of a motorcycle. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re distracted. It’s worth a little extra to get a helmet you think looks cool and feels natural and comfortable.
At the end of the day, wearing a helmet is exponentially safer than not wearing one, and in some states, wearing a helmet is the law. Find yourself a helmet you feel is safe, comfortable, functional, and stylish.
White is a little safer than black, but black is safer than no helmet all day long.