|Cycle Safety Information
What You Should Know About
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
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
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
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.
Choosing a Helmet
While color, design and price may be a part of your decision about
which helmet to buy, think first about protection and comfort. A fullface
helmet gives the most protection since it covers more of your
face. It usually has a moveable face shield that protects the eyes when
it is closed. Racers prefer full-face helmets for the added protection
A three-quarter, open-face helmet is also a choice of some riders. It is
constructed with the same basic components, but doesn't offer the
face and chin protection of full-face helmets. If you use an open-face
helmet, you should have a snap-on face shield in place when you ride,
or buy a pair of goggles that can withstand the impact of a stone or
other debris. Prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses are not sufficient
protection, and they might move or fly off.
A “shorty” half-helmet protects even less of your head. It is more likely
to come off your head upon impact. Therefore, “shorty”, half-shell
helmets are not recommended.
A lot of good helmets are available today, in a range of prices. One
look around your dealer's helmet display will convince you that nearly
any decoration you could want on a helmet is already available.Many
manufacturers are color-coordinating their helmets with the newest
motorcycle models. And the days of heavy or cumbersome helmets
are over. They’re made of lightweight, modern materials and are
improved each year. Manufacturers are also working to make them
less expensive, stronger and more comfortable.
What you must know when choosing a helmet is that it meets
minimum safety standards. The way to find a well-made, reliable
helmet is to look for the DOT and/or Snell sticker on the inside or
outside of the helmet.The sticker means the helmet meets the safety
test standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the
Snell Memorial Foundation.
Each organization has rigid procedures for testing:
Impact – the shock-absorbing capacity of the helmet.
Penetration – the helmet's ability to withstand a blow from
a sharp object.
Retention – the chin strap's ability to stay fastened without
stretching or breaking.
Peripheral vision – the helmet must provide a minimum side
vision of 105 degrees to each side. (Most people's usable
peripheral vision is only about 90 degrees to each side.)
Since 1980, ALL adult-sized helmets for on-highway use must meet
DOT standards. Helmet dealers and distributors must ensure that all
the helmets they sell bear the DOT sticker. Whatever your helmet
choice, be sure it has this certification. You don't want an inferior
helmet or one designed for another purpose. If someone tries to sell
you one without it, don't buy it. If your helmet has no DOT sticker, do
not wear it, regardless of its age.
Snell has been testing helmets since the 1950s. The use of Snell
standards by helmet manufacturers is voluntary. Unlike DOT
standards, Snell testing is revised (most recently in 2000) as helmet
design and technology improve.
Both agencies attempt to reproduce, under test conditions, the situations
that are hazardous to motorcyclists.Their testing methods differ,
but the intent is the same: to make certain any helmet they approve
has life-saving, shock-absorbing minimums.
Since head injuries account for a majority of motorcycle fatalities,
protection is vital. (Head injury was specified on 42 percent of the
death certificates for motorcycle drivers and passengers in California
in 1987-88; Romano PS, McLoughlin E. (1991). Helmet use and fatal
motorcycle injuries in California, 1987-88. Journal of Head Trauma
Rehabilitation. May 1991; 6(2):21-37.) Even the best helmet is no
guarantee against injury. However, without a helmet you are more
likely to have serious head injuries than a rider who is wearing one.
Getting the Right Fit
21 1/4----54-------6 3/4
21 5/8----54.9-----6 7/8
22 3/8----56.8-----7 1/8
22 3/4a--57.8-----7 1/4
23 1/8----58.7-----7 3/8
23 7/8----60.6-----7 5/8
24 1/4----61.6-----7 3/4
23 3/4----62.9-----7 5/8
There's more to fitting a helmet than just buying the one that
matches your hat size or guessing at “small, medium or large.”
However, hat size is a good starting point. If you don't know your size,
you can use the chart above.Measure your head at its largest circumference
– usually just above your eyebrows in front, over your eyes
and around in back.Try it several times so you know you've gotten the
largest number. If your head size falls between the numbers listed, use
the larger size. Most helmets are marked and sold as S, M, L or XL, so
you may need to contact the manufacturer for size equivalents.
Helmet sizes vary among manufacturers and model types.
The Best Way to Try on Your Helmet
--Hold it by the chin straps.The bottom of the helmet should face
you with the front pointing down.
--Put your thumbs on the inside of the straps, balancing the
helmet with your fingertips.
--Spread the sides of the helmet apart slightly and slip it down
over your head using the chin straps.
The helmet should fit snugly and may even feel a bit too tight until it
is in place correctly. Be sure it sits squarely on your head. It shouldn't
be tilted back on your head like a hat.Remember, if your helmet is too
large, several things could happen: it will move around and up and
down on your head when you least want it to; it can be noisy and let
in wind;worst of all, it may come off in a crash!
Once the helmet is on your head, make a few other fit checks before
fastening the straps.
--The cheek pads should touch your cheeks without pressing
--There should be no gaps between your temples and the brow pads.
--If the helmet has a neck roll, it shouldn't push the helmet away
from the back of your neck.
--On full-face helmets, press on the chin piece.The helmet or face
shield should not touch your nose or chin. If it does, it will surely
do so at speed from wind pressure.
With the helmet still on and the straps securely fastened,move it from
side to side and up and down with your hands. If it fits right, your skin
should move as the helmet is moved. You should feel as if a slight,
even pressure is being exerted all over your head.Remember, too, that
a helmet loosens up a bit as the comfort liner compresses through
use. A new helmet should be as tight as you can comfortably wear it.
Now, with the chin strap still securely fastened and your head straight,
try rolling the helmet forward off your head.You shouldn't be able to
pull it off. If you can, the helmet is too big.
Take off the helmet. Does your head feel sore anywhere? Are there
any red spots on your forehead? Pressure points can be uncomfortable
and can cause a headache after a long ride, so be sure your
helmet isn't causing any. If it is, choose the next largest size or try a
different brand of helmet. Human heads are not all the same shape,
neither are helmets.
If you are still unsure about the helmet's fit, wear it around the store
for a while to see if it remains comfortable. A helmet is an important
investment, no matter what its price. Be sure the one you choose is
right for you.
Follow the manufacturer's care instructions for your helmet. Use only
the mildest soap recommended.Avoid any petroleum-based cleaning
fluids, especially if you own a polycarbonate helmet. Exposure to
strong cleaning agents can cause the helmet to decompose and lose
Keep your helmet's face shield clean. Normally, mild soap and water
with a soft cloth will do the job. If it gets scratched, replace it. A
scratched face shield can be difficult to see through.At night, it could
dangerously distort your vision and your view of oncoming lights.
A helmet looks tough and sturdy,but it should be handled as a fragile
item. This means that you don't want to drop your helmet onto hard
surfaces. It could ruin your helmet. Remember that its function is to
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
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.
Wear your helmet, every time you ride.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Office of Traffic Injury Control Programs
400 Seventh Street, SW, Room 5130
Snell Memorial Foundation, Inc.
3628 Madison Avenue, Suite 11
North Highlands, CA 95660
(916) 334-5073;www.smf.org; firstname.lastname@example.org