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Touring Motorcycle Helmets – How to Properly Evaluate

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

In This Article


The search for motorcycle touring accessories naturally begins with the helmet and after reading this article you should be well-versed in the following:

  1. Helmet's main structural components

  2. Touring helmet's preferred attributes

  3. Helmet safety specifications and ratings

  4. Further guides and research to aid your search


Let's Begin


The motorcycle helmet is, without a doubt, the most important piece of safety equipment you will purchase. Even though there are only 19 states in the US that have a universal helmet law (all motorcyclists are legally required to wear while riding), it’s never a good idea to ride, much less tour without one (I mean, come on…it protects your head…your brain…it’s a no-brainer!).


For the touring enthusiast, choosing the correct helmet is a key component to maintaining an enjoyable 2-wheeled experience. Remember, tourers are on the road for long hours, so it’s not enough for your helmet to simply adhere to the ideal safety specifications, it must also be designed for cranial comfort (to maximize your endurance) and to withstand as many environmental elements as possible. A proper touring helmet will have you spending most of your ride on the road, instead of making adjustments. In this article, we’ll explore how to properly evaluate the touring motorcycle helmet options.


Also, the discussion will be based on FULL FACE HELMETS, as these offer the most protection from potential safety hazards as well as the environmental elements (weather, debris, etc.). Other types of helmets (e.g. ½ shell, open face, modular) don’t offer the same level of protection – and as there is a higher potential of enduring an accident with longer rides, the tourer will want to choose the safest option.


Safety


Obviously, the most important evaluative component of the touring motorcycle helmet purchase is its safety specifications. If you happen to live in a state with less stringent helmet laws, you may be only concerned with a helmet’s cosmetic features…but if you’re a rider that would like to maintain a long, healthy, head-injury lite motorcycle life, it would behoove you to pay attention to safety ratings. In the United States, there are two main organizations that set safety guidelines for motorcycle helmets:


DOT/NHTSA

All motorcycle helmets that are street-legal in the United States, must be Department of Transportation (DOT) certified and adhere to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA – administration within the DOT) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218. This standard sets the minimum guidelines each helmet must meet to protect the head and brain during a crash. There are 4 main tests:

  • Impact – shock absorbing capacity

  • Penetration – ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object

  • Retention strap – ability for the chin strap to stay fastened without elongation or breakage

  • Peripheral vision – provision of 105 degrees of peripheral vision from the center

If you have an interest in the specifics (and a spare few hours), click this link (sections 12.5, 12.6, 12.7, and 12.8). If, however, you’d like a shortcut to ensure your chosen helmet meets DOT safety standards, look for the following sticker on the rear of the helmet:









Snell

The Snell Memorial foundation is a non-profit organization, created for the purpose of setting high quality testing standards for helmets (named after William "Pete" Snell, a sports car racer who died in 1956 of head injuries he received when the racing helmet he wore failed to protect his head). There is no federal requirement that helmets receive this rating, but helmets that receive the Snell certification are of even higher quality than those receiving only the DOT certification, due to the more comprehensive testing performed and more rigid passing standards. Feel free to click this link to review the testing and certification specifics, but simply look for the following sticker to ensure your helmet has the Snell certification:


Inside of the helmet







The helmets that adhere to the most stringent safety standards will have both the DOT and Snell certifications.

Quality


Touring enthusiasts will want to pay attention to helmet structural quality – as a higher quality helmet will most often yield a more comfortable ride and a longer helmet life. Generally, helmet quality speaks to the quality of the materials used for the helmet’s outer shell, as well as the makeup of its other main components shown in the picture below.

Outer Shell

The helmet’s outer shell is its outer frame, its first line of protection from impact. The quality of the helmet’s outer shell will be dependent on the material(s) used in its construction. The table below breaks down the main types of outer shell materials by quality:




Impact-Absorbing Liner

The impact absorbing liner is the helmet’s second most important structural component relating to safety and quality. It is comprised of a material called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS or Styrofoam), and its purpose is to absorb energy during a collision or crash by cushioning and collapsing upon impact; thus preventing head injuries. Impact absorbing liners will fall into one of the following three categories:


  1. Soft Foam: absorbs the most energy but collapses quickly

  2. Firm Foam: absorbs less energy but collapses slower

  3. Multi-density EPS (best option): dual or triple EPS liners that contain a combination of soft and firm foam; helmet receives the benefits of soft and firm foam; absorbs and disperses energy to provide maximum protection during a crash

Chin Strap & Inner Comfort Liner

Ensuring a proper helmet fit is essential for the touring enthusiast, as it speaks to both maximizing the helmet’s safety and comfort specifications. An unsecured helmet is unsafe due to its propensity of shifting (and even coming off) during a crash; and will be uncomfortable, as it will apply undue pressure to various parts of the head, potentially causing headaches and irritation.


To attain the proper size helmet, take the following measurement(s):

  • Circumference of the fullest part of the head – one inch above the eyebrows and above the ears



  • Use the measurements and the helmet brand’s sizing chart to determine your helmet size

A high-quality chin strap and inner comfort liner will also help maintain a snug fit. Look for the following attributes:


Chin Strap:

  • Strong, high density material

  • Metal D-Ring, ratchet, or magnet securing mechanism

Liner:

  • Enough padding to provide a secure, yet cushioning fit

  • Sweat-absorbing, antibacterial material

Face Shield / Visor

The face shield/visor quality is also important, as it ensures that the helmet provides the rider with protection from weather elements and debris, provides proper visibility (105 degrees of peripheral vision from the center). Most face shields adhere to the following standards:

  • Made of polycarbonate, scratch resistant material

  • Offer protection from ultraviolet rays

  • Some more expensive versions transition darker as they are exposed to sunlight

Ventilation

A proper helmet will contain air vents to provide proper ventilation and prevent face shield from fogging up in extreme temperatures. Helmets should contain forward vents, at the mouth guard and eye brow locations, for bringing air in, and rear vents at the top-rear section of the helmet, for pushing warm air out.


Extra Accessories


We have already discussed the helmet’s most important, performance-essential components, but some of the higher end (more expensive) versions may have the following accessories:


Chin Guards / Nose Guards / Additional Liners

These chin guard and nose guard accessories ensures for a more comfortable insulation setting, and ensures that air flows more properly through the helmet to prevent excessive fog build-up. Some helmets also come with additional interchangeable liners, to provide a more specified fit.


Communication & Camera Devices

Some higher-end helmets will be customized to include the following electronic components:

  • Bluetooth Communication devices

  • Digital Still and/or Video Camera

  • Rear facing video camera with display in the visor – providing additional visibility for object and vehicles in the rear

These components are not essential to the helmet’s performance, and most can be purchased as aftermarket add-ons.

Wrapping It Up


The touring enthusiast will want to choose the helmet that will offer a premium in terms of safety and comfort. While there are many less expensive helmets available for purchase, the conscientious tourer will want to attain the highest quality helmet (it protects your head – it’s worth spending a few extra dollars). A high-quality helmet will have the following attributes:

  1. DOT & Snell certification

  2. Carbon fiber or Composite (outer frame)

  3. Multi-Density EPS (impact absorbing foam liner)

  4. Chin Strap – Metal D ring

  5. Liner – sweat absorbing, antibacterial, comfortable, secure fitting

  6. Face Shield – UV ray protection

  7. Vents – 1 mouth level, 1 eyebrow level, 2 in rear head level

If and when you are ready to make a touring helmet purchase, please see the review article -- Touring Motorcycle Helmet Reviews: Top Picks Per Price Category.


Also, feel free to leave a question or comment in the section below.


Good luck on your travels – stay safe – have fun – rubber-side down!!

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