I resent the political powerfreaks telling me what to do as much as any true American, and I agree that forcing riders to wear helmets by law is about as helpful to society as outlawing the practice of chainsaw juggling. Just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it should be illegal. But let’s be clear, I don’t juggle chainsaws, and driving your bike without a helmet is dangerous.
I do know plenty of drivers with neon-fitted Hayabusas who say helmets just get in the way. “Helmets cause accidents”, they say. Which would be a valid argument if it were true, but it isn’t. Every study ever done on the subject indicates that riders who wear helmets crash less frequently and suffer fewer injuries and deaths if they do crash. So let’s just bury that ridiculous nugget of misinformation right now. You just need to decide what kind of helmet you want.
Be smart: pick one that you like and then wear it.
So, you’ve decided to get a motorcycle. You know you’re less likely to crash and die if you wear a helmet, plus it’ll keep you from getting a ticket. The incentives are there. Now, you just need to decide what kind to get. How do you choose?
There are three main types available, split up basically by how much protection they offer. There’s the Half-helmet, the Open-face or 3/4, and the Full-face. There’s a type of helmet that fits halfway between the full-face and the open-face types, it’s called a modular or flip-up helmet, but it’s considered just a version of a full face helmet that has a chin protector that flips up.
Here’s what they look like:
This type of helmet is sometimes called a beanie or a shorty. It offers the minimum amount of protection while still hovering within the law. Like all helmets, shorties comes with or without visors and in all sorts of colors and textures and designs. A big problem with these half-helmets is that they tend to shift a little more than the other types as you get jostled around. I don’t really recommend half-helmets, you won’t get a ticket but you may scrape your chin off.
Open-face or 3/4 Helmets
These are my favorite looking helmets. Wearing a classic open-face helmet with a pair of goggles on a 1960 Triumph Bonneville makes you look like you just rode out of a Wes Anderson film. I like Wes Anderson. I also like my chin, and the 3/4 helmet does nothing to protect it. Check out this chart:
Some researchers gathered together post-crash helmets – helmets that have been through accidents -, and they took the data from which parts were damaged and put together that chart. As you can see the most impacts happen right in the spot where open-face helmets don’t protect you. That’s all the convincing I needed.
These helmets offer the most protection over the largest area. It’s really no contest and I’m not exactly sure why anyone ever buys anything but full-face helmets. It blocks out the wind and rain and dust and rocks and, most importantly, pavement. Protect your face.
A Note on Color
When you’re on a bike, you’re a small target. Most drivers are used to seeing and avoiding other cars, so they’re not really expecting you zipping around out there. In fact, one of the major factors cited in nearly all car/motorcycle collisions is, “I never even saw him, officer” by the car driver. Anything you can do to increase your visibility helps. Flashy/busy graphics may look cool in the store, but it acts like camouflage when you’re going 75 mph. Solid red may seem fine too, but at night, red may as well be black, because of the way our eyes work. Solid white is my choice, but any solid florescent color or bright stand out graphic works well to make you easy to spot. You also want to make sure you like the look personally, so you don’t feel like a douche wearing it. The more you like it, the more likely you are to wear it.
Some more facts about helmets:
- Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. (U.S. Department of Transportation/National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, State Legislative Fact Sheet)
- Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists. (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Motorcycles, 2006)
- Wearing a properly fitted helmet can actually improve the rider’s ability to hear by streamlining the head and ear which can deduce wind noise allowing the rider to hear other sounds. (Safe Cycling-Motorcycle Safety Foundation Publication.)
- Helmets prevent eye injuries and distraction from dust, dirt and debris thrown up by other vehicles on the road. (Safe Cycling-Motorcycle Safety Foundation Publication.)
- Per vehicle mile, motorcyclists are about 37 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash and about 8 times as likely to be injured. (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, 2006)
- Hospital stays are longer for unhelmeted riders and the cost to taxpayers is significantly higher since many motorcyclists are uninsured. (Michigan Traffic Safety Information Council.)