Motorcycle Helmets: Safety Facts

Motorcycle Helmets

How much do you really know about that helmet you’re putting on your head each, and every time you go for a ride? What you don’t know could hurt you! Motorcycle helmets (aka "skid lids" or "brain buckets") are made to do one thing: protect the brain from any kind of hematoma.

A hematoma is a localized mass of blood contained within an organ, tissue, or space that has escaped from an artery or vein. Because the brain is contained in the skull, a hemorrhage can’t escape which increases the pressure on the brain and can lead to death if a large enough area of tissue is affected.

A fall on the head from a height of six feet can prove to be fatal without a helmet; this would result in an impact speed of 13.4 mph!

Here are some helmet facts you should know before you go riding: 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.

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 usually the damage goes unnoticed by the wearer. Read the information that accompanies the helmet so you know how to care for it.

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.

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 that is improperly secured.

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. 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.

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 chinstrap may fray or loosen at its attaching points. The shell could be chipped or damaged.

However, the best reason to replace your helmet is that protection technology keeps 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 currently own. It might even cost less!

Bill Miko, President of American Motorcycle Forensics, is the Host of the Motorcycle Radio Network and technical writer for Ultimate Motorcycling magazine.