Designing the Dream Helmet
Not everyone craves riding with a motorcycle helmet. For those of us who do, we may have our favorite helmet, or favorite type of helmet, or brand or—well, you know—but we may never have found what amounts to the perfect do-all helmet.
Over the years, my experiences with different types and brands of helmets has been as eye-opening as it has been varied. With more than two dozen helmets in my past, I have developed an appreciation for the variety of designs as well as the realization that no one helmet is the perfect blend of features.
Each has its own strong points and weaknesses. None has been totally bad and all were much better than no helmet at all.
That said, based on my years of totally unscientific research, if I were to design my own helmet, what features would it have? Let’s see…
1. A uniform, universal helmet and face shield safety performance standard would be nice. This DOT (MVSS 218) vs. ECE 22.05 vs. Snell Memorial Foundation standards mishmash is just plain silly.
The US Department of Transportation and its regulatory counterparts in Europe and Asia and the independent stakeholders such as the Snell Memorial Foundation should get together and develop one unified helmet safety standard, since the ones that are out there are reasonably close in what they regulate and how they regulate it.
This would probably require a step up for the aging FMVSS 218 standard in use here in the US because the DOT standard allows the manufacturers to do their own certification testing, while ECE 22.05 requires pre-marketing testing by independent labs and gaining Snell approval has the same effect.
Under the DOT standard, a helmet only fails if it is found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) not to actually pass the tests after it is already on the market. Not a very reassuring or effective approach. It also would probably lead to a higher impact attenuation performance standard than that in the current DOT standard, but that would be a benefit to the helmet user. Last but not least, it could lead to lower costs for consumers by eliminating duplicative testing costs for those products destined for more than one market.
They could call the new standard CRASH V1 for Comprehensive Requirements Advancing Safety Helmets-Version 1. Or something like that. Ok, stop laughing. Admittedly, it is one of those forced acronyms people dream up to make a complicated name for something simple, but you get the drift.
For more on how the current major helmet and face shield safety standards look, see our coverage here:
- Motorcycle Helmet Standards Explained: DOT, ECE 22.05
- Motorcycle Helmet Face Shield Performance Standards Explained
2. Lightweight materials make for day-long comfort. The examples of carbon fiber helmets I’ve had pretty much lead the field in lightweight design coming in at about three pounds or even a little less, followed closely by composite shells made of carbon fiber with fiberglass and/or some polymer material.
The thing about carbon fiber is that the cost of the end product tends to run higher than those made with other materials—although that seems to be less an issue as time goes by. Being fundamentally lazy, I didn’t scour the Internet for data on impact strength, abrasion resistance and chemical stability of carbon fiber as compared to fiberglass, composites or various plastics that helmet shells be made of. Since helmets made of each of these types of materials have been shown to pass the various tests that exist now, I’m considering it settled science that each has the requisite strength characteristics for the job.
That said, at least for the time being, my dream helmet would probably have a carbon fiber shell.
3. Since the helmet is the highest point on the vehicle when riding, it is a great place to use high visibility design elements to ramp up that “conspicuity” that the Hurt Report said is a factor in preventing accidents. Shell colors that don’t blend into any background work to raise rider visibility.
Bright naturals like red, orange, yellow and white work, but fluorescent colors such as “blaze” orange or lime green are even better, particularly in low light. For more information on safety techniques when riding in low-light situations, see our coverage on nighttime motorcycle riding tips.
Another visibility enhancement is to literally have lights in the helmet. I have a pair of Akuma helmets that have twin rear-facing LED red lights as well as a clear forward-facing map light inside the eye port. Once you get used to the idea of having to place your helmet on a charger once in a while, these ideas are really great and in low light or fog, the LEDs in the back of the helmet are visible for an amazing distance.
So, in my dream design, the helmet would probably incorporate hi-viz blaze orange in a slick graphic design as well as some form of lighting that could improve my visibility to other drivers/riders even in very low light, fog, etc.
4. My dream helmet would be an all-season item, with the capability to easily adapt for both winter and summer riding. While this quality won’t make the list of many riders, for those who take to the snow as well as the street, it could be a major money-saver. Over the years, I’ve used many of the helmets I’ve had in both hot and cold weather—with varying results. Probably the closest to an all-season helmet I’ve had so far is the Bell Qualifier Snow helmet.
The Bell Qualifier includes a heated dual-lens face shield, removable breath box and closable chin bar and crown vents. For summer riding, the heated shield is interchangeable with a standard single thickness lens shield.
5. I’ll admit to having a real mixed bag of demands for the face shield of any helmet I use. I think reflective shields are cool looking but the reflective coating used to get that look on some I’ve had can be pretty soft and easily damaged, scratched or buffed off.
A heated dual-layer shield really works to prevent fogging in even the coldest weather, but as a plug-in accessory if it can’t work with the pig-tails used for battery tender, it can require additional pig-tail installation on each bike you want to use it on. The other thing about heated shields is that the elements tend to reduce effective view area. Maybe the wide, flat elements used in some could be changed to a very fine, barely visible wire like that used in some automotive rear window defroster.
I really like internal retractable tinted sun visors, too. Problem is, their location in the retracted position blocks the use of forehead vents on the helmet (more on this below). I’d also like a sun shade across the top of the shield, but I tend to make those myself; see Top 10 Features to Add to Motorcycle Helmets.
Last but not least, I really like the photochromatic shield I have on one of the Aluma helmets I have. The knock on these shields I’ve heard is that they don’t transition from light to dark to light quickly enough when suddenly moving from bright sunlight to dark shade and vice versa. This leaves the user with a potentially dangerous period of poor vision until the transition happens. Even if it takes only a few seconds, when traveling at highway speed, that could cause some big problems.
So my dream shield has a scratchproof reflective coating, is photochromatic with instantaneous color shift, dual lens, has fine-wire heating elements and operates off the same battery power source as my built-in LED helmet lights, requiring no pigtails on my bike’s battery. It would be cool—but probably not going to happen.
6. Among the helmets I have had, most came with the old double D-ring closure on the retention strap system. Simple, cheap and reliable, but it can be a pain to use with gloves on. Some other helmets come with a ratchet-style quick release system.
These systems are easy to use with gloves on, allow the user to click the helmet strap to exactly the most comfortable setting and release with the pull of a single tab. The Nexx Xt.1 Carbon helmet has a buckle like this.
A feature for helmets with this type of buckle would be the addition of a single D ring to the retention strap to allow the helmet to be secured on a typical helmet lock. Unfortunately, the helmets I have used with the ratchet-style buckle don’t have any ring to allow the helmet to be locked on the bike’s helmet lock.
There is a way to get a quick-release feature that you can add to your helmet that came with the double D ring buckle system. The Echo Quick-release system is inexpensive and can easily be retro-fitted to your helmet.
7. Helmet ventilation is really key in hot weather. One of my observations on how helmets are set up for ventilation is that most full-face and modular helmets do pretty well in terms of providing ventilation through the chin bar. But the ventilation approaches used for the rest of the helmet vary in effectiveness.
Some helmets have vents in the front right above the eye port and tend to provide good ventilation in the forehead area, where perspiration can be given air flow and evaporation provides nice cooling effect. Other helmets have single or dual vents high on the crown of the helmet. That approach works well for the head-down position typical in racing or sport riding, but tends not to capture a lot of air flow when the rider is in the more upright riding position typical for riding a standard or cruiser.
Since I don’t get into the head-down speed tuck very often, I’d tend to look for crown ventilation ports right above the eye port to get more air flow into the forehead area. Ideally however, a helmet would have closable vents above the eye port and atop the crown, allowing maximum topside ventilation. Vents on the sides of the helmet would be a plus.
Of course, if you prefer a helmet with a built-in retractable internal sun visor, the options for location of forehead area vents is limited.
8. Advanced features like communications or radio gear are nice, but don’t really send me. When I ride, I carry a cell phone, but not to take or make calls in the usual sense; mainly I’d use com equipment only in a roadside emergency. Otherwise, to me the motorcycle is the non-phone, non-radio zone. I have helmets that are Bluetooth ready, but don’t use it, but it’s something to look for in a helmet for those that do.
One feature I do have available is the Shock Doctor Eject Helmet Removal system. It is a retro-fit to your helmet that places an inflatable air bag in the crown of the helmet with a tube that attaches to the bottom edge of the helmet. In the event of a crash, EMT/Paramedics can use a 60cc syringe hooked to the tube to pump air into the air bag, which pushes the helmet off the wearer from the inside. This helps to avoid the need for first responders to pull or twist on the helmet in the attempt to remove it, thus reducing the potential for exacerbating any cervical spine injury that may be present.
Another feature that I’d look for in a dream helmet is the emergency pull straps on the helmet’s cheek pieces, which allow them to be pulled out as another way to make emergency helmet removal easier.
9. Helmet shape is an overlooked design feature. I discovered that a shell that tapers around its base is less likely to cause binding and get hung up on riding jackets with a collar, particularly a high collar such as that found on some cold weather riding jackets. This advantage is noticeable in the Roof helmets I have. Helmets that have limited taper at the base of the shell tend to encounter the collar of the jacket sometimes causing a binding problem when turning your head. Of course, this is not a problem if you tend to favor three-quarter coverage or half helmets.
10. Rotatable/removable chin bar is a great way to offer the flexibility to switch from full-face to three-quarter coverage configuration. Current modular designs that go half way up don’t quite get there; the full-rotation type helmet such as the Roof Boxer V8 and Roof Desmo get there in terms of allowing conversion to a three-quarter coverage feel, but a helmet with a totally removable chin bar would be slick.
It’s probably safe to say my “dream” helmet won’t be on the market any time soon, but in looking at the number of features already available on helmets today and those that can be retro-fitted, it’s likely that you may be able to find one that meets a lot of your criteria. The key thing is to decide what the key features you want for the way your ride and then do some detailed looking around.