A Guide to the Types of Motorcycle Helmets

motorcycle helmet guide - featured imageHelmets play a vital role in keeping yourself safe when riding a motorcycle. But not all helmets are the same. Not sure what type of helmet is the best choice for your needs? Our complete guide to motorcycle helmets will help you find the perfect lid fast. Here’s what you need to know:

Motorcycle Helmets: An Overview

There are five different types of motorcycle helmets you can buy. Each has a different style, construction and fit. Additionally, each helmet is designed for a very specific purpose. The five types of helmets are:

  • Full Face Helmet
  • Modular or Flip-Up Helmet
  • Open Face or 3/4 Helmet
  • Half-Helmets
  • Off-Road or Motocross Helmet

Don’t worry if that seems a bit confusing. Most helmet types have a few different names. But their purpose is usually pretty clear. Here’s a rundown of each helmet type:

Full Face Helmets

As the name implies, this helmet covers your entire head including your face. Generally, if you ask someone to picture a “motorcycle helmet,” the image which likely comes to mind will be a full-face helmet. Full-face helmets are the type most likely to prevent injuries and death in an accident.

These helmets have a visor in front to protect your face without sacrificing visibility. Visors have a few options you’ll want to consider. For instance, the visor can be clear, mirrored or dark. While a dark visor helps prevent sun glare, it can also impact visibility when riding in dark and cloudy conditions. Regardless of the type of visor you choose, you’ll want to make sure it blocks UV rays.

Visors have a few drawbacks you’ll need to manage. When worn, they basically create a sealed bubble around your head, which can quickly become hot and uncomfortable. So ventilation is extremely important, especially if you’re riding in hot climates.

Aside from ventilation ports, moisture-wicking is another feature which will help keep you cool and comfortable. Plus, you’ll want all internal padding to be removable and machine washable. This lets you keep the inside feeling and smelling clean.

Fogging will be an issue you’ll have to deal with. Anti-fogging lenses will help but they’re not 100% effective. Other anti-fog options include a breath box, which pulls your breath away from the visor, and a pinlock system, which is a second lens in the visor.

Modular Helmets

Also called Flip-Up helmets, these offer similar protection to a full-face helmet but with a bit more comfort and versatility. A flip-up chin bar allows you to expose your face without having to remove your helmet completely.

These are useful for anyone who likes to ride for long periods of time. The open face position allows you to quickly drink water, eat, talk and so on. Flip up the chin bar to free your face while keeping your helmet in place overall.

A modular helmet is less safe than the full-face helmet. The flip-up hinge is a potential weak spot in an impact. Additionally, these helmets are best for upright riding positions. They’re not considered the safest options for sport riders.

Open Face Helmets

Also called three-quarter helmets, they’re designed to protect the top, back and sides of your head. But, as the name implies, they’re open in front. Your face has no protection in an accident.

The helmet itself is structurally identical to fuller helmets. But the lack of total coverage area means they’re nowhere near as safe as full or modular helmets. There’s no chin bar and usually not even a face shield.

These helmets are popular for street motorcycles and even scooters. If you’re riding in urban traffic at relatively low speeds, these helmets can certainly help if an accident occurs. Basically, they’re better than nothing.

Riding with these helmets does present some unique challenges. During wet or windy weather, you’ll probably need to wear sunglasses, goggles and maybe even a bandana. Probably not the helmet to choose if you can’t handle a bug in your face every now and again.

Half Helmets

These helmets have the slightly-gruesome nickname of brain buckets. They’re usually the bare minimum under state helmet laws. They generally only cover the top of your forehead to the middle of the back of your head.

On the plus side, these helmets are light, comfortable and don’t interfere with visibility. But they provide practically no protection whatever. Even the construction of the helmet itself is usually nowhere near as strong as the other helmets on this list.

Motocross Helmets

These are helmets designed specifically for off-road use. In many ways, they’re very similar to traditional full-face helmets. But off-road helmets have sun peaks on top and angular chin bars on the bottom.

They’re also designed for increased ventilation, because motocross riding is typically hotter and more intense than riding on regular roads.

Although motocross helmets provide the same level of safety as full-face helmets, you don’t want to actually wear one for street riding. They have minimal soundproofing, which creates a cacophony of wind and traffic noises rattling your head. Plus, the high sun peak can actually whip your head back if you’re traveling at fast highway speeds.

Off-road helmets typically don’t have visors. Instead, they’re designed to be used with goggles, which provide superior airflow. Motocross helmets are also designed to work with body armor, neck braces and other competitive gear.

If you’re looking for a helmet useful for both on and off-road racing, consider a Dual-Sport helmet. They’re more soundproof than a motocross helmet and better ventilated than a full-face helmet. They typically also have visors which can be flipped up to allow for goggles to be used instead.

Final Thoughts

Never ride a motorcycle without proper head protection. Even a brain bucket is better than nothing at all. Of course, for the most protection, you’ll want a full face or flip-up helmet for street riding and a motocross or hybrid for off-roading.

The right helmet can literally mean the difference between life or death in an accident, so select the best one for your needs and always wear it when riding. The best type of motorcycle ride is a safe one.

Brett Gordon

The engine behind editing at DigMyRide and the brains behind its build. During the day, Brett is a thirty-something dude from SoCal climbing the corporate ladder, but by night, he spends his time contributing to the online world of automotive tech & trends.