The MXstore Helmet Buying Guide
A dirt bike helmet is the most important piece of protective gear any motocross or enduro rider will ever need to buy. Ideally the more safety gear you can wear the better, but if you could choose only one item to wear before going for even the shortest of rides, it's without a doubt your helmet.
Giving your brain the best protection money can buy should be paramount on everyone’s list of priorities when deciding on a budget for motocross gear. All too often we see people spending big on a gear set and goggles over putting the money into a decent helmet, or even buying a helmet purely on looks and not even trying to get one which fits correctly.
Regardless of price, weight, shell construction or safety ratings, the best motocross helmet is one that fits correctly. We take an in-depth look at helmet fitment and break down the differences in helmet construction to see just what you are spending your hard-earned on when forking out for a new lid.
Before we get into the technical terms associated with different helmet categories we want to give you the quick rundown on how a modern-day full-face motocross helmet actually works, we figure the explanation of what injuries a helmet protects you from will be enough motivation for everyone to reconsider just how important it is to them to have a good helmet on their head at all times.
What does a motocross helmet do?
To understand the action of a helmet, first you need to understand head injuries. The common perception that a helmet's purpose is to save the rider's head from splitting open is misleading.
Skull fractures are usually not life-threatening unless the fracture is depressed and impinges on the brain beneath and bone fractures usually heal over a relatively short period. Brain injuries are much more serious - they frequently result in death, permanent disability or personality change and unlike bone, neurological tissue has very limited ability to recover after an injury. Therefore, the primary purpose of a helmet is to prevent traumatic brain injury while skull and face injuries are a significant secondary concern.
The brain is damaged during a crash when a rider’s head comes in contact with a stationary object which in most cases is the ground. The sudden deceleration of the head causes the rapid acceleration of the brain inside the skull. Under a hard impact, the brain can strike the skull which causes unconsciousness, concussion and bursts blood vessels (bleeding of the brain) all of which take different amounts of time to recover from depending on the severity of the strike.
How does a Motocross Helmet protect you?
A modern-day motocross helmet is made up of four key components:
- Hard Outer Shell
- EPS 'Expanded Polystyrene foam' Liner
- Inner Foam Padding
- Retention Strap – Chin Strap and “D” Rings
The purpose of the hard outer shell is to prevent penetration of the helmet by a pointed object that might otherwise puncture the skull and to provide structure to the inner liner so it does not disintegrate upon abrasive contact with the ground. This is important because the foams used have very little resistance to penetration and abrasion.
The purpose of the foam liner is to crush during an impact, thereby increasing the distance and period of time over which the head stops and reducing its deceleration.
It's important that the liner in a motorcycle helmet is soft and thick so the head decelerates at a gentle rate as it sinks into it. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how thick the helmet can be for the simple reason that the helmet quickly becomes impractical if the liner is more than 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) thick. This implies a limit to how soft the liner can be.
If the liner is too soft, the head will crush it completely upon impact without coming to a stop. An ideal helmet liner is stiff enough to decelerate the impacting head to stop in a smooth uniform manner just before it completely crushes the liner and no stiffer.
MIPS (Muti-Directional Impact Protection Systems)
The introduction of MIPS in recent years is a technological breakthrough which increases rider protection. MIPS imitates the brains protective fluid. The secret behind MIPS unique patent comes from the human brain.
The brain is surrounded by a low-friction cushion of cerebrospinal fluid. MIPS gives the helmet its own low-friction layer between the EPS and comfort liner, to absorb much of the energy created by an angled blow to the head.
The combination of the brains own protection and MIPS ensures maximum protection simple and effective. Not all helmets feature a MIPS liner so do your research before buying, as any helmet will offer superior protection if equipped with this technology.
Motocross helmets construction materials
There are varying degrees of protection incorporated into every motocross helmet on the market, and the materials used to make a helmet influence how much protection the helmet provides. Different materials for the external shell dramatically change the level of overall protection the helmet offers.
The four materials helmet shells are made from are:
- Composite carbon fibre, Kevlar and fibreglass (Tri Composite)
- Carbon Fibre
Polycarbonate: Is a high grade injected mould plastic similar to what Air Force fighter jet windscreens all over the world are made from. It's strong and light, and in Australia passes all of the DOT and Snell safety ratings, the only downfall of polycarbonate is the penetration resistance levels are lower than any of the other shell types on the market, making it more prone to crack or shatter under a heavy impact.
Fibreglass: Is the next step up from a polycarbonate shell as the nature of fibreglass is a much stronger finish with a higher impact resistance level than a polycarbonate shell. Its downfall being in some cases fibreglass can be slightly heavier than some of the other shell types, and for some people, a lightweight helmet is the key thing they are chasing so keep this in mind - try a few on if possible.
Tri Composite: Is a mixture of three key materials being carbon fibre, kevlar and fibreglass. The addition of the other materials aids in giving the helmet extra strength but also reducing the weight of the outer shell - the downside of this is a tri composite shell is more costly to make, so the price for riders is slightly higher, although at the end of the day, you are spending money on protection for your brain so it comes back to how much you think your head is worth.
Carbon Fibre: Undoubtedly the best material a modern-day helmet shell can be made from, carbon fibre is used on a variety of performance parts from the driveshafts in Formula 1 cars and the complete frames of MotoGP bikes. The material is super strong but extremely lightweight, creating a perfect combination for a motocross helmet being light and safe. Again its only downfall is the cost is higher, but if you are a serious rider and want to stay safe, then you will save your beer money for a few extra weeks to be able to afford one of these masterpieces.
Motocross helmet safety standards
Worldwide there are multiple helmet safety standard organisations which perform tests on helmets to establish whether a helmet is safe enough to distribute to customers.
DOT: Department Of Transport of the USA
Any helmet in America needs to pass DOT standards to be legal, DOT standards favour energy-absorbent helmets over all other safety test types as studies have indicated that absorbing impact is the highest priority of a helmet, although the standards of this testing have not been reviewed or changed since the 1970’s.
It is thought that particularly in motocross on closed courses that the need for penetration strength is less than the need for energy absorption qualities, and in some cases helmets which have a higher penetration resistance will often compromise on energy absorption as the outer shell is harder.
DOT relies on the inpidual helmet manufacturer to perform testing of their helmets and no further testing is carried out to ensure quality control once the product has reached the retail market.
Snell Memorial Foundation
The Snell Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 1957 after the death of William "Pete" Snell, who died in 1956 after sustaining injuries to his head in a car race. Snell ratings are reviewed and updated every five years with the core focus being more on impact attenuation than favouring energy absorption only.
The impact attenuation of a Snell helmet is higher than the DOT standard and the penetration tests use five different anvil shapes. To achieve a Snell standard helmet companies submit their helmets voluntarily for testing, Snell also randomly buys Snell approved helmets and re-tests them for compliance after they have reached the retail market.
ECE Certification: ECE or United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Is actually the most common internationally recognized helmet certification as more than 50 countries have adopted the ECE standards for helmets. The ECE standard, like DOT, favours impact absorbing helmets, but has a more stringent set of tests to qualify for their certification.
The ECE rating is the highest to achieve simply because the impact attenuation level requires the highest passable rating out of all three ratings being DOT, Snell and ECE.
Unlike the DOT standard which relies on the manufacturer being honest, the ECE batch tests helmets prior to public release to ensure quality before the helmet leaves the factory.
What is the Australian motocross helmet safety standard?
There are a number of companies which perform testing and provide approval for motorcycle helmets in Australia. Depending on the company will determine what the approval sticker looks like, a common one is the 'Five red ticks', but we have added an image to help you identify some of the different stickers currently in circulation.
The common piece of information on all of these stickers is the Australian approval number being either:
- AS/NZS 1698
- AS/NZS 1698-2006
The second code is a newly revised code and all helmets moving forward will contain the longer number.
In 2016 the rules and standards were updated for all states throughout Australia. The update to the Australian standard now allows the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) 22.05 standard.
Helmets must display either a stitched label on the inside of the helmet or a sticker on the outside of the helmet, indicating compliance with the approved standards.
For a helmet meeting the ECE 22.05 standard, the label or sticker may contain any number from 1 upwards. Some examples are shown below.
Here are some basic facts about the changes to what is now legally accepted as mandatory approved helmet standards throughout Australia.
- All Australian and Territories now recognise both ECE 22:05 and AS/NZS 1698:2006 as the mandatory approved helmet standards for vehicle users.
- To be completely clear, AS/NZS 1698:2006 has not been dropped as an approved standard, nor will it be in the near future. There are no plans to make any changes at all to this standard.
- Helmets complying to AS/NZS 1698:2006 are still legal to sell and use in all states and territories of Australia as there are many helmets for sale and/or in circulation so no changes to the acceptance of the Australian standard will be made in the foreseeable future.
Some Australian importers will continue to bring in selected models under this standard. Some helmets models are either not available for sale in Europe or not designed/manufactured for that standard so the AS/NZS 1698:2006 standard will continue to be created.
Markings on helmets:
- On ECE 22:05 approved helmets the only requirement is for the certification code to be attached to the retention strap.
- No external stickers are required.
- AS / NZS 1698 approved helmets will continue to be marked as they always were.
- If you are having your helmet custom painted, make sure you do not remove the safety sticker as this will also make the helmet void of its approval.
It has been brought to MXstore's attention that some of MA's less experienced machine examiners are not familiar with the accepted standards other than AS169, or where the standards label is located. For further clarification on any of the Australian helmet standards please contact Motorcycling Australia who will happily direct you to published information regarding the new laws.
Motocross helmet safety testing
An array of vigorous testing is performed to determine how well a helmet would hold up in the event of a crash, and the specific tests to measure a helmets safety are as follows:
- Penetration: When this test takes place, a test striker (an anvil) is dropped onto the helmet from a fixed height, the striker cannot penetrate through the helmet to the test head form (your skull).
- Impact Attenuation: Basically means energy absorption, how well the helmet displaces the energy of an impact.
- Retention: This tests the effectiveness of the helmets ability to stay on your head during a crash, the helmet's retention system (chin strap and D rings).
To meet Australian standards, a helmet needs to pass the Snell rating as a minimum, if your helmet only carries a DOT rating then it will not be accepted as adequate at any Australian competition and you may be refused entry to the track.
If you find a helmet with all three ratings then you are onto a good thing as not only has the manufacturer gone to the trouble to have it tested by all three organisations, it has also passed them all making it pretty hard to beat!
Troy Lee Designs are one helmet brand that prides itself on the extensive R&D and testing that goes into a motocross helmet. Check out the video below to see some of the behind the scenes action that went into the development of the Troy Lee Designs SE4 Helmet.
Motocross helmet fitment
No matter how much money you spend on a helmet, the fact is if it doesn’t fit you correctly your safety will be severely compromised. The easiest way to explain this is you want your helmet to feel snug - a helmet which fits you correctly will be tight around your cheeks, if your teeth are catching some of your cheeks while you talk with a helmet on that is perfect.
Also check the back of the helmet where the base of the helmet meets the back of your head, this should also be a snug fit so if you can fit your fingers in between here the helmet is too big!
When ordering online knowing your measurements is going to be your biggest advantage, all helmets are sized in S (small), M (medium), L (large) increments. There is a range of CM measurements associated with each size too.
To accurately measure your head, use a cloth tape measure wrapped around your head horizontally about one inch above your eyebrows and ears, take the CM measurement of the circumference of your head.
Adults Helmet Sizes:
- XS (extra small) 53-54cm
- SM (small) 55-56cm
- MD (medium) 57-58cm
- LG (large) 59-60cm
- XL (extra large) 61-62cm
- 2XL (2 extra large) 63-64cm
Kids Helmet Sizes:
- Small 47-48cm
- Medium 49-50cm
- Large 51-52cm
Please note: Always aim to get a tight-fitting helmet, if you fall between sizes round the size down, not up. The exception to the rule being kids helmets as they are growing you would be safe to round up to the nearest CM to allow for room to grow. Everyone has a slightly different shaped head, and most helmets are a slightly different fit from brand to brand. Try as many on as you can until you find a brand which is the right shape for your head as the better the fit, the safer the ride!
What to look for in a new motocross helmet?
To make it simple we have composed a short list of things you should consider before committing to that purchase, your brain will thank you later!
- What safety standards does it have?
- What is the external shell constructed from?
- Check the sizing - get the right fitment to get a good feel of the helmets shape.
- Weight comes into play, although most helmets these days are relatively light there are some which are lighter than others which will contribute to the overall comfort of the helmet.
- Ventilation: Intake and exhaust vents on the helmet should be in abundance particularly for Australian conditions. Ventilation creates airflow which is important as the body dissipates heat through your head but as soon as you put on a helmet you restrict your body’s ability to keep cool causing fatigue and dehydration which is a dangerous mix while riding!
- Easy to remove padding: Most helmets these days have a removable liner so you can keep your helmet clean and fresh. But some helmets come with quick-release style cheek pads which can be removed from the helmet in the event of a crash. The reason for this is if a rider is unconscious or has a suspected neck injury medical assistance can remove the cheek pads while the helmet is still on the rider to make removing the helmet easier. This significantly helps reduce the chance of further aggravating any injuries from having to yank a helmet off a riders head.
Motocross helmet guide for kids
When purchasing a helmet for your child you still need to follow the same general rule regarding sizing to ensure they are well-protected. You can allow for a slightly larger fit as it could turn into a costly exercise upgrading to a new size as your child grows, but please always keep the importance of helmet fitment in mind.
Before you let your child ride have a good look at how the helmet is sitting, check if the chin strap is secure and would not slip off during an accident, as wearing a loose-fitting helmet the risk of this will be higher than a correctly fitting helmet. When the chin strap is tightened adequately you should just be able to fit one finger between the strap under the riders chin.
The most common mistake people make with buying helmets for their kids is trying to keep them in a youth-sized helmet for too long. The reason for this is the idea of saving money as youth helmets are cheaper than adult sizes, the reason for the price difference is a helmet changes completely when you jump from kids to adults. The larger kids and smaller adults sized helmets often cross over and some kids will fit into both, if your child can fit into both adults and kids-sized helmet always choose the adult's size!
The reason for this is simply because an adult helmet is safer, kids helmets are made with a significantly thinner EPS liner to reduce weight as most younger children would struggle to bear the weight of a full-sized helmet on their head especially doing something like motocross with bumps, jumps and other tricky obstacles they have to navigate.
Helmet companies can get away with a thinner EPS liner as most kids won’t be going as fast as an adult on a track so the forces experienced during a crash are much lower. Having said that, the sooner your child can get into a full-sized helmet the safer they will be, so always keep this in mind!
Motocross helmet care: Clean and inspect!
After investing your hard-earned into a new helmet you are going to want to take care of it, fortunately, they aren’t too difficult to look after as all you need to do is keep them clean. Most helmets these days have a removable liner which should be washed after every ride.
You should wash this by hand in warm soapy water, rinse and then dry somewhere out of the sun. Personally, I throw them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle but some helmet liners are delicate and could be damaged in a machine so we don’t recommend this so wash at your own risk!
As for the outer shell, wash by hand in warm soapy water and allow to dry out of the sunlight, prolonged exposure to UV rays can damage a helmet so avoid leaving your helmet in direct sunlight as much as possible. While your helmet is clean and the liner is removed, use this time to inspect your helmet for damage, check the outer shell for stone chips or cracks forming.
Also check that the helmet straps haven’t deteriorated particularly where they join the helmet shell and check the inside of the EPS liner for dents, damage or cracks.
Most helmets come with some kind of carry bag or even better, a padded helmet bag. Even if you have a large motocross gear bag always put your helmet in its own bag to keep nasties like motocross boots and dirty gear away from the delicate paint job of your helmet. Chips and scratches are what scrutineer’s at race tracks are looking for and you don’t want to have your helmet knocked back just for lack of care.
Hit the link for more tips on How To Wash Your Motocross Helmet from MXstore.
Avoid sitting on your helmet: if you are out riding and have nowhere to sit down, your body weight crushing down on the helmet is not good for it so sit on the ground if you really have to!
Avoid hanging your helmet on your handlebars: Everybody does it, but for one it could fall on the ground causing damage. We have also seen a bike fall over with a helmet hanging on the bars, the clutch lever punched a huge hole in the helmet EPS liner of a new Troy Lee Designs helmet so either way, hanging your helmet on your bars or anywhere else similar is a bad idea!
When to Replace My Motocross Helmet
There are generally a couple of scenarios that call for investing in a new lid. One of the first things to look for when considering upgrading your helmet is the time frame that you’ve owned it for and the time from when the helmet was manufactured.
Now most helmet brands recommend upgrading your helmet within seven years of the manufacture date, or five years from the purchase of purchase. This doesn’t mean the helmet is considered completely useless, it more so falls beneath the standard of these helmet companies. But if you’ve managed to get four or five years out of a helmet, we would say that’s a pretty good stint.
While the outer shell is for the most part unaffected by time, it’s the inner EPS shell/liner, which is essentially the major component in absorbing impacts, that begins to deteriorate. The EPS liner basically hardens over time, regardless if it’s been used or not, which actually means the helmet can’t absorb impacts like it’s intended to.
There’s also the fact that helmet technology is constantly becoming more and more advanced, especially when you look back in the last 5-10 years, and even in the last two years - which is another reason to upgrade even sooner than that 5-7 year period.
Just take a look at the new Fox Fluid Inside technology that was rolled out in the V3 and V2 models for 2020, Shoei updated its VFX-EVO helmet recently with a new MEDS system, there’s the excellent FLEX technology in the Bell Moto-9, and then there’s MIPS technology, which has been around for a quite a few years now and has made its way onto most helmets at the mid to premium level.
Now the second scenario is obviously suffering impacts and crashes with the helmet, which in most cases, is going to call for that helmet to be replaced. Dirt bike helmets are designed to absorb as much energy as possible upon impact, basically protecting you as much as possible, while making them good for one significant impact.
Every rider knows when they’ve had a good knock to the head, and that’s the type of impact that will make your helmet unusable. Now light crashes, or crashes where you don’t hit your head hard, and even dropping your helmet, won’t normally mean the helmet has had its one and done impact - but that is all dependent on the situation, which only you can determine after inspecting it.
It’s more so the impacts that leave you rattled or with a concussion that call for throwing it in the bin or hanging it up in the shed. You can inspect the outer shell and EPS liner for any abnormalities such as cracks and compression in the foam - you’ll need to inspect this closely, as they’re not always clearly visible.
If in doubt, it’s best just to upgrade your helmet.
Best MX Helmet brands for sale include:
- Fox Helmets
- Bell Helmets
- Troy Lee Designs Helmets
- Airoh Helmets
- Shoei Helmets
- Thor Helmets
- Oneal Helmets
- M2R Helmets
- 6D Helmets
- Arai Helmets
- Answer Helmets
- Fly Racing Helmets
- JUST1 Helmets
- Shift Helmets
Or Shop all Helmets
If you have any further questions or concerns regarding helmet fitment or anything regarding motocross protective gear please don’t hesitate to contact the friendly team at MXstore
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