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Motorcycle Helmets What's The Difference?

Tue, 14/04/2015
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HELMETS: Safety Standards

Safety is paramount in all walks of life and motorcycling is no exception. That said, as it stands the only item of protective clothing you are required to wear by law while riding a motorcycle or moped is a helmet. The helmet you wear however must comply with one of the following standards:             

British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI (British Standards Institution) Kite mark

UNECE Regulation 22.05

Any standard accepted by a member of the European Economic Area which offers a level of safety and protection equivalent to BS 6658:1985 and carry a mark equivalent to the BSI Kite mark. These do not apply if you are Sikh and wear a turban.

HELMETS: Standards and What they Mean

BS 6658:1985 specifies the requirements for helmets for riders, drivers and passengers of motor vehicles including participants in competitive events, for whom a high-performance option is included

ECE Regulation 22.05 series of amendments specifies regulations for protective helmets for drivers and passengers of mopeds and of motor cycles with or without side-car and to the visors fitted to such helmets or intended to be added to them

With motorcyclists representing just 1% of UK traffic but 19% of all road fatalities, it makes sense to ensure the helmet you’re wearing offers you the greatest protection possible.


SHARP are the U.K.’s safety helmet assessment and rating programme. They are responsible for testing the protective properties of motorcycle helmets on sale in the U.K. and providing consumers with an easy to use 5-star rating system to help you choose the best helmet for your money. 1-star being a low rating but still conforms at least to the minimum safety standards while 5-stars indicators much better all round protection.

ACU: Going for Gold!

ACU stands for Auto Cycle Union- They are the organisation responsible for governing motorcycle sport in the U.K. As well as SHARP’s 5-start ratings and British kite marks you may also notice the distinctive ACU Gold Sticker on the back of some helmets.  

While the ACU award is not mandatory for helmets used on the road it is a requirement for anyone who wants to ride on a race track, be it in competition or on a track day; motocross, trials or short circuit. The marshals will inspect your helmet for an ACU Gold sticker- if your helmet has not been authorised for use in racing, they wont let you on the track, it’s as simple as that.

Not having a gold ACU sticker on your helmet doesn’t automatically mean your helmet is no good; there are lots of very good road going helmets that don’t carry the award. The ACU only give the award to helmets offering the highest levels of protection against the dangers and speeds faced while racing.


SHARP run 32 different tests on each model of helmet across a range of sizes. They only use helmets that they have purchased themselves from high street retailers to ensure consistency and ensure that they test the same helmets that you would buy yourself.

The helmets are dropped at 3 different speeds against anvils to simulate kerbs and flat surfaces impacting against different points around the exterior of the helmet. watch an animation of the tests in process.

You can also check the rating of your own helmet and compare it to others on the market.

Size Matters!

Key steps to getting a good fit:

  1. Get Measured: Pass a tape above your ears and take the measurement from your forehead. Most leading brands will provide a cross reference for their sizes. For example 52cm = small, 54cm = medium, etc.

  2. Try it on: All brands and styles fit differently so it’s important to find one that suits your head. Check that the cheeks are held firmly without any pressure points or gaps around the head.

  3. Check the fit: Fasten the chin strap making sure 2 fingers fit between it and you chin. Move your head around- If the helmet moves or slips on your head its probably the wrong size.

  4. Will it stay on?: With the chin strap done up, tilt your head forward and ask someone to carefully roll the back of the helmet up.  If it rolls forward it’s likely to come off in an accident!

See a short animation about how to check the fit of your helmet.

Get The Right Fit

A comprehensive study of motorcycle accidents across Europe showed that 12 % of helmets were lost during the course of the impact. Wearing a helmet that fits correctly dramatically increases your chances of surviving a crash. After all, even a SHARP five-star helmet won’t protect you if it’s not on your head at the point of impact.

It’s advisable to try on several different helmet makes, models and styles. And remember, what suits your friend wont necessarily suit you.

Don’t be tempted to choose the wrong size helmet just because your favorite model isn’t immediately available.

Wind Noise

Wind noise is an issue that more and more riders are taking notice of.   We are often told not to listen to music too loudly or use machinery without ear defenders but what about the noise we experience when riding a motorcycle?

It is said that anything over 85 decibels(dB) will damage our hearing but motorbikes idle at around 80dB. Therefore so soon as we start riding the noise levels around our ears is already rising about the accepted safe levels and we risk loosing our hearing for good.

As well as the engine noise we also have to consider ‘Wind Noise’ which can have several different causes ranging from the aerodynamics of the bikes fairings or windscreen, the fit and aerodynamics of our helmet, the motorcycle design, the weather and even turbulence.

Some helmet manufacturers give an indication as to how quiet they think their helmets are but there are too many variables outside of their control to say for definite that 1 helmet is quieter than another in all situations.   

Many riders now use earplugs while riding. Both disposable or moulded re-usable versions are available from a range of suppliers of varying quality and longevity so it’s worth shopping around and trying few different types to find out which suit you the best. Earplugs are an excellent addition to your kit!

Visors And Goggles

A good quality visor is important for any motorcyclist.  It will provide protection against the elements, flies and road debris. It’s important to look after your visor too.

Your visor should be cleaned before making any journey and checked for scratches and damage to the front side of the lens.

Even slight scratches will cause on-coming headlamps to dazzle you.  Damage and heavy wear to the inside of the lens will lead to condensation build up and fogging.

Keep a microfiber cloth in your helmet bag or jacket to clean the visor at regular intervals.

Visors and goggle must meet the same safety standards as helmets and are regulated under those same kite marks.

Helmet Brands

There are many manufactures of motorcycle helmets around the world. They cover a whole spectrum of shapes, colours, styles, designs and safety ratings.  You can buy anything from a plain black helmet that simply does a job to the latest replica of your favourite racers helmet design.  They can range from as little as £50 to as much as £600 or £700!

Other than the obvious differences such as inner linings, materials, paint schemes etc. it can be hard to tell the helmets apart.  It’s easy to say that the most expensive helmet must be the best, but as we’ve discussed, if it doesn’t fit your head then its not the best helmet for you. Generally speaking you do get what you pay for with a motorcycle helmet and sticking to a brand whose reputation you know and trust gives that peace of mind you want when buying such a critical piece of safety equipment.

Top brands such as Arai, AGV, Shoei, Simpson, Nolan & Shark stand out on the high street but there are many others worth exploring too.

Additional Features

Additional features to look for when choosing a helmet which will not only effect the price but also the comfort, use and enjoyment of the helmet as well as the suitability for its planned use are:

  • Pin Lock- a very popular feature. Essentially a thin film that sits inside the visor to prevent fogging in cold conditions, held in place with small pins attached on either side of the visor.

  • Air vents- situated around the helmet to allow airflow through the foam to keep your head cool in the summer.

  • Breath Guard- sits in the top of the chin bar to stop your breath from fogging the visor.

  • Chin Spoiler- sits in the bottom of the chin bar to deflect cold wind away from your chin and neck.

  • Double-D Fastener- Double ‘D’ shaped rings to secure the chin strap are recognised as by far the safest fastening.

  • Removable and washable lining- maintains hygiene and cleanliness.

  • Emergency Release System- Some brands now offer this for ease of removal by paramedics at the scene of an accident.

OverView: What To Look For

There are a few key things to look for when choosing a helmet and its worth keeping these in mind when you are in the shop and trying them on.

Check the fit- as in the previous pages make sure the helmet you buy fits your head properly otherwise it wont work when you really need it to.

What rating does it have? Check the helmet and box for a SHARP star rating and use this to compare the safety of this helmet with others on offer in your price range.

Does it conform? Check the back of the helmet and visor for kite mark BS 6658:1985 or ECE mark 22.05

Does it hold an ACU gold award?

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