Learn About Helmet Types
Full Face Helmets
Dual Sport Helmets
Open Face Helmets
Commonly referred to as a "sportbike" helmet, a Full Face motorcycle helmet provides the best coverage, protection, and structural integrity. The "sportbike" classification, however, while highly prevalent, is a drastic misconception. Ya see, the laws of motorcycling are not governed by some tyrannical 5th Avenue style consultant who expressedly forbids any deviation from preconceived notions of motorcycle helmet segmentation. Fortunately, the idea of full face helmets for a multitude of riding styles is something that is gaining traction in the industry, and for good reason. Generally speaking, the enclosed design of full face motorcycle helmets provide a few notable improvements over their counterparts.
As was already mentioned, and this is most important, the full face design allows these helmets to be more protective. Plain and simple. When compared to half helmets, open face helmets, or even modular helmets, the full face stands atop the podium in that regard. With one-piece, complete coverage, the outer shell of the helmet is more inclined to retain its structural integrity in the event of an accident than a modular, which is hinged together with a mechanism that presents a point of weakness. As far as how the full face compares to half or three-quarter helmets in terms of protection, well, that one needs no elaboration.
The advantages of full face helmets do not end there, however. Additionally, these helmets tend to be quieter as their encompassing design allows for fewer areas of wind turbulence and their attention to aerodynamics provides a smoother path through the air around them. Many of these helmets will also provide a greater range of upgrades and interchangeable pieces. From replacement interiors, to alternate face shields (Pinlock lenses anyone?), internal drop-down sun visors, and improved Bluetooth communicator compatibility, the features that come with full face helmets are only becoming more robust as time goes on.
Some complaints about full-face helmets are that they are too snug and lead people to feel constrained, especially with the fitment in the cheeks. When sizing a full-face helmet, it is essential to keep in mind that the cheek pads will break-in up to 20% after prolonged useage. As referenced in helmet fitment manuals direct from the likes of Shoei and their peers, often times you should be in a smaller size than you initially think.
Additional reasons that people don't feel inclined to wear full face helmets can include poor fitment for their head shape, perceived lack of visibility, or even just the fact that individual riders prefer to feel the wind in their face. While the first two reasons can easily be fixed by finding a lid that has a more ergonomic interior and the fact that the "field of vision" argument has been debunked by science for years, the latter argument is strictly preferential and totally legit. Sometimes it is nice to just feel that wind. No arguments here.
If you have any intentions of taking your bike to the track, it is important to note that you will need to be wearing a full face helmet. You will also have verify the requirements that your individual track requires with regard to helmet safety standards such as Snell, ECE, and a handful of others.
If two riders pulled up side-by-side to you at a stop sign, and one was wearing a modular while the other was in a full face, the difference between the two lids should be almost indistinguishable. While the modular helmet is closed, it looks (and for the most part acts) like a full face in just about every way. The difference resides in what the helmet can do when the bikes are parked. The feature that sets modulars apart from other helmets is their ability to open at the chin bar, rotating upward, and thus leaving the face of the rider to bask in the sweet sunshine of a ride well-taken.
Modular helmets are the intermediary between full face and open face helmets. They are extremely popular with the long-range touring crowd who spend numerous hours in the saddle and like to take any opportunity to crack open the chin bar at a stop. It is a great option to have, and for the most part, comes at little cost when compared to the alternative full-face. Considering the fact that modular helmets can incorporate all of the great features of a full face, with a bit of added functionality, it isn't difficult to see why they are so sought after. As alluded to earlier, however, modular helmets do have their own unique complaints. In addition to the arguments against full face helmets, modulars come with three additional considerations.
First and foremost, the mechanism that allows for the operation of the lever action chin bar tends to create a structural weakness in the helmet itself. While it is not massively diminished in its capabilities, the inclusion of a break in the solid outer shell can result in a reduced ability to handle a direct impact. As such, they tend to not meet the stringent safety standards of Snell certification. That being said, modulars sold in the United States still meet the required DOT standards and many meet European ECE regulations. So, they are still plenty protective.
Secondly, modular helmets have a reputation of being slightly heavier and more noisy than their full face counterparts. This, again, is due to the mechanism. Introducing more materials (often metal) to the outer shell to allow for the lever-action to work also has the effect of adding more weight and overall size to the helmet. At the same time, the interruption in the solid shell of a full face that is needed for the modular to open up creates the need for a seal at the break point, and thus provides the outside air a resistance point that can create a bit of extra turbulence. An exception to this can be seen in the top-end options such as the Schuberth C3 Pro, which is so expertly designed that it is in fact one of the quietest (if not THE quietest) helmets in the world.
One final note of extreme importance, modular helmets are not designed to be worn in the open position while operating a motorcycle. It would basically be like riding with a big sail on the top of your noggin'. No bueno, and totally not within the safety certifications. The chin bar should only be lifted while stopped. As with the Schuberth C3 Pro and relative noise levels, however, there is one exception to this rule, and that can be found in the Shark Evoline Pro, which allows for the chin bar to be pulled all the way back and locked in. Hopefully more modulars will follow suit, thus adding yet another advantage to this helmet type.
Dual Sport motorcycle helmets are full face lids that have been specifically crafted to meet the rigors of off-road riding, as well as those that can be found along the asphalt. These are some of the most recognizable helmets that you will see and have the tendency to look like the headgear of some futuristic space warrior. These helmets are best utilized by riders who are literally going to split their time between the trails and the road 50/50.
The features of the dual sport helmet that are most notable are the inclusion of a pronounced peak and an expanded face shield. These are pulled from the off-road world and serve to provide riders with an advantage when they take the road (or more accurately, the path) less traveled. While the peak works to deflect dirt, stones, and other debris while simultaneously providing shading for the eyes, the expanded eyeport often allows for riders to strap on a pair of goggles (if they choose) that help to reduce dust and dirt that can be kicked up through the opening at the base of the jaw.
If you are not legitimately riding with a 50/50 split, a true dual sport helmet can cause a few distractions. For example, the peak. While it works great for its intended purpose, it is important to consider that wind will grab if you are doing many highway miles. At the same time, the overall aerodynamics of the outer shell itself are not quite as adept at cutting through the air as are full face, modular, and even open face helmets.
Sometimes, riders just want to have as little between them and the open air as possible. Freedom of the road. Riding on unencumbered. That is the essence of the motorcycle half helmet. As with the full face helmet generally being considered a "sportbike" lid, half helmets have the tendency to be seen as cruiser specific. While that is more often than not the case, it is also important to note their popularity with the scooter crowd, as well as the fact that they are becoming more popular with the urban commuter as well. Historically, half helmets have been rather basic. Nothing much to talk about other than a few different style options and maybe a different chin buckle or two. However, recent improvements to design, fitment, and the housing of features has made for a wider array of possibilities for those in search of half helmets for their motorcycle adventures.
While the standard, simplistic, bare-bones half helmet is still quite popular, the inclusion of features such as drop down sun visors, fitment optimization systems, and even specialized face masks, such as the ones that have shown enormous popularity on the Bell Rogue, have really made inroads with this segment of riders. Also, manufacturers have sought to combat the age-old "bobblehead" look of many half-helmets, wherein the lid sits high on the top of the head and creates the look of one of those lollipops that you get out of the candy bin at the bank. Contemporary half-helmets, however, have renewed focus on being much more than just a bucket that plops down on top of your head, and have even been in the minds of Bluetooth communicator makers who have introduced multiple options that can be utilized without a full face helmet to mount to.
Of course, any discussion of the downfalls of half helmets begins with the fact that they are the least protective. From bugs, to road debris, to the lack of coverage in an accident, half helmets are the bare minimum when it comes to riding in a lid that meets official safety certifications. With a plethora of novelty helmets out there, it is super important to ensure that the half helmet you do decide upon meets DOT standards, though don't waste your time looking for one that comes Snell or ECE approved… as they are yet to exist (and in all likelihood never will). The long and short of it is that in an accident, very little of the areas that you are most likely going to need protected will be helped at all by a half helmet.
Other considerations include audio quality with bluetooth communications due to wind noise, fewer internal options for replacement liners, and buffeting due to lift that can occur at highway speeds.
The classic motorcycle look that comes with a fashionable open face helmet is all the rage nowadays. Harking back to yesteryear, strapping on the open face helmet, pulling a bandana over your grill, throwing your leg over a rugged cafe racer or mean street cruiser, and thundering down the road is an appealing idea for many a rider. As with all of the helmets that we have discussed, there are pros and cons to keep in mind when looking to go this direction. When making your eventual decision, it helps to take them into consideration.
Mainly, the open face helmet is a stylistic choice. What they generally lack in protective features they make up for with the freedom of a bit of wind in the face and a tangible attitude that permeates their throwback ways while saturating the rider in a timeless essence of swagger. Residing somewhere between a half helmet and a full face, open face helmets come in various degrees of transition along the spectrum. From the rudimentary shell/interior construction to far more robust designs that include face shields, internal sun visors, and even specially designed Bluetooth housings such as can be seen on the Bell Mag 9 Sena, the half helmet is one of the most iconic helmet styles to be found on two wheels. You can even find options such as the Scorpion EXO-CT220, Arai XC, and Shoei J-Cruise, that have venting, which is something that traditionally would not be on the list for this style of motorcycle lid.
Conversely, open face helmets do have some areas of detraction as well. As with the half helmets, the main area of concern is their lack of coverage, and thus protection. While they do cover more of the head than their skimpier brethren, they also leave the face open to more incoming unpleasantries than full face or modular helmets. At the same time, they tend to be more noisy, less aerodynamic, and often offer diminished features when compared to the same full-coverage options.
The Next Step in Your Journey:
If you are still reading this, well done. You are a true motorcycle helmet aficionado and obviously a genuine RevZillian at heart. We geek out over this stuff. So much so that it is one of the foundational elements that defines what we do, who we are, and how we go about each and every day. Discussing the intricacies and subtle differences between motorcycle helmets (and any other motorcycle gear for that matter), is what we have dedicated ourselves to doing best. We understand that there are a great deal of considerations when purchasing a new helmet, regardless of where, when, how, and what type of motorcycle you plan to ride. It is our mission to help narrow the field and act as a conduit of information that will help you to select the best option for you so that you can get the most out of your time on two wheels and truly maximize your motorcycling experiences. To help you on this journey, here are a few additional resources to further your knowledge: