An Introduction to Helmet Types and their Various Uses


If you take a look at the old black and white photographs from the early days of biking, you will see that the safety gear is reminiscent of that worn by biplane pilots. It made sense, planes back then were open cockpit.  Coats, boots, and jackets that kept you safe from the elements in the sky would serve perfectly well on a motorcycle. That’s ok from the neck down, but when it comes to motorcycles and head protection, a sheepskin hat just isn’t going to cut it.

 In the early years of motorcycle racing at the Brooklands Race Track in England, head injuries from crashes were alarmingly regular. Attending Medical Officer Dr. Eric Gardner commissioned a hat to be constructed out of canvas and shellac to help reduce these injuries. Within a year, they were made compulsory at the Isle of Man TT.

 It took the death of author and WWI veteran T.E Lawrence however, to jumpstart the development of the safety helmet in earnest. Lawrence died from head injuries as the result of crashing his beloved Brough Superior. And Dr. Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who tried in vain to save his life, was the man who pushed for greater usage of helmets amongst the motorcycle riding public.

 Today, all motorcycle helmet manufacturers must adhere to strict safety regulations in the manufacture of crash helmets. These differ from country to country, with laboratory verified crash testing just part of the process. It had never been a better time to protect your most valuable asset. And in this article, we’ll be looking at the different helmet types and their uses.

Motorcycle Helmet Types

 Helmet types: The Full Face Helmet

Every full face motorcycle helmet in the world can trace its DNA back to the 1968 Bell Star. Reacting to requests from motorcycle racers of the day, the California-based helmet manufacturer came up with a groundbreaking concept. The open face or Jet helmet had been around for almost a decade when Bell designed a spherical helmet that covered the head completely in one piece. With its completely spherical shape and minimal eye opening, the Star may look positively antiquated today. But in 1968, it was cutting edge.

With its woven fiberglass construction, it had no flip down visor. Instead, it featured a fixed, shatterproof Perspex lens. Advertisements of the day boasted of helmet linings that were the same material as those used by the USAF and NASA astronauts. Needless to say, they were an overnight success with the racing world, adopted by everyone from drag racers to speedboat racers. And only a few short years later, every single driver on the grid of the Indy 500 wore a Bell.

 Today, innovations in materials and manufacturing techniques have brought high-tech carbon fiber full face helmets within reach of most riders. The next leap in helmet evolution is supposedly head up display, which brings up information on the inside of the visor. The technology already exists in the cockpit of jet fighters, but we are still some time off before it makes it onto the shelves.

 Helmet Types: Half Size Helmet

As the name suggests, this is a cut-down version of open face helmet and is more reminiscent of the old-fashioned Pudding basin helmets of the late 1900’s. Since then materials have advanced considerably, so the half size helmets of today are infinitely safer than their cork lined forebears. This style of helmet, although retaining a very retro look is often fitted with wide ear straps, which can accommodate speakers for Bluetooth.   The helmet conforms to DoT Standards and protects the top of the rider’s head despite having no facial protection.

 Manufacturers stress that these types of helmets are better suited to urban scooter riders, who keep to low speeds or stop start traffic. But in reality, this style of helmet is favored by cruiser riders. The half size is also the helmet of choice in States where helmet wearing is mandatory and allows riders to stay within the law but with a minimal conformity.

Helmet types: Modular Helmet

The modular or flip front helmet is a design that attempts to give the rider the best of both worlds. While still looking like a full face, the chin bar can be unlocked, and the front of the helmet together with the visor slides upwards and rests above the eye line. In some cases, the chin bar slides completely over the head and locks into place at the back of the helmet. Modular helmets are particularly popular with touring riders because the flip front allows communication easier.

 Some of the better flip front manufacturers hold safety certification for their helmets in both open and closed positions.  With the chinstrap in the locked position, however, others are regarded as only meeting full face safety requirements. A recent offshoot of the modular helmet is the multi-configuration helmet. These are in effect a flip front, but with the bonus of a chinstrap that unclips entirely from the helmet. The helmet can then be worn in a number of ways from full face, to open face.

Helemt Types: Off Road Helmet

These are specifically designed for motorsports riders in any number of off-road competitions, from trials riding and motocross to drag racing and MotoGP.  The emphasis for dirt riders is a wide facial opening that allows goggles to be worn instead of, or as well as a visor. To accommodate this, the chin bars of these helmets have developed a more pronounced gap.  A broad peak gives the dirt helmet its trademark look.

 Off road helmets developed for motorsports, where speeds are considerably higher, are usually more closely related to road helmets as far as design goes., Incorporated in the design are high- absorption padding, fire retardant materials and have to conform to more stringent safety testing. With the advent of adventure motorcycles, the dual-sport helmet is now very popular. This model aims to give a dirt bike helmet level of visibility but still able to be comfortable at highway speeds.

 Helmet Types: Open Face Helmet

Although the origins of the open face helmet are somewhat hazy, Bell, it is believed, pushed the envelope on helmet design and came up with the Jet.

 For 1957, the shape, material and interior padding of the Jet were a gigantic leap from the cork-filled half helmets of the day.  Originally designed for use by Bell’s sponsored race car drivers. However, within a few short years, the company had to triple the size of their factory to keep up with demand. Regularly pictured wearing a Bell Jet was screen idol and self-confessed motor head Steve McQueen. While legendary stunt rider Evel Knievel and record breaking Indian racer Burt Munro, both made headlines wearing Bell Jet helmets

 Today, open face helmets are more popular than ever with many companies reproducing the paint schemes of those first Jet helmets of the 60’s and 70’s.