Should I buy a used dirt bike helmet?
There are some areas in dirt bike riding where buying used is completely fine. Helmets is not one of those areas. After a significant crash, a helmet will need to be replaced. If you simply find a lid on craigslist, you have no idea its history. It could have been through a big crash, or could have spent its life rolling around in the bed of someones truck. Plus, a used helmet is gross. Someone else head has been in there sweating profusely.
Helmet Buying Guide
So if you have made it this far, you have surely noticed that there are tons of great options out there for a dirt bike helmet. We have done our best to rate them according to the criteria laid out at the beginning of this article. But what if you have no idea where to start? What are some key things to look for in a dirt bike helmet?
As with many things, impulse purchases are often replaced by an item that was more heavily researched. We have done our best here as well, attempting to lay out solid choices for every budget.
There are three key things that I look for in a new helmet.
Lets dive into each of those briefly.
The single most important thing with a helmet is that it fits correctly. The fit should be snug, but not uncomfortably so. Your helmet should always be worn with the strap completely fastened. If you have the helmet on and the strap fastened and are able to have the helmet move independently of your head then it is too big and you need to go down a size.
Luckily, since we live in the age of the internet, you are able to get a good idea from peoples reviews of the products as to whether or not the helmet runs big or runs small.
Additionally, most manufacturer websites will have a size chart to help you get in the right range. Head measurements are generally taken as the circumference of the largest part of your head, which should be right above your eyebrows.
If you get a helmet and it does not fit to your satisfaction you need to return it and get a different size. It is not worth risking a life threatening injury because you decided to just live with an ill fitting helmet.
Provided that you have a helmet that is sized appropriate, the next thing you should look for is adequate ventilation. Lots of dirt bike riding is done in the summer months, where it can get brutally hot. Having a helmet that does not have good airflow is a recipe for misery. The more inexpensive helmets on the market will generally have some provision for airflow, but their design might not be as advanced or efficient as a more expensive helmet.
It is completely up to you as to whether or not you decide to prioritize ventilation. I would argue that the longer you can ride and the more comfortably you ride, the better a rider you will be. I live in North Carolina where the summers sometimes get to 100 degrees and the humidity is unbearable. Riding in these conditions without adequate airflow would not be possible. If you live up north or in an area that is generally cool, you might can get away with less airflow, but for me, it is not an option.
Advanced Safety Technologies
Once I have found a helmet that both fits well and has good ventilation, the final thing I will look for is the type of technology the helmet manufacturer decided to put into the helmet. Some of the technologies you will see on the market are proprietary, meaning that the manufacturer developed them for themselves, and others are industry standard. Make sure that if you are looking at a helmet with some type of fancy safety technology that it is at least DOT approved. If you find a helmet that has some great technology but isn’t DOT approved than you should pass.
The less expensive helmets are not going to have any advanced technologies. They are primarily going to use the construction of the shell and the padding inside the helmet as the protection mechanism. When you start to get into the more expensive helmets, you start to see some of the technologies that we will discuss below.
MIPS – Multi-directional Impact Protection Systems
MIPS is an industry standard technology, meaning that multiple helmet companies utilize this technology. It was developed in Sweden at the Royal Institute of Technology. The scientists researched helmet technology for 19 years, and the result was that they found most helmets do a good job of reducing direct impact forces during a crash. However, the testing was only done on direct impact forces, and most crashes occur at an angle.
So, they researched and found that if they managed to reduce the forces at angular impact, they were able to significantly reduce the risk of concussions and other head injuries.
MIPS in practice
Out of this came the MIPS technology, which uses a slip plane concept. Basically there are two layers inside the helmet that can slip past each other to some degree.
What it means for you is that when you have a crash, your head can rotate slightly inside the helmet, reducing the rotational forces that reach the brain.
The way this is implemented is you will have one layer of foam in the helmet that absorbs impact. There will also be a second thin layer underneath that that can slip by the foam layer. This second layer is generally made from polycarbonate plastic coated in Teflon, although your specific helmet manufacturer might use a different type of material.
The degree to which it slips is controlled by pins that limit the movement (again there may be some other type of technology to limit the degree of slip in your helmet). It takes a certain amount of force to actually have the two materials slip by each other, so this is not something that you will likely notice when you put the helmet on and try and move it around.
Magnetic Visor Release System (MVRS)
This is a technology developed by Fox Racing. It is one of the approaches used to manage rotational forces during a crash. They visor of the helmet is held on magnetically to the body of the helmet. The magnetic strength is such that the visor can withstand any roost from other riders, but that the visor will also release from the helmet in the event of a crash. Instead of the visor exacerbating the situation by adding additional rotational forces in a crash, the visor will detach from the helmet.
Kinetic Polymer Allow (KPA)
The Kinetic Polymer Alloy (KPA) is a proprietary helmet shell material designed by LS2. This material is designed to flex in a crash as an energy management system. Where as most helmet shells are rigid, the KPA shell can move a little bit and absorb some of the energy. LS2 claims that even though it is flexible, it is still resistant to penetration.
Fluid Inside is a company that has developed a technology designed to mimic Cerebral Spinal Fluid inside of fluid filled pods. These pods are strategically placed inside helmets and absorb some of the impact during a crash. Fluid Inside has licensed this technology to some helmet manufacturers both within and outside of the dirt bike world.
Leatt has a technology called 360 Turbine which is a series of small circular “turbines” that can deform to absorb impact. The turbines are made out of a material that instantly hardens upon impact. These turbines dissipate rotational energy and deflect impact energy. Leatt claims that this reduces up to 30% of head impact at concussion level and reduces up to 40% of rotational acceleration to the head and brain. Additionally, the turbines are replaceable from Leatt should you ever need to replace them.
Emergency Cheek Pad Removal
The last advanced technology we will discuss here is the emergency cheek pad removal. After a crash, helmets equipped with an emergency cheek pad removal can be removed from the rider with much less effort and movement of the riders head.
If the rider needs to be immobilized, the emergency personnel is going to want to have as little movement as possible happen to the riders head. Being able to remove the cheek pads means that essentially the bottom and the top of the helmet can be removed separately without having to move the riders head much if at all.
The actual implementation of this technology is done in a few different ways depending on the manufacturer. Some helmets have a magnetic system which allows the removal of the cheek pads, and others have clips. Regardless of the method, if you are serious about racing, you should definitely try and find a helmet that has this technology built in.
So there you have it. A run down of the best 20 helmets in every price range. I think what you will notice is that as the price goes up, so does the technology that goes into ensuring your head is safe. At the lower end, the helmet primarily has padding, but at the upper end proprietary designs are used to reduce impact to the brain and rotational acceleration.
Regardless of what you use, make sure that you are wearing a helmet. Helmets are not optional, even for just a quick ride around the yard.
Gear up and stay safe out there!