Crash Helmets – Why do we wear them and how are they made?

By: Tony Carter MotorCycle Direct Posted: February 7th, 2018


Launching our 2018 blogs, we’re proud to host a short series of articles from a collaborator and friend of MotorCycle Direct, Tony Carter, who has written a comprehensive guide to motorcycle helmets.

Tony is a bike safety expert and has appeared on both BBC TV and Radio talking about motorcycle and driving issues.

Part one follows here:

The compulsory wearing of crash helmets while riding a motorcycle became law in 1973. Although there are still a few die-hards who believe that riders should have freedom of choice as far as their personal protection is concerned, it’s generally accepted by those of us who have grown up with compulsion and don’t know any different, that crash helmets have become and remain the single most important bit of riding kit we will ever purchase.

Helmets can offer good protection against head and brain injuries, but as in all things, there is never any guarantee. However, it is possible to minimize some of the risk factors.

Here in the UK, the crash helmet is the only piece of equipment that must be worn always when on a motorcycle, and until July 2000 they had to comply with BS6658-85 (visors still must comply with BS4110 XA, YA or ZA). After this date, new legislation was introduced where under the rules of self-certification a new standard of EC22/05 was introduced, so any helmet carrying either the original British Standards mark or the CE mark is perfectly legal to wear in the UK, regardless of where it was purchased.

All crash helmets are constructed in basically the same way, depending on the materials used.

The shell can be constructed from range of materials including polycarbonate (plastic), fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon-fibre or a combination of these materials in a dual-laminate or tri-laminate construction. The shell is then lined with a polystyrene type liner for shock absorbency which in turn is covered by a foam liner to aid wearer comfort. The securing strap is normally of a nylon construction attached to the shell by rivets which can be secured to the head by either a double D ring or safety belt type fastener.

Research has shown that the effectiveness of modern motorcycle helmets has reduced the risk of fatal head injuries by roughly 50%. Some experts suggest that the extra weight of a helmet increases the risk of neck injury, but ongoing research has found no evidence to support this.

Full face helmets are generally regarded to offer greater protection against facial and chin injuries than open faced helmets, but may slightly increase the risk of injury to other parts of the head. In the case of a hinged style of helmet which many manufacturers now offer, there is evidence that the protection offered against chin impacts is inadequate. Worryingly, riders who suffer chin injuries often also suffer fractures to the base of the skull – the most threatening head injury.

Next time, Tony examines what type of helmet to buy and how much to spend.

Click here to find out more about Tony Carter