How To Choose The Right Motorcycle Helmet

Under Oregon law, motorcycle operators must wear a DOT-compliant motorcycle helmet.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, helmet use overall prevents an estimated 37% of fatalities among motorcycle operators and 41% of fatalities among passengers.  So, while wearing a motorcycle helmet improves your odds of surviving a crash, how do you choose the right helmet?


Find Your Fit



Everyone’s head is shaped a bit differently, and that’s why helmets come in different shape styles—round oval, intermediate oval (the most common), and long oval. Determine your shape before buying a helmet. Use a mirror, or have a friend look down on your head from the top. Remember to focus on your head shape, not the shape of your face.


Measure your head with a cloth tape, starting  just above your eyebrows and circling the tape around the thickest point in the rear of your head. Cross-reference this measurement with a helmet size chart. A helmet that is too loose will move around or will not sit down completely on your head and cannot do its job in a crash.  A correctly sized helmet will be a little tight, providing even pressure around your head without uncomfortable pressure points. It should not move when you shake your head.



There are several different categories of helmet styles.

Full Face Motorcycle Helmet

  • Aerodynamic features
  • Comfortable
  • Good ventilation

According to at least one medical study, full face helmets result in a lower incidence of facial fractures as compared to other helmet types.  However, in that study, there was not a statistically significant difference in the rate of traumatic brain injury, the injury severity score, the length of hospital stay, or the fatality rate. Other studies find that full face helmets result in a lower risk of head injuries and lower injury severity.  There has been controversy in the medical literature on whether full face helmets may positively or negatively affect the incidence of neck injuries.

Modular Motorcycle Helmet

  • Can be full-face or open-face
  • Common with adventure dual-sport riders
  • Good airflow and keeps dust and dirt out of your face

Dual-Sport Motorcycle Helmet

  • Traditional models: Extended chin bar and visor, require goggles
  • Newer models have integrated face shields
  • Good for many types of off-road adventures and weather conditions

Off-Road Motorcycle Helmet

  • Extended chin bar and visor, require goggles
  • Good for motocross, other off-road activities
  • Good airflow

Hi-Viz Motorcycle Helmet

  • Increases your ability to be seen
  • Offers an additional level of safety
  • Available as an option on many helmet styles

Half Helmets and Open-Face Helmets

  • No chin guard, which increases facial injury risk
  • These rely on chin straps; if not securely fastened, that can increase injury risk
  • More wind noise

Check Safety Ratings

Make sure your helmet has the DOT symbol on the outside back; this should mean that it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218.  (However, note that NHTSA does not approve helmets, or any other motor vehicle equipment).   Keep in mind that a helmet can only do its job if you wear it, so choosing a helmet that you feel comfortable wearing is important.

Beware of Unsafe Helmets

There are “novelty helmets” that do not meet safety standards, some of which have fake DOT labels.

How To Spot An Unsafe Helmet

  • Unsafe helmets will be less than 1 inch thick, and usually lack a stiff foam inner liner.
  • Unsafe helmets may have plastic buckles that can easily break in the event of a crash, while DOT-compliant helmets have sturdy chin straps with solid rivets.
  • Depending on design, unsafe helmets may weigh a pound or less. Helmets meeting the federal standard generally weigh about 3 pounds.
  • Be suspicious of helmets with advertisements such as “thinnest helmet available” and “lightest weight helmet.”


Sources: This piece is based on an article published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with modifications based on information from Team Oregon, the Centers for Disease Control, the Journal of Trauma Acute Care Surgery, and BMC Public Health.