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Protecting your head whilst riding is the most important thing you can do, but we realise the different standards that dictate helmet safety can be confusing. We thought, bearing that in mind, that we would provide you with this simple guide that answers some of the questions we regularly receive and will also help guide you in the purchase of your next helmet.
Q1: Safety Standards?
Each of the various standards define laboratory tests for helmets that are matched to the use intended. If a helmet can pass the tests for a sport or activity, it is deemed compliant with that specific standard and therefore provides adequate impact protection. Currently there are four main standards, which define the helmet industry. For motocross, and indeed motorcycle helmets generally, you'll have probably noticed references to the following standards: ECE, SNELL, DOT and SHARP. It is worth noting that each of these standards will vary in their testing requirements and there are many discussions online over which standard is best.
– The ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) standard are independently tested and are tested at both high and low speed to understand how different impact can affect the helmet performance.
– The SNELL standard meanwhile is a private, non-profit organisation formed in 1957 dedicated to improving helmet safety. It offers ratings for both street and off-road helmets and goes beyond the governments minimum standards, making themselves available to assist manufacturers with helmet development by offering prototype testing. It covers a wider range of tests than some of the lesser standards and is regarded as one of the toughest standards to pass. Therefore you can be sure that a SNELL helmet is one of the best performing on the market.
– The Department of Transportation (DOT) rating is applicable to helmets sold in the USA for on-road use. The DOT standard includes a number of specific design criteria that helmet manufacturers must adhere to, therefore products are not required to undergo third-party testing prior to sale using the DOT certification.
– SHARP is a consumer information initiative that was launched by the Department for Transport (DFT) in 2007 following research that revealed real differences in the safety performance of motorcycle helmets available in the UK. At this time is it primarily road based database but there are plans to widen this to off-road. It is a useful resource for the consumer as SHARP publish their findings on an easily searchable directory on their website.
Q2: Testing What?
Testing varies for each standard, but all are focused on how the helmet reacts when placed under force. A selection of items, which are tested by the various standard include: Strap strength, shell configuration (materials), roll-off tests to understand movement of the head in the helmet, impact tests (these are generally carried out on the main shell and the chin guard, but each of the standards vary and SNELL tend to choose where they wish to test, often preferring to test the weakest areas of the helmet), visor attachments (where applicable) and head coverage and visibility (there are standards on which elements of the head need to be covered/ protected).
Q3: Look Out!
You need to ensure your helmet is certified by at least one of the standards. This will be shown on the product description usually, but if in doubt check for a sticker either on the back of the helmet or on the inside. It will contain the letters above (either ECE, DOT, SNELL or SHARP). Some helmets will contain more than one, which is great. If in any doubt you can also check the website of the manufacturer who will often disclose their certification standards for each product in their range.
Q4: Money = Safer?
Not necessarily. Some riders can be very superstitious about the brand of helmet they wear and, whilst this is understandable, it doesn't always mean they are the best on the market. We would suggest you always look out for the safety standard sticker on the back of the helmet to make sure it has passed the relevant tests for the type of riding you intend to do. There is no one standard that is better than the other and therefore the best helmet for you is very much dependant on the type of crash you have. In order to make sure you are adequately protected remember these two key points:
– Make sure your helmet carries a safety standard sticker
– Make sure your helmet fits you correctly. Many studies have shown that a correctly fitted €200 helmet will outperform a poorly fitted €600 helmet!
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