Last Updated on November 25, 2021 by Stephen Paul Robertson
To protect their heads on the road, motorcyclists always invest some money in a motorcycle helmet. They do this solely based on advice relayed by experts. But have you ever stopped to wonder how do motorcycle helmets protect your head? What are motorcycle helmets made of? What material allows them to resist impact during accidents?
Knowing about the anatomy of a motorcycle helmet will help you seek the best ones for yourself. You can also spend your money wisely on materials that you deem worthy. Hence, take a run through this blog and learn all you need to know about motorcycle helmets.
What Are Motorcycle Helmets Made Of?
Motorcycle helmets consist of various parts that are worth discussing. There is the outer shell, retention system, the middle layer, a comfort padding layer, the vents, and the visors. All of these portions combine to form a helmet that protects your head diligently. Allow us to go through each one by one.
A helmet’s outer shell is supposed to be its most defensive layer. It prevents the penetration of pointy objects, and thus, safeguards the head and brain from injuries. Outer shells also give the helmet a rigid build, which then helps to hold the impact-absorbing liner in place. It compresses when faced with pressure, causing less force to be transmitted to the wearer’s head.
When talking about the materials used to make an outer shell, there are 2 candidates–thermoplastic and composite.
Outer shells are often constructed out of thermoplastic or thermoset resin. Such helmets tend to be cheaper as they are easier to manufacture. All you need to do is heat the material and insert the liquid into a mold. With time, as the liquid plastic cools down, it hardens to form the mold’s shape. No extra money is spent on hardening reagents.
Plastic outer shells bring big drawbacks to the plate. They cannot absorb too much energy and thus, the chances of getting head injuries or traumatic brain injuries increase.
To decrease the risks, manufacturers try to thicken the plastic outer shell layer. This, in turn, causes the motorcycle helmet to become extremely weight. Wearers are left with a feeling of discomfort.
If you intend to buy a helmet with a thermoplastic outer shell, look for ones made of ABS plastic. ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is an amazing material that is resistant to heat and chemical damage.
Manufacturing a helmet with composite fibers is a complicated and thorough process. It requires a lot of effort, precision, and skill. Materials like fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar, etc. are braided together to form a protective outer layer. Some companies like Bell produce their helmet’s outer layer by using only one composite.
Now, let us introduce you to some commonly used composites that are worth the money!
At a cheap price, fiberglass manages to offer both – flexibility and durability. Making a helmet using fiberglass is easy as it can be easily molded and the resulting product is lightweight.
When faced with impact, fiberglass manages to distribute it towards the entire surface. This prevents the force from being transmitted to the user’s head. However, due to the helmet’s brittle nature, it is much more likely to crack in an accident.
Kevlar has a somewhat similar weaving process to fiberglass, except that some other plastic compounds are added to the mix. This increases the material’s overall tensile strength, making it a more suitable option for a helmet’s outer shell.
A helmet made with Kevlar is 20% lighter than one made with fiberglass. Nevertheless, the problem comes with its reaction towards impact. It is not durable when faced with a sudden force, which is why it often needs to be paired with other composites like carbon fiber.
Due to its amazing features and extremely easy process, many helmet manufacturers will build outer shells using carbon fiber only. It is lightweight while also being tough and resistant to pressure or impact. This makes it unlikely to crack open in an accident and expose your head to danger.
As carbon fiber holds a lot of advantages; thus it is in high demand. This makes it more expensive than Kevlar or fiberglass. Hence, instead of making a helmet just out of Kevlar, most manufacturers will make one combined with other materials.
Caring for the Helmet’s Outer Shell
A motorcycle helmet’s outer shell can be kept clean using helmet cleaners. You can also clean it with a damp towel and use some soap for necessary parts.
It is best to avoid any sorts of chemicals as they might cause damage or weaken your outer shell. You should also avoid pasting stickers or putting paint on them. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to identify what is safe and what is deadly for your helmet’s outer shell.
The middle layer of a motorcycle helmet consists of an impact-absorbing liner. Thanks to the sturdy outer shell, the middle layer is properly held onto the position. It is composed of expanded polystyrene – also known as EPS – which has some outstanding cushioning properties.
In a crash, firstly the outer shell comes in contact with the force. This then transfers the force to certain parts of the EPS layer where some sections crush to absorb the force further. Your head is protected and chances of getting injuries are decreased.
Caring for the Helmet’s Impact Absorbing Liner
You will be surprised to know that there is nothing you can do to look after the impact-absorbing liner. It just needs to be kept away from dampness and moisture.
Helmet owners should also stop hanging the helmet on the motorcycle’s mirror or using a hook. As pressure is applied to the inner lining, it compresses. So next time, when the helmet faces force, it is unable to crush and save the wearer’s head as it should.
Inner Padding Layer
For some motorcycle helmets, this layer is removable while for others, it is permanently fixed. The inner padding layer of a motorcycle helmet makes it wearable as otherwise, people would be in grave discomfort.
Inner paddings of a helmet are usually made of foam which is then wrapped with synthetic material. They improve the helmet’s fit while also cushioning your head, cheeks, and ears. The synthetic layer is made of elements that can suck in the sweat that your head produces. This is then spread out over a large area and evaporates to make sure the helmet does not stink.
Cheek pads, ear pockets, etc. all contribute to the helmet’s fit. Different sizes are available and so, if your helmet is too tight or too loose, you can switch out a lining for another sized one.
Caring for the Helmet’s Inner Lining
Nowadays, most helmets have removable linings. You can easily remove these and have them washed using soap and water to remove unwanted odor. New inner paddings can also be purchased to replace frayed ones.
If your helmet’s inner lining is not removable, there is nothing you can do to clean it. It needs to be simply kept in a place where there is a lot of airflow. Applying water will cause the impact-absorbing liner to dampen, which will ruin the helmet’s protective property.
A helmet’s visor protects the rider’s eye from harmful UV rays, unwanted reflections, and dust on the road.
Helmet visors of cheap motorcycle helmets are made of acrylic. These are prone to getting scratches and even developing a yellow tint after a few months of usage. However, as most visors are removable, you can simply have them changed when they start distorting your vision.
Expensive motorcycle helmets, on the other hand, have visors or face shields made of polycarbonate. These visors are more durable and thus provide better safety for cases that involve frontal smashes. Scratches are also a lot less likely, so users can utilize them for a long time.
Both acrylic and polycarbonate visors can be found in tinted shades. These are ideal for anyone who rides during the day and lives in a place where the sun is always glaring above them.
Caring for the Helmet’s Visor
Helmet visors should be cleaned gently to make sure you leave no scratches on the visor. Firstly, dampen a piece of towel and leave it on the visor’s surface for about 10 to 15 minutes. Now, you can clean up all the dust and dirt using a mild soap.
A retention system is an extremely important part of a motorcycle helmet. It holds the helmet tightly in position and prevents it from flipping off despite the impact’s strength.
Some retention systems include a quick release retention mechanism. A piece is attached at the neck of the shell and you have to buckle up your chin strap with it. The lengths of the chin strap can also be altered.
Another retentions system found in more expensive motorcycle helmets includes double D-rings. These are two metal rings that hold the chin strap safely and you don’t even need to adjust the length! The system is much more advanced and your helmet is less likely to come off.
Chins straps are made of nylon, which is threaded together to provide a lot of strength.
Caring for the Helmet’s Retention System
A helmet’s retention is best when kept away from dampness. This way, your straps are a lot less likely to deteriorate.
Even though everyone loves helmets for all their protective features, you got to admit, they can be rather suffocating. To improve the wearing experience, most helmets these days have vents. These let you inhale and exhale without fogging up visors or creating any humidity.
Vents are usually made of plastic molds that lead to openings in the EPS foam and outer shell. Airflow is maintained through the open channels, allowing the rider to be at ease.
Caring for the Helmet’s Vent
By keeping your helmet away from dusty places, you can keep its vents clean. Or, you can vacuum the accumulated dust particles out.
Why is polystyrene used in helmets?
Polystyrene foam is used in the helmet’s liner to cut down all the forces encountered by the brain. This reduces the chances of getting a traumatic brain injury.
What plastic is used for bicycle helmets?
Bicycle helmets are mainly made out of polycarbonate. Like motorcycle helmets, they also contain polystyrene foam.
Are thermoplastic helmet safe?
Yes, thermoplastic helmets are safe. Many of them manage to meet the DOT standards and even get through tests put together by the Snell foundation.
How are helmets manufactured?
At first, the outer shell is built by weaving fibers or using a mold. An impact-absorbing liner is then attached around the shell. Later on, other parts like visors, comfort paddings, chinstraps, etc. are attached.
What are motorcycle helmets made of? Now that you know the answer to this question, we hope you can pick out the best helmet for yourself. You can also distinguish between certain materials and choose the one that is best for you.
If you are interested in full-face helmets, then check this out ‘ The Best Full Face Motorcycle Helmet Under 500 Dollars“.
Thanks for sticking around till the end. Have a safe ride!
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Paul, a graduate from the University of California, has been a Safety Advisor for over 5 years in USA. Along with his other 2 partners, who are professional bikers, he has been the chief of the headsafetyguard.com to create mass awareness on an often neglected issue: HEAD SAFETY