How to Buy Road-Legal Helmets

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How to Buy Road-Legal Helmets

Helmets have been proven to increase the safety of motorcyclists. According to a 2008 systematic review, helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 per cent and death by close to 42 per cent. The tragic death of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, after a motorcycle accident, spurred one of his surgeons to study the loss of life through head injuries from motorcycle accidents. His study eventually led to the development of helmets. Today, there are several kinds of helmets available from many different makers.

While wearing a helmet is optional in some countries, motorcyclists in the United Kingdom are required to wear road-legal helmets . Buyers looking for helmets should know what the standards accepted in the United Kingdom are. They should also know what the different kinds of helmets are, and what advantages each type offers. Buyers must know how to choose a helmet that fits correctly. Finally, buyers should know where, and how, to purchase road-legal helmets conveniently.

Why Helmets are Important and How They Work

Injury to the head is one of the most common results of a motorcycle accident. This can cause damage to the brain, ending in either paralysis or death. Helmets play an important role in minimising head injuries in the event of an accident. Helmets are designed to protect the wearer's brain.. While skull fractures can heal, and are not dangerous as long as pressure is not placed on the brain, damage to brain cells is irreversible.

Helmets are made of two layers, an inner "expanded polystyrene foam" (EPS) and an outer shell that protects the EPS and helps it keep its shape. The EPS is designed to crush on impact at a rate that slows the wearer's head and prevents it from jarring against the object of impact. This decelerated rate of impact keeps the brain safe by preventing it from moving violently within the skull. The hard outer shell prevents hard, pointed objects from penetrating the helmet and injuring the wearer.

When a helmet is dropped from a height of over one metre, the inner EPS layer may crush on impact. In cases like this, the helmet looks perfectly functional, but will not protect the wearer in an accident. If there is any doubt about the integrity of a helmet, it must be inspected or replaced immediately.

The Different Types of Helmets

There are several different types of helmets classified by their shape. Three are commonly found in the United Kingdom, while others are not readily available, or are not road-legal. All helmets are secured with a chin strap that must be worn for safety. The three types of helmets available in the U.K. are full face helmets, open face helmets, and flip helmets. Each is discussed in detail in the following sections.

Full Face Helmets

Full face helmets have an integral chin guard and a visor. These types of helmets offer the most protection. Besides covering the top of the head, they also protect the face during an accident. Full face helmets usually have vents that can be opened or closed around the chin. Though these helmets offer the most protection, they also limit sensory input. Some riders dislike the sense of isolation, lack of wind, reduced hearing, and increased heat that accompany a full face helmet. Full face helmets should not be confused with open face helmets that include a pop-on chin guard.

Open Face Helmets

Open face helmets are also called 3/4 helmets. They cover the top, sides, and back of the head, but the face is open. Open face helmets cannot stop the lid from rolling backwards or forwards during a slide. This can lead to the head being exposed because the helmet slid out of the way, resulting in injuries that could have been avoided by using a helmet with a chin guard.

Flip Helmets

Also called modular helmets, flip-up helmets, or combination helmets, flip helmets combine full face and open helmets. However, they can be more expensive. Flip helmets have a chin guard that can be "flipped" upwards, effectively converting the helmet into an open face helmet. It can be difficult to ride with the helmet in the open position since it tends to act as a parachute. Combination helmets can weigh up to 40 per cent more than an equivalent full face helmet. This added weight can increase fatigue and increase the risk of neck injuries in an accident.

Other Types of Helmets

There are two other types of helmets that motorcyclists can purchase. They are not easily available in the United Kingdom. Buyers purchasing these types of helmets should ensure that they meet the requirements for road-legal helmets in the United Kingdom.

Off-road Helmets

Also called "Motocross" helmets, off-road helmets are made to deal with the extra dirt, grit, and sunlight that off-road motorcyclists encounter. The chin and visor are clearly elongated, with the face partially open, allowing for free flow of air, while letting riders wear goggles for eye protection. Though not as common in the U.K. as the other types of helmets, any motocross helmet that meets U.K. regulations is road-legal and can be used.

Half Helmets

Half helmets, also called "beanie" helmets or "half shell" helmets, are shaped like an inverted bowl, and cover only the top half of the head. They are not heavy, do not block the ears, and offer the least wind resistance. However, they also offer the least protection, and are not road-legal in the United Kingdom.

The U.K. Standards for Road-Legal Helmets

Any helmet that meets either the BS 6658:1985, or the "Economic Community of Europe" ECE 22.05 standards is considered road-legal in the U.K.. The BS 6658:1985 is a British standard. The standard is indicated by an oblong red, blue, or green sticker affixed to the back or side of the helmet with the BSI Kitemark symbol on it. Red stickers indicate fire-resistant linings. Blue stickers are used for high-performance helmets, and green stickers are used for lower-rated helmets.

The ECE 22.05 standard (also known as ECE R22-05) is a European helmet standard. Helmets approved to this standard usually have a sticker at the bottom on the back of the helmet. The ECE standard does not have different levels like the British standard does.

A third standard, the ACU Gold standard, is used for racing. ACU approved helmets are not road-legal unless they have been approved by either the BS 6658:1985 or the ECE 22.05 standard.

A programme in the United Kingdom called SHARP, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, tests and rates various road-legal helmets. Buyers can refer to SHARP test results when choosing a helmet.

Picking a Helmet that Fits Properly

Because of the way helmets work, they must be in contact with the wearer's head to be effective. It is very important to choose a helmet that is comfortable and fits well. Helmet size and fit varies by manufacturer, but the chart below can be used as a reference.

Helmet Size

Circumference of Head (cm)
















No two motorcyclists have heads of the same shape. Buyers should try different sizes from different manufacturers to ensure they purchase a well-fitting and comfortable helmet. Buyers should check for uncomfortable pressure points, especially around the forehead and ears, when trying on the helmet. These pressure points get worse when riding. Buyers should keep helmets on for a few minutes before deciding if the fit is right.


Riding a motorcycle can be one of the most pleasurable modes of transport, but it is also one of the most dangerous. Helmets have been proven to greatly reduce the number of deaths caused by motorcycle accidents. While helmets are optional in some countries, they are compulsory in the United Kingdom. To be considered road-legal in the U.K., helmets have to be approved by one of two standards: the BS 6658:1985 standard, or the ECE 22.05 standard. Road-legal helmets are available in full face, open, and flip open types. Motocross helmets, though not easily available in the U.K., may also be road-legal. Buyers should check for the BS 6658:1985 or ECE 22.05 sticker to make sure. Buyers should also ensure that a helmet fits well, and is comfortable. A snug fit is important for a helmet to function correctly during an accident. Motorcyclists looking for road-legal helmets online can choose from a wide range of helmets on eBay.

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