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There are a slew of helmet certifications these days—including SHARP in the UK and CRASH in Australia—but we’re going to focus on the three most common certifications: DOT, ECE, and Snell. DOT is the safety standard for helmets in the United States and is often criticized for operating on an honor system. While DOT does test helmets, they may be on the market before the tests begin and the standards are the least rigorous among our list. Next, the ECE is the European version of DOT but its standards are more thorough. ECE is implemented in 50 countries and recognized by all major racing organizations in the world. On the other hand, Snell is a private non-profit organization that bases its standards on motorcycle racing impacts. Snell tests helmets with a higher variety of velocities and angles than DOT and they also test the chin bar and visor of each lid.
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Along with certifications, numerous materials make up the horde of helmets on the market. Thermoplastic is the most inexpensive, but construction needs to be thick because the material is the weakest of the bunch, resulting in a heavy helmet. Fiberglass is lighter, stronger, and costs more, but they’re susceptible to cracking on impact. Composite helmets mix fiberglass with Kevlar and result in a highly durable shell without the fracturing qualities of fiberglass or the weight penalties of thermoplastics. Of course, carbon fiber helmets occupy the highest echelon of market, as production is labor-intensive and the construction is of the highest quality and strength.
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All those materials don’t help protect your noggin if the helmet doesn’t provide sufficient coverage. Unless you ride a cruiser, a half or three-quarters helmets probably won’t do the job, so we’re going to concentrate on modular and full-face variants. Modular offers just that—modularity. Riders can achieve the coverage of a full-face for higher speeds while also providing the benefit of increased airflow in its 3-quarters configuration. However, that added convenience can come at a price as the majority of modular helmets don’t meet Snell certification standards. Due to their fixed chin bar, full-face helmets carry the highest safety ratings. Full-face helmets do offer the best protection on the market but the lack of modularity does restrict the airflow of the helmet, which leads us to…
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Your head can get pretty hot inside a plastic lid stuffed with padding. Ventilation allows cooler air to enter the front of the helmet and forces stagnant air out a rearward vent. As our editor Jason learned in a recent review of the Bell Eliminator, tabs on both sides of the visor are helpful, as most people lift their shield while holding in the clutch. The level of acceptable ventilation is also region-dependent, as our friends in Arizona would undoubtedly benefit from a helmet with higher airflow. However, do keep in mind that more ventilation leads to more wind noise.
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Emergency Release Padding
You know what they say, dress for the slide, not the ride, and you should do the same when it comes to shopping for a new lid. In the event of a crash, a rider’s helmet will inevitably have to come off for medical evaluation. Emergency release systems help EMTs or physicians safely remove the helmet without causing further damage to the patient’s head or spine. Most models with emergency release padding contain stickers that instruct medical personnel on how to remove the cheek pads. If you purchase a helmet with those stickers, don’t remove them, you never know when you—or your rescuers—will need them.