What Are The Four Types Of Motorcycle Helmets?

April 15, 2009 by: MCg

Motorcycle Helmets


Over the years, motorcycle helmets have become lighter and more protective, while offering more features, such as built-in ventilation systems, as well as simpler and faster face shield deployment. In fact, now and then a whole new category of helmet is developed. The newest kid on the block is the “Modular Helmet” (see below), but for some of us old-time riders, we recall when there were two types of helmets, the 1/2 helmet or the 3/4 (open face) helmet.  Each of the helmet categories have got their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s review our choices of motorcycle helmets to determine what’s best for our needs.


The best protection for our head is provided by full face helmets. They simply cover the greatest portion of our head, including the prominent chin section that protects our face in the event of a mishap.

Full face helmets come with flip-up face shields and nowadays, many full face helmets come with internal ventilation systems that can keep our heads more comfortable in the hot weather. (Just close the vents in the cooler weather, or in the rain).

I’m an advocate for full face helmets, since my head was not only saved from getting smashed like a melon on the pavement as a result of a dramatic motorcycle crash with a full face helmet, but the chin section kept my face from getting scraped away by the very same fast-moving asphalt.

A sub-category of the full face helmet is the motocross, or off-road helmet.

Motocross helmets are definitely full face helmet protection, but they feature an elongated chin section, and a visor over the eyes, that is not typical for full face helmets designed for street riding.

The elongated chin section gives the off-road rider extra space to accommodate motocross goggles, which are not worn by street riders.

Although the motocross visor is a practical feature, since it keeps the sun out of a rider’s eyes, it does lower the aerodynamic properties of the helmet, which becomes more important on motorbikes that are ridden at higher speeds.

The disadvantage of full face helmets is that they are bigger and heavier than half helmets or open face helmets. Also, some riders do not like the restrictions of the frontal chin section, which can reduce their ability to communicate with a passenger while riding, or with others, while stopped. Additionally, some riders just don’t feel comfortable having their face enclosed, as well as their head.


The open face, or “three-quarter” helmet has been around a long time. It protects a larger portion of the head, but does not protect the face.

Open face helmets, may, or may not, be worn with a face shield, although, of course, eye protection is necessary in the form of goggles or protective glasses.

When wearing an open face helmet without a visor, the helmet not only provides less protection in the event of a crash, but it also provides less protection from the elements of normal riding, such as wind, bugs, dirt, rain, etc.

However, some riders find open face helmets to be a more comfortable alternative to full face helmets.


The half helmet (“shorty”), offers the least protection of all the helmets, and is the smallest, lightest and least expensive for someone who feels restricted by larger helmets.

Based upon my observations across North America, I would say the primary wearers of half helmets are those that wear them due to fashion. Half helmets are more common (but not limited to) bikers on cruisers or classic bikes, although there are plenty of bikers on cruisers and/or classic bikes who wear open face or full face helmets.  The point is that half helmets offer a more traditional and/or classic look that can support the image and personality of certain bikes.

In addition to the limited protection a half helmet offers, this style is more likely to come off of a rider’s head during an accident, which entirely defeats the purpose of wearing any helmet at all.

NOTE: There are some helmets designed to “look” like half helmets, that offer virtually no protective qualities at all. These are not only considerably less expensive than any of the standard helmets represented here, but they are not even recognized by the Department of Transportation as head protection for motorcycle riders and therefor a biker who wears one in a U.S. state that requires helmets, is subject to receiving a traffic citation. Other terms for this type of headwear include “beanies,” or “brain buckets” or “novelty helmets.” A “novelty helmet” can protect the top of your head from sunburn, and might even protect your head from some abrasion if it stays on during a crash, but it is not designed to protect your skull or brain from an impact.


As noted above, modular helmets are the new kid on the block in terms of helmet categories. These are a hybrid between full face and open face helmets and are designed for street use.

The modular or “flip-up” helmet certainly look like a full face helmet when it is properly positioned for riding, since it has the telltale front chin section. But the difference between a modular helmet and a full face helmet is that chin bar can be pivoted upwards and out of the way, to facilitate grabbing a drink or a snack when briefly stopped, and/or by making it easy to speak with others, for example when stopped at a gas station, or pulling over to check a map.

It should be emphasized that modular helmets are designed to be worn in the closed position while riding and are not to be worn when the chin section is open. The open section would create quite a wind drag and could also catch on a motorcycle part in a crash, which could result in additional unfriendly occurrences to your head, which the helmet was trying to help avoid!

Finally, regardless of what helmet you select, be sure to get one that fits correctly. Here is an article on How To Fit A Motorcycle Helmet.


If you ever actually get into a crash, your helmet needs to be replaced.

Helmets are manufactured to disperse the energy from a sudden shock so that your head doesn’t need to fulfill that role. In other words, motorcycle helmets are a one-time-use-only product, in the event of an accident.

That also means that even dropping your helmet, or inadvertently allowing it to bang against a wall can use up that energy absorption property. Which would make the helmet ineffective for protection. And on top of that, the damage may not even be visible..

As a general precaution, helmet manufacturers recommend that riders replace their helmets not only after any impact (which makes sense) but also, every three years, or so, even if there has not been any impact.

OH! Almost all helmets come with a Department of Transportation (DOT) certification, but there are a few that don’t, such as “novelty helmets” noted above.



Filed under: Motorcycle Helmets
Tags: ,

Leave a Reply