Finding the right dirt bike helmet can be complicated. Every manufacturer claims to have the best product, and they love baffling you with strange ratings and abbreviations. Your helmet will be the most important purchase you make, so you need to get this right. If you get it wrong, you risk serious injury, but with the right knowledge you'll be able to choose a helmet that offers the best protection your money can buy.
This dirt bike helmet guide will cover all of the things to look for in a helmet. We'll look at certification, materials, the latest technologies, a helmet fitting guide, and more.
Dirt bike helmets are constantly evolving, and manufacturers are now realising that a helmet needs to be more than just a protective shell. The most advanced helmets on the market are now focusing on rotational impact protection.
Angular acceleration, or rotational force, can cause tissues to stretch and tear inside the brain. So helmets like the 6D ATR-2 pictured above, are being developed with liners that move and rotate during an impact. This liner is omnidirectional, which means it can move in all directions, depending on how the helmet is impacted.
6D are leading the market in this area, and their helmet can even be rebuilt. This means you don't have to throw the helmet away after an accident, like you would with a traditional helmet.
If you care about your brain, and you want the ultimate protection, then the 6D ATR-2 is the helmet that should be at the top of your list. Before we get to materials, you can check out the 6D here > 6D ATR-2 helmet (link to Amazon)
Dirt bike helmet Materials
If you've been searching for a helmet, you've probably noticed that manufacturers use lots of different materials in the construction. The shell needs to be very strong to prevent penetration, but it shouldn't be overly rigid, as this would lessen the helmet's energy management potential.
Polycarbonate is the most common material used for the shell of dirt bike helmets. This material is very strong, so strong that it's even trusted for use in fighter jet canopies. It has no problems passing DOT or Snell safety tests, but it is a lesser material than some of the the alternatives listed below.
Fiberglass isn't so common, due to it being a little heavier than Polycarbonate, it is a little tougher though. It can bend and withstand more strain, which gives it better energy management potential. It's used on boats, aircraft, and many other applications that need a very strong material, but the weight is what put's many dirt bike riders off.
Carbon fibre is super strong, and very light, meaning it's the perfect material for making dirt bike helmets. The only problem with carbon fibre is the cost, and this is why you don't see many carbon fibre helmets at the track.
Bell make the Moto 9 pictured above, which uses a rotating liner similar to the 6D we looked at earlier, but the carbon composite shell makes it super light at just 1450 grams.
Check out the Moto 9 on Amazon here > Bell Moto 9 Carbon Flex
Tri composite blends fibre glass, Kevlar, and Carbon fibre, using these additional materials for added strength, and for flexibility to help lower impact energy. The mix results in a super strong helmet, but unfortunately, adding these other materials also adds to the price.
You may also find certain manufacturers making their own blends, like LS2's KPA, or Kinetic Polymer Alloy for example. Manufacturers will keep the blend a secret, but providing they can show you test results, and get their product certified, these materials can be trusted, and may even be better than some of the above.
Dirt bike helmet venting
Something very often overlooked by riders, is venting. If you're new to this, and you've not yet ridden a dirt bike, you'll probably be wondering why a helmet needs vents. But trust me, after a few laps around a motocross track you'll be very glad of them, even during winter!
Venting stops the build up of moisture from sweating, and it also helps to keep you cool. Remember, most of your body heat is lost through your head, and you don't want that heat getting trapped in the helmet during a tough race.
Vents will be placed in the chin guard to keep a nice flow of cool air to your mouth and nose. The best vented helmets will also have openings in the eye port (forehead area), on the crown of the helmet, and on the back.
An area of low pressure air is created at the back of the helmet when you're riding, so vents are placed on the back to help draw the air out. This is one of the best ways to remove heat and moisture from a helmet.
A well vented helmet should also have exhaust ports at the rear. These ports will remove the air that's entering the helmet through the vents, and further reduce heat and moisture.
Cheap dirt bike helmets
When you start searching for a dirt bike helmet, you'll soon realize that there are a lot of cheap helmets available. Many of these are non certified rubbish, some are certified to poor standards, and some do unbelievably carry a DOT rating.
Bare in mind that certification isn't everything, just because it has the DOT sticker doesn't mean it's a good helmet. We'll look at certification later, and you will find out that DOT testing isn't as thorough as EN 22.05 or Snell testing. Look for the latter and you will have a better quality helmet.
When you buy a helmet under the $100 mark, you will also lack other options like proper venting, washable padding, etc. Plus, the manufacturer will need to save money somewhere, so you'll likely get a thinner shell with less internal protection.
I always recommend you go for a well known brand, preferably over $150. Look for brands like Fox, Bell, 6D, Shoei, Arai, etc, and never under any circumstances buy a used helmet.
Used helmets should never be sold, there should be a law against it. If you buy a used helmet you have no idea if it's been dropped, crashed, sat on during breaks between races, etc.
Never buy a used helmet, not even if the seller assures you it's never taken a whack, your brain is more important than saving a few bucks!
Dirt bike helmet sizing and fitting
When you've chosen a helmet, you'll need to make sure you buy the right size for yourself. Start off by taking a flexible measuring tape, and measure your head at it's largest point. This is normally just above the eyes and the ears as shown in the drawing below.
If you don't have a flexible measuring tape, simply use a piece of string, and measure it with a straight edge ruler afterwards.
When you have your measurement, jot it down and match it with the manufacturers sizing chart. Bare in mind that all helmet sizes vary between manufacturers. So if you previously owned a medium helmet, it doesn't mean a medium will be a good fit this time. So always measure up, and use the correct sizing chart.
When you try the helmet on for size, you're looking for a snug fit. Not a tight fit, just snug enough that it doesn't move around on your head, or jump up and down as you ride over bumps.
If the helmet feels comfortable, try moving it around on your head. You don't want any up or down, or side to side movements; if it slides around at all, you'll need a smaller size. You should also try jumping up and down, if the helmet leaves your head, it's far to loose.
Dirt bike helmet ratings and certification
The most important thing to look for when choosing a dirt bike helmet, is a mark of certification. If a helmet is not certified, it's best left on the shelf where it belongs! Certified helmets will usually meet one or more of the three standards below.
DOT stands for "Department of Transportation", and this is the most common rating you will find on dirt bike helmets. DOT certification is only really recognised in the US, it's similar to the European ECE 22.05, but it's considered a lesser rating.
You may see DOT stickers on cheaper helmets simply because the testing is less thorough, and certification is easier to obtain.
This is a European testing standard, which stands for Economic Commission for Europe. You will see it on helmets worldwide as it's accepted in 47 countries. Testing is very similar to DOT testing, which we'll get to shortly, but there are quite a few extras in the ECE 22.05 test, which makes it a far better standard.
The Snell Memorial Foundation is a private, non-profit organization which formed in 1957 after William Peter Snell died in a sports car accident, when his helmet failed to protect his head.
To be Snell-certified, helmets are sent to Snell's state-of-the-art test facility, to undergo a series of very strict tests. This is regarded as the highest possible rating for helmets worldwide.
'DOT' Dirt bike helmet testing
To achieve DOT certification, helmets will undergo a series of tests to ensure they are safe, and that they will meet the required standards for on-road use. Although testing is for helmets designed for on-road use, DOT certification meets the requirements for a motocross helmet.
DOT is considered to be a much lower standard than the others mentioned above. Bare in mind both ECE 22.05, and Snell carry out all of the tests we're about to look at, plus more. So ECE 22.05 and Snell certified helmets will be preferred.
A look at the DOT testing procedure gives you a good idea of what happens during testing. During DOT testing the helmet will undergo the following tests:
The helmet must allow a minimum of 105 degrees peripheral vision both ways from the centre point.
Impact attenuation test
This test involves dropping the helmet from a certain height, so that the helmet reaches a certain speed. The helmet will be dropped onto a flat, and hemispherical steel anvil 32 times. The helmet is tested through a range of different temperatures, and also water immersed to ensure it will function correctly in different conditions.
To pass this test the helmet must withstand strikes from a 3 KG penetration striker. The helmet is placed onto a headform, and a striker is dropped from over 3 meters onto the crown, and onto the side of the helmet.
Contact between the penetration striker and the surface of the test headform, results in a helmet failure.
Retention strap test
The helmet strap is fastened around a test headform, and is tested to a load of 136 KG for 2 minutes. The strap must hold the weight, and the adjustment strap must not slip any more than 2.5 CM.
Extras found in the ECE 22.05 and Snell testing
As previously mentioned, the ECE and Snell tests are far more thorough. For example the ECE test requires helmets to have abrasion resistance. This is to minimize the amount of rotational force the helmet would transmit into the riders head and neck. It also assesses the rigidity of the shell, and helmets are subject to third-party testing prior to going on sale.
Snell testing also has lots of extra tests including a chin bar test, to check the strength of the chin bar. There's also a flame and heat resistance test for racing helmets, to make sure the helmet will resist fire and heat if the rider catches on fire.
So you can see these ratings are more sought after than the DOT standard.
Looking after your helmet and when to replace it
You'll need to look after your helmet if you want it to work when it's needed.
- Never drop it.
- Never throw it into the van after a hard days riding.
- Never hang it from the handlebars, as it will eventually fall off, or the bike may fall onto it.
- Never sit on it between races.
- Never stick stickers on it.
- Never store it in direct sunlight, keep it in its bag in a dark room or cupboard.
- Never let it come into contact with solvents.
- Keep it clean by washing it with nothing stronger than warm water
A helmet is designed to protect your head from a single crash. So if you crash, you must replace it and never use it again, and never sell it on.
If the helmet is dropped, this can cause damage that you will not see by simply looking at the helmet. So be very careful, hold it tight, and do not drop your helmet, if you do, it should be replaced.
With everything you've learned in this post, you'll now be able to find a great helmet. I've put together a list of the top 7 choices in THIS POST to get you started, but remember to always use the correct size chart when buying online.
Thanks for checking out the dirt bike helmet guide!