There are few feelings as exhilarating as the thrill of air whipping around your body as you cruise the open highway on a motorcycle. In your rush to put rubber to the road, it's crucial to wear important safety gear that could make all the difference in the case of an accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2013, motorcycle helmet use saved 1,630 rider's lives, and could have prevented the deaths of 715 more if they had been wearing them.
Since wearing a helmet is clearly wise, the only question of cheap motorcycle helmets vs. expensive ones remains, along with choice of style.
Choosing The Right Helmet
To answer the question, you have to ask yourself about the helmet's central purpose: protecting your head from injury by cushioning your skull from kinetic trauma and diffusing impacts over a large area.
There are a few factors that manufacturers use when testing a helmet's efficacy, and comparing how cheap helmets and expensive helmets stack up is the first set of criteria you should have in mind when making your purchasing decision.
Impact & Penetration Resistance
A helmet has to be able to absorb shock from a direct blow in addition to being resistant to piercing from sharp objects. The best protection comes from carbon fiber and woven kevlar, which you will find in the most expensive helmets designed for the kinds of impacts that motorcycle racers will experience.
Japanese manufacturer Arai, for example, makes some of the sturdiest helmets around, and many of their models cost in the $800-900 range as they source the finest materials and make their helmets by hand for superior quality.
You, however, are likely not planning to race your bike on the track or down the freeway on a daily basis. A mid-range helmet made from high-performance fiberglass, like the LS2 Vector, will provide a nice balance of protection and flexibility for the scenarios you'll find in everyday motorcycle riding.
Bottom shelf helmets, though more often than not made from at least minimally acceptable material, don't cover the head enough to provide any serious measure protection, and those that do just aren't quite as durable as a mid or high-level helmet.
To remain effective, a helmet has to be able to stay in place on a rider's head. One of the most common helmet failures is having it roll right off of the head because the chinstrap wasn't sturdy enough.
All helmets are required to meet DOT standards in this regard, but that doesn't mean that all helmets on the market are created equally. A cheap half helmet may have nothing more than a flimsy chin strap holding it in place, which is demonstrably less effective than a more expensive full-face helmet strap, which is usually resistant to stretching or breaking under stress.
Field of View
It should go without saying that a helmet that restricts your view is more likely to get you into an accident. Though the helmet should be encompassing enough to shield the head from damage, it also has to provide users with a minimum of 105 degrees of peripheral vision to each side of their body.
Cheaper helmets, like skull-cap and beanie-styled helmets, excel in this particular area, as they don't restrict vision in any capacity. Fuller helmets still offer good visibility. However, thanks to their built in transparent visors, they offer the added bonus of shielding your eyes from the environment.
All of the above points become moot if the helmet annoys you to the point of not wanting to wear it. You might think that gives less expensive helmets the win, but since they are so light and unobtrusive, they might as well not even be there.
Advances in technology, however, have given bigger and more expensive helmets the ability to provide top notch protection while still remaining comfortable to wear. Lighter weight materials, soft interior padding, and modern ventilation systems make wearing expensive helmets a virtual breeze.
So who wins the battle of cheap motorcycle helmets vs. expensive ones? While anything is better than nothing when it comes to your safety on the road you don't have to sacrifice your entire life savings for quality, and spending a bit more money on your helmet now is the superior option.
Even when taking into consideration factors such as visibility and comfort, a more expensive helmet beats a cheaper helmet out overall, and will offer you more protection to boot. Taking the adage ‘dressing for the fall’ into account, the choice is clear – pick the helmet that will offer the most protection.
Options similar to the LS2 Vector and LS2 Stream offer high grade durability combined with factory direct pricing – clearly the best of both worlds. What kind of helmet do you use for your everyday ride? Let us know in the comments below.