What Are Motorcycle Helmets Made Of?

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Before you go out riding your motorcycle, the one thing that you can never forget to put on before you leave is your helmet, but what is it made of?

This is the most fundamental piece of safety equipment that you need to ride a motorcycle, which is why you want to have a helmet that is made with quality materials. However, you will find that motorcycle helmets vary in what they are made of - with some being considerably better than others.

Motorcycle helmets have two primary components - outer shell and inner shell. The outer shell is made out of either plastic or fiber materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, and kevlar. Whereas the inner shell is made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), as well as a soft lining and padding.

At first glance, it is easy to assume that most motorcycle helmets have a similar design and level of safety, but they can be quite different depending on who manufactured them and the materials that were used. As fun as motorcycles are to ride, it is important to recognize that this is a much more dangerous mode of transport than your average car. When you ride your motorcycle, you are very exposed on the open road, which is why you want to mitigate risk where ever possible. The most important safety feature that you do have is your helmet. A quality helmet can make all the difference between life and death and the material that it is made of is what will secure your safety. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at what motorcycle helmets are made of in more detail.

After years of working as a motorcycle mechanic and racer, I have had an extensive amount of experience testing out various kinds of motorcycle helmets over the years. My experience has taught me that a motorcycle helmet can be made out of a wide variety of different materials, which can vary in safety and quality depending on their design.

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What Motorcycle Helmets Are Made Of

We have been riding motorcycles for well over a century and they are as fun now as they ever have been in the past. However, they have greatly changed over the years, as they have become faster and more dynamic. With that being said, just as the technology behind motorcycle mechanics has evolved, so has the technology behind motorcycle safety - especially with helmets.

The motorcycle helmets that riders used in the past were primitive, to say the least. At the end of the day, it is always better to have a basic helmet on your head than no helmet at all, but if you value your safety and want to be a responsible motorcycle rider, investing in a good quality helmet is a must. Now, in order to buy a good quality helmet, you must first understand the components of a motorcycle helmet and the materials that it can be made out of.

There are some fantastic options for motorcycle helmets on the market and although they may vary in the materials that they are made out of, they are designed to do one thing - keep you safe. As you consider the motorcycle helmets that are available, you may find that one type of material suits you better than another, as some will may be lighter in weight and more comfortable to wear - but at a higher price. Whereas other options may not be as comfy and light but they will be more affordable. These are characteristics that will be primarily based on the materials that the outer shell of the helmet is made of.

Let’s get one thing clear, safety is priority number one when on the road. Although this is something that will be assured through quality materials, how comfortable you are when you are out riding can be equally as important, which is why it is essential to have a quality outer shell for your helmet with an inner padding that feels good when you wear it. Let’s dive right into what motorcycle helmets are made of.

Motorcycle Helmet Outer Shell

Although there are a number of different components that motorcycle helmets are made, the most important thing that you want to look at when evaluating your options is the material of the outer shell. Ultimately, foam padding is primarily designed for comfort, which you can generally gauge based on how well the helmet sits on your head and how cushy the inner material is.

Motorcycle shell materials on the other hand are a bit trickier to evaluate from the outside. The only real way to test a motorcycle helmet yourself is to apply force or impact to it, but this is likely to cause damage to your helmet before you even go out riding. The reason for this is that, although motorcycle helmets are tough, they are often designed to prevent the first initial impact that comes into contact with them the best. Once the impact has occurred, the absorption layer of the motorcycle helmet may collapse and it will be of significantly lower quality for a potential accident.

However, what you can do without testing your helmet out yourself is to buy one that is made out of quality material. The materials that we use to make the outer shells of motorcycle helmets these days are highly advanced, which is why you want to pick one that is going to provide you with the most safety possible. Just about every helmet that you find being used by riders that is DOT approved will be made out of either plastic or fiber material. Let’s examine both of these motorcycle helmet materials.

Plastic Motorcycle Helmets

The first thing that most riders think when they hear that a motorcycle helmet is made of plastic is that it must be a bad helmet. While a lot of helmets for skateboards and bicycles are also made out of plastic, motorcycle helmets are much more reinforced than these, as they are made with significantly improved quality and design.

You will find a couple of different options for plastic motorcycle helmets on the market. You should keep an eye out for helmets that are either labeled as thermoset plastic or thermoplastic. The biggest difference between these two is the hardening process that they went through during manufacturing.

Both of these plastic materials can be found in the outer shell of motorcycle helmets. Although the materials do have a different hardening process, either one will be ideal to ensure motorcycle safety on the road. If you happen to come across a plastic motorcycle helmet that is not labeled as either of these, then you should approach with extreme caution as this is probably not a quality helmet, which will not be ideal for meeting motorcycle safety standards.

However, you should keep in mind that although most plastic motorcycle helmets being sold in the United States do comply with modern road safety regulations, plastic materials are still not as safe as fiber materials. On the upside, plastic motorcycle helmets are generally quite a bit cheaper than the other alternatives that you have available to you, which could be a great option for a motorcycle rider who is on a budget.

If you are on the fence about a particular plastic motorcycle helmet that you are considering, a great way to confirm its quality is to check its ratings and see whether it has been approved by the Department of Transportation. Any reputable helmet manufacturer will boast a DOT approval rating for their product.

Fiber Material Motorcycle Helmets

The largest improvement and innovation that we have seen with motorcycle helmets is the use of fiber materials in creating the outer shell of the helmet. Fiber materials have a much more sophisticated design that is capable of providing optimal safety for the rider, as well as some other perks.

With that being said, you can also expect fiber material motorcycle helmets to cost quite a bit more. There are a lot of high-end brands that make fantastic fiber material helmets but they are considerably more expensive, which often results in a lot of riders having to resort to low-end fiber or plastic helmets.

My general approach with fiber material motorcycle helmets is to focus less on the manufacturer and instead research safety tests for helmets that are available. It is often the case that you can find fantastic motorcycle helmets that are made of quality fiber materials that are going for a very affordable price - simply because there is no huge brand associated with them.

On the other hand, if you need to make a decision on the fly, it is always best to go with a trusted manufacturer that has a standing in the industry. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than protecting your head when you go out riding - no matter the financial cost. Here are some common fiber materials that motorcycle helmets are made of.

Carbon Fiber

One of the best materials that any motorcycle can be made of is carbon fiber. This is a material that ticks the boxes of every rider out there regardless of their riding style or terrain.

Carbon fiber is an extremely durable and tough material that has fantastic safety capabilities when met with impact. When tested, carbon fiber had some of the best responses for protecting the head of a rider, which is why so many people opt for this material for their helmets.

In addition to being extremely tough, carbon fiber is also a very lightweight material. The average carbon fiber motorcycle helmet weighs just 3 lbs. For a material that weighs so little, it is almost hard to believe that it could be so durable.

We commonly associate weight as a sign of quality, but in fact, quite the opposite is true for motorcycle helmets. You have to consider that you will be wearing a helmet wherever you go when you ride and, potentially, for hours on end.

This not only results in a less comfortable ride but also one that is more dangerous. If your neck becomes stiff throughout your drive, it will become a distraction for you, which can increase your chances of getting into an accident.

These features are what make carbon fiber one of the best materials for motorcycle helmets. With that being said, carbon fiber motorcycle helmets are some of the most expensive options on the market. The cheapest carbon fiber helmet that you can hope to find is around $200 but some of the high-end options can be as much as $700 or more. These are fantastic motorcycle helmets but they are undeniably very expensive, which is why they are often not an option for motorcycle riders that are on a budget.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is one of the most common and widely used fiber materials found in motorcycle helmet shells. This is a fantastic material that has a lot of benefits for motorcycle safety.

Although a fiberglass motorcycle helmet will not match up to one that is made out of carbon fiber, it is still a top-of-the-line material. First and foremost, fiberglass is durable. When met with impact fiberglass is excellent at absorbing the contact and preventing serious damage from occurring to the rider’s head (in most cases).

The only drawback with fiberglass helmets in this regard is that they are most effective when met with their initial impact. As contact is made with the motorcycle helmet, the fiberglass will shatter, which is where the primary contact will be absorbed. However, this leaves the fiberglass less effective for additional impact.

If you have a fall or accident on your motorcycle that involves only a single point of impact, this is not going to be a huge issue. The problem with fiberglass helmets is when you have multiple impacts occurring to the helmet in an accident. This is common when you have a tumbling fall and hit the ground with your head more than once. Given that the fiberglass has already shattered, its ability to prevent damage from occurring is lowered.

With that being said, many high-end fiberglass helmets are often made out of a mixture of materials such as carbon fiber. Although this does not result in a helmet shell that is as durable as pure carbon fiber, it does add a significant amount of safety to the rider in an accident. The reinforcement from the mixture material can greatly improve the safety of a fiberglass helmet, which is something that you should prioritize when considering this material.

In addition to safety, fiberglass motorcycle helmets are also relatively lightweight, which means that you can count on them for a comfortable ride. Lastly, fiberglass motorcycle helmets are very affordable in comparison to carbon fiber options. Although they are not necessarily cheap, you can find fiberglass motorcycle helmets that start in the $100 range and get up to as much as several hundred dollars. If safety is important to you as a rider, this is a small price to pay.

Kevlar

This is a fiber material that is designed to withstand extremely high levels of impact and to no surprise, it is an effective option for motorcycle helmet shells.

Kevlar is a material that you will rarely see used in motorcycle helmets on its own and instead it is usually combined with another material such as carbon fiber to give it more versatility. When you put Kevlar under a microscope, it actually has some common characteristics to fiberglass.

This is a very durable material but one reason that some riders might prefer a Kevlar-based helmet over a fiberglass one is due to the fact these helmets are often lighter in weight. Unfortunately, Kevlar helmets on their own are not very good at withstanding compression.

With that being said, Kevlar helmets that do not contain any kind of additional reinforced material mixed in are actually not street legal. The Department of Transportation has marked motorcycle helmets that are solely made with Kevlar as unsafe for riding, which is why you will rarely see manufacturers in the United States market their motorcycle helmets as Kevlar Helmets.

What many motorcycle helmet manufacturers commonly do with Kevlar is use it as base material. The Kevlar’s excellent durability in combination with a compression-resistant material makes this a fantastic option for a motorcycle helmet. However, if you see a motorcycle helmet that is made purely out of Kevlar, you should avoid buying this product unless you absolutely have to. It is easy to get duped by the appealing Kevlar title, which is why some riders end up buying affordable options from overseas to have them shipped in.

Motorcycle Helmet Inner Shell

The outer shell of the motorcycle helmet is all about stopping the initial powerful impact of a crash.

However, the next area of focus for motorcycle helmets is the inner shell. The inner shell is designed to work as a support system for your skull during a crash and it is also meant to add comfort to the riding experience when on the road. Let’s take a closer look at the components of the inner shell of a motorcycle helmet.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

In combination with a quality outer shell, the expanded polystyrene that lines the inner shell of the motorcycle helmet is going to provide the most added safety benefits during a crash.

Expanded Polystyrene or EPS is a highly effective material that is designed to collapse when met with impact. This is an innovative foam-like material that has become widely adopted in a lot of different safety features for both automobile and motorcycle safety.

In addition to providing physical safety for your head during a crash, EPS is also incredibly lightweight. This is one of the key components in keeping a motorcycle helmet within the ballpark range of 3lbs, which is why virtually every reputable manufacturer utilizes this material.

However, it is important to note that although some helmets may be labeled as EPS, they may use a poor quality version. When browsing options, look for high-quality or high-density EPS.

Soft Lining & Padding

The other components of the inner shell of a motorcycle helmet are the soft lining material and padding. These are generally applied for added comfort when riding but they do also provide some additional support and protection.

The primary protection that these components add to the rider is keeping areas such as the neck and face safe during an accident. The materials that are used for these components can vary depending on the manufacturer but for the most part, you will find foam and sponge-like materials.

To increase the hygiene of the motorcycle helmet, the soft lining and padding can usually be removed so that they can be washed and sanitized.

About THE AUTHOR

Dean Marino

Dean Marino

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