Helmet Safety Ratings 101

Motorcycle helmets can be a little confusing to beginning riders, because there are a lot of choices out there and they’re all built with a different combination of rider needs and environment in mind. One of the best ways to make sure you’ve got the basic coverage you need is to look at the safety ratings and compare them to your riding habits, but that requires knowledge of the safety ratings, which is something even older riders can get confused by sometimes. The ratings tend to get revised periodically, and we’re currently in one of those post-revision periods where the standard for ratings now is different from what you might find on a helmet you had for your last bike or the one you kept for riding passenger.

How to Check to See If Your Old Motorcycle Helmet Stand up to New Industry Standards

One of the nice things about changing industry standards is that the certifications from different safety assessments are generally earned or not, so there isn’t a complex system of approvals to decode for each one. The sole exception is SHARP certification, and that is only used in Europe. If you’ve got a helmet that passes DOT standards for road use, you’ve got a helmet that is generally safe for road use. Where you might get hung up is in the ratings systems used by different competitions in different areas:

  • FIM certification is required for track use by the global organization for ranked motorcycle racing, and it’s relatively new
  • SNELL certification is used in some races and has been around a little longer, but it is a generally voluntary rating showing the helmet has passed the tests required by the Snell Memorial Foundation for certification
  • SHARP certification is relatively new and assigns helmets a star rating according to the tests they pass instead of just an endorsement, a simple way to show comparative protection

Additionally, if you’re planning on riding in Europe, the ECE is the endorsement you’ll need instead of the DOT safety sticker. If you’re not sure which ones you need when you’re shopping for motorcycle helmets online, the best bet is to find a helmet that has as many of these certifications as possible. In the U.S. that typically means three endorsements, DOT, FIM, and SNELL. In Europe, it could mean four with SNELL, FIM, ECE, and SHARP.

Best Motorcycle Accessories Money Can Buy

Helmets provide essential safety protection that can be life saving, but the best motorcycle accessories you will find are the ones that make it less likely the helmet will need to do its job. Essential safety upgrades that can help keep you on your bike when you’re in a tight spot include:

  • Upgraded motorcycle mirrors for improved field of view
  • Headlight and fog light upgrades for inclement weather
  • Premium tires and aftermarket brakes
  • Padded clothing for additional body protection
  • Quality riding gloves for improved grip and tactile response

With the right equipment, you can detect and evade most of the hazards on the road, making it less and less likely you’ll need to test that helmet safety rating. Upgrade smart to keep yourself safe and have your best ride!