Why should you wear a full-face helmet?

by Jeff Dean

Ask 1.5 million-mile BMW rider Dave Swisher, of Bowling Green, Virginia. That's his helmet after he suffered a crash in West Virginia. Dave came out of it just fine—thanks to his full-face helmet. No facial reconstruction was needed. In fact, because Dave was wearing full gear, he was able to ride home!

What would have happened had he been wearing a three-quarter helmet or, worse yet, a “shorty?”

The diagrams above show the impact areas on crash-involved motorcycle helmets. (Source: Dietmar Otte, Hannover Medical University, Dept. of Traffic Accident Research, Germany.) Note that 35% of all crashes showed major impact on the chin-bar area. This means that if you ride with an open-face helmet, you are accepting only 65% of the protection that could be available to your head.

Dave is not the only rider who was saved by his helmet. I was, too.

Years ago I was riding my R100RT south down two-lane Mission Road, south of Tucson, at about 50 MPH when a hot-tar roofer was driving north at about the same speed, pulling a trailer with his hot-tar machine on it. The left wheel came off his trailer and right into the left side of my R100RT. I had no time to react. If I was not riding a boxer BMW with a cylinder sticking out on the left side, my leg would have been mashed; the cylinder took the brunt of the damage. I was thrown off the bike and rolled down the roadway like a log. The bike was totaled. I was wearing full leathers, Bell Star XL full-face helmet, and wound up with a broken right wrist. I was picked up by an ambulance and taken to St. Joseph's Hospital ER.

At the hospital an orthopedic surgeon came in to look me over. He was from Chicago and looked and sounded just like John Belushi. He hung my damaged arm from a contraption and proceeded to move my broken bones into some kind of alignment. He then put me in a cast up past my elbow. Jill and I then flew home to Wisconsin. When I got home, my orthopedic surgeon checked me over and said “Dr. Belushi” did so well nothing else was needed.

I was wearing the Bell Star XL because at that time there was no other helmet on the market that would fit my size 8¼ (4XL) head. It saved my head as I had no concussion. I used that helmet for several years for show-and-tell sessions in my MSF classes.

I have found HJC and Shoei helmets that fit my fat head. HJC makes some helmets in sizes up to 5XL, both modular and full-face, including in solid white.

If you ride with a shorty or half helmet, you are accepting only 39% of the protection you could obtain. You are literally throwing away 61% of the protection you would have had had you chosen a full-face helmet.

And, of course, if you ride wearing a “novelty” helmet or no helmet at all then you have none of the protection you could have chosen.

The choice is yours.

In response to requests, I have posted a tabloid-size, 11"-by-17" PDF version of this page that can be down loaded and printed. You can down load it here.