What is the best motorcycle helmet for your riding posture? Good question.
When shopping for a new motorcycle helmet it’s common practice to assess a helmet’s quality of manufacture, its safety features, check that it’s the right fit for the size and shape of your head, choose a color and style that you like, and otherwise size up all of its pros and cons before making your purchase decision.
Too often though, one key design feature — a feature that directly affects rider comfort, safety, and ultimately how much you enjoy your ride — goes overlooked:
What riding posture is the helmet designed for?
Selecting a motorcycle helmet designed for use in the particular riding posture of your motorcycle or scooter seems an obvious thing to do. That said, you’d be surprised how often riders complaining that their helmet is too hot and that it tugs at their head while riding at speed are surprised to learn it’s because the helmet is designed for use in a different riding posture.
Your Motorcycle, Your Riding Posture, and Your Helmet Design
Understanding riding posture is not rocket science — are you sitting upright, are you tucked forward, or are you somewhere in between? On some motorcycles and scooters you may even be lounging slightly backwards, feet up, enjoying the ride. Sweeeet…
Dirt, sport, cruiser, adventure — motorcycles are purpose built for different types of rides, different riding conditions, different terrains, and different riding styles. As such their ergonomics and riding postures are different by design too.
It should come as no great surprise then that motorcycle helmets are similarly purpose built to meet the demands of different types of rides, different riding styles, and different riding postures. As is all riding gear.
So why do I see so many motorcyclists and scooterists wearing the wrong helmet for their ride? You would no more sit upright while racing a sport bike on track day than you would ride fully-tucked on a dirt bike when out riding trails. Yet often I see riders whose riding posture and helmet design are at odds in this way.
The end result of wearing a helmet of inappropriate design for your riding posture is compromised aerodynamics, reduced internal airflow, fatigue, and an overly hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable ride. And any discomfort while riding a motorcycle is not just unpleasant, it’s unsafe.
Comfort is a safety feature
When it comes to riding a motorcycle, comfort is more than nice, it’s a safety feature. If a rider is distracted by discomfort of any sort — too hot, too cold, poor fitting gear, aches and pains, thirst, a bad seat — their ability to focus 100% on the act of riding is compromised. This is a danger to both the rider and anyone near them.
Wearing the wrong helmet for your riding posture is not just uncomfortable, it is a potentially dangerous distraction.
Motorcycle Helmet Aerodynamics & Ventilation
(The Long Version)
Assuming you are wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet that is well constructed, well designed, well vented, and correctly fits the size and shape of your head, there is only one remaining cause of rider discomfort — bad airflow. Very often this bad airflow is the result of a mismatch between helmet design and riding posture.
Motorcycle helmet airflow can be subdivided into two basic types:
- External (aerodynamics), and
- Internal (ventilation)
Let’s take a closer look.
External Airflow — Motorcycle Helmet Aerodynamics
When air flows over and around an aerodynamically well designed motorcycle helmet, the helmet should feel neutral on your head. You won’t feel your head pulled up, pushed down, forced back, or turned to either side. It will feel balanced at any speed and will exert only minimal force in any direction as a result of the air rushing by. You are, for the most part, able to stay relaxed.
To ensure this is the case, manufacturers of quality motorcycle helmets test their designs in wind tunnels and similar apparatus to measure even the most minute aerodynamic characteristics and continually develop improvements.
Through this testing they also determine the best placement for the air intake vents, the exhaust ports, and how to most efficiently draw air in to and out of the helmet.
If you use a helmet in a riding posture other than that of its intended design, all that research and aerodynamic advantage is lost. What was a streamlined, sophisticated, cutting edge helmet design with great ventilation may now become hot and stuffy, buffet in the wind, catch air under the chin and tug at your head, or develop any number of other undesirable traits. In short, it can make for a very unpleasant day.
And that’s only half the story.
Internal Airflow — Motorcycle Helmet Ventilation
To enjoy wearing a full-face helmet all day long a rider must remain cool, comfortable, and have plenty of fresh air to breathe.
Creating internal airflow may sound simple — air in, air out — but there’s much more to it than that.
The internal airflow system of a full-face helmet is a crucial aspect of how wearable the helmet is. As such manufacturers invest a huge amount of research, development, and wind tunnel time in to perfecting the helmet’s ventilation system for maximum rider comfort.
Intake and exhaust vents are placed in very specific locations on a helmet; locations that have the optimum combination of airflow and air pressure needed to move the maximum possible amount of air through the helmet. It is all very specific.
Use the helmet in a riding posture other than that of it’s intended design and the airflow and air pressure is changed. Air now hits the helmet from an unintended angle and flows around the helmet differently, potentially missing those carefully placed vent locations. Air pressure is also changed affecting the exhaust ports and how (or if) air is pulled from the helmet.
In short, airflow in and airflow out are… gone with the wind. (lolz).
Helmets designed for an upright riding posture (like Adventure, Dirt, Dual-Sport, and Cruiser helmets) generally have vents placed more towards the front of the helmet because that is where, when sitting upright, the wind hits the helmet most directly. Inner air channels and exhaust vents are designed to compliment this vent angle and placement.
Helmets designed to be worn in a tucked or racing posture (like Sport or Racing helmets) have vents placed further toward the top of the helmet because when a rider is riding in a tucked posture it is the upper part of the helmet that most directly faces the wind. Inner air channels and exhaust ports are similarly designed to compliment this.
If a helmet designed for use in a tucked riding posture is worn sitting upright, the intake vents are shifted up and back from the intended airflow thus reducing air intake. Air pressure over the rear exhaust vents is also affected reducing air exhaust.
Conversely, if a helmet designed for use in an upright riding posture is worn while riding in a more tucked or forward position the vents will be shifted down and forward resulting in similarly reduced air intake and exhaust.
The result of both these scenarios is a hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable ride.
Buy the Appropriate helmet for your riding posture
It all boils down to this: next time you are shopping for a motorcycle helmet — while you are busy checking out the fit, the vital safety features, and the badass graphics, remember to check out whether or not it is the best motorcycle helmet for your riding posture.
If you own more than one type of motorcycle you may want to own more than one type of helmet too.
Whatever your motorcycle or scooter of choice, wearing an appropriate motorcycle helmet for your riding posture will do a lot to improve the comfort, safety, and enjoyment of your ride and your day.
Ride safe. Have fun.