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Best Motorcycle Helmets with MIPS Technology
A simple liner between the helmet's EPS foam and comfort padding can make all the difference in safety.
Stickers attached to the tank of new motorcycles and the fine print on race track ticket stubs will tell you that motorsports are dangerous. This is true, of course, but the history of motorsports tells a tale of categorical safety improvements. While open-wheel race cars get halos and even the jankiest of rally cars must have a log booked roll cage, motorcycles are unique in their lack of external safety precautions. The onus of safety falls on the riders and what they choose to wear. And the most important piece of safety gear is undeniably a good motorcycle helmet.
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Helmet technology has evolved thoroughly over decades of use, and there has never been a better time for motorcycle helmet safety. But what makes one motorcycle helmet better than another? The best motorcycle helmet isn't necessarily the one with an FIM rating, but rather a helmet with proven safety technology. Multi-density EPS foam and carbon-shell construction are tried and true, but a relative newcomer to the field known as MIPS is just as important.
Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology focuses on rotational force as opposed to the straight impact testing used by government agencies and independent regulators. By applying a thin layer of movable plastic between the comfort padding and helmet foam, MIPS allows for small rotational head movements inside the helmet during a crash. While DOT and Snell helmet ratings are geared at high-speed impacts, MIPS' slight pliability can be the difference between a concussion or not in slower-speed accidents. Additionally, high-speed crashes tend to expose catch points and the rotational failures of aerodynamic helmets, meaning MIPS would be essential in allowing the rider's head to expel impact energy through rotations.
Created by the Swedish company MIPS Protection, the technology has been around for over 25 years and is now a popular addition to name-brand helmets across wheeled disciplines, from cycling to snowmobiling and motorcycles. As you shop for your next helmet, here are some of the best motorcycle helmets with MIPS technology.
Is Snell Better Than DOT? What do all the safety ratings mean?
Safety ratings are merely tests based on certain parameters meant to replicate a real-world crash. Objectively, some tests use higher speed impacts or multiple impacts, making helmets that pass more proven. Additionally, safety ratings are dependent on locality, meaning the DOT rating applies to helmets intended for the US while the ECE rating is focused on Europe.
Historically, DOT has been viewed as the lowest bar to pass for helmets. The testing involves a single impact, a piercing test, and a strap retention test. It's not that the testing itself is lackluster or inadequate, but rather the pressure and g-forces exuded in the test are high enough to nearly kill the wearer. Sure, the occupant can survive the worst-case scenario, but DOT testing doesn't really paint the picture of most motorcycle accidents.
ECE testing is a significantly more representative metric, with frequent updates based on real-world crash data. Test parameters are created by the Economic Commission for Europe and are often seen as more indicative of how motorcyclists actually injure their heads. Though the piercing test has been scrapped, the testing involved in ECE accounts for slow-speed impacts in addition to high-speed crashes. Exemplifying the modernity of the ECE rating is the move toward softer shells, seeing as most motorcycle crashes happen at a slower speed and harder shells are less effective in these instances.
Finally, the Snell Memorial Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to improving auto racing and motorcycle helmet safety. The Snell rating has historically been the most coveted rating due to its requirement for most track riding. It's by far the most extensive test, though one criticism of the test is that it still uses a particularly high impact force. That said, it tests for safety in positional stability, strap retention, impact management, chin bar strength, shell penetration, and removability in the case of an accident.
What does MIPS really do?
Unlike DOT or ECE, MIPS technology doesn't align with a certain safety certification. Rather, MIPS is an innovating company that is creating additional safety through existing structures. In simple terms, MIPS acts as a rotational layer between the impact absorption foam and comfort padding.
Specifically, MIPS allows for 10-15 mm of play inside the helmet during an impact. Though this movement is slight, it makes a big difference in safety. Studies show that impact absorption is the most important part of a helmet, but that rotational energy is similarly at play. As such, MIPS is a basic but worthwhile addition to any motorcycle helmet.
How much does a motorcycle helmet weigh?
Motorcycle helmets are relatively light but it may not feel that way on your head. Helmets can range anywhere from 2.6 pounds to 4 pounds, but most helmets are around 3.25 pounds. Half-shell helmets are the lightest of the bunch, but they sacrifice any semblance of protection. An important note is that high-performance helmets aren't always the lightest, in large part due to the increased foam density and shield mechanisms involved with high-speed riding.
Are all motorcycle helmet shells the same size?
No! In fact, most manufacturers use a production system that allows them to use one shell for multiple sizes. For example, Bell may use two shells to account for all sizes, meaning XS-M helmets use the same shell but are made unique by foam and pad fillings. Generally, cheaper helmets will use this two-shell system because it cuts down on production costs.
There are some downsides to this style of production. A large size helmet will share a shell with its 2XL counterpart, making the shell size much bigger than needed. On the other hand, some manufacturers opt for a three or even individual-shell size approach in an effort to keep shell sizes small and reduce weight.
Are more expensive motorcycle helmets safer?
Not necessarily. While a Snell-certified helmet will rightfully command a higher price, certain creature comforts and gimmicks can make a helmet without a Snell rating cost more than one with it. As you shop for a helmet, pay close attention to the safety ratings and take into account what kind of riding you plan on doing.
Additionally, a Snell certification isn't something that every rider needs. While there is no arguing against the rating, riders planning on commuting through the city or the occasional passenger will be similarly safe in helmets equipped with an ECE rating and MIPS technology. In the end, a good rule of thumb is to buy the helmet with the most safety ratings and best technology you can afford.
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