ATV Safety Blog

How to Choose and Care for Your ATV Helmet

July 6, 2011

Your best insurance against injury

When it comes to helmets, the decision to wear one can be a matter of life or death in the event of a bad spill. So obviously a helmet is the single most important piece of riding gear an ATV enthusiast can wear.

Those of us who always wear helmets often wonder what the problem is with folks who refuse to do so. Modern helmets are very comfortable and lightweight, providing the rider with a lot of confidence and protection from the elements.

Many off-road helmets are also vented, so getting too hot is no longer a valid excuse for not wearing one. Of course, if you happen to be riding in an area where it's against the law to ride without a helmet, well you aren't going to have a choice!

There’s an old saying in the off-road world, “If you’ve got a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.” Basically, it’s warning riders to steer clear of the really cheap helmets. Not all helmets are as effective as the next, and the quality helmet makers have gone to great lengths to give their customers the best protection available.

In fact, one of the first things to look for when buying a helmet is to see if it meets one of the two performance ratings (these are stitched on the inside of the shell and on the box). The first is the Department of Transportation rating that shows the helmet meets a certain set of standards as a legal helmet for street and off-road use. The Snell rating signifies that the helmet goes beyond the DOT standards and can withstand even harder blows.

Most automobile, ATV, and motorcycle racers demand nothing less than a Snell rating for their headgear. Of course, the higher-quality Snell helmets are going to cost more, but you should still find plenty choices that are reasonably priced.

Now let’s face it, as with most anything that we wear, looks are an important part of the buying process. Fortunately, the style and color choices from the various manufacturers are immense. Start your new helmet search by choosing several helmet styles and colors in your price range and then begin to compare features.

Another important helmet decision is whether you want a full-face or open-face helmet. Before full-face helmets came onto the market in the early 1970s, dirt bike riders fashioned plastic mouthguards that strapped onto the bottom of the helmet. The full-face helmet eliminated the need for mouth guards and virtually all racers embraced the full-face concept by the start of the 1980s. Off-highway vehicle riders today buy considerably more full-face helmets than open-face (full-face helmets are not necessarily more expensive). And common sense says why not have the extra protections of a full-face helmet (your chin and teeth are pretty vulnerable in an open-face helmet). Full-face helmets combined with goggles also offer much better protection against the elements than open-face helmets.

The type of ATV riders who may choose an open face are typically those who utilize their quads for work or other outdoor recreations, such as hunting, fishing, ranching, or construction. Being able to have easy access to their face while wearing their helmet and having the added visibility is a plus. Also, the chance of having a tough spill is simply not as great as that for a trail rider or racer.

There are also other features you should be aware of while checking out helmets. First off, check for air vents that can be opened or closed for hot or cold weather. Then compare the weights (a lighter helmet is much more comfortable during a long day of riding). You should also check the construction of the visor for durability.

You may want a visor that is adjustable to your taste. Many folks who don’t ride assume that a visor on an ATV helmet is used to keep the sun out of your eyes like a baseball cap, but the primary purpose of a visor is so a rider can duck and protect his face from the dirt roost being thrown by the rider in front of him!

Getting a helmet that fits right is important for two reasons: 1) a proper fit is much more effective in a mishap, and 2) you’ll want to wear it all the time because it’s comfortable! The best way to check fit is of course to simply try a lot of helmets on. Also be aware that a medium size in one brand may be more similar to a small in another. Some of the higher-end helmets are sold in more precise sizes such as 7 1/4 or 8.

The perfect fit for a helmet is as snug as you can get it while still being comfortable. You should not be able to easily insert a finger between your forehead and the helmet lining. Similarly, the padding of a full-face helmet should press lightly against your cheeks, but here you are much more likely to insert a finger or two. With the helmet in place, try to rotate it without turning your head. If the helmet turns significantly on your head (especially if it turns enough to interfere with your vision), it is too loose and you should try the next size down. If the next size down is too tight, consider trying another brand, as each helmet manufacturer has fairly unique shell shapes. Without tightening the chinstraps, shake your head briskly from left to right a few times. The helmet should follow your head and not come out of place. Same goes if you move your head up and down quickly.

Now try the retention strap system. You should be able to easily strap on the helmet you choose. Once the strap is snug, grab the helmet with both hands and move it around vigorously. Your head should be moving with the helmet.

If you’re going to be wearing glasses with your helmet, make sure you try them on at this time as well. You may need a slightly looser fit in the side of your temples.

Helmet Care

With helmets, most feature removable liners that can be thrown into the washing machine. But to stay on the safe side, don't throw this liner into the dryer; instead let it air dry. If the liner isn't removable, clean it with soap and water. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn't use any solvents on any helmet materials-the styrofoam inner liner can easily get melted, ruining the most important part of the helmet.

If you know you are going to be riding in muddy conditions, you can make the chore of cleaning the outer shell much easier by applying a thin coat of WD-40 or Armor-All before you go riding.