Whether you're planning to hit the road, trail or track on a motorcycle, ATV or snowmobile, one of the most important pieces of gear you can get is a good helmet.
The choices have never been greater, with options that allow you to pick a helmet that works for your sport, what you ride and the way you ride it. From retro-styled half motorcycle helmet to radical ultra-light full-face competition motorcycle helmet with extreme graphics, the range of headgear covers just about any need. Prices can fit most budgets too, running from under $100 to over $800.
There are some important helmet safety standards to know a little about. Helmets that meet the various standards display a designation on the back or inside the helmet lining. Helmets that don't display a designation probably have not been submitted for compliance testing and probably aren't worth buying no matter how cheap. Helmets by reputable manufacturers also generally display the manufacturer's name, date of manufacture, size, model, and material information.
In general, each set of standards evaluates things like impact protection capabilities and penetration protection of the shell, coverage provided by the design, and retention (strap) strength. Unfortunately, each set of standards is different, making comparisons on performance difficult, but in any case, a helmet approved by any of the recognized standard-setting organizations is more likely to be effective than a helmet that isn't.
While no set of standards is necessarily proven better than any of the others for any given sport or type of helmet, it may be important to know which approvals a helmet has if you plan to use it for competition (a helmet can hold more than one approval) because some race sanctioning bodies allow only certain approvals. For example, one sanctioning body may allow only Snell Foundation approved headgear, while another allows DOT, ECE, or Snell.
DOT stands for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which enforces Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Standard 218 applies to safety helmets sold in the U.S. The Snell Memorial Foundation is a private, non-profit organization that has been looking at helmet safety since 1957. Snell's standards are updated every five years, with its latest edition being M2010.