If you own an ATV, dirt bike, snowmobile, or other toy, you should own a helmet and use it. Let me make this easy for you. How much is your life worth? Simple question, isn’t it? If you don’t wear a helmet, you’re gambling with your life.

I know, you’re used to me being a little less intense with my articles, but it’s one thing I’m pretty particular about. Yeah, I’ve ridden without a helmet before, and sometimes it’s just easier when you’re going slow or for something short to just hop in and go, but really, wear a helmet. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

My first experience with how important helmets are happened during my high school years, many moons ago. I was riding my ATV all over the place on a system of trails that were made from converted railroad tracks. A washout caused my front end to bounce straight up sharply and I lost my balance. The rear tire caught my foot and I was pulled under the machine, which then came down on me, slamming my head into the ground. The ground was, unfortunately, made of the ground rock they used for the railway system. If not for the Bell helmet I was wearing, I would have been toast. As it was, I had a mild concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and some serious cuts and bruises.

I have a few more of these stories, but I think you see my point. No one sets out thinking they are going to need a helmet that day. Even motocross racers don’t expect to crash. Here are some helmet basics to acquaint yourself with when you’re looking to protect your noggin.

Helmets for off-roading often work best when complimented with a good pair of goggles, like these Oakley Airbrakes.
Helmets for off-roading often work best when complimented with a good pair of goggles, like these Oakley Airbrakes.

The money factor

Helmets come in a lot of different price ranges and you have to determine what you’re willing to spend. All helmets are not created equal.

A company well-known for making quality headgear had a slogan a while ago that has stuck with me for years: “If you have a ten dollar head, wear a ten dollar helmet.” Here’s the thing, while having a helmet on, any helmet is somewhat better than not having one, there is a reason to think about spending more than just $20 on a special on the internet. Lets look at the basic construction of a helmet.

  • Shell: The outer shell of the helmet is what takes an impact. It is hard and can be made of many different materials. Shells of lower-end helmets are usually some form of a plastic/resin material. Other materials available include fiberglass and carbon fiber and Kevlar weaves (the same kind of stuff they have in body armor and bulletproof vests), like the F2 Carbon from Fly Racing.
  • Core: This is the part of the helmet that absorbs and disperses an impact’s force. The true test of a helmet is how the force of an impact is dispersed. A helmet’s core is usually made from a styrofoam/fiber material. A good helmet that works as it is supposed to in a crash will show signs of stress to the core radiating from the source of the impact. In other words, the foam will be stressed and impacted throughout the entire helmet, not just where the initial impact occurred. This is why after every single accident you need to have your helmet inspected and possibly replaced.
  • Liner: This is the part of the helmet that goes against your head. On most helmets, it is removable for cleaning. The liner usually has some amount of adjustment to make the helmet fit you correctly.
Look for the sticker to tell you what certifications the helmet carries.
Look for the sticker to tell you what certifications the helmet carries.

DOT, Snell, and more

Helmets all have some level of certification, which you’ll find with a sticker at the back. The Department of Transportation (DOT) certifies that the helmet meets the minimum safety requirements to be sold in the United States.

Snell is another common rating. The Snell foundation formed in 1957 after the accidental death of Pete Snell in an auto racing accident. The foundation independently updates and revising its safety standards every five years and tests every aspect of a helmet, from the chinstrap to impact tests from just about every angle.

There are other standards of testing that manufacturers adhere to depending on which brand you’re looking at. The important thing to do is make sure the helmet you’re buying has some form of certification and that it is a new helmet. Used helmets, even those where you’re pretty sure of the history of the helmet, are never a worthwhile gamble.

Put on a damn helmet

A helmet’s fit is very important. When you put a helmet on, it shouldn’t be too snug. It needs to be comfortable, but not too loose. An old-school test is simply to put the helmet on and then shake your head. The helmet should not keep moving when you stop.

Little ones need helmets most of all. Make sure you do your diligence and purchase a good one!
Little ones need helmets most of all. Make sure you do your due diligence and purchase a good one!

Some helmets have some adjustable padding that helps them form to fit. That’s fine and all, but never, ever removing padding to make it fit better!

If you have an accident and thump your helmet-covered head, you need to have the helmet inspected. It may look fine on the outside, but the core may be compacted. Once that core is compacted, the helmet loses ability to protect you. I once had a helmet that I was wearing when I had a minor deviation from riding. My head made what I thought was a small impact with the branch of a tree. I figured I was fine. No headache and the outside of the helmet looked ok, just a little scratched. A couple of days later I took out the liner to wash it as it had been hot and I was sweating a lot. That’s when I saw the core was cracked from the accident.

I know helmets can be a pain. They can also be pretty expensive, but how much is your life worth? I have a helmet for every member of my family and as much as they cost, they are worth every penny!

Images by Derrek Sigler

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