Race helmets represent decades of development, designed to create an advantage in a world where one thousandth of a second separates failure and glory.
Not always the most practical choice on the road, race lids are light, airy and come in eyecatching designs. Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice…
Race helmets usually have shells made from a composite of fibres impregnated with resin to create the required stiffness. Materials like carbon, kevlar and fibreglass are the most common, with the first two being lighter than fibreglass. As well as being lighter than plastic, fibres can be arranged to help manage the way impact forces are distributed in an accident.
Shell shapes are finely tuned on race helmets to help racers’ heads slice cleanly through the air at high speed. Many manufacturers add spoilers to the rear of the helmet, which helps the air flow cleanly off the back and reduce buffeting to a minimum. Computer design allows ventilation holes to be positioned where the most air will flow inside to cool your head.
Virtually every race helmet comes with D-rings to fasten the strap. Most racers feel more secure with this method rather than a quick-release one, although they are both subjected to the same test as part of the safety approval process. It’s also easier to finetune the fit of a strap that’s fastened with D-rings – and, compared to the faff of preparing a bike for a race, fiddling with D-rings is a mere trifle.
You won’t find an internal sun visor in a race helmet, as they add too much weight and un-necessary complexity. A racer will carry a choice of visors and fit the one that suits the race conditions. A helmet with a simple and secure visor changing method is always best, as you may want to swap in a hurry before a race or trackday session.
Riding hard on track expends a lot of energy and can create a lot of sweat. This will soak into the comfort lining and can be a bit uncomfortable when it’s time to put the lid back on. Using sweat-wicking material to cover the foam lining helps it dry quickly and make life more comfortable when you next need the lid.
The most effective form of protection against visor fogging is a Pinlock insert or similar, but this can hinder vision and upset racers. Most dark-tinted race visors have an effective anti-fog coating and the Pinlock insert is generally reserved for the clear visor for use in gloomy, wet races. Heavy breathers might still want a Pinlock insert on their dark visor to prevent fogging.
Field of vision is crucial in a race helmet, where the ability to see what’s going on around you is vital. As well as width, depth is important. When tucked in behind a bike’s screen you need to be able to lift your eyes and see something other than the brim of your helmet. More modern lids have extended the aperture for improved forward vision. The other way to improve your vision is to…
…buy the right size
If a helmet is too big it will sit low on your head and restrict your forward vision when tucked in. Check our guide on how to get the right fit of helmet. For track riding it’s better to have a helmet a little on the tight side, as you’re likely to be riding in short blasts rather than on extended missions.
If it’s for track use, you’ll need an ACU Gold sticker to ride on British circuits. This shows it passes the minimum road standard and a selection of other tests conducted on behalf of the Auto Cycle Union (ACU), which is Britain’s governing body for motorcycle racing. If you want to race in Ireland, a helmet cannot be more than five years old so check it has a label indicating its date of manufacture.