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Motorcycle Helmets

Updated on June 27, 2008

A motorcycle helmet is a type of protective headgear used by motorcycle riders. The primary goal is safety of the rider, to protect the head during impact, thus preventing or reducing head injury or saving the rider's life.

Some helmets provide additional conveniences, such as face shields, ventilation, ear protection, intercom etc. Helmets can have some inconveniences, such as being hot, heavy, or itchy.

History of the Helmet

The first motorcycle was reported to have been invented by Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. As the motorcycles weren't built for speed helmets weren't used.

Between 1931 and 1953, the American race for the fastest motorcycle was run by two competitors - Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycles. But as the speed of motorcycles increased, so did the number of accident fatalities. It was only then that University of Southern California (USC) Professor C.F. "Red" Lombard developed a helmet designed to absorb the shock of an impact. Along with the layer of comfort padding in a helmet, it also had an outer layer of padding that not only absorbed, but spread out the energy created by impact.

In 1953, Lombard applied for a patent for his helmet. Development of the modern-day motorcycle helmet progressed following Lombard's design.

Design and Function

The conventional helmet has two principal protective components:

A thin, hard, outer shell typically made from polycarbonate plastic, fiberglass, or Kevlar. This is used to prevent penetration of the helmet by a pointed object that might otherwise puncture the skull and to provide structure to the inner liner so it does not disintegrate upon abrasive contact with pavement.

A soft, thick, inner liner usually made of expanded polystyrene or polypropylene foam. The foam liner is to crush during an impact, thereby increasing the distance and period of time over which the head stops and reducing its deceleration. It also improves comfort for the rider.


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      terry 6 years ago

      I think some studies have suggested that helmets may protect against facial injury but they have no effect on neck injury, more research is required for a conclusive answer.

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      jbear 9 years ago

      Thank you for a great presentation of helmet dynamics. Also, a good history lesson. Is motorcycling a big event in New Zealand?

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      Ajlouny 9 years ago

      Thanks for this enlightening article. But I have to say, those half shell helmets, do you think they really protect you? Your chin is exposes. I think it's a good way to lose half your face if your in an accident.

    • Tommy B profile image

      Tommy B 9 years ago

      I love this article. Very interesting and fun to read. I liked reading about the history of helmets. Helmets are great you should always wear one for head protection

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      Luisa 9 years ago

      An interesting topic that usually goes overlooked. The information was very useful. We learned about Kevlar and polypropylene in a design class last year, so it is exciting to read about the materials’ many uses. What I liked most was the simplicity of the article and how the information was presented in a direct yet fun way. Good job.

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      Doodlebug 9 years ago

      I enjoyed the article. It was well written, and I have always been passionate about the topic of wearing helmets when on our bikes. The history and evolution of the helmets was a fascinating read well presented.