Here are the best helmets for going wild on the hog
Motorcycles are the perfect salve for consumers feeling like they don't have the stomach to face Chrysler and GM showrooms at the moment. They're exciting to ride, they get incredible gas mileage and they can flit through traffic with ease.
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But there's no denying that they can be dangerous. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number of deaths per mile traveled on motorcycles is 35 times greater than the number of deaths in cars. More than 5,000 people die in motorcycle crashes annually, according to the Department of Transportation.
In Depth: High-Tech Motorcycle Helmets
The key for the 25 million Americans who rode last year, says Honda ( HMC - news - people ) Motorcycle spokesman Bill Savino, is to learn how to ride and dress properly. That's where helmets like the Arai Quantum and Shoei X-Eleven come in. They're ultra-comfortable to wear, have the widest range of vision and offer enough ventilation to prevent sweat-sogged hair on that late afternoon cruise. That pretty much makes them the best helmets any rider can buy.
Behind the Numbers
Our list of the best motorcycle helmets comes from data provided by J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing firm based in Westlake Village, Calif. It measured satisfaction levels by asking 4,600 riders about their helmets' ventilation, face-shield and design and styling, which includes quietness, air flow, de-fogging, ability to keep wind out, ease of replacing the face shield, scratch resistance, color/graphic design, weight, strap fit and comfort.
Safety results weren't tabulated for this particular survey--it focused only on customer satisfaction.
New motorcycle sales in the U.S. in the last year were 1.08 million; more than 10.4 million Americans own one, up 58% since 1998, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. The recently passed 10% federal tax credit for electric motorcycles will surely add to their numbers.
Helmets reduce the risk of death for motorcycle riders by 37%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and they are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries during a crash. But they aren't a one-size-fits-all issue. A helmet like the Icon Airframe excels in the design and ventilation categories, while Harley Davidson received perfect scores for the quality of its face shields.
How to choose? The helmet depends, in large part, on the type of motorcycle with which it pairs.
Match the Bike with the Helmet
Specific helmets apply to specific bike models because of the varied riding styles and seating positions required for each, says Tim Fox, account manager of the powersports group for J.D. Power and Associates.
"Half, or shorty, helmets are essentially the ones that you see a lot of cruiser-bike-type riders wearing," Fox says. "The guys riding the sport bikes that go close to 200 miles an hour are all wearing full-face helmets."
First-time motorcycle buyers are the most price-conscious of any riders when it comes to purchasing a helmet, Fox says. They tend to want something as light and unobtrusive as possible--something like the retro $167 Shoei ST-Cruz, which costs much less than a full-blown, speed-racer hat like the $350 Scorpion EXO-1000 Apollo or $608 X-Eleven.
The choice is more a function of inexperience than thrift, Fox says.
"Older riders move more into the touring bikes, which are the ones that have the saddlebags in the back seats and the stereos. Those are the guys really that understand what they want in a helmet."
In other words, they want a helmet that's good enough to offer protection, but doesn't ruin the riding experience.
Still, the question of wearing a helmet is not without debate. Some enthusiasts say helmets block their peripheral vision; others claim helmets don't prevent against some brain injuries--or can even increase injuries because of the additional weight they put on the neck. Still more say no government mandate should dictate to them about how to ride their bike.
But numerous government studies have shown that helmets save hundreds of lives each year. Oregon, Nebraska, Texas, Washington and California all saw motorcycle fatality reductions of 15% to 37% after they enacted helmet laws, according to NHTSA data. It's tough to argue against numbers like that.
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