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Safety versus visability versus comfort


Pat Buzzard

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Pat Buzzard

I am somewhat of a contradiction. While I am a firm believer in ATGATT YET I still prefer an open face helmet for most of my summer riding. I own a slew of helmets so it's not that I don't have a comfortable, quality close face helmet, but there's something about feeling the wind and sun on my face. There's also the advantage that with my open face I can glance down, without moving my head, and see all the pertinent information on my gauge cluster. I know intuitively that if I crash while riding open-face my entire face is likely going to be messed up, but that still doesn't deter me. That being said, for long trips, or trips through unfamiliar urban areas, I usually go with the closed face. It just feels more secure. I guess I choose my helmet based on my perception of enjoyment versus risk. I would love to hear any other thoughts on this issue, or especially feed back from anyone that has survived a crash in an open face. Is an open face better than nothing, or merely an illusion of safety we are deluding ourselves with?

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Paul Mihalka

I have personal experience with open-face and full-face. I had one crash where looking at my full-face helmet, it's clear that without it my face would have been a mess. I had a crash where looking at the helmet body, I know without the helmet I wouldn't be writing this. I had a crash (killed a deer) with a open-face helmet, with face shield down. After the crash first I didn't know how I got that bad blister on my upper lip. Then seeing the face shield, I saw the scratches and the hot melting spots on the shield. Conclusion, any helmet is safer than no helmet, and you make your own personal choice. In the end you make your own choice somewhere between t-shirt/shorts and medieval steel armor, and that choice can vary from day to day.

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ConstructCrashPhoto-599x268.jpg

 

Number represent impact areas by percentage.

 

No image because no one want to look at horrible road rash and bones

 

helmet use and head/facial injuries

doesn't differentiate between helmet type, but common sense would indicate facial injuries higher with open face helmet.

 

TBI rate higher.

 

Not to mention debis, soot, insects, cigs/embers etc.

 

Possible loss of vision, even short term from object hitting eye.

 

Sun exposure, melanoma.

 

Need more?

 

 

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Joe Frickin' Friday
Possible loss of vision, even short term from object hitting eye.

 

I think the law in most (all?) states requires some sort of eye protection - so even with an open-face (or no) helmet, you're still supposed to be wearing some kind of glasses. That said, I suspect most people who go with glasses as their sole eye protection aren't using real ANSI Z87.1-compliant safety glasses, so an impact with a significant foreign object could end badly.

 

Several years ago my wife and I rented a GL1800. Our helmets were FF, but because the Goldwing's windscreen is the size of a barn door, we kept our helmet visors up and enjoyed a nice quiet ride with gentle breezes. I would think an open-face helmet combined with a small or nonexistent windscreen on the bike would be overwhelming for anything more than a very short ride. I can't imagine doing a 600-mile day under those circumstances.

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NC doesn't require eye protection.

 

I have a Scorpion EXO 900. For the warmer times, I convert the helmet into a 3/4 face helmet. I keep the shield in the side case for the rainy weather, cause raindrops sting at 75.

 

To each their own in what they desire to wear. We all weigh our own risks.

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Pat, you're not a contradiction. You're like everybody else: your "firm" belief in "All The Gear All The Time" isn't perfectly firm or comprehensive. You sometimes accept a higher risk profile because it pleases you. We all do this whether it's riding with an open-faced helmet (or none at all), wearing jeans or sneakers instead of armored pants or riding boots, etc.

 

As long as you're mindful of your choices and don't let your self-justifications cloud your vision, I think that's fine.

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.... but there's something about feeling the wind and sun on my face.

 

The original reason I began wearing a helmet (Illinois at the time) was because the more non helmet wearing riders I met the more weathered faces I saw, not to mention the split ends in their hair.

Since an open face helmet doesn't protect my skin from the debris in the air I went to a shielded helmet and then a full face. I can attest to the protection offered by a full face helmet in a get off.

 

I love riding, but I don't want to look like a riding hag.

Helmet hair is cool :)

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I lean towards the comfort side when riding. Less confinement, better vision, hearing and flexibility offers a better chance to avoid the crash in the first place.

If I crash hard enough to split my face open, I will have other major issues too. Statistically, the big one won't happen and hasn't happened to me.

If it does, it's been fun.

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Used to ride on a paramedic squad and have a great respect for full helmet protection. So as a compromise I always wear the full face helmet with the shield up and in fact use painter's tape on it and use it as a sun visor. With sunglasses and earplugs - the wind feels great. Compromise yes, but suits me. Life is too short not to roll the dice if it makes you feel good.

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John Bentall

I find it strange the the OP only mentions open-face and full-face. There are other options such as the off-road-biased helmets - Arai XD4, for example - there are the open-face helmets with detachable chin-bar - the Schuberth J-1 http://www.schuberthmotorcyclehelmets.co.uk/j1.htm (may not be imported into the US) and a variety of convertible helmets (Nolan N43, Givi X.01).

 

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I lean towards the comfort side when riding. Less confinement, better vision, hearing and flexibility offers a better chance to avoid the crash in the first place.

If I crash hard enough to split my face open, I will have other major issues too. Statistically, the big one won't happen and hasn't happened to me.

If it does, it's been fun.

 

Bob, I might question the "better vision" concept.

Riding down a Texas freeway at 85ish, full face w/visor down, versus open face?

I've seen too many open face helmet riders with their faces distorted by the wind and eyes bulging and blinking to buy that.

There are bikes with windscreens that creat a still air pocket, but doesn't that defeat the concept of wind in the face provided by an open facer?

YMMV

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I rode "open face" for about 4 years before purchasing a full face. One week after riding with the full face, my riding buddy cut me off (unintentional) and I landed face first into a rock. The 3 deep gouges in my chin guard gave me a shiver as to what might have been if I'd had the open face on.

 

Two years ago when I had my "road incident" and high-sided I landed (you guessed it) on my face.

 

Riding with an open face makes me feel very exposed and there is no way I will ride that way again. But, to each their own. Just hope my two experiences may help you to "save face" some day. :/

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Spent lots of hours on tracks and seen a few chin bars on those FF models cracked from impacts. Take another look at those drawings showing where hits happen- they're on target. Those cracked chin bars I've seen would be smashed jaws and teeth otherwise.

 

I've never personally done any sort of rigorous crash testing of my helmets- my offs have been limited to low sides on dirt bikes and rare brushes with tire walls and someone elses sheet metal in cars- nothing very noteworthy. I prefer to learn from someone else's mistakes rather than my own when possible.

 

The only time I use other than full face is in a car at an autocross where I need to look down and out the side window. Otherwise, car on track or bike, its a suitable FF model.

 

But hey- folks who smoke generally believe its the other guy who will get cancer or have the heart attack. Same logic..

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During college days in Florida I rode open face and glasses. I found that I had to turn my face just so to keep my eyes from watering so badly I couldn't see.

 

I now ride ATGATT on a K75 and a 96 RT. On the RT I keep the windshield down except in heavy rain. Being 6'4" I get the wind buffet and the bugs. I have a 3/4 for the 2 up and J&M intercom microphone, but ride with a modular FF when alone. I was on the K75 ATGATT when I took a spill. I walked away with only gouges on the modular chin and face shield. The bike was trucked home.

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Is an open face better than nothing, or merely an illusion of safety we are deluding ourselves with?

I would say yes and yes. I think one of the reasons it's so hard to do a risk assessment as a rider is that we know a part of the risk is not under our control. A little spilled diesel in a shadow area of a bend in the road can result in a serious accident. This is why I really do ATGATT, no exceptions, because I feel that as a rider what is under my control to enhance my safety, I should do. So no open face helmet, jeans, riding w/o gloves for me.

 

What also makes it difficult to assess our risk is the fact that as humans we have no reference for the pain caused by a fall on our face from a motorcycle. For about 4 million years we lived in a world with only ourselves for tranportation and the fastest we could go was about 20 miles p/h. At that speed we can easily imagine how much it would hurt to run into a tree, but riding with no helmet or an open face one does not trigger any warning bells in our lizard brain.

 

Lastly I think comfortable is something we can make an effort to be. As long as you switch between closed and open helmet, the open one will always feel more comfortable, but if you only use the closed one it will become a lot more comfortable after a while than it is now.

 

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Francois_Dumas

I only have one helmet... and it's a Schubert flip-up. I keep it closed 99% of the time. Flip it up when stationary in hot weather, or getting gas at the pump ;)

 

Then again, we fortunately do not live in Florida...... or worse !

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From a child to an Adult I have all ways warn a Helmet simply because it was mandatory here in Ontario. Spent many years in Moto-cross and 1/2 flat track. Now that Michigan has changed the helmet law, my friends want to go to MI and ride with out a lid! A few years ago when I was at Daytona 500 I went on a short ride down I4 and was after a few miles with out my helmet on, I turned around and went right back because.... Scared the hell out of me when I was cut off by a white haired lady.

I just cant change now, and now looking for a comfortable flip up.

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SteveHebert

+1 on the Schuberth J1. I plan to purchase one when I get home for good. Not imported in the US but can be bought on the internet for around $400. My buddy rides with one and loves it.

 

We rented a Harlet last fall and had the 3/4 helmet with visor. No face shield bu I always have sunglasses. Along with the Ultra Classic wind screen, the ride was very quiet and got me thinking about the 3/4 with shield option, thus the J1 search began.

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...better vision...

 

From smarter-usa.org:

 

"Helmets do not hinder peripheral vision or contribute to crashes. Normal peripheral vision is approximately 180 degrees, and federal safety standards require that helmets provide 210 degrees of vision. Over 90 percent of crashes happen within a range of 160 degrees (with the majority of the remainder occurring from directly behind)."

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I ride most of the time with my full-face helmet. I have an open face 3/4 helmet that I use for a few weeks in the heat of the summer, but only for my short commute to work from home. (I take a no highway speed, low traffic route.)

 

I just don't feel fully safe w/out a FF helmet on, but when it's 95 F in the shade, the full helmet is a real sauna.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm right there with you. I had an open faced helmet and then did a ride to Sturgis in 2010. My lower face was terribly sunburned, even with sunscreen. I replaced it with a cheap modular which I really liked. I replaced that with my Schuberth which is awesome. I tell myself ATGATT, but yesterday it was hot as blazes. I had to run some errands around town and suited up with my jeans, boots and a long sleeved t-shirt. I know, I know. It does make me slow down a bit and take more time.

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Even though I live in Florida I still wear a full face year around. In the spring and summer you start to sweat the moment you put the thing on, but here in Florida spring and summer are LOVE Bug season. I actually get a little satisfaction when I see the Harley guy with just sunglasses on and a face full of love bugs. I will take sweating any day...I just shouldn't have gotten the black RT.

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Even though I live in Florida I still wear a full face year around. In the spring and summer you start to sweat the moment you put the thing on, but here in Florida spring and summer are LOVE Bug season. I actually get a little satisfaction when I see the Harley guy with just sunglasses on and a face full of love bugs. I will take sweating any day...I just shouldn't have gotten the black RT.
Why feel sorry, maybe love bugs taste good. I have hit a few that did...and one that sticks in my memory as a good reason for full face and windshields...

 

Rod

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RichEdwards

Only went down once, in Mexico, and the full face helmet saved me from serious injury. The chin bar was heavily damaged but I was not. Gave away my open face helmets when I got home.

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I'm right there with you. I had an open faced helmet and then did a ride to Sturgis in 2010. My lower face was terribly sunburned, even with sunscreen. I replaced it with a cheap modular which I really liked. I replaced that with my Schuberth which is awesome. I tell myself ATGATT, but yesterday it was hot as blazes. I had to run some errands around town and suited up with my jeans, boots and a long sleeved t-shirt. I know, I know. It does make me slow down a bit and take more time.

 

 

Hot as blazes.

 

That is the time to wear mesh around here.

Better airflow than jeans by far, and much more protection.

YMMV

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  • 2 weeks later...
AdventurePoser

As long as you're mindful of your choices and don't let your self-justifications cloud your vision, I think that's fine.

 

Well said, Michael. Today I was out in a mesh jacket and jeans. Not a really long ride, but a modicum of comfort v protection seemed in order. It was 95 degrees...

 

Steve

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Interesting graphic, Tim. What is the source for it? I couldn't find it in the linked PDF.

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AdventurePoser
Only went down once, in Mexico, and the full face helmet saved me from serious injury. The chin bar was heavily damaged but I was not. Gave away my open face helmets when I got home.

 

I don't always crash, but when I do, I prefer a FF helmet, and being in Mexico! :clap:

 

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OP was commenting on vision and air flow between helmets and acknowlegding the difference in safety.

 

Riding now with FF and a shorter windshield. The current helmet I have allows a fair amount of air with the chin bar vent open and you can set the shield with a stopper moved up so it is cracked open on one side. Beyond that is the 1/4 crack that you can have with it almost down, so you can moderate airflow. It does tend to close at that setting once around 75.

 

A few things I have noticed. Newer helmets do have nicer visual abilities. If you don't feel you can adequately see out of a FF it may not fit right or be a style that limits vision based on your headshape and eye position.

 

That might be worth checking out to see if you can see optimally out of it.

 

Of course if something gets into your eyes from an OF helmet (or FF for that matter) you are riding impaired.

Even with wearing glasses, I am surprised at how much road grit gets blown into the helmet and eyes with just the 1/4 inch opening. Do take care of your eyes. Even something minor can scratch a cornea and leave you in pain on a trip and having to have it patched for 24 hrs.

 

If you want to experiment with more air flow, take a drill with perhaps a 3/8 inch, and old shield and begin to drill a series of holes in various places on it. Experiment then with covering some with tape and find the pattern of holes that gives you the airflow you desire without blowing into your eyes.

 

On a bike we all take risks as a vehicle we choose to drive. Whether out of ignorance, balancing risks, or a certain arrogance/self-assurance, it is the risks we choose to accept in our life. I think it is good to just make sure it is the risk we choose and not one we do because we are following the style/lead of someone or a group.

 

In the end, with all consideration of what is shared here and what you know, it is your choice and not right nor wrong. There will always be the IF ONLY statements about some event when it happens. "If only ....been wearing eye protection.... wearing a helmet, better helmet... ff helmet, some gear..ATGATT...hadn't had that beer (or 4) ... riding more alert... more defensive... had taken the car that day etc etc. The beers etc you might have effect me, so that I am kinda touchy on... The eye protection the same. I could say the others don't but it does affect us all as a result of health insurance costs, group insurance limitations, life insurance restrictions etc. So I would wish for you to ride in a way that controls for some risks more than others. Thank you all for that to those that do that.

 

It is your choice, make it without regret and then make it be the best one for you.

 

NCS

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PassinHarleys

I don't have a selection of helmets and I always wear it, I also wear custom earphones and play the i-pod for the majority of my riding. My life, my choice(s). The biggest annoyance in safety gear for me is gloves, I like my hands in the breeze, I like to feel every twitch of the grips. Do I know I should wear them, yes but I'm typing now, and after 20 or so years of riding I'm much more likely to continue to do it my way.

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Most professional racecar drivers wear a full-face helmet even in enclosed cars.

 

Most pro bike racers do, too, save for the motocross guys, I suspect simply because it wouldn't be cool otherwise.

 

You see very few full-face helmets on riders of scooters, too.

 

I do think you should take off a full-face helmet when you go into 7-11 or if you've a modular, flip it up.

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Paul Mihalka

Race car drivers and motorcycle racers wear full-face helmet not only because of safety but because it is the regulation.

I have a Nolan N102 flip-up and a Nolan N43 open face with a removable chin bar. N43 only for the hottest days. As far as leaving helmet on in a shop, I only do it when I filled up and go into the shop only to complete the pit stop.

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