How SHARP is Your Motorcycle Helmet?

12 December 2016

Wearing motorcycle helmets in the UK is compulsory for the riders of motorcycles, scooters or mopeds, both for the rider and any pillion passengers. It is against the law to ride on a motorcycle, moped or scooter without a helmet, (unless you are a follower of the Sikh religion and are wearing a turban).

The law states that you must wear a safety helmet that meets British Safety Standards when riding a motorcycle, moped or scooter on the road.

Motorcycle helmets must meet one of the following standards:

  • British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI Kitemark
  • UNECE Regulation 22.05
  • A European Economic Area member standard offering at least the same safety and protection as BS 6658:1985, and carry a mark equivalent to the BSI Kitemark.

Whilst there may be varying attitudes to helmets in the USA (some States have compulsory helmet laws and others do not), in the UK it is accepted that serious head injuries and deaths as a result of a head injury are far less likely if the person is wearing a helmet.

There are countless helmets to choose from on the market, ranging from full face helmets, flip-up helmets and open helmets with prices ranging significantly from tens of pounds to many hundreds of pounds for race replicas. Choosing the right motorcycle helmet can be a daunting experience for anyone new to motorcycling but also for those “born again” bikers who had limited choices of helmet (aka “lid”) when originally riding.

Motorcycle helmets are chosen for a wide variety of reasons including style, brand, price and colour.

Motorbike helmets are made from a variety of materials including carbon fibre, composite, fiberglass and thermoplastic with the most expensive usually being of carbon fibre construction and the least expensive usually being of thermoplastic construction.

Weight is another key factor with Carbon fibre helmets generally being lighter and thermoplastic helmets generally the heavier. Differences in weight are not significant for the average biker but may be important for those wishing to take part in track days. In terms of protection there is no hard and fast rule as to which construction provides the best protection as some thermoplastic helmets perform just as well as the carbon fibre helmets.

In addition, there are a host of other factors such as comfort, noise protection and construction quality which are just as important to the average biker as looks, price, brand and safety.

The problem faced by most bikers is that there is a considerable amount of choice and information on helmets, not all of which is independent or reputable.


The Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) initiative was launched in 2007 by the Department for Transport. Their remit was to ensure consumers had a reputable source of information, providing clear advice on how to select a helmet that fits correctly and is comfortable, and also provides consumers with clear, impartial and objective information about the relative safety of motorcycle helmets available to riders in the UK. The SHARP website contains good general advice and guidance for motorcyclists on what to look for and give safety ratings on individual helmets.

New Motorcycle Helmet Ratings 2016

On 16 September 2016 new helmet ratings were publish by SHARP. It is extremely important to ensure that any helmet you choose fits correctly, because as the SHARP website states even the safest helmet will not help if it comes off in an accident.

3 SHARP Tips for Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

  • Have your head correctly measured.
  • Try the helmet on to ensure it fits properly, feels comfortable and there is no adverse movement.
  • Apply the chin strap and ensure you can fit two fingers between it and your chin.

A motorcycle helmet is compulsory for riders and is usually the most expensive item bought after the bike itself. Most bikers keep their helmets far too long usually only replacing it when it has been dropped or fallen into a state of disrepair.

However, SHARP suggests that motorcycle helmets have a lifespan of around 5 years with those more frequently used being recommended for replacement every 3 years. Looking after your helmet is essential and ensuring it is clean, well stored, away from heat sources and never stored on its “crown”. More importantly, customisation of helmets may be popular but if carried out with the wrong materials and in the wrong manner may weaken it, and so SHARP recommend that this is only undertaken by professionals.

Choosing the right helmet can be difficult, as there is a lot of confusing information and wading through this can be daunting. However, relying on the local oracle in the pub, various bike forums or your mates may not be the best way either. We recommend you check-out SHARP as a great starting point: safe riding!

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