The fact that you should even wear a helmet is a subject of a lot of controversy in many parts of the world. But whichever side you are on, you cannot overshadow the fact that wearing a helmet increases the chances of a rider surviving a crash by two or three times! [Source]
This is especially true in mountain biking. Whether it is for a downhill sprint, enduro, or even the casual trail riding, most MTB helmets come in the open face or the full face variety with full coverage of sides and back of the skull and some with a chin bumper.
But, why should you wear a full-face helmet?
Generally, a hardcore biker performing in an enduro or downhill riding would prefer a full-face helmet for the added safety it provides. But trying to get maximum safety, especially in biking where crashes are more prevalent, is common sense.
But we can argue that if you are a casual biker or are just starting off, then you do not need to get full face support for your helmet as you will be riding on a safer path with heightened awareness. But having the extra layer of protection doesn’t hurt.
So, let us begin our discussion on why you should be getting a full-face helmet to take biking with a generalized pros and cons list:
Pros of a Full Face Helmet
- The biggest and the most obvious pro of the full face is its ability to protect the chin and the face. Though it doesn’t make you immortal, what it does do is significantly reduces the impact that your face experiences in the event of a crash. Lower impact means low injuries. There may be bruises and bumps, but no broken bones.
- The other type of protection the full-face helmet provides is protection from the elements. Namely the sun, wind, rain, cold, noise, that stray stone kicked up by the rider ahead and not to mention bugs. Nothing worse than a face full of bugs on your way down the trail, is there?
- You will not have the need to wear sunglasses if your full-face helmet comes with a tinted visor. The tint also can act as a disguise if you require anonymity.
- One other advantage that we can talk about is comfort. To some users, wearing a full-face helmet will provide a comfortable “cocooned” feeling of isolation. It can be less fatiguing for longer trips as the helmet will provide protection from the sun and the other forces of nature.
Cons of a Full Face Helmet
- The first obvious con that comes with the full-face helmet is its bulkiness. Especially if they are new to wearing a full face or come from wearing an open face helmet. The bulk and the weight of this helmet needs some time to get used to.
- With added protection comes an added price. Full face helmets tend to be a bit more expensive than their other counterparts. You also have to note that helmets are not created equal. You have to pick and choose your level of price and comfort.
- Another downside to having your head fully covered is the isolation you will feel from your surroundings. For some people, it is a deal-breaker. Wearing a full-face helmet can be stifling, and for people suffering from claustrophobia, it is a big no-no.
- Speaking of stifling, on a hot day a full face tends to get pretty hot. Standing stationary will only build up heat, so you have to keep on moving to keep the helmet ventilating and pull the temperature down. This can prove to be dangerous sometimes.
- A full-face helmet does lower your field of vision somewhat, but it is not as important as using the MTB you will be riding on an off-road trail or downhill where your focus should be ahead.
➥ Read more: Full face vs open face helmet MTB
It may seem that the number of cons outweighs the pros, but you have to understand that most of the disadvantages highlighted are strictly a quality of life downside. It only takes a moment to pay the price of irresponsibility and change your life completely.
The Math Behind the Crash
It doesn’t matter how skilled you think yourself to be, accidents and crashes will happen. Let us revisit some high school topics to give a clearer picture of what actually happens in an event of a crash. And yes, math is involved.
The following graphic, originally created in 2008 by Dr. Dietmar Otte, summarizes the impact zones a helmet goes through on average in case of a crash. [Source]
We can observe that most often people land against the chin bar despite the type of crashes that people are involved in. And also, most of the impact occurs on the front half of the helmet.
The Physics of Falling
The typical distance of the person’s head from the ground is between 5 to 6 feet, depending on how they are seated, or higher if they are looking to “catch some Gs” on their MTBs.
Your head reaches an approximate maximum of 11.6 mph from this position to the ground in case of a crash. [Source]
According to the formula above, the amount of Gravitational Force (Gs) that is generated and transmitted through the helmet, with all its layers of protection, and into one’s head is quite staggering
Organizations like the SNELL Foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Act (DOT) of the States have performed their own crash tests which can be seen in the following chart:
From the chart, we can observe that as velocity rises to 10 meters per second from 4, the Gs experienced by the helmet can go beyond 100, and even above 300.
Keeping the graphic of the impact zones and the calculation in mind, it’s easy to imagine what a crash would do to someone’s face if it was left unprotected.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Is a full-face helmet required?
Ans.: If you are looking to perform in an Enduro or ride downhill on your MTB, then yes, you do require a full-face helmet. But if you are just looking to ride along a trail or are a beginner to mountain biking and looking to start slow, then it is not necessarily required. But it is better to be safe than sorry.
Q2. Can you wear glasses with a full-face helmet?
Ans.: Yes, a full-face helmet does have enough space to allow you to use glasses. But if you are looking to just protect your eyes from the sun, then consider getting a helmet with a tinted visor, if your area allows full-face cover.
Q3. Why are full-face helmets so expensive?
Ans.: The added safety of a full-face helmet will come with an added price. More so if the helmet also focuses on user comfort. The safety and comfort can be broken down into parts that give these features, and these extra parts come with a price tag. It is better to invest in a $200 helmet than getting slapped with a $1000 medical bill.
Whether you are a beginner or a professional, taking the extra safety measure only helps you out in the long run. But that doesn’t make you invulnerable. Overconfidence can be as dangerous as having no protective gear on you. That said, if you are looking to maximize your safety when you are out there on your bike, consider taking a full-face helmet along for the ride.