If you have ever seen a street motorcycle helmet and an off road motocross helmet then you can clearly see there are glaring differences between the two. These differences are not only aesthetic but are specifically designed for the type of terrain that the rider will be traversing and at what speeds.
There are a ton of different helmet brands and helmet types on the market and they all fall into generally 3 categories, on road, off road, and crossover, also known as dual sport. I want to give you the differences between the on road and off road categories and let you know what works and where and then we can meet in the middle with the dual sport helmets to hopefully get the best of both worlds.
The differences between motocross and street helmets are very noticeable. Motocross helmets have large openings for goggles to protect from dust, extended chin guards, and visors for sun protection. Street helmets have great aerodynamics for higher speed, are comfortable, and generally have better protection.
When shopping for helmets you want to get the best helmet for your type of riding. The first thing to understand is where and how you will be riding and whether you purchase your helmet from a local dealer or from an online shop I want to give you the best resource for choosing the right helmet for you. I have an off road helmet that I recommend based on tons of research and it will be my next gear purchase once I have passed my current helmet on. Go check out my recommendation right here if you would like to see more information on my top pick.
The Difference Between A Motocross Helmet And A Street Helmet At A Glance
When looking at the two types of helmets side by side you can tell a clear difference but what do these differences actually do . Here is a quick look at the features and which helmet uses each feature. I will cover these in more detail below and discuss why each is the best for the 2 styles of helmet.
|Visibility||Yes||Not As Much|
|Extended Chin Guard||Yes||No|
|Open Face For Goggles||Yes||No|
|Aerodynamic||Not As Much||Yes|
|Safety||Safer For Off Road||Safer For On Road|
|Airflow||Yes (Tons)||Very Little|
|Dust Protection||With Goggles||Very Little|
|Yes (High Ventilation)||Some|
|Sun Protection||Extended Visor||Tinted Face Shield (Optional)|
|Protection From The Elements||Very Little||Closed / Full Faced Designs|
|Ease Of Cleaning||Removable Pads||Non Removable Pads|
As you can see, the street helmet is generally heavier and has less airflow and dust protection but for the terrain it is ridden on, it serves its purpose very well so read on to see more in depth reasons for the differences in these helmets.
Motocross Helmets Have Visors (What Are They Used For?)
One of the most distinguishing factors of a motocross style helmet is that HUGE visor sticking out at the top of the riders head. What is that thing even there for? Well it is primarily to block the sun from getting in your eyes and making it hard to see on the trail but it also has another added benefit.
When racing in motocross or riding with a group of people and you are behind another person riding an ATV or dirt bike, they will throw up dirt and debris, often at very high speeds. This debris is called roost because it resembles a rooster tail as it flies up from the ground. Riders tend to lean their heads down a bit when riding so this long visor deflects some of the incoming roost from hitting your face and goggles.
Street helmets don’t have this because they are driven on paved roads and don’t have the problem of a ton of debris getting slung up in their faces
Motocross Helmets Have A Pointed Chin
Why do motocross helmets have this pointed chin. If you look at street helmets, the chin guard areas are much closer to the face but motocross helmets have the chin guard area stuck way out in front of the rider’s chin. The simple answer is for airflow.
When atv and dirtbike riders are hitting the trails or the track, they are not going to be hitting speeds anywhere near the speeds of the guys that ride on the street so they will not be getting as much wind, thus less airflow.
They also are constantly moving, hitting bumps, using their arms and legs, and fatiguing themselves and getting hot. Obviously these things make a human breath harder and faster and with a chin guard that is close to the face, there isn’t enough room for the rider’s breath to escape so the only thing left to do is fog their goggles. With the chin area opened up on motocross helmets, there is plenty of room for that hot air to escape.
Which One Is Safer?
This kind of a loaded question. Each one is actually safer than the other one in it’s own terrain. Let me explain that a bit.
While street helmets offer much more impact resistance because the rider tends to be going much faster speeds, it is not always suitable in off road situations. Street helmet technology has actually gotten better and when worn properly do a great job at protecting the rider on the street. There are several features that are not on street helmets that can lead to accidents if ridden off road that I will cover later.
Motocross helmets offer more comfort and rideability when traversing in off road terrain. There is some really cool technology implemented into motocross helmets today called the MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) liner that protects the rider in case of a crash. It basically provides a slip zone between the rider’s head and the helmet to help mitigate rotational forces that can occur during some crashes. They also have breakaway components like the visor that will prevent the rider from getting hurt by pieces broken off the helmet in said crash.
Better Sound Dampening
Street helmets are designed for high speeds and long rides in mind. They tend to cover the ears a bit more and with their aerodynamic design, can cancel out a lot more wind noise than your typical motocross helmet.
When riding my ATV, I like to be able to hear what my quad is doing every time I rev the engine or some around a turn. When racing this helps the rider to hear if any other riders are around them and can heighten awareness. If you tried to take a motocross helmet on the highway at any decent speed, you would instantly know that street helmets are much better there.
Which Has Better Airflow?
I have already alluded to this several times but motocross helmets definitely have the edge when it comes to airflow. They are designed to let air in at slower speeds to keep the rider cool and prevent goggles from fogging up. One key design to look for when purchasing a motocross helmets is the number of vents it has to increase airflow because it can get majorly hot wearing a helmet with minimal amounts.
Street helmets don’t general NEED as much airflow because they are riding on paved roads in excess of 50 mph and have plenty of wind whipping them in the face. Most street helmets have a few vents that will allow some air to get into the helmet on those hot summer days. There are also other versions of street helmets that are not full faced and include:
- Standard Full Face Helmets
- Half Helmets (Brain Buckets)
- Open Face (No Full Face Protection)
- Flip Up (Full Face That Flips The Chin And Face Shield Area Upward)
Protection From Dust And Mud (Why Do Motocross Helmets Use Goggles?)
If you have ever used a motocross helmet and wore goggles on the trail then you have probably never had a problem with dust or mud get into your eyes, assuming you had a decent pair of goggles. Goggles are made to allow airflow in and keep dust out.
A street helmet is not designed to keep dust out of the riders face. This can be a huge problem from a safety perspective because if dust gets in your eyes, you can’t see and if you can’t see, you can’t ride and it could cause an accident.
At the same time, a street helmet can keep mud off the rider but there is a good chance the few vents this type of helmet has will get blocked by mud and severely reduce the already small amount of airflow.
The large vented areas in the chin protector, large amount of space between the chin and chin protector, and the good airflow properties on a motocross helmet means that even if mud does cake up and block a vent or two, there is plenty of airflow left over.
Protection From The Elements
Motocross helmets have large open holes in the for the rider to be able to wear goggles. This creates an opening for rain and snow to enter and wet the pads inside. This design is not meant to keep this kind of weather out of the rider’s face.
Street helmets actually protect the head very well from rain and snow because they have a closeable face shield that can be lowered to keep any water out. It would,however, defeat the purpose if you accidentally left the vents open and allowed water to seep in.
What Is The Weight Difference Between A Motocross Helmet And Motorcycle Helmet?
The weight difference between these types of helmets is usually negligible and this is because manufacturers design these helmets to be as light as possible. Most helmets of either type range from 3.2 pounds to 3.9 pounds so neither is too heavy to bear. They do this for a few reasons.
Having a lighter helmet reduces fatigue when riding down the road or going over bumps holes, and jumps on the trail. Every bit of extra weight can add to that fatigue.
Extra weight could also cause a problem in a wreck by causing your neck to strain too much and causing an injury.
Street Helmets Are More Aerodynamic
Street helmets are meant to be more aerodynamic and able to handle higher speeds. The less surface area there is for the wind to hit, the better the wind just slides right past the helmet.
The visor, extended chin guard, and open hole design of a motocross helmet will catch a ton of wind and make for a rough ride.
Keeping The Sun Out
Both helmets can do a good job of keeping the sun out. The main difference is that a street style helmet has a closeable face shield and you can purchase a tinted one to use on those sunny days. Modern helmets have quick release tabs that allow you to easily switch to a non ti ted one at night but you end up having to carry 2 around with you.
The visor on motocross helmets does a great job of providing shade over the whole open face area of the helmet and you can also purchase tinted goggles so it’s the best of both worlds.
Removable Pads For Easier Cleaning
I mentioned all the fatigue from riding trails and motocross tracks and breathing heavily. Not only do motocross helmets need to have good airflow to cook down the rider, they need to be easy to clean because a lot of sweating happens when doing all that work.
Motocross helmets mostly have removable padding that you can clean and reinstall so you aren’t stuck with that musty smell for your entire ride.
You can also get very sweaty riding with a street helmet on the street and general those helmets allow you to remove cheek pads and liners to wash.
Can You Wear Motocross Helmets On The Road?
Can you wear motocross helmets on the road? Sure you can but you won’t get the performance value out of your helmet if you do. If you only plan on going 35 mph or less it might be ok but you will definitely feel it on your head and neck, especially if the wind cranks up a bit.
I have seen people that will use motocross helmets on the road in the summer because of the good airflow characteristics and a street helmet in colder weather to protect themselves a bit better from the elements.
What Is A Dual Sport Helmet?
A dual sport helmet will be able to perform well in both on and off road terrains. This design makes it the perfect design for riders who like to do a little of both. Dual sport helmets have a visor that is just a few inches shorter than their motocross cousins to help protect against roosts and to block out the sun. They also share another feature and have a slightly extended chin guard.
Just like the full face style street helmets, dual sport helmets also have a shield. The dual sport helmet face shield can also be replaced with a tinted version for even more protection from the sun.
Now that you know the 11 differences between motocross and street helmets, it should be easy for you to pick the one you need for your particular application. If you want to make sure you know all the regulations for DOT and SNELL approved helmets, check out the SNELL foundation website here.