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It is possible to get a helmet that covers your entire head and face, and in theory would protect you against more kinds of falls. In particular, Why don't bicyclists wear them, and why do motorcyclists wear them?

I'm not asking whether helmets are a good idea in general. (Please try to answer this with complete answers, rather than the single-point style of the currently running helmet thread.)

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Take a look at this Google Image search for an idea of what bike full face helmets look it. Difference with moto helmet is that they're lighter (impacts come at much slower speeds) and more vented. – Vache Oct 19 '10 at 16:25
An equally good question would be "do top-of-head helmets actually do anything?" Both the last couple of times I've come off my bike I've landed on my face, the only thing saving me being my arms. I find it hard to imagine a situation where I'd land on the top/back of my head... – naught101 May 11 '12 at 8:56
Cost-benefit ratio. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 24 '13 at 12:27
I've seen a lot of bike crashes in my years and have always wondered this too. Out of all those crashes, I've only seen one head impact to the ground and had one myself. All the rest the people used their arms to instinctively protect the head. In the one I witnessed, the helmet was completely ineffective as it was a face plant. Mine was also a face plant, but I had no helmet on. given the impact location, a helmet would have been equally useless for me. – Brian Knoblauch Aug 27 '13 at 19:42
Do you also wear a full face helmet every time you walk stairs? It is proven that walking stairs is more dangerous than cycling.… – Willeke Aug 12 '15 at 17:47

12 Answers 12

Some bicyclists do wear full-face helmets; in particular, downhill mountain bikers and BMXers will frequently wear full-face helmets, as the chance of a crash causing you to land on your face is greater.

The problem with full-face helmets is that they're hotter; your head is great for getting rid of excess heat, and the full-face helmet helps trap more of that in. Motorcyclists aren't pedaling furiously, and don't need to lose as much heat; heat management is essential for bicycling.

Furthermore, motorcycle accidents tend to happen at higher speeds. On a bike, you're pretty unlikely to wipe out at 60 MPH, while on a motorcycle, it's all too possible. Between the lower risk on a bike, the heat issues, and the extra cost of full-face helmets, for most people it's not worth it to wear the full face helmet on their bicycle.

Any safety feature is a trade-off, between the costs of implementing the feature and the harm or damage that it prevents. When the cost of implementing the feature exceed the expected value of the feature in harm reduction (taking into account the likelihood of the particular form of accident happening, and how severe the damage is), then it doesn't make sense to use that feature. People all assign different values to certain types of harm or damage, and also have different risks based on how they ride and what their environment is like. For some people, wearing a full-face helmet may be worth the extra expense and heat, but most people don't find it's worth that trade-off.

Sadly, for many of these decisions, we don't have enough information; there isn't very much conclusive real-world data on the efficacy of bike helmets, let alone different types of bike helmets.

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they are a lot more expensive as well. – dotjoe Oct 19 '10 at 15:34
Also you can't hear anything wearing motorbike helmets and your vision is very limited. – mgb Oct 19 '10 at 16:36
Your vision is limited when wearing a motorbike helmet but when I am on my motorbike I can easily hear cars/vans approaching behind me (i guess it depends on the quality of the helmet), the limited field of view is also why in the UK you are taught "Lifesaver" checks - which really should be used when riding bicycles too. – Mauro Oct 19 '10 at 18:16
@NarcísCalvet You've clearly never worn a proper DH lid then; they're very lightweight, have plenty of airflow, and MTB/MX googles have a wider FOV than road motorbike visors. – cmannett85 Mar 9 '12 at 8:04
@cbamber85 I did. My DH experience is very limited but I used a DH helmet. I wouldn't even consider using one for XC or road cycling though. Even they are breathable and light enough for DH, in my opinion, they aren't enough for those disciplines. – Narcís Calvet Mar 9 '12 at 8:57

You also have to consider that a motorcycle has no trouble accelerating to and maintaining traffic speeds. In short, a motorcycle really doesn't need to look backward with anywhere near the frequency that a cyclist does. They also have mirrors mounted on their bikes which most cyclists don't have.

For example. Coming off a red light, anyone on a motorcycle can just go without consideration for anything behind them. Lane changes require major planning on a bicycle, but are relatively simple on a motorcycle traveling at matching speeds with all the cars.

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Even with traffic speed one should know what happens behind. Mirrors, of course, allow doing that almost unconsciously ;-) – johannes Jul 28 '12 at 15:16

In this recent blog post, the author (not me, I just subscribe to their feed) indirectly addresses your question:

My grandmother used to cycle about in a skirt when we were in Germany together. She wasn't very fast. Actually, I'd say she was about as fast as a very small hamster, or thereabouts. I don't think she was pretending to be a motorbike. But she liked it that way. In fact, she used to cycle in England too. But then again, so did all her friends.

Funnily enough, she never liked to cycle in England in her later years. Precisely because in England, people expected her to behave like a motorbike. She thought helmets daft. She also resented having to dress up like a belisha beacon just because our streets feel like 'spaghetii junction' (her words not mine). I think she saw herself as, well, herself. Just an old lady on a bicycle. And, frankly, her revs weren't what they used to be. So the chances of her pedalling along at the same speed as a Ducati were fairly slim.

I don't wear a full-face, whole-head helmet because I've weighed up the risks and I don't need one. I'm not a motorcyclist, I don't have to confront the same dangers a motorbike rider does.

Full-head helmets for bikes are available, so where there's a demand, there is a supply.

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Coming in to this late in the string...

People in bicycle accidents tend to fall forward in the direction they were moving. Momentum works. So, often they land on their faces, which is entirely unprotected by standard bicycle helmets.

I speak from experience, having just lost all of my top front teeth. My surgeon says this is incredibly common with bicycle accidents (among commuters on city streets).

There is no demand for full face helmets for cyclists because people are socialized to think that (1) its overkill and (2) it looks silly.

I sure wish I was wearing a full face when I took my tumble. And no preaching about safe riding! I am a strong city rider, who errs on the side of caution when it comes to safety. Accidents happen.

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I think you're way off. I too have landed on my face and knocked out my front teeth during a bicycle accident but I don't wear a full face helmet. It has nothing to do with socialization or looking silly. Safety features are a trade off. The more protected you are, the hotter you are. In the summer it's often over 100 degrees where I live. Heat exhaustion is a real possibility almost every day. A full face helmet would only make it worse. – jimirings Oct 18 '12 at 13:31
"(1) its overkill and (2) it looks silly" - For a lot of people, it's exactly that. If it would be the heat exhaustion, you would at least see some people try it - but they don't, because it looks silly. I had the same experience with skiing helmets: I don't do big jumps, I don't ski very fast, over here for the most part only children wear them, so it would look silly for me to have one. Then I went to Switzerland and suddenly I was (nearly) the only one on the hill not to wear one. Next season, I'll give them a try. – linac Aug 26 '13 at 11:36
Pedestrians can and do lose front teeth when they trip over too. This is why full face helmets make as much sense for walking as they do for cycling. It also solves the "where do I leave the helmet when I lock the bike up" problem. – armb Aug 12 '15 at 10:30
In general anywhere that a helmet, or a full face helmet, would help cyclists it would help far more pedestrians and motorists. One of the most dramatic wins from wearing a helmet is in the shower, but I don't see "shower helmets" on the market. The trade-offs just aren't right for those, or for motorist helmets. But you do see people wit intellectual handicaps who are prone to falls wearing them... I think it's because they lack autonomy, so "it will make you safer" overrides "it's stupid". – Móż Jan 9 at 23:30

When riding in traffic/city areas, your ears are almost as important as your eyes for keeping safe. And wearing a full face motorbike style helmet would severely limit your hearing.

Add that to the excellent points Brian and Meagar make above about full face helmets being hot and heavy.

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I wouldn't be surprised if it goes more towards full face helmets in the future. The world is heading away from prevention and more towards mitigation as the primary safety strategy. – Brian Knoblauch Nov 1 '11 at 18:24
I'd say ears are more important in some circumstances, as your can only see where you're looking but you can hear everything, including the Audi/BMW/White Van driver barrelling up behind you with no intention of giving you any clearance when they pass you. – GordonM Oct 18 '12 at 6:38

I think that it's ridiculous that bicyclists wear so little protection. I fell recently doing 20 miles an hour and broke my collarbone, damaged my shoulder and busted open my chin--all while wearing a dinky helmet. I've concluded that a 15-25 mile bicycle crash is all that it takes to do permanent damage.

I began to wonder why my motorcycle friends wear more protective gear and I don't. They wear better helmets, shoulder pads, chaps, etc all to protect them from road rash and more severe injuries. Bicyclists go out half naked but travel at only slightly slower speeds that motorcyclists around urban streets.

I've concluded that bicyclists are less protected because there are no role models for being more protected. Nowhere do you see Lance in a pads and a better helmet. When every cyclist that you see in print and video is shown unprotected, the rest of us poseurs become too embarrassed to wear protective garb. The message from the media and professionals is "Man Up. Ride Unprotected."

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Same with passengers in vehicles, Michael Schumacher wears a helmet, facemask, neckbrace and fireproof overalls - but almost nobody on the bus does. – mgb Dec 4 '10 at 4:37
In your case, I'm with the media. Cowboy up, dude. – mcgyver5 Apr 27 '11 at 15:20
As Ghandi said, "be the change you want to see in the world". I don't think he promised that it would change, and I'd have a bit to say if someone tried to convince me to wear my motorbike gear on a pushbike... – ddri May 7 '12 at 10:45
In what kind of weather do you ride? Do you often cycle in 80°F (25°C) weather wearing an unvented helmet, leather jacket, and chaps? – Mike Samuel Jul 30 '12 at 22:43
I'd like to meet your cycling friends who travel "at only slightly slower speeds than motorcyclists." Any of them named Lance? – Carey Gregory Oct 18 '12 at 4:08

Some cyclists do, specifically in the types of cycling that are more prone to falls, or where falling into obstacles like trees are more likely. Specifically, down-hill or BMX style helmets usually cover parts of the face.

Typically, motorcycle helmets and full-face bicycling helmets are hotter and heavier, making them less well suited for exercise or strenuous activity. Conversely cycling helmets meant for on-road use are extremely light weight and usually contain a large number of holes allowing airflow to evaporate sweat and cool the wearer, while providing good protection for falls on flat pavement.

So unless you have a specific need for additoinal protection, "all-encompassing motorcycle-style" helmets generally not worn.

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-1 There are many different types of motorcycle helmet (just like bicycle helmets), the one you're thinking of (road motorcycle) is but one - just about every over type is for stenous activity. – cmannett85 Mar 9 '12 at 8:07

I do always wear a full face (downhill) helmet on my everyday (25km one way) tour to the job. Being downhill addict it has been straightforward to put it on from home to my training sites and back. Since this was quite manageable I skipped the half face lid completely even for normal cycling some three years ago.

Yes, full face helmets get hotter than bike lids. Nevertheless downhill helmets stay much cooler than motocross ones. But ventilation has improved a lot the last years. Anyway this is most a question of getting used to. Summertime we have usually 20C..25C and this is not a problem. In winter (-10C...-20C), I use my motocross lid to stay warm. A least I skip these funny tower constructions - trying to press-fit a scarf and a fur cap under a traditional bike helmet :-).

Yes, you get the looks. Feeling observed... huh? This is merely a question of carrying a large pink teddybear across a populated square. Do it five times and this part is over.

Yes, there is a certain reduction of the field of view. Place a tiny mirror on your bike frame. Hearing is not at all impeded by a downhill helmet but considerably reduced when wearing a motocross or other mc helmet, specially directional hearing. So you need to look twice!!

One and a half year ago one of my colleagues had a face plant and got a quite painful chin surgery + missed 3 teeth that had to be reimplanted. No need to say - he joined the club by now.

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I had a regular mountain bike half helmet for mountain biking, and never had problems... then, one day I crashed hard (due to unexpected hikers on the single track going downhill) and fell on my face: almost knocking out my front 4 teeth, and nice scrapes and bruises on my nose and chin (not cool to have on a girl).

I've recovered with some scarring, but the fall made me realize that they made the full-faced helmet for a GREAT REASON. I used to think it looked heavy and ridiculous, but now I use the full-face for going downhill, and switch out to the half helmet on my climbs back up. Safety first!

By the way, I bought a rockgarden full-face helmet, and it's very comfy and has lots of ventilation.

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Welcome to Bicycles.SE! Thank you for your contribution. Your post contains useful content, but the lack of punctuation and capitalization make it hard to read. Please use the "edit" link to fix your post. And again, welcome to the site! – unforgettableid Jan 17 '13 at 2:54
You carry two helmets on rides? Wow. Unfortunately a couple of the face-damaging falls I've seen happened in carparks, people who had assembled their bikes but failed to tighten the front wheel properly so at the first bump it fell off. The full face helmet only protects you while you're wearing it. – Móż Jan 10 at 3:16

One reason is that in many places the law requires motorcycle helmets to be full-face. On a bicycle in most locations helmets are not required and the choice is yours.

I ride with a half-head helmet in temperatures up to 95°F and never find ventilation is an issue at all. I can't believe the extra protection of my mouth and chin would suddenly change that.

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Welcome to Bicycles @David. This site is different - it's not a discussion (although you can use chat for that). Please see the help center for how the site works. – andy256 Aug 11 '15 at 21:47
One reason this answer has been flagged is because it is "chatty" and formatted like a question. I'll make an attempt at editing you answer; check it out as a guide, and make sure I have retained your meaning. In the meantime for an intro to how this and other Stack Exchange Q & A sites work, please Take the Tour. – Gary.Ray Aug 12 '15 at 3:33

I have read answers to this question and many of you think about bicycle accidents as if they were at lower speeds, instead of the higher speeds of motorized vehicles. I would agree with that, if you are assuming there are no motorcycles or cars around, when you ride.

However, cycling in a city exposes you to motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks in addition to other bicycles and to rear, frontal and sideways crashes with these vehicles. Apart from bicycles, motorized vehicles have speeds exceeding 20km/h and masses far greater than both bicycle and rider. Thus, protection for city riders must be in accordance with this fact.

The problem here is not velocity, but momentum and kinetic energy. Have you ever wonder why a lot of motorized vehicle accidents are fatal? They are fatal, because in this crashes there are transfers of large amounts of kinetic energy upon impact, which results in deformation --- that crushes your bones --- and throw of your body by several meters from the crash point, for example. And, of course, bicycles (and motorcycles) do not offer a lot of protection against these (in fact they suffer a lot of damage or are completely torn apart).

As any city rider must be aware of his/her surroundings in order to lower risks, it is also true that he/she must be prepared for situations that are away from his/her control. Protection provided by standard bicycle helmets will not be enough, when we would be exposed to an unavoidable collision with a motorized vehicle. I prefer to suffer from bulkier and heavier helmet like those of closed motorcycle helmets.

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Hi and welcome to bicycles.stackexchange. Yours is a thoughtful answer and you've explained your reasoning well. But unfortunately I'm not convinced that motor vehicles travel especially fast on city roads shared with cyclists, or that a full face helmet will be much better than a conventional one in such a collision. Can you link to research showing either of those things? My experience is that for those collisions prevention is better than mitigation, so I'd rather spend money on lights, bright clothing, and reflectors. – Móż Jan 10 at 3:07
There are studies around that show that riding city streets with a helmet hightens your chances on accidents where death is a common result. On the other hand, in the Netherlands many cyclists share roads with cars within cities and the countryside and almost nobody uses a helmet, even less a motorcycling one, and brain injuries are rare, broken necks are rare as well. Proof enough for me not to start wearing any helmet, even less a motor one. – Willeke Jan 10 at 14:16
Well, I will definitely say that this has relation to traffic education of the drivers. However in Mexico City, we lack of this culture. Persons can drive without passing a minimum driving examination. Unless our most recent traffic regulations prioritize pedestrians and bicycles over motor vehicles, the reality is that driving here in Mexico City is not secure, even if you take all preventive measures you can imagine. It is great that you are riding in such secure environment. – elessartelkontar Jan 11 at 2:01
I want to say that I don't want each rider on the planet wear helmet or motorcycle helmet. I share with you, the reasoning behind my decision to wear a motorcycle helmet. – elessartelkontar Jan 11 at 2:07
This is a personal decision based on my knowledge of physics and being witness of at least ten fatal accidents. However, I can say a thing against probabilities. You can say that the ocurrence of brain and other life-threatening injuries are low. However, that doesn't mean that you will not be the next suffering that rare ocurrence. – elessartelkontar Jan 11 at 2:15

Motorcyclists use full face helmets because the 'happy biker with bugs on his teeth' experience.
The speed most motorcyclists go makes that they get bugs and other things in their faces at quite high forces. As they have to wear helmets, (in most countries compulsory,) they might as well add the face protection part.
At the speed they go, there is enough cooling from the air.

Most cyclist go at much lower speeds, the bugs are not that much of a danger, although at every speed they can be a nuicance.
The cooling factor of speed is much lower.
Those cyclist that mostly wear helmets have a very awkward head position, anything that makes it harder to look up will endanger the cyclist rather than protect.

On top of that, for many cyclists helmets are more precieved safety, not real life, the current helmets are enough to believe in the fairytale, nothing else is needed.

I have seen enough proof to not believe in that story and would not don any helmet, even less one that fully encloses my head.
One of the good things of cycling is the fresh clean air around my head, no way I will put a plastic case around it. A pair of glasses (and a shawl in front of my mouth in case of very nasty bugs) is all protection I need.

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This was a good answer until the anti helmet rant started. - 1. – Neil Fein Jan 11 at 0:43
why @NeilFein ? I think he is right cyclist helmets fall apart from a heavy rain they don't protect your face or back head or side .... they don't even protect you if something fall over your head (being that feeble and having more holes that plastic on them). They don't protect you at hits over 20 kmh, speed you can reach with a fart. – kifli Jan 11 at 10:38
@kifli Because this isn't a question about the effectiveness of helmets. The question states that quite clearly. – Neil Fein Jan 11 at 17:17

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