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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
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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
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9 Answers 9

up vote 50 down vote accepted

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
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Also you can't hear anything wearing motorbike helmets and your vision is very limited. –  mgb Oct 19 '10 at 16:36
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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
    
Are there cycling helmets with mouth guards (similar to an American football helmet)? That would allow airflow while protecting the jaw and nose. I ask because when I crashed my bike (albeit without a helmet back in those days) I landed squarely on my jaw, requiring 12 stitches. –  mskfisher Oct 19 '10 at 18:41
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@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
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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
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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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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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