Is an open face helmet really best for touring?

Filed under: News |

It’s an age-old debate, but one that’s well worth considering before you embark on that motorcycle holiday or long-ranging staycation. Is your everyday lid good enough for your trip, or is that one mate who’s invested in that pricey specialist touring helmet really onto something?

Touring continues to be an aspirational activity for many bikers. As more holidaymakers start to place value the travel experience, and not just the destination, the feeling of the open road, freedom, exploring new places on a motorbike with your friends or your other half as pillion becomes tempting. With the absolute explosion in the motorcycle holidays market over the past few years, and of overseas bike rental, it seems that touring is becoming an activity that is indeed on many biker’s radars.

So if you’re a biker who owns a standard open face helmet, perfect for city rides or the commute, you may be tempted to take it on the trip with you. There are complicated helmets, such as gadget-packed flip-up models, which are designed exclusively for touring, but could it make sense to purchase an expensive touring helmet just for one holiday, never to wear it again?

What advantages do the touring helmets offer?

Like any demanding outdoor activity, adventure touring requires specialist equipment. However, for the most part, Britain’s bikers will be going abroad or on multiple-thousand-mile trips carrying the same gear that they use for their weekend blasts, or even just for their commutes. In today’s often challenging economic times, it’s the harsh reality that investing in the extra kit just for a motorcycle holiday won’t always make financial sense.

Take the flagship flip-up touring helmets such as the Shoei Neotec-II for example, which have been stalwart favourites of the adventure and touring community since their release. They do often carry a hefty price tag, and their aerodynamic profile doesn’t prove suitable for hardcore Supersports, but for the upright riding position, you’re likely to find on veteran mile-munchers like the BMW K1600 flip-up touring helmets offer a satisfying blend of comfort and convenience.

When you’re out touring, you’re likely either to be riding with a pillion or with a group of other bikers. In most of these cases, you’ll want to be wearing a Bluetooth intercom or similar to communicate with your road mates.  The substantial flip-up touring helmets offer lots of places to attach intercoms and other helmet-mounted gadgets, which is a big advantage over their open-face counterparts

Touring Helmets: How do they perform on the road?

Touring Helmets: How do they perform on the road?When you’re riding for hours at a time, it doesn’t take much to escalate a minor annoyance into a severe inconvenience. Take the small stone being lodged in your boot, for example. After 4 hours on the road, you might find yourself in a “princess and the pea” situation! 

Wind noise is one of those things that can seriously affect the quality of your ride. According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, wind noise is also a contributing factor to hearing loss. This makes your motorbike helmet an important piece of health and safety equipment, even if you aren’t involved in an accident.

For purposes of noise reduction, open face helmets are definitely at a disadvantage over full-face helmets. Some bikers will pack small foam earbuds to wear under their helmets, but this can interfere with your capacity to hear any intercom communications.

However, it must be said that sweat, heat and visor fogging can be a constant plague with full-face helmets, even though the noise reduction may be substantially better. 

Ultimately these considerations must be balanced when you’re selecting the best motorbike helmet for touring, with flip-ups providing a good balance of ventilation and noise reduction due to their retractable visors.

Open face helmets: Field of view and comfort

If you’re paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds to go on a motorcycle trip, it’s easy sometimes to think that your field of view would have been better on your 40-inch telly at home once you’re in the Alps and the view of the scenery is obstructed by a visor or by an inch thick of plastic.

This is where open-face helmets come into their own. Once you ride with the sense of freedom and spaciousness of a proper open-face helmet, it’s hard to go back.  You get true 270-degree visibility of the road in front of you, making the experience that much better.

One drawback of these sorts of helmets will always be the wind buffeting. At motorway speeds, wearing goggles is a must. However, if you do plan on going touring with an open face helmet, you may consider installing a tall touring screen on your bike for the trip. This way you get full visibility, the flies are kept out of your face, and wind noise is even reduced since your riding position is kept out of the turbulent airflow caused by the bike cutting through the air in front.

The verdict: Preparation is worth it

Once you’re 6 hours into the German countryside, out of your comfort zone, and trying to find which exit on the Autobahn it is for the Alps, anything you’ve planned and prepared for at home will help to alleviate stress and make sure your trip is going to be enjoyable.

Helmet choice should always be forefront on your mind before you embark on your trip. As your primary piece of protective equipment and something you’ll be wearing for most of the day, if your helmet isn’t right your holiday could be doomed before you even start.

In our opinion, open-face helmets are the best option for touring. The visibility, comfort, and features are unmatched. If you can afford it, it’s worth investing in a flip-up helmet so you get the benefit of ventilation, and also added noise and wind protection when you need it. How about you? Have you been touring, and do you have a particular helmet choice? Which is best?