The protection each helmet type offers is what sets street riding helmets apart from off-road riding helmets, particularly the conditions they’re designed to handle. Here’s a guide to the differences between street helmets and offroad helmets.
NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, we’re talking full-face helmets here. Also, “offroad helmet(s)” in this article means any type of dirt bike, ATV or side-by-side helmet specifically for off-road riding (motocross, supercross, et al).
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Basic Design
The first thing people tend to notice when comparing offroad helmets to street riding helmets is the chin. Offroad helmets have a long, pointy chin, whereas street helmet chins are much closer to the face.
The chin differences are mostly due to airflow needs, which we’ll get to later on. Street helmets are more aerodynamic than offroad helmets to protect better against higher speeds. They have less surface area for the wind to hit, which makes it easier for high-speed winds to slide past the helmet.
Offroad helmets are bulkier, and have extended chin guards and open-hole designs to catch a lot of wind and keep the rider cool. The main difference in basic design is that street helmets are built for higher speeds and wind resistance, while offroad helmets are designed for better airflow while also protecting against dirt and flying debris.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Safety
A common question people ask is which helmet type is safer? The truth is neither helmet is safer than the other because they’re designed for different riding types.
Street helmets are sleek and aerodynamic, and they’re made to glide along the road during an accident. Offroad helmets aren’t designed to slide on pavement during accidents, and thus aren’t as safe for street riding. Street helmets offer more impact resistance for the higher speeds of on-road riding. Offroad helmets, on the other hand, lean more toward comfort and visibility for riders in rough terrain. They’re designed to better protect the rider’s head from flying debris like rocks, branches and mud.
Both helmet types are made for head protection, but the obvious answer to the question of which is safer is that offroad helmets are safer for offroad riding, while street helmets are safer for street riding.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Visibility
Offroad helmets noticeably have immense visors to block out the sun. These visors are also especially useful for racing or riding with a group, as riding near or behind another rider kicks up a lot of dirt and debris.
Street helmets don’t have enormous visors like offroad helmets because they’re made for use on paved roads where flying debris is minimal. Both helmet types have visors to keep the sun out, but street helmets usually have a closeable, detachable face shield with release tabs to switch between tinted and non-tinted shields as needed.
Offroad helmet visors provide shade over the entire face area and more space for riding with goggles. Street helmets aren’t necessarily designed to keep dirt out of the rider’s face or for riding with goggles, although street riding goggles are available. The open-face design of offroad helmets makes it much easier to assess what’s ahead and directly below the rider. Street bike helmets have thinner visors to block wind, rain and light debris, while offroad helmets have thicker visors to protect against fogging and the flying debris already mentioned.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Noise Protection
A major difference between street bike helmets and offroad riding helmets is the level of noise protection they provide. Street helmets cover the ears more to cancel out noisy wind and traffic.
Offroad helmets are designed to help the rider hear other riders around them. Street helmets are designed to dampen noise, while offroad helmets allow the rider to hear their surroundings better. Street bikes are built for high speeds and long rides, which can be a deafening experience due to long exposure to a noisy environment, so street helmets offer stronger audio protection than offroad helmets.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Airflow
As mentioned before, offroad helmets are designed with extended chins to allow for more airflow than street helmets. Offroad riding requires a lot of physical exertion, which causes riders to sweat and fatigue easily.
A chin guard close to the face like the ones found on street helmets doesn’t provide enough breathing room for offroad riding. The extended open chin area of offroad helmets allows plenty of room for hot air to escape, and also reduces fogging on goggles. Offroad helmets are better ventilated than street helmets, which allows better airflow to keep riders cool.
Street helmets don’t need as much airflow as offroad helmets because they’re used on paved roads at higher speeds, and thus have plenty of wind directed at them. They’re typically designed with just enough ventilation. Offroad riders sweat a lot more, so the extra ventilation provided by the extended chin space alone is of crucial importance.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Weight
As far as the weight difference between street and offroad helmets, there’s not much to note. Both typically weigh between 3-4 pounds on average.
Helmets shouldn’t bear too much weight on a rider’s head for any kind of riding. A lighter helmet helps reduce fatigue on the road, track or trail, and extra weight can exacerbate injuries. Offroad helmets tend to be bulkier yet lighter than street helmets, but the weight difference isn’t much. Helmet manufacturers make them as light as possible regardless of type for comfort and safety.
Street Helmets vs Offroad Helmets: Ease of Cleaning
Due to the sheer amount of sweat, dirt and debris they’re exposed to, offroad helmets are designed with removable liners and padding for easy cleaning.
Offroad helmets take a beating and have debris flying into them all the time, so ease of cleaning comes with the territory. And while street helmets may not need to be cleaned nearly as often as offroad helmets, they also get dirty, sweaty and musty, and many are also designed for use with removable accessories that are easy to clean.
Can You Wear an Offroad Helmet for Street Riding?
You can wear offroad helmets for the street, and vice-versa, sure. But if you’ve gotten this far and have been paying attention, you know by now why you shouldn’t.
However, if you’re going for a short street ride at a low speed and you only have an offroad helmet at your disposal, you should be fine. Just don’t make a habit of it. Remember, street helmets are made for high speeds and winds, and offroad helmets are for shorter rides at lower speeds, so leave the offroad helmet off the road.