Most motorcycle riders choose carbon fiber or fiberglass due to their lightness. Compared to their poly carbonate counterparts, they weigh less. However, they offer less protection in a crash and that is the risk that all carbon fiber or fiberglass motorcycle helmet wearers have to bear.
The most confusing issue is between carbon fiber and fiberglass. Most think they are the same which is not really true. They are similar but differences still exist. In this article, we will take a detail look at what is their differences.
How are they made
Carbon fiber is essentially very fine strands of carbon. Compared to our hair, carbon fiber is even thinner! These strands are then bonded together to form yarns or wovens, which can then be further reshaped into things like the shell of our motorcycle helmets.
Fiber glass, as the name implies, is actually glass being melted and extruded through bushings. The result is a thread like material that is much stronger. Like carbon fiber, these threads can be bonded into yarns and then into cloth. The cloths can then reshaped into different things.
Carbon Fiber and Fiberglass Comparison
This section will compare and contrast the two materials along different dimensions:
Better shock absorption
In a pure strength test, carbon fiber helmet will come out on top but for motorcycle helmets, this must not be the best outcome. In a crash scenario, we want the helmet to absorb most of the energy such that our brains are not affected. Energy absorption, unfortunately, is not a simple case of which helmet is stronger.
In all helmet design, we have 2 layers of protection: the shell and the EPS liner. A lot of the energy absorption actually occurs in the EPS liner layer. However, for the liner to perform, the outer shell need to work in a certain way. In particular, it is more efficient for the helmet to flex and allow the liner to absorb the liner, rather than to crush and laminate.
Under this reasoning, a fiberglass motorcycle helmet is better because it is not flexible than a carbon fiber helmet. Of course, the best is actually poly carbonate material as it is the most flexible material among the three types.
The cost of carbon fiber and fiberglass has been going up in recent years as more industries are using them for a variety of manufacturing or construction purposes. Fiberglass has risen more, relative to carbon fiber so expect fiberglass helmets to cost more as well.
If you are budget conscious, you might consider those cheap DOT helmets that cost less than $100. Many consider them to be too cheap to offer good protection but the converse is actually cheap. These DOT approved motorcycle helmets are made of plastic (ie poly carbonate) and are more flexible than fiberglass or carbon fiber. In other words, they will provide more energy absorption than any fiber glass helmets.
Carbon fiber or fiberglass helmets are great choices if you want something light on your head. Both also provide protection during crashes although none is as good as a polycarbonate helmet.