Is fiberglass good for a helmet?

Author: CC

May. 06, 2024

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Fiberglass or carbon fiber? - NAVCOMM

Fiberglass or carbon fiber?

When buying a helmet you pay most attention to price, painting, accessories to improve comfort, and very rarely to the design and type of materials from which it was made. On the contrary, it should be quite the opposite because in the event of an accident this helmet is the most important protection of the pilot..

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The material in which the helmet shell is made has a great impact on its durability, weight, and above all safety, so our airborne sports helmets are made exclusively of materials offering the highest levels of protection - fiber glass and carbon fiber. For the same reason we do not have ABS, resin, thermoplastic or polycarbonate shell in our offer.

Below we present the main differences between fiber glass and carbon fiber, which knowledge will help in selecting the optimum set.

Construction

Manufacturers make fiberglass and carbon fiber helmets in a fairly similar way. The only real differences are the chemical compositions of the solutions used to build the shell. Strands of fibers are gradually built up in layers inside a mold. The manufacturer seals each layer in place with a resin, which is allowed to dry before pasting the next layer over the top. The fibers in each layer run at different angles to each other, creating greater torsional strength between the layers.

Weight

Carbon fiber is significantly lighter than fiberglass. It's common in aircraft, sports cars and military equipment for this reason. A lightweight helmet improves pilot safety because it reduces fatigue. Helmet design is usually a trade-off between the different properties of a material. The lighter a helmet is, the easier it is for the rider to wear, but if it's too light, the strength will be compromised..

Resilience

Fiberglass is a strong and tested material that can provide effective protection. However, compared to carbon fiber it is more brittle and tends to dissipate the impact energy through disintegration. In most cases this is not a problem; The helmet absorbs impact and the pilot is safe. However, when the accident is more complex (which often happens in air sports) and the helmet has to "absorb" several times the impact energy, the fiberglass crust may break prematurely, exposing the user to injury at subsequent stages of the accident. Carbon fiber, with much more flexibility, will better behave in such a situation, providing a higher level of protection.

Thermal expansion

As opposed to most other materials, carbon fiber has a negative coefficient of thermal expansion. This means that it expands when the temperature lowers. This is a desirable quality for applications that have to operate in a wide range of temperatures. For this reason, the helmet is made of carbon fiber much better suited for year-round use than its fiberglass counterpart.

Operating time

Nothing is eternal. During operation, the shell of the helmet is affected by many external factors such as temperature, UV radiation, moisture. This makes the material from which the shell is made is subject to gradual degradation decreasing its original parameters. In this respect, carbon fiber is much more resistant to ?aging" than its glass counterpart. NAVCOMM recommends, depending on the intensity of use, to replace the fiberglass helmets every 3 to 5 years, and carbon fiber at the latest after 7 years.

Price

Fiberglass has always been the cheaper option for airborne sports helmets. Carbon fiber is a "prestige" material and commands a high price tag due to its higher costs of production and manufacturing. In some ways, this reflects the appropriate market for each type. The high-priced carbon helmets are more likely to be purchased by people riding high-performance race-ready machines, that are more likely to be involved in high-speed crashes that would require the additional protection. Fiberglass helmets are more than adequate for those riders on slower machines, more likely to be involved in minor spills.

Finally a very important point

As the DEKRA experts has shown, the gluing or painting of the helmet, due to the fact that the solvents contained in the stickers and varnishes damage the surface of the helmet can be a reason of violates shell's stability. The same effect results in the execution of additional holes in the shell, for example under the brackets for cameras.

Polycarbonate vs Fiberglass vs Carbon Fiber Shell ...

When out helmet shopping, there’s one question that always comes up: what’s the difference between polycarbonate, fiberglass, and carbon fiber helmets? Which is safest and which is the most comfortable?

Polycarbonate vs Fiberglass vs Carbon Fiber Shell Motorcycle Helmets + Video

What shell material is the best or preferable in certain situations has always been an incredibly tough question to answer among motorcycle riders. All you need to do is see how many crash tests there are out on YouTube right now. And though this is certainly the most important aspect of a motorcycle helmet and we’ll touch on this, we also wanted to go a bit further to see if there’s any difference in riding comfort if we collect all our road test results.

 

 

Polycarbonate vs Fiberglass vs Carbon Fiber Safety

As far as safety goes, all 3 materials will be safe. A thermoplastic or polycarbonate motorcycle helmet like, for example, the Shark Evo-One 2 can get to the 4-5 star range from SHARP just as well as any other fiberglass or carbon fiber motorcycle helmet. In this case, it got 4 stars, which is excellent.

 

The main difference for safety is the helmet’s weight and the material’s behaviour in an impact. Polycarbonate is more susceptible to abrasion so you will need more of it to provide an adequate level of protection. So, as a result, you’ll end up with a heavier helmet.

 

But, the flip side of this is the helmet will absorb impacts across the outer shell better. So, polycarbonate performs better at lower speed impacts. Some examples of a polycarbonate helmet include the Shark Evo One 2, Nolan N87 Plus, or the HJC i90.

 

With fiberglass motorcycle helmets, you’re getting a stronger material that, alongside composites, will be a bit more flexible in its impact absorption. This is where you usually see most middle to high end touring helmets with extra features like drop down sun shields. Examples of fiberglass helmets include the Arai RX-7V, Schuberth C4 Pro, or Shoei X-Spirit 3. So, there is a real range of applications here.

As far as the material itself goes, fiberglass will be lighter than a polycarbonate helmet. But, since it is harder, it will absorb less energy across the shell. Which means the helmet will need a bit more EPS to absorb this extra energy.

 

Lastly, we come to carbon fiber, which you generally see in any top range helmet. For example, this is where you see helmet like the AGV Pista GP RR or the X-Lite X-803 RS Ultra Carbon. That’s because it is even stronger than fiberglass, which again means you get an even more lightweight helmet. Thanks to its high rigidity, it is also going to perform very well in high speed impacts, which is why it’s often used in high speed racing helmets. But this does mean it won't perform as well for lower speed impacts as a material like polycarbonate.

 

Generally, this same order of polycarbonate, fiberglass, composite, and carbon fiber is the same for the safest shell materials if you look at SHARP. However, since helmet safety is much more complicated than a simple yes or no, the best thing to do in this case is make sure you’re buying a quality helmet, make sure it is ECE or DOT rated, and you can also check out SNELL and SHARP for a second opinion.

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Also, look at what material is specifically used, since you have different levels within each shell material category. For example, the Lexan polycarbonate that Nolan uses in their helmets will do better than ordinary polycarbonate and so on.

 

How do different shell materials perform on the road?

We have received questions over the difference between the two shell materials in terms of how they do on the road and how well they stop noise. We were curious too, so we went back to our road test results and crunched the numbers. Just as a reminder, we conducted all our tests on the same bike travelling at about 130 km/h (or about 80 mph) on the highway.

 

For our measurements, we used a decibel meter placed in the ear of the helmet, a thermometer placed in the EPS liner’s grooves, and an anemometer mounted on the bike for the day’s air speed. We’ve taken our data from 49 helmet tests from brands including AGV, Arai, AGV, Schuberth, Shoei, Nolan, X-Lite, Shark, Airoh, and Schuberth. For the purpose of categorization, we included Shoei and Arai with our fiberglass category, but you can expect them to do better than ordinary fiberglass since they actually use a composite material.

 

Shell Material Results

When we looked at all our helmets together, we were not particularly surprised with the results. Ultimately, polycarbonate came out as the worse for both weight and noise, since it earned 3 and 2.5 stars respectively. The interesting thing is that fiberglass and carbon fiber helmets actually earned the same 3 stars for noise, and there was a half star difference for weight. So, that’s 4 stars for fiberglass and 4.5 for carbon fiber.

 

These results aren’t very surprising for a number of reasons. First, this is simply the nature of the helmets we were able to test. Most polycarbonate helmets are going to be more budget and will have less going into them in terms of comforts like weight and noise isolation than fiberglass or carbon fiber helmets. You can see this reflected in the other categories like ventilation and comfort, which are also slightly lower. And, when you get up to this higher helmet range, so much goes into making these helmets quiet that you actually end up at about the same noise level.

 

For weight, the results also are what you’d expect polycarbonate is heavier than fiberglass and fiberglass is heavier than carbon fiber. The only thing to keep in mind with weight is that depending on the helmet you may also find that you experience a bit more buffeting with a lighter helmet.

 

Helmet Polycarbonate Fiberglass (Composite) Carbon Fiber Material ★★☆☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★☆ Weight ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★☆ (4.5) Visor ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★☆ Noise Isolation ★★☆☆☆ (2.5) ★★★☆☆ ★★★☆☆ Ventilation ★★★☆☆ ★★★☆☆ (3.5) ★★★★☆ Comfort ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★☆ Total ★★★☆☆ ★★★★☆ ★★★★☆

 

Pros and Cons of Polycarbonate, Fiberglass, and Carbon Fiber Helmets

So, to summarize briefly, polycarbonate helmets will be more inexpensive since the manufacturing process is much simpler. As a result, you often get a good variety of graphics and the material itself is strong in low speed impacts since it is less rigid and can disperse the energy across the shell.

 

The downsides of polycarbonate will be it’s higher weight, since you need more of the material. Since this is also the material of choice for budget helmets, this also usually means you’ll only get budget features. And, as a related point, it will also generally be a noisier helmet.

 

For fiberglass, the pros are that it is lighter than polycarbonate, not as rigid as carbon fiber so it can still disperse some of the impact, though not as well as polycarbonate. It will also be much less expensive than carbon fiber thanks to a less intensive manufacturing process. The cons of fiberglass are that it is less rigid than carbon fiber and not as good at dispersing energy across the helmet shell. So, you need a bit more EPS to make up for it. Lastly, they’ll have a higher price than a polycarbonate helmet.

 

For carbon fiber, the main pros are its high rigidity, which is why you mainly see it in sports applications, its very light weight, and its performance in high speed impacts. However, its cons are that it is less durable in an impact since it has a higher rigidity. So, you’ll definitely see the signs of any impact on the helmet. Carbon fiber helmets also generally come at a much higher price and, since the carbon fiber skin is generally so sought after, you also usually get fewer graphics.

 

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Conclusion

In the end, we more or less see how the conventional wisdom has remained just that. The weight results for these helmets were to be unexpected. And once you get to the more premium fiberglass and carbon fiber helmets, companies will put in the extra effort to compensate for additional noise. For safety, it really depends on a case by case basis since some polycarbonate helmets can have just as many SHARP stars as a full carbon fiber one, even though these helmets tend to be safer.

 

If you’re still curious to see more on the differences between these shell materials, don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel with our Polycarbonate vs Fiberglass vs Carbon Fiber Helmets Video Review.

 

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