In fact, ATV and motocross helmets don’t have visors but a peak. A visor is the see-through face shield you find in a typical motorcycle helmet.
What most people refer to when they talk about the visor on an ATV and motocross off-road helmet is the plastic brim located over the googles, known as a peak.
With that misconception out of the way, we set out to learn the real purpose of an ATV and motocross helmet visor/peak: The primary purpose of an ATV and motocross peak (by many referred to as a visor) is to protect the rider from dirt and rocks spun up by the rear wheel of the rider in front. It also helps deflect branches when riding in the woods and keeps the sun out of the rider’s eyes.
Purpose 1: It deflects roost (rocks, dirt, sand, water, etc.) from the rider in front of you
Anyone that has ever been in an ATV or motocross race will be able to tell you the primary purpose of having a peak on your helmet.
The peak is essential if you don’t get the holeshot through the first corner, as you will need it to protect your face and goggles from the roost thrown up by the rider or riders in front of you.
Roost is a common nickname for the sand, dirt rocks, or mud thrown up by the rider’s rear wheel in front of you. The spray of dirt resembles the shape of a rooster tail, hence the name.
As you get out of the corner and the rider in front of you hammers the throttle, all you have to do is tilt your head slightly forward and let the peak do its job.
It will protect your face from dangerous flying rocks as well as help keep your goggles clean. Without the peak, your googles would get stuffed with mud in no time.
If you go to a race on a wet and muddy day, you may notice that some riders use some old goggle lenses or other plastics to extend their peaks for added protection.
Do you need a peak for trail riding?
While trail riding typically does not generate as extreme a spray of debris from the rider in front as on a race track, you will still need some face protection.
Some trail-riders prefer the comfort of the full face visor of a motorcycle helmet. The downside is the loss of the protection provided by the peak.
A range of brands offers so-called adventure or dual-sport helmets that have both visor and peak. The peak on these helmets is vented in the back, creating less drag at higher speeds.
The problem with the peak on this type of helmets is that they are typically smaller in size and unable to adjust far enough down and forward to provide any actual protection or usefulness.
Purpose 2: Deflects tall brush and branches when riding in the woods
It’s essential to have proper face protection when you plow your way through thick brush and branches in the woods.
Many riders, myself included, find that the peak works well to keep most of the thicker stuff out of the face.
While the googles do help against the smaller stuff, the peak can take more of a beating and adds one more layer of protection.
The key to successfully utilizing the peak as a deflector is to adjust the peak as far down as possible. Then just before you hit the branch, you must tilt your head down. You will feel and hear when the branch has cleared your helmet so that you can safely lift your head again.
If you do not tilt your head forward, the peak may catch on to the branch. Peaks are designed to break easily, so catching on to a branch shouldn’t involve any danger to the rider. Nevertheless, getting your face stuffed with debris can indeed be quite an annoyance.
What if you find the peak more annoying than useful?
Most peaks are removable for easy replacement when they break. Those that prefer riding without a peak when they are in the woods can remove it in seconds.
An ATV or motocross helmet without a peak is still a better option than a traditional motorcycle helmet for off-road riding. Googles are much less prone to fogging up than a visor and will help keep dust out of your eyes.
Purpose 3: Keep the sun and rain out of your face
While it is not, it’s the primary purpose; the peak may help to keep the glare from the sun out of your eyes.
Just as a baseball cap, the peak can block the direct sun from the sky. It also may help against glare that is made worse from dusty goggles.
When it is raining, the peak helps to keep your face and helmet liner a bit dryer.
Why are off-road helmets shaped differently than motorcycle helmets?
ATV and motocross helmets serve a different purpose than motorcycle helmets. On-road riding is typically not as physically demanding as various styles of off-road riding. You generally ride at much higher speeds on-road, and there is less debris than off-road and racing.
To accommodate the various needs of the two styles of riding, we need different helmet designs.
A motorcycle helmet is designed to protect the rider against noise, wind, and debris at high speeds as well as high-speed impacts. It also needs to feature excellent aerodynamics to keep the rider’s head stable at high speeds.
The helmet is built as a fully enclosed unit with small air vents to achieve the desired protection and high-speed features.
The small vents ensure adequate ventilation at higher speeds, but at speeds below 30mph, they do not allow enough air into the helmet. The result is fogging on the inside of the visor.
Off-road racing, as well as active off-road recreational riding, can be extremely physically demanding. This creates a lot of sweat and heat that must be vented out to keep the rider cool.
Motocross and active ATV, and motocross helmets solve this issue with an open face design that allows a high airflow into the helmet.
You still are going to need a way of protecting the eyes. Instead of a full face shielding visor, we use vented goggles. This way, the rider’s breath is not led straight on to the visor as in a motorcycle helmet.
The helmet is shaped to create a snug fit against the goggle, leaving as little of the face as possible exposed to flying debris.
Also, you have the roost protecting peak, as discussed in this post, as well as the raised mouth guard that keeps the rider’s face protected.
This post goes more in-depth on the differences between an ATV helmet and a motorcycle helmet.
Why do motocross helmets use goggles?
Goggles are necessary to protect the rider’s face due to the open-face design of an ATV and motocross helmet. But that is not the only reason why they are the preferred option for dusty off-road riding.
The visor of a motorcycle helmet does not protect the rider’s face that well against dust. However, goggles are outlined with a thick foam padding that creates a tight seal, blocking most of the dust from getting into the rider’s eyes.
The elastic strap keeps the goggles pressed firmly against the rider’s face.
The elastic foam padding used on goggles also serves a dual purpose of keeping dripping sweat out of the rider’s eyes, almost as a sweatband.
Are there any downsides to using a helmet with a peak?
As we have established, the peak is essential for face protection in a race. But does it come with any significant downsides?
The peak creates drag at high speeds
The peak creates a significant drag, messing up the aerodynamics and leaving an ATV and motocross helmet less than ideal at higher speeds.
The drag will pull the rider’s head back, which can cause fatigue when riding longer distances.
This issue is usually not a problem with off-road riding that typically happens at lower speeds.
Some riders prefer riding without a peak in the woods
Based on my personal experience, I find the peak very effective at deflecting branches when riding in the woods.
Other riders believe that the peak catches branches, brush, and tall grass too easily, creating more annoyance than a benefit.
Whether this makes it a downside or not comes down to personal preference. Your best bet is to try for yourself and then remove the peak if you don’t like it.
Related: Do ATV and MX helmets expire?