When it comes to motorcycle helmets, “one size fits all” is inaccurate. No two heads are ever alike, so what might be a good fit for another person could be uncomfortable for you. Likewise, what looks cool on display may not be the right fit for you.
So before you impulsively buy the first helmet that catches your eye, do your due diligence and take the time to choose which helmet is best for you carefully. After all, you are buying a helmet not to look cool while riding but to protect your head in the event of a crash.
Choosing a helmet
There are so many options out there that can cause massive confusion. So how do you choose the right motorcycle helmet? Here are 13 essential factors to consider:
- First, measure your head multiple times.
- Determine the shape of your head.
- Decide what helmet type to buy based on your needs.
- Check manufacturer size charts.
- Try on as many helmets as possible.
- Put on the helmet properly when fitting it.
- Move the helmet around.
- Look for pressure points.
- Check the position of the helmet’s eye-port.
- Chew gum when fitting a new helmet.
- Avoid buying second-hand helmets.
- Check motorcycle helmet safety ratings.
- Choose a more expensive helmet.
1. Measure your head multiple times.
To measure your head more accurately, we advise that you use a cloth tape measure instead of a retractable one. But if you do not have a cloth tape measure, you can use a shoelace or a piece of string, then mark it, stretch it out, and then use a retractable tape measure to get the size.
When measuring your head, place the cloth tape measure above your eyebrows and around the back of your head as horizontal as possible. Do not let the tape go too high or too low, as this can give you the wrong size.
We also advise that you ask someone to assist you in this task and do this more than once to ensure that you get the exact size every time.
Once you are done measuring your head, and your head size falls somewhere between two sizes, choose a helmet in the smaller size as it will fit more snugly, thereby preventing wind intrusion and road noise. You may also opt for removable cheek pads and inner liners, as these allow you to customize and alter helmet fit to some extent.
2. Determine the shape of your head.
Aside from head size, head shape also influences how your helmet would fit. Generally, the head can be classified as:
- Intermediate, if it is longer front to back and wider side to side
- Long oval, if it is longer front to back and narrower side to side
- Round oval, if it is narrower front to back and longer side to side
Among these head shapes, intermediate is the most common. But just because this is the most common does not mean you can assume that you have an intermediate-shaped head as well. The best way to determine your head shape is to take a picture of the top of your head to see for yourself if you are an intermediate, long oval, or round oval.
You may also want to show that picture to friends and family to get different opinions regarding your head shape. Better yet, seek expert advice by going to the nearest motorcycle helmet dealership if you want to be more confident.
3. Decide what helmet type to buy based on your needs.
Preference also plays a massive role in choosing a motorcycle helmet. Full-face ones are generally the ideal helmet type, but many riders may find them uncomfortable, especially during long rides.
So while a full-face helmet seems like the most obvious choice because of the protection it offers, some riders still opt for other helmet types that they find more convenient.
To identify which one is suitable for you, we have listed the different types of helmets to help you decide. These include:
- Provides the most protection as it covers the entire head
- Features a visor that keeps debris away from the face
- Offers adequate ventilation and does not affect hearing despite being enclosed
- Protects the entire head like a full-face helmet but can be more convenient like an open-face helmet
- Allows a rider to switch from one helmet type to another in one quick flip
- Also called ¾ helmet since it only covers the sides, top, and the back of the head
- Sacrifices safety for convenience
- Least protective of all helmet types as it only covers the top of the head
- Very convenient but does not guarantee safety
Dual sport helmet
- Specifically designed for both on and off-road riding
- Also offers full face protection and comes with a peak that keeps dirt out of the rider’s eyes
4. Check manufacturer size charts.
There is no standard sizing for motorcycle helmets, so helmet size may vary from one manufacturer to another. For example, you may be small in Bell but medium in Shoei, so it is crucial that once you have measured your head, you compare your size against the size charts provided by various helmet brands.
5. Try on as many helmets as possible.
Speaking of helmet brands, we advise you to take the time to fit helmets from different manufacturers as much as possible. We understand if you have a preferred brand or have already set your mind to buy something from a specific manufacturer, but sometimes things do not turn out as expected, and a good helmet on paper may not be the best once you have worn it.
If you research enough, you will realize that there are plenty of good motorcycle helmet brands out there, so try not to limit yourself to one or two. It is always better to have many options, and while it can be pretty overwhelming, this will help you select the perfect helmet.
6. Put on the helmet properly when fitting it.
Putting on a motorcycle helmet is not as simple as pulling it over the head, especially when fitting it. Keep in mind that a new helmet will always feel tight at first, so if you simply pull it over your head—and we assume quite forcibly—this might lead you to think that it is not the correct helmet size even if it matches your measurement and head shape.
To properly fit a helmet, you have to grab the chin straps first. This will slightly spread the cheek pads apart to allow the helmet’s opening to go over the thickest part of the head which is just above the eyebrows. Once you are ready, tip the helmet and roll it from front to back before pulling it all the way down.
7. Move the helmet around.
A helmet should never be loose for it to effectively do its job. But it should also not be too tight that it becomes unbearable to wear.
To check if the helmet is the correct fit, try moving it around by pulling it up and down, rolling it front to back, and moving it side to side. The helmet should not move around a lot as you do this and the skin on your face should be pulled together with the motion as well. This means that the helmet is snug enough and fits into the shape of your head perfectly.
8. Look for pressure points.
Do this by keeping the helmet on your head for about half an hour or so. Motorcycle helmets are like shoes that need breaking in, so do not worry too much if they are tight at first. As you keep using the helmet, the cheek pads and the inner liners will eventually mold into the shape of your head and start to feel more comfortable as if you are not wearing something on your head at all.
But when you start feeling a pinching sensation in common pressure points like the forehead, temples, and the back of the head after wearing the helmet for quite some time, take it off then try another one.
9. Check the position of the helmet’s eye-port.
The helmet’s eye port should be just above the eyebrows and it must stay there to avoid any visual distractions. If a helmet is too loose, it may slide down while you are riding which can make you lose focus and prevent you from seeing the road ahead.
As a precautionary check, try getting in two fingers on the top part of the eye-port just above the eyebrows. If you cannot get even a finger in, it means that the helmet is a good fit and the eye-port is likely to stay in place.
10. Chew gum when fitting a new helmet.
This may sound like a piece of weird advice but chewing gum while fitting a helmet is one odd but good way to check its fitment. Remember that your cheeks should be slightly compressed when wearing a new helmet, and while this may look awkward, this should not be painful. So if you find it hard to chew gum while wearing a new helmet, then it is likely the perfect fit.
11. Avoid buying second-hand helmets.
It may be tempting to buy secondhand helmets since they can be pretty expensive especially the premium ones, but we advise against it and we recommend that you purchase brand new ones instead. This is because second-hand helmets are most probably already broken in and will not be of accurate size anymore.
There is also the possibility that sellers of secondhand helmets will not be fully transparent about why they are selling them, so the helmet may look good as new on the outside but there could be internal damage that you may not notice until it is too late.
12. Check motorcycle helmet safety ratings.
It is common to see DOT, Snell, and ECE stickers when shopping for helmets. These are the different safety standard rating systems that indicate whether a motorcycle helmet is fit for riding or not. And while they vary in terms of criteria, these safety standard rating systems all aim to test the ability of helmets to withstand immense forces.
However, helmet ratings should not be the be-all and end-all of choosing the right headgear. A helmet may be DOT, Snell, or ECE certified, but if it does not properly fit your head, it will still not protect you in the event of a crash.
This is a safety standard mandated by the United States Department of Transportation. Before a helmet is allowed to be used in public highways and other major US thoroughfares, it must meet DOT standards.
In the DOT’s rating system, helmet manufacturers are mandated to test their products. However, they are not required to submit the results or any other documentation. Instead, the DOT will conduct random tests to see if the manufacturers produced helmets that meet DOT standards.
The DOT performs different tests to examine a helmet’s protection capabilities. These include an impact attenuation test, a penetration test, and a retention system test.
The impact attenuation test measures the helmet’s shock-absorbing capacity by dropping a helmeted mannequin onto a rounded anvil or a flat, hard surface. Meanwhile, the penetration test is performed by dropping a solid object onto a stationary helmet. Lastly, the retention system test aims to measure the ability of the chin strap to maintain its position when subjected to extreme forces.
This is issued by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a private and independent non-profit organization founded to commemorate sports car racer William “Pete” Snell who died from severe head injuries because his helmet failed to protect him when he got into an accident while racing.
Among helmet manufacturers, it is known that Snell’s criteria are harder to meet and their certification harder to achieve. Snell’s tests are generally similar to that of the DOT’s but they differ in terms of impact severity, impact criteria, and the number of tests performed.
Before a Snell certification is issued, Snell technicians test samples of helmets submitted by manufacturers in their laboratory. The tests include an impact test, positional stability test, dynamic retention test, chin bar rigidity test, shell penetration test, face shield penetration test, flame resistance test, frontal head restraint test, and chin bar impact test.
To know how Snell does each of these tests, you may check it out here.
Snell also regularly buys helmets that they have already certified before to see if those helmets still meet their criteria.
The United Nations Economic Commission issues this for Europe. The ECE certification is considered the most commonly used standard worldwide and is also the mandatory safety standard in Europe.
Unlike the DOT and Snell ratings, helmet manufacturers who want to receive an ECE rating must apply for certification. The ECE standard also requires mandatory batch testing before helmets are sent to dealerships, ensuring that they are of good quality before leaving the factory. This is contrary to the DOT rating system, wherein they only test helmets randomly once they are already out in the market.
ECE does tests similar to what DOT and Snell do. Still, they also perform a peripheral vision test, penetration resistance test, and other tests that measure the effectivity of the retention system, the strength of the retention system, and the helmet’s shock absorption capabilities.
13. Choose a more expensive helmet.
In many instances, cheaper products do not always mean inferior quality to their expensive counterparts. But as far as motorcycle helmets are concerned, the premium ones are almost always better.
With traumatic brain injuries still the leading cause of death in most motorcycle accidents, your life depends on the protective headgear that you are wearing. And while it may seem impractical at first to buy a helmet worth hundreds of dollars, think of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that you will spend in medical bills if you sustain head injuries in a motorcycle accident.
Here are the reasons why it is better to invest in expensive motorcycle helmets:
|Outer shell||Helmets made of cheap material like polycarbonate tend to bounce more when it hits the ground which means less impact absorption.||Helmets made of premium materials such as blended fiberglass tend to stay on the ground with minimal bouncing which means better impact absorption.|
|Outer shell sizes||Cheap helmets usually come in only one or two outer shell sizes which means limited options with not-so-accurate sizes.||Premium helmets typically come in three to six sizes, thereby giving more options within a more varied size range.|
|Inner shell||Cheap helmets which have simple inner shells usually only have one density.||Premium helmets usually have more than one inner shell which means more than one density that can help break down the force of the impact before it gets to the skull.|
|Visor||Cheap helmets have visors that are made of thin and flexible plastic that can easily bend or even be blown off in the event of a crash. It is also rare for cheap helmets to have anti-fog features on their visors.||Premium helmets have visors made of thick and sturdy materials that are less prone to breakage. They also tend to be bigger to provide a better view of the road. Some premium brands also offer the option to add anti-fog features to their visors.|
|Ventilation||Cheap helmets typically only have one ventilation grill at the top but it cannot be closed, or even if it can be closed, the mechanism is not really airtight. Some cheap helmets may also seem like they have vents but they are only for show.||Premium helmets feature plenty of vents located on the chin, brow, top, and back of the helmet.|
|Retention system||Chin straps of cheap helmets are usually made of weak plastic material that is more prone to general wear and tear and may even snap in half in the event of a crash.||Premium helmets often come with a Double-D retention system, considered as the strongest retention system, which consists of a strong strap and two metal D-rings.|