If all motorcyclists wore helmets, more than $1 billion in economic costs could be saved. Helmets are more than just economic costs, they also save thousands of lives each year.
Finding the best motorcycle helmet means finding the helmet that fits the rider’s head. More importantly, finding the helmet that a rider wants to wear.
If the helmet is comfortable, it will get worn more often. We’re going to go over everything a rider needs to know on how to buy a motorcycle helmet.
Why Does Helmet Fit Matter?
The problem with an ill-fitting helmet is that it won’t protect you, or even stay on your head. Often when a rider is in a crash, loose-fitting items are ejected from the rider’s body.
This usually includes items like shoes or unzipped jackets. However, helmets that are too loose will come off upon crash impact too.
The outer shell of the helmet is designed to react and absorb the energy transferred from an impact. Helmets that are too tight won’t be able to absorb impact properly before the impact energy transfers to your skull.
There are two safety certifications that helmets can come with, DOT and SNELL. DOT standards are federally regulated while SNELL is a certification provided by a private non-profit organization.
Look for this sticker to know for sure that your helmet is street legal. This is important if you live in a state that requires you to wear a helmet.
Law enforcement in these states can and will pull you over for not wearing an approved helmet. The DOT certification can easily be seen on the back of the helmet.
The helmet’s thickness, chinstraps, rivets, weight, and design must meet certain minimums. The label you are looking for should state the helmet is DOT FMVSS 218 approved.
SNELL certifications are put through a much more rigorous testing regiment. A manufacturer can not claim SNELL certification until after the helmet has been independently tested.
This is different from DOT which is done on the honor system. This means that all SNELL helmets meet DOT standards, but not all DOT helmets meet SNELL.
Types of Helmets
There are three basic types of helmets that are available for motorcycle riders. A full face helmet, a modular helmet, and a half helmet.
Full face helmets are a solid construction around the entire head. There is a visor that the rider can move up and down. These helmets are typically worn by sportbike riders.
Modular helmets look like a full face helmet when worn. Except that the entire front of the helmet in addition to the visor can be moved up and out of the rider’s face.
Half helmets are minimal and only cover the rider’s skull. They offer no face protection. These are the helmets you might envision on a Harley rider or in the hit TV show Sons of Anarchy.
The New Generation
Niche smart helmets are a new trend in full-face helmets. These helmets are usually produced in small quantities and loaded with technology.
Features like a rear view cameras, Bluetooth, and touch panels are often found on them. The price tag will keep most riders from investing in a smart helmet as they are usually well over one thousand dollars.
Some of the features are starting to infiltrate the mass-produced market. Bluetooth options are starting to become standard on many higher quality helmets.
Looks and Designs
Half helmets are almost always black. Sometimes they will have designs such as flames, skulls, pin striping, or even butterflies.
Modular helmets are typically going to come in solid colors such as white, grey and tan. There is a unique neon safety yellow version for those who are serious about being seen.
Full face helmets offer the largest selection when it comes to designs. Riders looking for a custom look to match their style will fair best with these helmets.
Often sportbike riders will match their helmet to the motorcycle or their gear. Women may find a limited selection of female specific helmets at some stores. The great thing about helmets is, they are not gender-specific, so women aren’t limited in which one they choose.
How to Buy a Motorcycle Helmet
To find the right size helmet, start with a head circumference. Measure around the head just above the ears and about one inch above the eyebrows.
This should also be the widest point of the head. The resulting number will match up with a size on the manufacturer’s size chart.
Next, determine a head shape. There are three main categories, round, oval, and a combination. Stand up straight and take a picture from directly above. The general shape of the skull can then be seen.
How to Try on a Helmet
Hold one of the chin straps in each hand. Then pull them slightly apart while sliding the helmet down.
Look on the inside of the helmet for the size tag. It might be found on or even underneath the liner.
Most helmets are designated between XS and 3XL. These sizes are arbitrary though, and helmets should be chosen based on the number measurement.
Getting the Right Fit
If the helmet is loose on the head and easily moves around on the head, it is too big. If it feels as though it is squeezing the life out of the skull, it is too small.
Pressure or pain all over means the helmet is too small overall. A pressure in one or two points on the head means it is the wrong shape.
A hot spot on the forehead means the helmet is round while the wearer’s head is oval. Smushed cheeks mean the helmet is oval while the wearer’s head is round.
If the helmet fits comfortably, but it isn’t compressing the cheeks, thicker cheek pads are needed. Cheek pads will be snug until they have time to be compressed with use.
If none of the sizes are fitting, try another brand. Just like clothing manufacturers, helmet makers use their own size charts. Certain brands are also known for producing a particular shape such as round or oval.
Your Best Motorcycle Helmet Fitment
Once a helmet is chosen, it needs to be adjusted for a custom fitment. This means adjusting the chin straps, cheek pads, liner, and other comfort features.
Common Mistakes When Buying Motorcycle Helmets
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to buying a helmet. Everyone who rides will tell you their theories for buying the right helmet.
Many of these homegrown ideas are wrong. Do not fall into these common traps when buying motorcycles helmets.
Do not size the helmet up to fit glasses. Instead, purchase a pair of glasses that are meant to be worn while riding and with a helmet.
There is no hairstyle that is more important than proper helmet fitment. Ponytails and braids should be kept low and out the bottom of the helmet.
Food and Drinks
This issue is most commonly seen with modular helmets. Helmets are not designed to be worn while eating a drinking.
Safety should be valued over convenience. Take the time to take the helmet off if you need to eat or drink. Additionally, you shouldn’t be trying to eat and drink while riding.
The helmet is supposed to snug when it is put on, which means ears are going to be snug against the head. After the helmet is on, many riders will adjust their ears to a comfortable position.
Riding a motorcycle is an outdoor activity, getting sweaty is inevitable. If it is really bothersome, look for a helmet that has proper venting and a sweat-wicking fabric liner.
Changing the comfort liners is only OK for minor adjustments. Do not change the liners in an attempt to make a too large helmet fit.
If a thicker liner is needed, then the outer shell is too big. Just like cheek pads the helmet liner is there for comfort and will break in over time and continued wear.
Your Old Helmet Fits Better
Of course, the old helmet is comfortable, its been worn for years and it is broken in for a custom fit. There was a time when that old helmet was new and snug too.
Head Size vs Height and Weight
Head size has literally nothing to do with height and weight. Men who are very tall and large can wear a small helmet.
While a child could have a head large enough to wear an adult helmet. Do not assume helmet size based on other body measurements.
My Size is Always the Same
There are two pieces to this, first, the human body is always changing. Someone who used to wear a large may now wear a medium or extra large.
The other part of this is that not all manufacturers use the same size chart. A large helmet from Bell can fit completely different from a large helmet from Arai.
Embrace the Helmet
When shopping for the best motorcycle helmet, put the helmet on and wear it for a good 30-45 minutes. This will allow enough time for any hot spots to develop.
Check that the helmet for certification of meeting the minimum safety standards. Then make sure the measurements are correct for fitment.
It should be snug around the head, but not too tight. Stick to helmets that are shaped to match the head shape.
Now that you have your safety gear covered, time to pick your next great ride.