Motorcycle helmets are effective only when they fit well on the rider’s head. That’s the way helmets are designed. While the mechanism brings us maximum safety, it still relies on us as users. The problem is, choosing the right helmet model and size can be complicated. Many beginners make mistakes with their first helmet. So, if you need help with that, you came to the right place. Here’s a guide on how to size and choose the best motorcycle helmet.
- Choose Helmet Type
- Find Head Size & Shape
- Do A Fitting Test
- Check For Comfort
- Check Accessory Availability
- Do A Test Ride
In a nutshell, that’s what the process of choosing a helmet consists of. We can all agree that the sizing, and finding the right, comfortable model is where people screw up. Thoroughly read this step-by-step guide to avoid any purchase disappointments.
Understanding Helmet Styles
Helmet manufacturers tend to stick with the designs that people like. So, the most popular helmet styles that you’ll find in shops are full-face helmet, open face, modular, off-road, ADV, and half helmets.
I see that most beginners mix these up. The helmet style should fit your riding style. For instance, if you mainly drive in cities, a full-face or an open face helmet is the way to go. A dirt bike rider would go for the off-road helmet.
To make this more clear, we’ll explain each of these. Get to know all the types of helmets then choose what suits you.
The full-face style is what most people are familiar with. You don’t have to know anything about motorcycles, you’ve probably seen a helmet like this. The full-face helmet covers every part of your head. In addition to the basic shell overhead style, there’s a full-face lid that covers the area around your eyes. The chin and the nose are covered protected by a chin bar.
As far as safety performance goes, this helmet type is absolutely the best. There are many layers of protection that make it the safest motorcycle helmet. It has eye protection, skull protection, and chin protection. With this style of helmet, the wind and the noise are never a problem.
However, a certain level of protection can make the helmet less comfortable. That’s why some people don’t like riding with a full-face. Because your whole head is closed in, it tends to get hot. There’s not a lot of ventilation except for the holes in the chin bar.
How do you feel about this design? Everyone agrees that it’s a safety standard but do we compromise in comfort? In my opinion, it’s a good choice for every type of riding habit except for dirt bikes. If you’re a city lurker something with better ventilation is still a good choice.
Open Face Helmets
A more ventilated type of helmet than the full-face one is the open face design. Not that different than the full-face in build. It doesn’t have a chin bar but it still covers your skull and cheeks. There’s a visor(either a partial or a full one) but it’s not connected with a chin bar. That’s why we call it “open face”.
Some people may confuse this style with the half helmet. The open face is more like a 3/4 helmet, it covers more than half of your head. A half helmet doesn’t cover the chins. That’s why it’s way safer than the half helmet.
The gap in safety between the open face and full-face style is not that significant. I think people find the open face just as safe. It’s not that useful against the wind though, noisier too. But you can breathe easily, and you won’t sweat that much, so that’s that.
I wouldn’t recommend it for tracks, and dirt roads too. Some don’t feel comfortable with it on highways too. That chin bar makes a difference after all.
Now, this is something more versatile, the modular helmet. A combination of the full-face and open-face style. It looks exactly like the full-face helmet, and it has the same protection parts. The only difference is that the chin bar and the visor can be opened, or rather, flipped up.
The modular helmet is a modern design that is getting more and more popular. Especially because of its availability to add a tech feature like Bluetooth. Riders that take long trips like the modular design. They use the flip-up mechanism to take a rest and breath a little.
You can definitely use this as an alternative for the full-face helmet. I wouldn’t say that it’s as safe as the full-face style though. Since the chin bar and visor are not fixed there’s wiggle room. It’s nothing significant but it doesn’t absorb the impact as well as the full-face.
Also known as dirt helmets, off-road helmets are almost exclusively used by dirt bike owners. Similar design to the full-face helmet. There’s a chin bar that kind of points up(elongated chin) but there’s no visor. The ventilation is good, the helmet is light, but it needs additional equipment like goggles.
It makes no sense to ride this is in the street, I think it’s not legal in some states to do so. Anyways, it doesn’t make sense to buy an expensive helmet that will do you no good. Choose this style only if you have a dirt bike.
Dual-Sport Helmets or ADV are full-face helmets that can be converted to a dirt helmet. It covers the entire head just like the full-face style but the chin bar and the visor can be flipped up.
These types of helmets are designed for riders who switch between streets and dirt roads. They are slightly more expensive, so it’s not worth it if you’re not going to be dirt road riding.
It may not be as safe as the full-face design but it’s more comfortable though. The ventilation is better even with a closed chin bar. The basic dirt helmet has better airflow of course.
Lastly, we have the half helmet. The basic shell with a chin strap on both sides. It only covers the top area of your head. So, if we were to give it a safety rating, we can’t say it rates high. The U.S. Department of Transportation agrees. We see more and more regulations against the half helmets.
Despite it not being the safest, there’s still a use for this style. Let’s say you live in a small town, there’s not a lot of traffic. A small bike would be a good way to get around, and a full-face or a 3/4 helmet isn’t a good fit. Anyways, I’ll let you decide, I always prefer quality helmets.
Finding Head Size And Head Shape
Once you decide on a style, you’ll need to find your head shape and size. This is easy enough to do, it sure helps a lot if you have someone to give you a hand with the measuring.
The standards of helmet sizing are head shape and head size. We look for a helmet that has a certain shape and a certain size. The first thing you need to do is find out your head shape. To make things easier, manufacturers offer three universal categories. Round oval, intermediate oval, and long oval.
To find out your shape, take a photo of the top of your head. It’s better if your friend can take the photo from a higher perspective. Compare your photos with the three categories. Your head won’t be exactly the same as the standard shapes, of course. You’ll figure it out though.
Now that you know the shape, you need to size your head. Like I said, a helping hand will make things much easier even if you don’t have a tape measure. You can’t mess up this part if you know where exactly to measure that is.
A tape measure is an easiest and most effective way to do this. Measure the circumference of your head. Place the tape above your eyebrows but not too far up the forehead. It should go all the way to the back of the head, the widest point.
Once you’ve got the circumference, check a helmet size chart to see where you fit in. It’s as easy as that. If you don’t have a tape measure, get a thin rope or a shoelace. Place it just like I explained with the tape. Mark both ends with something, then place it on a ruler.
Here’s something you want to know. You can get the head shape and size right but the helmet still may not fit you. That’s just the way it is, it does not mean that you made a mistake. The helmet liner may be too large, the cheek pads may be too tight, etc.
We can agree that you must try the helmet to make sure it fits right. Helmet shapes can be weird with some models, so knowing the shape and size is just not enough. In normal circumstances, a shop should let you try the helmet before buying it.
Try the helmet on and see if it fits right. Too loose or too tight is a no. The cheek pads should be pushed up against your cheeks but not too tight. Try moving around the helmet. It should feel like your cheeks are moving but not the helmet.
If you can’t get the helmet on your head, go a size up. If it feels too loose, go a size down. When trying the helmet, have this in mind. It should be tight and cover your head, however, it should be comfortable. If you feel discomfort, it’s no the right model for you. This brings me to my next point.
You can’t know exactly how comfortable the helmet is by just trying it on. You need to wear it for a short period of time, 20 minutes for instance. The thing with choosing the perfect helmet is that you want it to be tight but in a good way.
So, a helmet that felt comfortable at the start may cause pain in the next 20 minutes. That’s why the comfort test should last at least 15-20 minutes.
Now that you have your eyes on a certain model, there’s not much left to consider. Check for accessories. Do you want to add a feature to your helmet? Does the helmet support accessories? This is a deal-breaker for some people, fortunately, a lot of modern helmets support add ons.
In the end do a test ride, if everything feels right, you found the right helmet. If not, you’ll need to exchange for a different model.
[Related Article: When To Replace A Motorcycle Helmet]
Things You Want To Know
- After your first ride, the helmet will feel different. Helmet liners need to break-in. If the helmet becomes too loose, it’s not the right size for you.
- You can customize the helmet liner and cheek pads in some models.
- If you tried too many models but none fit you, you’ve got the sizing wrong.
- If you wear glasses, wear them while trying the helmet. The size may be right but the glasses can still be in the way. You can add visual mechanisms to your helmet. Just remember, the helmet size should stay the same.
- Full-face helmets have the lowest life expectancy. Because of the low ventilation, the rider sweats more, and the liners get ruined.
- Helmet maintenance is crucial for helmet safety. Here’s how to wash a helmet.
- Don’t be worried if it hurts while you’re putting the helmet on, how it feels like once you’re wearing it is what matters.
Related Questions And Other FAQs
What Happens If Your Helmet Is Too Big
A loose helmet is a safety hazard for several reasons. It moves too much so it messes up with the rider’s peripheral vision. It lets wind in, and it’s not tight enough to protect from impact.
Should A Motorcycle Helmet Squeeze Your Cheeks
The helmet should be touching your cheeks but not squeezing them too much. Too much pressure it’s not okay. Your cheeks should be pushed up like a chipmunk.
How Can I Make My Helmet Fit Better
Most of the time a badly fitted helmet is replaced. There are things you can try though. Removing the cheek pads is a way to go. Cheek pads are customizable, so maybe you make it fit better.