Motorcycle crashes can be dangerous leading to severe morbidity, or even worse, mortality when the head injury is serious. It is an established fact and practice that wearing a helmet can be a life saver, and protect you when you expect it the least.
When it comes to wearing motorcycle helmets, it is important to think in advance about the size and the style of the helmet, and obviously to try it on and wear it for a brief amount of time to see if it fits the head well. It is also useful to be aware of some of the common problems reoccurring with motorcycle helmets.
Motorcycle helmets afford the all-important protection to our head region, and eventually the brain, that is sensitive to injury and shock upon an impact. Apart from their safety feature, they also look stylish and modern, depending on the type of helmet you choose, to accord with your own personal preference and making your unique fashion statement.
A lot of people take this risk and possible injuries for granted. These riders are either unsure about the type of helmet they should be wearing, have physical limitations or reasons for not wearing it, or are just simply ignorant of the benefits or requirements of this life-saving gear.
Some motorcycle riders also do not wear their helmets correctly. They assume it is a simple and straightforward ritual and just wrap it around their head, without considering the do’s and don’ts of wearing a helmet in the right manner. This is counterintuitive and defeats the purpose for which they are wearing this protection gear in the first place.
It is better to be safe than sorry, and with the above observations in mind, this guide aims to educate the motorbike riders regarding the various considerations and aspects that they need to consider when choosing a helmet. The idea is to enlighten them with the techniques and requirements that they should be considering when choosing the right helmet for their usage and chosen terrain.
Choosing the Proper Size for the Motorcycle Helmet
Let us review some of the pragmatic aspects and functionalities of a motorbike helmet that you should pay close attention to, before you decide on the best one for you.
Choose the Preferred Helmet Style
Motorcyclists these days are spoilt for choices when it comes to choosing from the helmet options available. It is a good position to be in, but at the same time, it can be taxing for the riders, as they may not fully appreciate the functionalities, benefits and cons of all these options. By and large, there are around five basic kinds of motorcycle helmets that you need to be aware of before opting for the best one.
Open Face Helmets
As the name suggests, has an open design, and for such reason, it is meant to be less restrictive and consequently provide lesser protection. They do provide the rider with lots of fresh air, as the chin or face is not covered. These helmets can also be bought as “half” helmets, that only cover the top region of your skull, or a “or ¾” helmet, which covers everything on the head but leaving the face exposed.
These types of helmets are generally inexpensive in comparison to their counterparts, and that is reflective of in its limited features as well. They are a popular choice amongst bikers riding cruisers, retros, and classics.
The Full Face Helmet
Fully encompasses the rider’s head. There is a face shield that serves to protect the nose and eyes, as well as a shell extension also known as the chin bar to protect the bottom or chin region.
These types of helmets do not offer maximized ventilation, but do offer optimum protection against impacts and external elements. They have an aerodynamic shape but are also quiet at the same time. If you are thinking of hitting the tracks or street biking, this helmet is your best bet.
Can also be seen as an extension of full face helmets. They offer a hinged mechanism allowing the chin bar to swing, and moving away from face shield when the rider meets with an accident and impact.
A push of a button can quickly convert the full face option into an open face one. It is this modular feature that gets the name for this helmet. This type of helmet is versatile and allows the rider to choose between the two options, to suit their riding style or needs. By way of example, a touring rider can benefit from this helmet on a highway where he will require full face protection, and can also use the half face option when he needs to stopover for a meal. These motorcycle helmets, however, cannot and shouldn’t be used to ride with an open position or face.
The downsides of this version include heavier weight and more noise as compared to other helmets. Having said that, their manufacturers are aware of these shortcomings and we are seeing gradual improvements in the newer models. These helmets are particularly popular with the touring and commuter riders.
ADV (Adventure Helmet)
Are ideal for you if you happen to find yourself riding on and off the road. This helmet allows you to easily transition from street rides to the rough trails – thanks to its combination features that work in both conditions.
When used on streets, it affords you with the safety rating and a face shield protection. When used on muddy or dirt roads, they can offer you a dirt helmet feel with tons of ventilation, and ample space for you to fit in your goggles. This hybrid feature comes with its downside on safety aspects, but this is a no-brainer when it comes to choosing a helmet for both the terrains – street and trail. They are quite a hit with dual sport and ADV riders.
Are meant to be exclusively used for off-road purposes. In the United States, these motorcycle helmets do not need a Department of Transportation (DOT) rating, and hence, these may not be street-legal, and hence, you should opt for another suitable helmet for safety and protection purposes. These helmets provide great airflow, and are designed with a large peak to keep external elements out of the rider’s eyes. They are manufactured with ample space so you can squeeze in your goggles fairly comfortably. This type of helmet is super light in weight, but that comes at the expense of face shields and related comfort features.
Check the Correct Head Shape and Size
Now that you have a sense of direction on choosing the right kind of helmet, the next step should be to ascertain your head shape. Generally speaking, people can be compartmentalized into three head-shapes: long oval (long and thin), round oval (round), and intermediate oval (somewhere in between).
If you are unsure about your head shape, then ask someone to take a photo of your head from the top most part. Try to flatten your hair to the extent possible, to get the most accurate head shape. You can again ask someone to measure your head’s circumference with the help of a soft tape or a piece of string (which can then be measured easily) – running it above your eyebrows and then around your head all the way to the back, right up to the widest region. When you look at the picture, you will find yourself in either of these brackets. In the United States for instance, intermediate oval can be found commonly.
You can now narrow down your helmet size search in accordance with your head measurements, by looking at the best size in the helmet chart. This may be a different experience as we are not used to measuring our heads, like we measure other parts of our body such as waist, collar, shoulders or feet for example. There are multiple online sources where you can find helmet size measurements, both in metric as well as imperial measurements.
A good rule of thumb can be that your helmet can be the same size as your well-fitted hat. The typical motorcycle helmet sizes are small, medium, large, and extra-large.
If you hat size is somewhere between the two standard sizes, then it is best to get a customized helmet, as opposed to forcing yourself to opt one that won’t be a perfect fit. The customization requires some time and added cost, but you do eventually get a well-sized helmet that will not be a compromise on your safety and life.
If your helmet is pressing or squishing your head, this is not a good sign. You should immediately replace it with a bigger one. Amongst the usually safety hazard whilst driving, a tighter helmet can impact your blood circulation and can lead to headaches and even worse.
You may also want to consider creating some space if it is too tight, by removing the inner lining and any added padding, which again will be a compromise on the safety aspect.
Make Sure to Try On the Helmet
So you have sorted out the size and measurement related aspects of your helmet, now you need to try it on. In line with the size and your head profile, you can now narrow down your search to specific helmets that will be an ideal choice for you. You can now order it with confidence and hope for it to arrive soon. When you receive it, always ensure that it matches the description that you sought and then put it on. Always read the instructions or seek guidance regarding the straps and positioning. The straps need to be held tightly and spread apart so the helmet can glide over your head. It is normal to feel uncomfortable and tight when you are passing your head through the helmet padding. The ears might require adjustment as well, so you feel comfortable and at ease. The entire focus need to be on the fitting and feel once the helmet is in its designated place and adjusted throughout.
Check if the Helmet Fits Well Everywhere
Your helmet should sit nicely and straight on your face. If it is tilted (like a cap) then you may experience discomfort or other problems whilst riding. This is the last thing you want!
The helmet straps should be pulled gently but firmly, but never too tightly. There has to be a balance between tight and loose, and only you can achieve that by adjusting it to the best possible and comfortable position. Once pulled, the helmet should feel steady and firm on your head, without being too tight.
Some other fit checks include the pressure around cheek pads. They shouldn’t be hugging your cheeks too tight, and at the same time there shouldn’t be a gap between brow pads and the temple.
On a full face helmet, the chin piece should be pressed for a good fit. The shield should not be touching your nose, and it if is, then clearly, the helmet is small for you.
If you measured your head correctly or as close to the exact measurement, you shouldn’t struggle with the fit, unless the supplier delivered the wrong item or there is some problem with a particular model’s design or fitting.
When you hold the chin bar and move it around, the only thing that should move is your cheeks, and not the helmet. If the helmet is sliding, then you need a smaller size. If it is slightly tight (but not uncomfortable on pressure points), then do bear in mind that the liners will stretch slightly (15-20%) once you have used the helmet for good 15 to 20 hours.
Wear the Helmet for Some Time
You need to leave the helmet on your head for quite some time – ideally for 15 to 30 minutes. During this period, you can just sit, relax or may be watch some TV. Whilst you are waiting, you should also be observing and feeling any pressure points around your head. A firm fit is alright, but if that firmness or tightness is making you think that you need to take it off to stop the discomfort, pain, fatigue or double vision, then this is certainly not the right fit and it is not usable. If a helmet doesn’t fit well, it usually tells you that in two specific places: directly in the forehead region, or right above the temples. Another sign to note is if you have any big markings or lines on your forehead due to excessive compression, once you remove the helmet.
If the helmet is tough and tight on your temples, then it is lacking in roundness. You shouldn’t be doing these observations or testing during riding. It isn’t safe and you may not get your return if you damage it or use it excessively.
Buy and Ride if it Fits and Feels Right
Helmet fitment essentially ascertains the level of safety it can provide to you whilst riding. As a matter of fact, in US, the DOT safety rating will only be valid for a helmet that is correctly sized.
Once you have bought a helmet, you need to use it regularly to find out how comfortable it is. The liners start breaking and you get more comfortable in your helmet after 15-20 hours of use. The helmet is supposed to adapt to the shape of your head, and that is when you get the best fit, comfort and above all, best protection.
The helmet needs to feel ‘just right’. If it is too small, it can cause headache, fatigue and visioon problems. If it is too big, it will keep moving around and vibrating, causing you annoyance and blurry vision through the visor. Not to mention, reduced impact protection as the helmet can come off in the event of a crash.
Common Problems When It Comes To Motorcycle Helmets
Ears Get Folded with the Helmet On
This is quite normal. All you need to do is push them back to their natural position that you are comfortable in, and then you are good to ride again. It is all about the fitment when everything is adjusted and strapped.
Head Shapes are Confusing
If you are unsure about your head profile, then you need assistance from a friend who actually has an aerial view of your head and is in the best position to take the measurements. You also need to compress your hair as much as possible. If all this sounds too much trouble, then your best bet is intermediate oval.
When you Can’t Get into the Helmet Despite the Right Helmet Size
There may not be anything wrong with the size you chose. Some models have added neck roll padding than others. You need to hold the two straps with a firm grip whilst the thumbs press the strap against the helmet. Now you need to slowly open the helmet a bit and then pull it on top of your head. If you still cannot get a good fit, do not put more pressure or force, and move on to the next big size.
Will I Need Tweaks to My Helmet if I Want to Wear Prescription or Sunglasses During the Ride?
Not really! Almost all the modern version of helmets has added space to accommodate these glasses. Always try to wear the helmet whilst wearing all types of glasses or eye protection you intend to wear, and check the fitment. If you are only looking to wear sunglasses, then do consider buying a drop-down sun shield that might help you ride without one.
Helmet is Too Tight and May Lead to Hair Loss
If your motorcycle helmet is too tight even after using it for good few hours, then that may lead to hair loss and can also be harmful to your health – causing fatigue, headache or double vision. You cannot stop wearing the helmet just because you are worried about hair loss. If the liner doesn’t break with usage and you are still concerned, then get a bigger size that should have a snugly fit, or even consider a customized helmet for your head profile.
Can the Pads for My Helmet be Changed or Replaced?
Yes you can. This is normally done to enhance the fitting by modifying the comfort pads within your helmet. However, you won’t get this option in all the helmets, so do check for this before you buy. These pads and liners can still be stuffed in for added comfort and protection, even if the helmet is a good fit, and the existing ones have opened up by breaking-in. The markings on these pads are on the back, so you can note those and get the same match when adding or replacing.
A motorcycle helmet should never be bought on the basis of its looks and style only. Safety and comfort should be high on your list when wearing and trying a helmet out. When you have a helmet, it should assist you during your rides in all seasons, and should be apt for all terrain types.
Basic rule of thumb for riders is to never buy a helmet or accept an online purchase; until you have tried it to your satisfaction, and established that it is ‘fit for purpose’.
This guide should provide you enough material and information to help you find the right helmet that fits well too. There is some work involved as part of measuring and testing it, but it will all be worth the effort when you finally get the perfect helmet that affords you optimum safety and comfort once broken-in. Now you can focus on enjoying the ride!