A motorcycle helmet is a legal requirement if you want to ride a motorcycle or scooter on UK roads. Even though they’re compulsory, it’s vital you choose the right one.
Choosing the right helmet is more about your com crucial for a few reasons. Not only does it mean you’ll be comfortable but it also reduces the chances of your head sustaining an injury if you’re involved in an accident. A well-fitting and quality helmet may end up saving your life.
You may have heard that if you choose a 5-star SHARP helmet, this provides the best level of protection, well, as SHARP point out, without the correct fit, your helmet won’t protect you as well as it could. We’ve created the ultimate guide on fitting a motorcycle helmet to make sure you know what to look for whether you’re buying in-store or online.
HOW DOES A HELMET WORK
Pretty much every motorcycle helmet is made up of four main parts:
The outer shell: Made from reinforced composites or thermoplastics for a tough outside layer. It is designed to compress and absorb impact forces.
EPS layer: Made from expanded polystyrene and designed to deform in the event of an impact, therefore absorbing force that would otherwise be transferred to your brain potentially preventing a fatal brain trauma.
Padding: A soft foam and material layer which is in contact with your skin. Keeps you comfortable and improves the fit of your helmet.
Retention strap: Also known as a chin strap, it makes sure your helmet remains in place if you have an accident. Retention straps can be adjusted to make sure you always have a good fit.
Over time, helmets will become less effective at providing the right fit. With continued wear, the lining will compress and become loose. Of course, if you have a removable lining, washing it can restore its original form but it will lose its shape over time, despite you washing it. The good news it that you can replace your helmet’s liner, which is a cost-effective way to lengthen the useable service life of your helmet.
The EPS layer will harden over time, due to exposure to different temperatures. Research shows that after 7 years; the EPS liner could have hardened by as much as 20%, which could make the helmet less effective at absorbing impacts.Stuart Millington of Moto Direct
When should you replace a motorcycle helmet?
Following an accident, even if it’s a minor one, if your helmet has taken any form of impact, you should replace it. Some manufacturers offer a service where you can send your helmet off to get X-rayed but if it’s hit the ground, it’s taken an impact. When you next need the helmet do you really want to risk one that’s been compromised?
It is recommended that you replace your helmet once it is 5 years old or once the fit becomes loose enough that it doesn’t pass the fit tests (see more on this below). If you’re a regular rider clocking up the miles, you may find you need to replace your helmet every couple of years but as an absolute rule, you must replace your helmet if it’s 7 years old.
Now you have a basic understanding of how helmets work; let’s take a look at how you ensure you’re buying one that fits your head shape the best.
CHOOSE A STYLE
Depending on your choice of look and the riding you do will determine the type of helmet you want. As well as a wide variety of colourful designs and features, helmets usually fall into 5 main categories:
Open face: As the name suggests, the helmet does not enclose the rider’s face. Open face helmets do not have a chin guard; for this reason, they provide the least level of protection. Open face helmets tend to be the cheapest ones you can buy and offer fewer features . Open face helmets are popular with scooter and cruiser riders, who tend to ride at lower speeds and avoid faster roads like motorways . If your open face helmet doesn’t have a visor, you’ll need a pair of goggles or suitable eyewear to protect your eyes from road debris, rain drops (they hurt at 30mph!) and wind blast.. The good thing about open-face helmets is that they allow for plenty of air circulation and give you a feeling of being less restricted..
Full face: This style covers the entire head of the rider and is what most people imagine when they think of motorcycle helmets. They offer the greatest amount of protection. The chin guard and visor offer an increased level of protection against a range of different impacts. If you’re considering a track day or you want a quiet helmet, then a full face should be on your shopping list Although they provide less ventilation compared to an open face, the vast majority of manufacturers incorporate vents to allow for airflow and anti-fog visors to keep your vision clear.
Flip Up : Also known as a Flip-Front or Modular helmet. These are a variation of a full-face helmet, with a hinged chin bar meaning you can lift it up and out of the way. In short, it ends up looking like an open face helmet. These are popular with commuters and tourers, who want the best of a full-face and open face helmets. If you want to be able to ride with your chin bar raised you must look for a flip-up helmet that has dual homologation. This is a P/J rating (which is explained in more detail here)
Adventure: Adventure or ADV helmets are a hybrid of a dirt bike helmet and a full-face helmet. They’re popular with Adventure-bike riders as they suit the look of the bike better than a full face helmet if you’re likely to go off-roading, they’re the perfect compromise. Adventure helmets are road-legal, so you won’t need 2 helmets if you’re darting between main roads and country trails. You can spot an adventure helmet because they often have peaks that make them resemble a dirtbike helmet. However due to the peak they’re noisier than a full-face helmet which is more aerodynamic.
Motocross: Also known as MX or Dirt bike lids. These helmets are designed entirely for use off the roads. A lot of dirt bike helmets are not street legal. The design includes a chin guard but no visor, so goggles are a must. The broad peak helps keep spray and other debris out the rider’s face.
THINK ABOUT BUDGET
The first helmet you try on is rarely going to be the perfect one for you, so having a maximum price you’re willing to pay will help you select a good range of helmets to choose from. It makes sense to think about what you can afford to spend before you go and try on different helmets. There’s no point falling in love with a helmet you can’t afford. It makes sense to try on a helmet at two different ends of the price scale you’re working to. If you can afford a £300 helmet, then try on a £100 one, then a £300 one, preferably from the same brand so you can feel the difference.
MEASURE YOUR HEAD
Take a soft tape measure and run it around the back of your head (the bit that sticks out), above your ears and about 1 inch above your eyebrows. You may need to get someone to help you or take a few measurements to make sure you’re getting the same size. Make a note of the measure in centimetres, then, check out the sizing guides to find out which one you need. Helmets tend to come in size ranges from XS to XL. These sizes usually come with a centimetre range (for example Arai M isa 57-58cm). However this is to be taken with a pinch of salt as you may fit a Medium in one brand but be a better fit for a Large from another brand. If you’re in between sizes, opt for the smaller size. This way, you know your helmet is going to pass the fit tests below.
Size isn’t everything. We all have different-shape heads. Some manufacturers make helmets which suit round-shape heads and others suit oval-shape heads. Speak to the sales advisor as they’ll be able to assist you. It makes sense to try on an oval and round helmet to get a feel for which shape best suits your bonce.
SQUEEZE, TWIST AND ROCK
Once you’ve chosen your helmet, you’ll need to pop it on and perform a few checks. These checks can be done in-store or, if you’ve ordered online, at home. Make sure you complete each test thoroughly as each stage makes sure the level of protection is high.
Squeeze: When you put your helmet on your head, you should pull the straps apart, to widen the access and stop the straps clobbering your ears as you slide the helmet on. Tilt the helmet upwards slightly and aim to put the back of your head in first, it makes it easier to put on. Once it is in position, do up the chin strap, so it is a firm but comfortable fit. You should be able to slide your index finger between the strap and your chin but there shouldn’t be any play in the strap.
The inner lining will hug your head but you shouldn’t be able to feel any hard pressure points. If it feels like someone is prodding you with their finger, this is most likely to be your head pressing against the EPS layer, which unlike the lining, won’t bed in, so it’s best to try a larger size and compare.
The lining needs to be touching all areas of your head, including your cheeks if you have cheek pads. An excellent fitting helmet will cause you to have “chipmunk cheeks” where they puff up a little bit. However if you open your mouth wide and can’t close it without your teeth rubbing the insides of your cheeks, the helmet may be too tight.
However some helmets have removable cheek pads, so ask your sales assistant if this is the case and try the same helmet with a shallower cheek pad.
If you wear glasses, the lining must not feel too tight that it will cause pressure headaches or your glasses to dig into your temples. Some helmets come with channels in the lining designed to accommodate the frame of your glasses.
Twist: If you’re happy with how the lining feels, put both hands over where your ears are and twist the helmet slightly from side to side. At no point should the helmet slide around your head, this twisting motion should grab your cheeks and move them with the helmet. At no point should you be able to move the edge of the visor aperture so that it restricts your vision. If this is the case, the helmet is far too loose.
Rock: This test ensures your helmet will stay in position if you come off your bike. Put your hands behind your head and place them at the base of the rear of the helmet, apply pressure upwards as if you are trying to remove the helmet. If the helmet lifts and exposes the back of your head, it’s no good. Check the front too. If any of your chin becomes exposed, the helmet is not an ideal fit.
WEAR IT FOR 5 MINUTES
You might feel daft, especially if you’re stood in the shop looking like an out place “Stig” but wearing your helmet for 5 minutes will allow you to work out if there are any parts of the helmet that cause you discomfort. Wearing it for a minute is simply not long enough. Any minor irritations after a minute will be a major annoyance after 30 minutes in the saddle. Take your potential purchase, sit down, crack open the BBC news website and read a few articles. You’ll get a really good feeling within a few minutes whether or not the helmet is a good fit or a great fit. Anybody who wears glasses should follow this advice as you may find after time, the arms dig into the side of your head which is not what you want when you’re out on a ride.
HELMET BUYING CHECKLIST
It’s important to know what to look for when buying a motorcycle helmet, this way you can be confident you’ve chosen one with a good spec, and it will last you a long time while protecting you if you need it. Here are the features you should inspect:
Outer Shell – Most budget-friendly shells are made from polycarbonate or thermoplastic, while they are heavier, they still do the job. If you want something a little lighter and more high-end, look for a fibreglass or carbon fibre shell.
Inner Shell – Made from moulded polystyrene, the EPS liner is designed to absorb energy from impacts, helping reduce brain injuries.
Lining – the lining should be comfortable against your skin and preferably removable. This way, you can remove it and wash it, keeping it fitting well and feeling fresh.
Vents – Important if you have a full-face helmet. Vents allow airflow and stop you steaming up or overheating. Can you operate it with your gloves on?
Visor – visors should be stiff and secure. They shouldn’t wobble or come open with little force. You can get helmets with different features such as drop-down sun visors, different levels of visor tint, Pinlock and other anti-fot treatments.
Chinstrap – The most common retention system is a Double D strap. However a seatbelt type clip and a micrometric buckle are also available. These should be adjusted to ensure you get the best fit each ride.
Safety ratings – In the UK, helmets should at least be ECE 22.05 certified or up to British standard. SHARP ratings build on ECE certified helmets to provide a guide for riders on performance and quality. Check the correct stickers are displayed on the back of the helmet.
DIFFERENT LINING OPTIONS
Having a soft lining makes for a comfortable ride, no matter how long. There’s plenty of different makes and features now, and knowing what to choose can be a big task. Before we list some of the most well-known names, it’s worth mentioning that choosing a helmet with a removable and washable liner can make the difference when the weather starts getting warmer. Liners soak up a lot of sweat which begins to smell, so having the option to thoroughly wash it is better than making the smell with freshening sprays.
Another point to note is the material used for the lining. A lot of fabrics used in motorcycle helmets are moisture-wicking (it draws the moisture away from your skin, so you remain dry) and antibacterial (reduces bacteria growth thus reducing the smell) Here’s a few well-known names: CoolMax, Oko-Tex, Dry-Lex. You can see a complete run-down of all the different helmet linings available and what they do in this article
CoolMax: A polyester fabric favoured by brands such as AGV, Nexx and Kabuto. The material works by drawing moisture away from your head and is breathable to keep you fresh.
Hydradry: Used in Icon helmets, this fabric is also moisture-wicking and breathable.
SuperCool: Moisture-wicking, comfortable, breathable and antibacterial, for a “SuperCool” feel.
Dri-Lex: Another liner used by AGV, the moisture-wicking material is manufactured by Faytex and has a comfortable feel and some abrasion resistance.
Interpower: This is a fabric treatment found in some Suomy helmets. Interpower is designed to lessen the contact points between the skin and fabric, so you get less moisture build-up.
KwikWick 2: A lining used in Scorpion Exo helmets that reduces moisture. These linings are machine washable and hypoallergenic (great for sensitive skin).
Max Dry: This high-quality lining by Shoei is incredibly good at keeping moisture away from your skin.
Oko-Tex 100: Found in some Schuberth helmets, Oko-Tex 100 is an international certification program which sets standards for the types of material used in linings. They are particularly useful if you have sensitive skin.
Polygiene: Found in HJC helmets, Polygiene uses tiny amounts of silver chloride to stop bacteria growth and to keep your helmet smell-free.
Ritmo: AGV uses this material on their cheek pads. It helps wick moisture.
ShinyTex: A name of a Chinese textile firm which makes fabrics for some Schuberth helmets.
Shalimar: This posh looking material has a velour feel and is exceptionally soft.
Virus Cool Jade: Mostly seen in Bell helmets, Cool Jade has small amounts of jade within the material to help keep you fresh. Virus is the name of the brand that makes the lining.
X-Mart: X-Mart is a hypoallergenic, moisture-wicking fabric found in Nexx helmets.
X-static XT2 silver liner: Another one used in Bell helmets, this lining has silver threads running through it to help keep that smell-emitting bacteria at bay.
MOTORCYCLE HELMETS FOR GLASSES WEARERS
As mentioned in our fitting guide above, if you wear glasses, you must choose a helmet that fits you properly without getting the arms digging into your face. Manufacturers are beginning to consider glasses wearers and create linings with unique grooves in the cheek pads which reduce the pressure that the frame of the glasses can apply to your face.
Remember: do not go up a size if your glasses feel uncomfortable; this can seriously affect the level of protection your helmet will give.
Motorcycle Helmet FAQs
How can I adjust the fit of my helmet?
It is possible to adjust the fit of your helmet to some extent. Budget helmets are more difficult because their linings are often built-in. In more high-quality helmets, you can remove the linings or cheek pads. Replacing them with a different thickness can improve the fit of your helmet.
How do you look after a helmet?
Keep your helmet clean and preferably in the bag or box in came in. Keep your helmet indoors, away from extreme temperatures. Do not store your gloves or other items within your helmet.
Should I buy a helmet online?
Buying a motorcycle helmet online does come with risks. For example, you won’t be able to try a range of helmets unless you have a significant budget. Also, you don’t have the option to stand in a shop, receive expert advice and have enough time to measure how comfortable it feels. If you do buy a helmet online, choose a retailer that offers a good returns policy with plenty of time and refund terms and conditions.
Can you wear glasses inside a motorcycle helmet?
Yes. You may need to try on a few helmets to find one that feels comfortable. All linings are different and some may be softer around the temples than others. It may help to adjust your glasses after you have put on your helmet.
How do I know how safe a motorcycle helmet is?
British standard (kite mark) or ECE 22.05 certified helmets are all tested to meet safety standards. SHARP tested helmets have been tested to a higher standard and have a star rating out of 5. Helmets with 3, 4 or 5-star ratings are of the higher end.
Are tinted motorcycle visors road legal?
As long as your visor is ECE 22.05 certified or has a British kitemark, it is road legal. During testing, visors are subject to tests that determine the level of light they let through. If a tinted visor doesn’t meet the requirements, it will not pass. Some visors are for use on the track and maybe a lot darker than road-legal visors. If this is the case, the packaging should tell you not to wear it on the roads.