The motorcycle helmet is the most effective and most important safety measure a motorcyclist can invest. There is no other single piece of motorcycle gear which provides more protection, or more return on investment, should the rider go down. This is why most recommend that the motorcycle helmet should not be bought with only the price or appearance in mind. A rider should buy the best fitting, most highly rated helmet he or she can afford.
That first required part is the most significant task a new rider must complete before finding the correct helmet - finding one which fits properly. Safety ratings are readily available for the majority of helmets thanks to the organizations which determine them - the U.S. DOT, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE ratings), and the SNELL Memorial Foundation among others – and are thus easy to determine. But, fit is individual, and will be based on both the size and shape of the rider's head, and so must be determined by each individual.
In this motorcycle helmet sizing guide we cover the following essential aspects to choosing the correct motorcycle helmet:
Many motorcycle helmet size guides start the rider on the path to finding the correct helmet by first measuring for the helmet size, but there is one important helmet fitting aspect to consider before determining size - helmet shape. The shape of the rider's head plays a crucial role in selecting a proper fitting motorcycle helmet. All helmet manufacturers design their wares to fit a specific head shape. These often range across three primary designations – long oval, intermediate oval, and round oval.
- Long Oval - Shaped for a head which is longer front-to-back (from forehead to the back of the skull) than it is side-to-side (ear to ear).
- Intermediate Oval - Shaped for a head which is slightly longer front-to-back than it is side-to-side. Most motorcycle helmets will fall into this category as it is the most common head shape; if a helmet does not state its shape, this is usually it.
- Round Oval - Shaped for a head which has almost identical front-to-back and side-to-side measurements.
Once the head shape is known, it is easier to filter the enormous selection of available motorcycle helmets down to a smaller, more appropriate list of those which will fit the rider's head. Now it is time to find the correct size of the remaining motorcycle helmets.
Sizing a Motorcycle Helmet
Measuring for which motorcycle helmet size will fit is actually as simple as looking for a good hat. The difference is in how the helmet will fit over the rider's head. The best tool for this is the soft vinyl or fiberglass seamstress or tailor's tape measure. It is flexible enough to wrap around the rider's skull and is marked in useful increments for determining an accurate size. Use it to find which size of helmet will suit you:
- Wrap the measuring tape around the fullest part of the head - this will be just above the ears and about a half-inch above the eyebrows for most - and take the measurement at the forehead. To get the most accurate measure, have a friend help with this step.
- Take the number found above and go to the size chart for the motorcycle helmet being viewed and find the helmet size which includes this dimension in its sizing information. Each manufacturer has sizing which is specific to its own models, so only rely on the size chart produced for the motorcycle helmet being considered.
Once measuring has been accomplished, and the size charts scanned for the appropriate motorcycle helmet size to be purchased, the next part is ensuring that the helmet lives up to its shape and size designations. There is always some variance, even between different models from the same manufacturer, in how a motorcycle helmet actually fits on the rider's head. Thus, a fitting is often necessary.
When a new helmet is first worn, it should actually be slightly tight, with the interior coming into contact with most of the head, but not so restrictive that it causes any pain. There should be no "hot spots" - places where the helmet's interior puts pressure on specific points of the skull or face - but it should not move around freely. With time, a helmet will adjust to match the shape of the rider's head as it is worn and goes through "break-in" and loosens up a little. However, it should never become loose enough to easily turn from side to side.
- Put the helmet on - it should be a little tight as it goes on over the head.
- The helmet should sit on the head evenly with the eye port's upper edge sitting just above the eyebrows and have good peripheral vision available to see side-to-side.
- Try putting a finger between the helmet interior and the head. If it easily fits, a smaller size should be tried next. Note that some helmet models allow for the cheek pads to be changed out for better fitment, so consider this too when checking for proper sizing.
Now that the shape, size and fit have been determined to be correct, all that remains is to purchase the helmet. Select one which includes the features that suit the riding to be done and the way in which the helmet will be used. Color, patterns and shield tint are mostly up to personal choice, but remember that the brighter and easier to see a helmet is, the more likely the rider is to be seen. The face shield should not obscure the rider's vision at all and tinted visors should only be used for sunny days.
Check out our A Buying Guide to Helmets.
A well-fitting motorcycle helmet will contribute to a safer and more comfortable ride. If the helmet does not fit right, it can cause pain which will lead to dangerous distraction, and it may not completely protect the rider's head in a crash. Thus, finding a motorcycle helmet which fits the rider correctly is very important to the helmet’s twin missions of comfort and safety. Spend enough time finding the right helmet and you will find that the helmet almost disappears when under way, and yet it is right where it needs to be should the ride go wrong. Be smart, be safe, and ride with a correctly sized motorcycle helmet and you can ride safely for years to come.
Written By: JC Current