How to choose the right motorcycle helmet for you
The single, most important factor when choosing a helmet is the fit. The best/safest helmet you can buy is the one that fits you best.
Your motorcycle helmet is the one thing between the only head you have and the ground flying by beneath you, so it's crucial that you buy the right helmet for the riding you are doing.
Chris Sackett, vice president of Bell Helmets, summed it up nicely when he said, “Dress for the crash, not the ride.” It's not a nice thought, and we would hope that none of you would ever have to experience a collision, but statistically, this is sadly something that could happen and is a great piece of advice.
The most common type of helmet out there and definitely our best seller. Fullface helmets feature a good solid shell with a fixed chin bar. This style of helmet suits pretty much any style of riding, from racing around a track to daily commuting or just a casual Sunday ride out. Features include multiple vents, mainly on the chin and forehead, as well as an external clear visor along with specific recesses designed to assist those who wear glasses to get them on once the helmet is on. Most models include an internal sun visor and even a Pinlock anti-fog lens.
Exactly what it says on the tin - the face is open. More of a retro-styled helmet, more suited to the casual Sunday cruiser, retro, or scooter rider, certainly not a shell you would wear around Silverstone. (you wouldn't be allowed for a start!) There are many styles of open-face helmets; some have an external clear visor or have press studs on the brow of the helmet for a visor, or peak, to be attached, and others have internal drop-down sun visors.
Flip-front or 'modular' helmets are a tourer's and commuter's dream as the rider doesn't have the inconvenience of having to take their helmet off at every stop they make, and petrol stations and shop visits just become a lot easier. Especially now, the new P/J homologation exists! These are becoming more popular with our customers. There was a time these weren't as trusted as full-face helmets for safety reasons, but all manufacturers have addressed this safety feature (hence the P/J). As they are so convenient, they are growing in popularity each year.
This is a hybrid helmet combining elements of motocross and full-face helmets, used by those who like to venture off the beaten track as well as on the road. They have the elongated chin bar and sun peak of motocross with a large opening that seals with soundproofing and a full-face style visor for on-road riding. This is another style of helmet that is becoming increasingly popular as the design of these has moved on leaps and bounds in recent years, and this offers versatility for the rider. A large amount of this style are now flip-fronted, too, offering more versatility.
Motocross helmets are designed to minimise weight and to be used with goggles with an open aperture at the front. The elongated chin bar maximises ventilation for superior airflow. The sun peak lives up to its name; it protects your eyes from the sun. Most MX helmets feature an adjustable peak.
Sometimes called "jet" helmet, "streetfighter" or "convertible" this is basically an open-face motorcycle helmet with the capability of removing the bottom chin bar, and the peak, for ultra-versatility. Usually, in an aggressive streetfighter-styling, they are officially CE certified as open-face helmets and a big hit in warmer weather. It is a growing trend in motorcycle helmets as riders like the different options that one helmet can bring them without having to buy separate helmets!
All motorcycle helmets have four main components that work together to provide the protection your head needs: an outer shell, an impact-absorbing liner, comfort padding and a retention system. The outer shell is usually made from polycarbonates, fibre-reinforced composites or carbon fibre and is tough. The shell is designed to compress when it hits anything hard, lessening the force before it reaches your head. Obviously, the more expensive the helmet, the more likely that the helmet is constructed from carbon fibre alone - this will be stated. A more expensive helmet will most likely be lighter as well.
The impact-absorbing liner is normally made from expanded polystyrene, cushioning and absorbing the shock away from your head. The liner will also provide the ventilation channels necessary for airflow inside your helmet.
The Comfort Padding is the soft foam and cloth layer that touches your head; anti-bacterial wicking fabrics help keep you comfortable, and the soft foam ensures the helmet fits snugly. A lot of these paddings are removable and washable.
The retention system is the posh name for the chin strap. This is the one piece that ensures your helmet stays on your head in the event of a crash. Ratchet straps ("seatbelt" straps) have become more popular with customers because of how easy they are to use compared to the Double D ring - but for some track days, Double D straps are a requirement, so you may want to check this out if you are planning on track day usage.
The European standard ECE22.06 is the basic European helmet standard that covers both the helmet and the visor. This is the new certification - before 2023, it was the ECE22:05 - which is still valid on helmets being sold and will be valid for some time to come. All helmets after 2024 will be 22:06 approved, but worry not! This does not mean that ECE22:05 helmets will be invalid - they will not! It is just the newer version of, basically, the same certification. All motorcycle helmets sold in the UK should meet this standard and have a marking on the helmet stating that they are approved to this standard; this is usually found on the strap of the helmet. The British Kitemark was superseded by this around 12 years ago. Double P/J Homologation is a standard that only applies to flip-front helmets - in basic terms; it means that the flip-front helmet that features dual homologation can be ridden on the road open, legally, and closed. Flip-fronts without this dual homologation can only be worn on the road closed legally. The ACU Gold sticker is often mistaken as a road safety standard. This is not the case. The ACU Gold sticker is for track day usage. If you don't have an ACU Gold sticker on your helmet, you aren't going on a track day. Simple.
What do you want?
Modern helmets offer numerous technological advances with features such as lightweight carbon fibre shells, integrated sun visors, chin skirt wind reduction measures, removable anti-bacterial wicking liners and built-in communication systems to choose from. You just need to decide what's on your wish list. All helmets have to pass the ECE safety standard, but obviously, some will be more lightweight than others etc.
Another ‘feature' to consider is colour, graphics and design. An important safety aspect of helmets, and one that's often overlooked, is visibility. Solid bright colours tend to give a contrast to that driver pulling out from the side road in front of you.
Sport bikes put the rider in a full tuck position, and aerodynamics becomes more important, especially on the track. Full-Face helmets are designed for this riding position, and some even have spoilers for aerodynamic stability. For use on track days, remember your helmet must have an ACU Gold sticker on display.
Sport-tourers, tourers, café racers, and retro bikes have the rider in a three-quarters posture, leaning slightly forward. Cruisers usually have the rider leaning back slightly. The choice of helmet for these riders is the widest, and often personal style plays a part.
Motocross or Adventure biking usually means an upright or standing riding position. There are specialist Motocross, Adventure and Dual Sport helmets for these riders with extended chin bars, no visor and peaks.
Year-round commuters, spending an hour a day or more in their helmet, may wish to consider a removable and washable liner, internal sun visor, Pinlock anti-fog, and ventilation. Long-distance tourers will be more concerned with maximum comfort, noise, and communication. Weekend riders may look for style, ventilation and amazing graphics. Retro riders might seek to complete the look, whereas off-road riders want a helmet which gives them the option of using either goggles or a visor. It's all about matching what bike you ride and how you ride it with what you put on your head.
The major motorcycle helmet manufacturers provide size charts for their helmets so you can work out which size bracket (XS, S, M, L, XL etc.) you fit into based on the circumference of your head in centimetres. Most fit into these brackets: XS 53-54 cms, S 55-56 cms, M 57-58 cms, L 59-60 cms, XL 61-62 cms, 2XL 63-64 cms. However! some brands, most notably AGV and Schuberth, do things differently. AGV, on some of their premium helmets, offer two medium sizes for the perfect fit. MS - Medium Small (57-58 cms) and ML - Medium Large (58-59 cms). Schuberth are one centimetre less on their sizing, so XS (52-53 cms), S (54-55 cms), M (56-57 cms), L (58-59 cms), XL (60-61 cms), 2XL (62-63 cms).
To measure your helmet size, just measure the circumference of your head (it is easier and more accurate if you get someone else to measure your head) in CMs. Do this just above the eyebrows as straight as you can (as per the picture). If you don't have a flexible tape measure to hand, a good tip is to get string in the same position and then measure it.
Everybody's head is a little bit different, but typically we have egg-shaped skulls. Manufacturers tend to make helmets with three different internal helmet shapes, so it's important to understand what your shape is. When viewed from above is your head:
To determine which head shape you are, get a friend to look at your head from above, take a photo of the top of your head, or measure it from front to back and left to right. Or ideally, come into one of our stores and our sales assistants can help, and you can have a good try on. Our stores are open seven days a week nationwide .
The practical side of this is that if the helmet is too long for your head, you'll end up with pressure on your temples, and if it's too round, you'll have pressure on your forehead and the back of your skull. After a while, riding what is a minor annoyance could be a distracting headache.
How to try on a helmet
Ok, when you try a helmet on, you should keep it on and walk around in it for a few minutes. This may be a bit embarrassing, but it could show up pressure points that aren't immediately obvious and which will become uncomfortable. Again, our store staff will be able to help you and can advise you on which helmets fit best when you do try them on. Plus, our staff are used to it! Here is our 11-point checklist to ensure a great fit:
We cannot say this enough. As tempting as it may be to save some money and as good as that used helmet might look, there's no way of telling what damage could be hidden. You don't know what has happened to it or how it's been looked after. It could have been knocked or dropped, and your head is not worth that risk.
You only get one head – look after it.
Until next time, stay safe,