Choosing a helmet isn’t just figuring out your size and your favorite paint job. It’s buying a helmet that will actually work to protect your head in the event of an impact.

There’s no sugarcoating it: Helmet fitment determines just how much safety your helmet can provide. In fact, a DOT safety rating is only valid for a correctly sized helmet!

When your helmeted head experiences an impact, the impact-absorbing liner is designed to manage those forces. But if there’s too much of a gap between the helmet and your head, you’re basically setting yourself up to get smacked by your own safety gear. Also, some helmets have slip liners built in, like Bell’s MIPS system, to reduce injuries from rotational forces. If the liner doesn’t fit well against your head, it can’t function as intended. On the other hand, if the helmet is too tight because there’s too little of a gap, the helmet will simply be uncomfortable. It’ll become distracting or painful or you’ll just stop wearing it. A good fit prevents both problems and allows the helmet to do its job.

All helmets are not created equal with respect to fitting your noggin. That doesn’t mean you have to pay big bucks to get good protection and fit. There are plenty of options on the market for all price points, head shapes, and riding styles. You just have to pay attention when picking out your next lid.

Feeling overwhelmed? Choosing the right helmet doesn’t have to be a daunting task with our full guide to walk you through it. If you can shake your head, use a measuring tape, and find a friend to lend a hand, you can do this!

 
 

How to buy and size a motorcycle helmet

 

Choosing a helmet isn’t just figuring out your size and your favorite paint job. It’s buying a helmet that will actually work to protect your head in the event of an impact.

There’s no sugarcoating it: Helmet fitment determines just how much safety your helmet can provide. In fact, a DOT safety rating is only valid for a correctly sized helmet!

When your helmeted head experiences an impact, the impact-absorbing liner is designed to manage those forces. But if there’s too much of a gap between the helmet and your head, you’re basically setting yourself up to get smacked by your own safety gear. Also, some helmets have slip liners built in, like Bell’s MIPS system, to reduce injuries from rotational forces. If the liner doesn’t fit well against your head, it can’t function as intended. On the other hand, if the helmet is too tight because there’s too little of a gap, the helmet will simply be uncomfortable. It’ll become distracting or painful or you’ll just stop wearing it. A good fit prevents both problems and allows the helmet to do its job.

All helmets are not created equal with respect to fitting your noggin. That doesn’t mean you have to pay big bucks to get good protection and fit. There are plenty of options on the market for all price points, head shapes, and riding styles. You just have to pay attention when picking out your next lid.

Feeling overwhelmed? Choosing the right helmet doesn’t have to be a daunting task with our full guide to walk you through it. If you can shake your head, use a measuring tape, and find a friend to lend a hand, you can do this!

Ready to get started? The steps to choosing the right helmet are simple:

  1. Choose a helmet style.
  2. Determine your head shape and size.
  3. Try on the helmet.
  4. Check for proper fit.
  5. Wear the helmet for about half an hour.
  6. Still feels right? Go ride!

    1. Choose a helmet style

    Motorcyclists have never had so many helmet choices available. While it’s fantastic to have all these options, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect one. Where to start? Speaking broadly, there are five basic types of helmets you should be familiar with before making your decision.

    First is the open face helmet, which is the least restrictive and least protective. Open face helmets flow tons of air, since the helmet’s shell does not cover the rider’s chin or face, hence the name. An open face helmet could be a “half” helmet, which just covers the top of your skull, or a “three-quarter” helmet, which covers everything except the rider’s face. Open face helmets tend to be less expensive than other types of helmets, and they’re usually short on features as well. You’ll typically see these helmets worn by riders on cruisers, retros, and classics.
    The full face helmet, on the other hand, totally encloses the rider’s head. A face shield protects the rider’s nose and eyes, and an extension of the shell called the chinbar covers the bottom of the rider’s face. Full face helmets are the least ventilated, but the most protective against impacts and the elements. They’re also the quietest helmets available. A full face helmet is the only option if you aspire to take your helmet to the track. Full face helmets are common around every kind of street bike. 

  7. Modular helmets are a subset of full face helmets. These helmets use a hinged mechanism to swing the chinbar and face shield out of the way when the rider hits the release, instantly converting the full face helmet into an open face helmet. This modularity gives the helmet its name. Modular helmets let riders choose between the benefits of both open face and full face helmets, all in one. For example, a touring rider might want full face protection on the highway, but the ease of an open face while grabbing lunch at a rest stop. (Note that modular helmets are not intended to be used in the open position while riding.)  With modulars, the tradeoff for its convenience is often increased weight and noise over conventional helmets, though modular helmets are improving every year. Modulars are especially popular with the touring and commuter crowds.
  8. If your rides take you on- and off-road, consider an ADV, or adventure, helmet. ADV riders transition from the street to the trail in a single ride, so their helmets combine features for both disciplines. On the street, an ADV helmet offers a face shield and a street-legal safety rating. For riding in the dirt, they mimic a dirt helmet with a peak (like the bill on a cap over the eyes), lots of ventilation, and compatibility for goggles. Of course, their hybrid nature makes for some compromises, but there’s no better choice if your adventures incorporate both street and trail. ADV helmets are most at home with dual-sport and ADV riders.
    Finally, there’s the dirt helmet, made exclusively for off-road riding. Note that these helmets do not require a Department of Transportation (DOT) rating, so they might not be street-legal. Dirt helmets feature plenty of airflow, plus a large peak to keep roost out of the rider’s eyes. They’re intended to be worn with goggles. (Goggles are almost always sold separately.) They’re exceptionally light, though they sacrifice face shields and other comforts to make that possible. A dirt helmet is designed for off-road riding, so if you’re going to be riding on the street, it’s recommended that you choose something else.

    2. Determine your head shape and size

    Hopefully, one of the helmet categories sounds right for you. Now that you have a direction, it’s time to figure out your head shape. People generally fit into one of three head shapes: long oval, intermediate oval, and round oval. To find out what you’ve got, ask a friend to take a photo of your head from above. Flatten your hair down as much as possible, because it can obscure your head’s shape. Looking at the picture, is your head almost round (round oval), or is it long and thin (long oval)? Somewhere in between (intermediate oval)? In the United States, intermediate oval is the most common, but check to be sure before moving on to sizing.

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