How to buy a crash helmet
Buying the right helmet is one of the most important things you’ll do
Getting your helmet right isn’t simply a matter of choosing the right colour. It’s in your best interests to make sure that first off the helmet fits perfectly, then has the features you need and finally is priced right for your budget.
This time round we’re going to concentrate on full face helmets. We’ll leave off-road/adventure lids for another day and focus on helmets for sports and touring, as there are similarities between them are relevant to most types of helmet you’ll be looking at.
Touring helmets tend to be weightier than the more nimble race and sport-focussed lids. This is to accommodate more padding and extra channels for ventilation, making the overall size and profile of the helmet bigger and therefore heavier. They are designed to be worn for long periods of time with maximum comfort.
Sports helmets forego some of the creature comforts in favour of performance – fewer vents and holes means less friction in the air and a smoother ride at high speeds. But they can also get hotter inside. They are generally much lighter at the higher end of the scale.
There are some models that cross over and offer compromises between comfort and performance – just tell the store assistant what you value most and leave it to them to suggest the right models.
Budget vs brands
Do you get what you pay for with helmets? You can get a quality branded helmet – from AGV for example – that will offer the benefits of coming from the same stable as £800 helmets that were designed for use in MotoGP for just £150.
Often some brands you’ve never heard of will command the same prices as Shoei and Arai, with good reason.
And as you’ll see in a minute, you can get super-safe helmets for a fraction of the cost of a race-rep lid designed for Rossi, Marquez et al.
Generally speaking, the name brands can be trusted to be made using quality materials to a very high safety standard. It boils down to which designs you prefer and which manufacturer’s shapes fit your head best.
You can check safety ratings easily
If you are looking at a brand that’s new to you, its safety standard can be checked at http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/, the UK Government’s helmet standards testing agency.
You’ll find there are some surprising results. Shoei’s GT Air, a £470 helmet only has a three-star rating, yet £70-£80 Lazer lids get a five-star rating…
Fit first, then style
We love a golden rule here at Biker and Bike and the ‘GR’ of lids is to make sure it fits first, make sure it looks great second.
For years I had a lovely Shoei XR, but every time I went above 85 mph – on Autobahns and tracks, your Honour – I could barely see anything for vibration and tears welling up from the airflow into the helmet.
Then I bought a helmet that fitted and now I don’t have the same problem until around 140 mph… I have lost count of the number of times I’ve mentioned this to mates and they go off and get fitted for a new helmet and it’s like their world has changed.
Remember, with time, the lining of your lid is compressed meaning the helmet becomes looser. It’s natural and it’s gonna happen but it effectively means your helmet becomes roughly a size bigger.
If your linings are removable then it’s simply a question of a bit of a service – so obviously the first piece of advice we have is to only buy a crash helmet that has removable (not just washable) lining.
How to measure for the right size helmet
First, measure your head with a tape measure. You need to place the tape around the centre of your forehead and the roundest part of the back of your head.
Once you have the measurement use the table below to see how that corresponds to helmet sizes.
Trying the helmet on
The helmet should feel comfortably snug, not overly tight. Although the lining will give a little in a few weeks’ wear, if you have bought a helmet that’s too tight it will become uncomfortable on longer journeys.
There is an exception to this rule. Some track day riders, who are only wearing the lid for 20 minutes at a time, slip down a helmet size. A tighter helmet will move around less and have less vibration at the extremely high speeds on the track.
Do up the chin strap, leaving enough room to get two fingers parallel to the chin between the strap and your skin.
Ideally, see if you can wear the helmet for at least 10 minutes in the store – don’t worry about the time you take, the assistants know what it takes to get the right helmet.
When you remove the helmet there should be no marks caused by pressure points. If there are, the helmet is either too small or that helmet doesn’t suit your head shape.
The right shape
Unfortunately, it’s not just about size. Every head shape is different. Thank God, otherwise we’d all look like Homer Simpson.
You can try two different helmets of the same marked size and get completely different levels of comfort.
Certain brands fit certain heads. It’s why you get Shoei people and Arai people and it’s rare to hear of people changing brands.
Don’t be surprised if you wear the same brand for years – I’m Shoei and would love to change but when I try Arai it just doesn’t happen for me. Which is a shame because Aria wearers get a free safety check, clean and service when they visit stands at the biggest shows. And they offer a free post-accident check and will send you a Certificate of Confirmation that the helmet is Fit for Use or Not Fit for Use if you think your crash helmet has been damaged. I have to say, AGV are comfy, though.
Try a few on in the dealers – don’t worry, the salespeople know the score and a good one will be patient. If fact a tame gear dealer could become your best friend for life!
The movement test
The helmet should move slightly (say 0.5cm) and rub against the skin – not move the whole skin in a tight grip.
If it feels like there is a gap between the top of your head and the lining the helmet is actually too small.
The finger test
If you are able to put a finger up into the area between your forehead and the helmet liner and it goes further than the first joint then the helmet is too big.
You shouldn’t be able to get a finger between the temples and the helmet.
The usability test
Take along and wear your gloves – especially your winter ones – to see if you can operate the vents and the visor ( most helmets have a semi-lock so you can de-mist the visor). If you forget, borrow a pair from the shop.
Sunglasses or dark visor?
To go black or not? Ultra dark visor are not legal for road use in the UK. I have never been pulled over wearing mine but there’s always a first time. You have to decide what is an acceptable risk.
Personally, I think sunglasses can be dangerous as the frames can partially obscure side vision, plus under hot conditions the glass is so near your skin it can steam up quicker than a visor.
Internal shades are OK, but the mechanisms can go – it happened on B&B Paul’s AGV.
I prefer a dark visor but if I know I’m going to be riding after sunset I have to take a clear visor too, which clearly a pain.
Open face helmets
There’s no doubting it, they look great on a retro bike. Paired with an old school jacket, kidskin gloves and your Aviators, you are pulling a look. Until you go down the road. At which point there’s a big danger you are not going to look so cool. For the rest of your life.
It’s your choice. They do look super cool but you can do that with a retro classic helmet still (link). I had an uncomfortable, graphically illustrated conversation with a reconstructive dental surgeon once and you should think long and hard about how you ride and the chances of your face hitting the tarmac when considering open face helmets.
How to get sorted:
Get measured and then try on as many lids as your forehead and the store can tolerate. You’ll quickly find the helmet that’s most comfortable, then focus on getting the right size. Then ask for a discount 😉
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