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Are you wearing the wrong size motorcycle helmet?

Published on: 09 March 2019

Are you wearing the wrong size helmet header


A recent report from the Government’s Transport Research Laboratory found that 25% of motorcyclists were wearing not just a helmet that doesn’t fit well, but a helmet that was actually the wrong size. More than half of this group were found to be wearing a helmet that was too big which, according to the research, explains why, in 20% of cases, those who had an accident reported that their helmets almost came off.

Now, we don’t always go along with government research. We often don’t agree with their test methodologies, and there’s usually an agenda; in this case the research may be connected to improving the equipment employed in the much criticised SHARP tests.

But whatever the reasons behind this research, we are only too well aware of the fact that many people are wearing helmets that don’t fit.

Motorcycle helmet testing

These new findings come from research conducted by the Government’s Transport Research Laboratory. Any research is interesting, but we don’t always buy into the governments findings and calculations.

Just this last weekend, I came across two examples on the same day in our Guildford shop. One lady complained of headaches when she was wearing her HJC helmet. Bought from a shop down the road from us, it was easy to see the issue, The lady in question had a head that was quite long front to back, but not very wide. In the shop, her helmet had been fitted solely on the basis of the cheek pad fit. And indeed the cheek pads looked good. But to get the cheeks to fit well, they had put her in a helmet that was way too small for her head. We put her in a larger helmet, and then fitted much thicker cheek pads. It worked a treat, and she went away happy.

Motorcycle helmet headache

There’s nothing worse than a helmet that gives you a headache. A lady who came into the shop recently had been sold a helmet that looked good on the cheeks, but was way too tight around the head.

Another chap had bought a Schuberth at the Excel show. On his way home, he realised it was way too big. When he looked over his shoulder, the helmet swivelled round more than his neck. It also moved about so much that it gave him double vision. The next day, he put it on eBay. We sorted him out with a Shoei Neotec 3 that, after a thicker headlining, fitted him like a glove.

Helmets at motorcycle show

We see a lot of people who explain that the helmet they bought at a bike show doesn’t fit them properly. They seem surprised because the nice lady on the stand told them the fit was perfect. Now that’s a surprise!

The TRL research suggests that buying online is the issue. 25% of motorcyclists buy their helmets on the web and, apparently, only 3% try a helmet before buying. Personally, we’re not convinced that this really is the nub of the issue. In our view, the problem is that many, if not most, motorcyclists don’t really know how to tell when a helmet fits properly and when it doesn’t.

And the reason we don’t think it’s just an internet problem is that most retailers, it seems to us, don’t know either. Some are too lazy, and are only interested in shifting boxes. Some simply don’t know how to tell when a helmet doesn’t fit properly. And if a dealer does realise that a helmet isn’t working, very few have on hand the parts required to resolve the problem.

As a result, the customer ends up in a kind of lottery, trying on helmet after helmet in the shop until, eventually, one seems to fit okay, even though, at times, it might not be the right kind of helmet for the riding the customer does.

Well, it’s not our way. We are obsessed about getting the fit right. We take a measure as a starting point, but that’s nothing more than a guide. We’ll take into account the shape of your head but, in truth, the size you’ve always worn is not of great importance to us. And we’re certainly not influenced by people who claim they have an Arai head or a Shoei head. That’s an old wives’ tale.

But there is a slight problem with our approach, and it’s this. We sell helmets from Arai, AGV, Bell, Nexx, Roof, Schuberth, Shark and so on. However, if you’re more interested in safety, comfort, low noise levels and so on than you are about cool designs and colourful graphics, we’ll almost invariably end up gravitating towards a Shoei.

Lairy motorcycle helmet

If you want a helmet that fits comfortably, that is quiet to ride in, and is going to protect you, go for a Shoei. If you want wild designs and graphics, don’t!

And we’re not embarrassed about this because, frankly, we think that Shoei make the world’s best motorcycle helmets. We can justify this on so many levels, but in this context we can be 100% confident in our assertion that no other manufacturer on the planet offers the facility to custom fit a helmet in the way that Shoei does.

In just about every helmet size, you get three different thicknesses of headliner, and three different thicknesses of cheek pad. On our favourite, all-round helmet, the RYD, you actually get five cheek pad options.

Shoei RYD helmet head liner and cheek pads

We’ve been doing this for a few years now. We’ve worked with most of the big brands, but it’s only Shoei that offers a range of different head liners and cheek pads for every model of helmet in every size. And only Shoei will let you change them over without paying extra. That’s why we prefer fitting Shoeis. The problem you have, though, is that even with Shoei, not every dealer carries all the replacement internal parts.

Only Shoei offers this. With the other big brands, you might get the option to fit a thicker or a thinner cheek pad; rarely both. And nearly always, there’s an extra cost involved. There’s not with Shoei. And as far as headliners are concerned, we’ve not come across any other maker that offers different thicknesses.

So, if we’re fitting you with a Shoei, after measuring your head, we’ll try the size that we think is going to work best for you. Sometimes it will fit perfectly out of the box, but this is rare. Most people will need some adjustments, and many will sit, for example, between say a medium and a large. We will identify the problem area, and then perhaps fit a thicker headliner in the larger size or a thinner one in the smaller size.

Often, we’ll then need to go through the same process with the cheek pads. In truth, it’s rarely a five minute job. But if comfort and safety are of concern, and they should be, this might be the most important 15 or 20 minutes you’ll ever spend in a bike shop.

Child wearing adults' motorcycle helmet

If you like the idea of trying dozens of different helmets in a shop until you find one that fits, knock yourself out. That’s how most retailers work. Many sales people don’t care enough to get it right. Others don’t know enough to get it right. Those who do know how to get it right normally don’t have the replacement parts they need to get the job done.

One thing’s for sure. You won’t leave here until we’ve found a helmet that fits. We have often told people we won’t sell them a helmet they like but that doesn’t fit them. And, just occasionally, very occasionally, we’ll admit defeat.

Nobody goes to the lengths we do to make sure your helmet fits properly and safely. Of course, you could always go to the internet and take pot luck. Here at Motolegends we recognise that whenever you get on a bike you’re taking a risk, but we simply cannot see the sense in adding to that risk by wearing a helmet that does not work.

Do you need some advice on buying a helmet? This should help: How to choose a motorcycle helmet.

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