Should a motorcycle helmet fit tight?
Whether you are choosing your first helmet or a replacement one for a beginner or a more experienced rider, the main question is the same: what is the best fit? Should a motorcycle helmet fit tightly, or should it be fairly loose? Fit is a critical factor in how your helmet will perform in the event of an accident, so these are important questions. Not all riders realize that Department of Transportation (DOT) approval is subject to the helmet being the correct size for your head.
The short answer is that a helmet should be neither too tight nor too loose; it is a matter of finding that sweet spot. Measuring carefully and correctly is the key here. A common mistake, especially among beginners, is thinking you can buy an overly large helmet and wear other headwear underneath it. This is not recommended as it can compromise safety. A helmet is not designed with this in mind.
The key to taking good measurements.
The first thing to determine here is whether your head is round or oval. Oval in this instance means your head is larger from front to back than it is from ear to ear as viewed from the top. Helmet manufacturers generally make their helmets to suit three main head types: round, oval, and intermediate.
The next step is taking the correct measurement. This can be difficult to do on your own, so consider asking a friend or family member to help. If that is not possible, you can do it in front of a mirror using a soft tape measure, bringing the end to the middle of the forehead so the measurement can be easily read in the mirror.
The measurement should be taken with the tape measure positioned just above the eyebrows, keeping the measure as horizontal as possible around your head. At Microdot Helmets, we have a quiz on our website designed to help you find a personalized DOT-approved helmet that is just right for you. If you have any doubt, it is always worth seeking advice from professionals.
How should my new helmet feel?
As words like tight, loose or snug fit are somewhat subjective, let's look at what a correctly fitting helmet should feel like in practice. A helmet should not place undue pressure on any part of your head. If it is in any way painful to wear, it is far too tight. A helmet that is too tight will ride up on your head and sit incorrectly in the event of an accident, which can be dangerous. A helmet that is too tight can restrict blood flow and airflow, distracting a rider and leading to an unpleasant ride.
If the straps are too tight, they can cut into and cause damage to your neck and chin in an impact. A modern helmet made of high-grade materials such as ABS plastic, fiberglass or carbon fiber is designed to disperse and dissipate the force of the impact across the helmet, so it relies on the head sitting snugly in the polystyrene inner lining. If the helmet is tight in one place, the head will take the full force of the blow there, with minimal dissipation of the shock.
On the other hand, a helmet that is too loose-fitting throws up another series of potential problems. Straps that are too loose can mean the helmet is thrown off the head on impact, leaving it unprotected from any impact, penetration or abrasion damage. Even if the helmet stays on, being too loose can lead to unpredictable consequences in a crash as the head moves around inside the helmet.
A general rule here is that the helmet should feel comfortable without being able to rock it too much from side to side or front to back when the straps are fastened. You should be able to get a couple of fingers between the strap and the jaw, but nothing more.
In addition to addressing these safety concerns, a comfortable helmet will mean a better riding experience and less stress. We should be able to strap our helmets on and then forget about them and concentrate on the road. For some sleek, stylish and lightweight helmets designed for safety, style and comfort, check out our DOT-approved Beanie-style half-helmets, such as the Blister Original. You can look good, feel good and be safe with these.
Is a breaking-in period necessary?
Many experienced bikers swear by a breaking-in period for a new helmet, wearing it in day-to-day situations or around the house for anywhere from a week to a month to get it to mold to the head. It is true that the polystyrene inner layer will slowly take the shape of the head as we are all individuals with slightly different undulations, lumps and bumps on our heads. If it is a full-face helmet, this gives the side padding a chance to adjust to your cheek shape as well, saving you from an unflattering look.
A helmet will naturally loosen up slightly over time in the same way as a favorite pair of shoes. During this period, it's possible to check exactly how the helmet fits and whether it is comfortable before taking to the open road. It should be worth the occasional strange look you may get walking along the sidewalk with your helmet on!
Checklist and summary
First and foremost, the helmet should be comfortable not just for short journeys but on extended runs, too. An uncomfortable helmet that needs constant adjustment is unsafe in an accident and in terms of concentration while riding. It can cause headaches, and in extreme cases, it may restrict vision. The polystyrene inner layer should have an even and snug contact all around the head; it should not be loose in some areas and tight in others.
With the straps fastened, you should not be able to rock the helmet excessively on the head, and the straps should not be so tight that you cannot fit two fingers between them and your skin. Most motorcycle-related injuries are to the legs and pelvis, and as terrible as that can be, it is often possible to fully recover, even if it takes a long period of convalescence. Safety wear that covers these areas should be given consideration, too.
However, brain and head traumas are much more problematic, far less recoverable and more likely to lead to death or a permanently reduced quality of life. So before that motorcycle roars into life, make sure you're protected by a correctly fitted, DOT-approved helmet.