Helmet 101

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There’s a lot that goes into the design of the right helmet for your head, but there are basics to consider before delving deeper into the science of scone protection. In this, the first article of helmet awareness, Sean goes back to helmet basics. 

With the diverse range of helmets available to the modern motorcyclist today, it’s probably time to slow down, not be swayed by the myriad colourways X brand can offer or be blinded by the attraction of this or that feature of Y brand and think about what you really need to look for in a helmet.  


  • UN/ECE Regulation No. 22: Protective helmets and their visors for drivers and passengers of motorcycles and mopeds (Europe)
  • Australian Standard AS 1698: Protective helmets for vehicle users
  • New Zealand Standard NZS 5430: Protective helmets for vehicle users
  • Snell Memorial Foundation: Helmet Standard for use in motorcycling
  • Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218: Motorcycle helmets
  • British Standard BS 6658: Specification for protective helmets for vehicle users (for type A helmets only)
  • Japan Industrial Standard T8133

Typically, the recommendation would be adherence to the NZS 5430 Standard, which is most likely to be found on the majority of helmets found at your local supplier. Do not buy any helmet without one of these standards clearly visible. 


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The next vital consideration is finding the helmet that fits. This can prove to be challenging for many, involving a great deal of trial and error as you are ultimately looking for the helmet that is the most comfortable and does not inhibit your vison, your head movement or compromise your ability to operate your motorcycle. 

Using a helmet that is the wrong size will result in an unpleasant riding experience, no matter which way you go and what’s more, it will compromise the helmet’s ability to do what it should in terms of protecting your head. 

If the lid is too small, you’re going to end up with a headache, numb ears and a burning spot right in the middle of your forehead. Not fun. 

Too big however, is potentially more catastrophic, as all helmets are affected by wind and the faster you go, the windier it will get. The helmet will act as a sail and, if you’re lucky, it will only wrench your neck. If you are not so lucky, the force of the wind acting on the helmet can result in you being lifted off the bike – seriously, not fun. 

Has this happened? Ask the Queen of Road Rash, Brittany Morrow. It happened to her. 

Therefore, it is critical to find a helmet of the correct size. This is not – after the legal considerations – the first consideration; that would be determining the shape of the helmet, which is something many helmet providers just assume you know to look for. 


171002 HelmetTypes


What? Helmets have shapes? They’re all pretty much the same, right? Open face, full face and fliptops. They all look pretty much the same though.

Actually, no. There are three main head shapes, which simplifies things somewhat from a helmet manufacturer’s point of view, as they have three basic shapes to work with. From the wearer’s perspective, identifying your correct head shape cuts down an awful lot of the trial and error mentioned before. 

From personal experience, I can tell you that the repeated process of: trying on this helmet, followed by that one, then this one, now try that one, gets pretty tedious and actually, quite painful; thus, anything you can do to winnow out the numbers is going to help.  

What are the basic head shapes? 

First is the ‘long oval’ head, which is defined as a head that is a noticeably longer front to back, forehead to back of the skull, rather than one measured from ear to ear, or side to side.

Next up is the surprisingly-named ‘intermediate oval’, which is the most common shape of the head. This is categorised as being slightly longer fore to aft, as it is port to starboard. 

Lastly, we have the ‘round oval’, which is where the head’s front to back and side to side measurements are pretty much even. 

Once you have the correctly shaped helmet for your head, it’s time for the tape measure. As mentioned earlier, it’s a great idea to do it this way rather than: try on, try again, try again, which can put a newbie motorcyclist right off the idea of riding quick smart. 

So, take your tape measure (the flexible kind, not the retracting one out of the tool box!) and wrap it round the fullest – we had to say ‘fullest’ because some smartarse would have included their nose measurement if we’d said ‘widest’ – part of the head, which would be just above the ears and maybe half an inch above the eyebrows. Note the centimetres at the forehead, and this will give you the size of your head. 

Motorcycle helmets typically range from X (for extra) small or 53cm, to 5XL or 70cm, with a medium 57-58 size being the mid-point. 

Helmets usually give you both a descriptive size as well as a centimetre range and it is a very good idea to double check these.

Once you have the right size and shape, it’s time for the moment of truth, putting it on 

to make sure it fits. Like getting on and off a horse – or a motorcycle – there is a right way to do this. Hold the helmet upside down by the chin straps so that the front is facing you. Keeping your thumbs on the inside of the straps, pull the helmet apart slightly and put it on over your head. 

It will be tight – or it should be – but over time, it will free up. If you can fit a finger between the helmet and your head, try the next size down, remembering though, that some helmets allow you to change the inner padding for a better fit. 

If it’s a tight squeeze, but is not actually painful, you’re probably about right for sizing. 

Here’s the second check: the eye-port’s upper edge should be just above your eyebrows and you should have good peripheral vision as well. 

All good? Great! Now you’ve just got to pick the right colour… 

Article kindly brought to you by Bike Rider Magazine




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