A motorcycle helmet is the number one piece of equipment you should invest in once you’ve bought your motorcycle or decided to learn to ride. You cannot ride a motorcycle without a helmet in the UK, but aside from being a legal requirement, a helmet is there to do an important job — protect your head in an accident.
Helmets come in all shapes and sizes, different styles, different materials, and with different features. And the best part is you can find one to suit any budget.
Choosing a helmet can be overwhelming — I know it was for me when I first started. That’s why we have put together this guide to help you navigate your way to the perfect helmet for your riding needs.
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Sizing a Helmet
A helmet that fits properly is more important than anything else we cover in this guide. It is more important than any safety ratings, features, or budget.
If a helmet fits properly, it will perform to its intended standards when needed; if it doesn’t, it will not be able to protect you and can actually cause more harm than good.
Measuring Your Head
The first step to finding your correct helmet size is to measure your head.
Helmet manufacturers each have their own size guide, which you should compare to your measurements and select a helmet size based on. It isn’t the be all and end all of sizing a helmet, but it gives you a place to start from.
Here’s how to do it:
- Take a soft measuring tape or a piece of string and wrap it around the crown of your head (around 1” above your eyebrows). Use a mirror to help make sure you are measuring the right area or ask someone to help.
- Read the measurement on the tape or measure the string length.
- Compare your measurement to the size guide.
Be sure to take the measurement in centimetres and inches because different manufacturers use different measurements.
As an example, the Shark S900 Dual Special Edition helmet is sized like this:
- Small: 55–56 cm
- Medium: 57–58 cm
- Large: 59–60 cm
If you find yourself in between sizes, go for the smaller size for a snug fit. However, this can sometimes mean the helmet shell is too tight around the crown of the head, in which case you need to size up.
For example, if you were 56.5 cm and using the Shark guide, you would be between small and medium. It would be best to go for the small unless the helmet was too tight and painful.
If you’re between sizes, it’s also a good idea to try a different brand. The problem could be your head shape, and different brands suit different head shapes, which we will dig into shortly.
Just remember, each manufacturer has their own size guide. Your measurement might make you a medium in a Shoei but could very well mean you are a large in an Arai helmet, so be sure to check.
Different Head Shapes
One of the reasons sizing a helmet is more complicated than a simple measurement is that people have different head shapes, and different manufacturers and models often cater to one head shape or another.
Having a good idea of your head shape will help you rule out some helmets more quickly than others, although you should always try a helmet on before purchase anyway.
There are three main head shapes:
- Round oval
- Intermediate oval
- Long oval
There are also a host of head shapes in between these, but the main three are what manufacturers work with the most.
Arai are very good at producing round oval helmets, but AGV leans more towards a long oval head shape.
So, if you’re trying on Arais but keep finding spaces by your cheeks or the side of your head, then maybe trying an AGV would solve the problem and suit your head more.
It isn’t an exact science, but it will help you narrow down your selection.
Trying On a Helmet
The most important part of sizing a helmet is trying it on, and even with what seems like this simple process, there is much more to it.
Pull the helmet over the crown of your head as opposed to your forehead. Once on, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can you feel the helmet’s lining all the way around your head?
- Are the cheek pads pushing in your cheeks and pushing them slightly upwards?
- Is the top of the helmet resting on your forehead?
- Can you feel any gaps?
- Are there any pressure points?
- Is the helmet uncomfortable?
- Can you move the helmet around easily, either up and down or side to side?
You should wear the helmet for a good 10–15 minutes, whether you are in a store or trying it on at home. This will give you a good indication of whether any pressure points develop or if the helmet loosens up too much.
A little side note: Over the years, the helmet opening has gradually become smaller. This reduces wind noise as well as increases the fit and protection of the helmet. So be prepared to use the chin straps to stretch the helmet open a little bit as you get the largest part of your head in.
Testing the Fit
Make sure your helmet is not too tight or too loose.
A motorcycle helmet needs to fit just right. It should not be too tight and it should not be too loose — both can result in injury.
The helmet should feel snug all the way around your head, with no movement or noticeable gaps. It should push your cheeks up into the classic chipmunk face that bikers are known for.
A clear indication that the helmet is snug enough is that you should not be able to chew gum while wearing your helmet. Equally, if you can get your finger up between the helmet and forehead, it is too loose. When you twist the helmet, your skin should move with it and you shouldn’t be able to lift it off your head with the chin strap done up.
A loose helmet is completely useless as a protective item. The helmet, rather than your head, should absorb the energy and full impact of an accident. There are a couple of things that could happen if your helmet isn’t tight enough:
- Your head may be subjected to several smaller impacts inside the helmet as it rattles around loose inside.
- The helmet could swivel around, leaving the back of your skull or side of your head to take the brunt of an impact.
- If a helmet can twist, it can cause serious injury to your neck.
- The helmet could come off altogether, leaving you completely unprotected.
If a helmet is too tight, though, it can be very painful. If a helmet causes you pressure points, these won’t go away since the structure of the helmet doesn’t loosen up with time. These sore spots can make riding uncomfortable, causing a potentially serious distraction when out on the road.
Make sure you achieve the perfect balance between tight and loose.
Additionally, you should have full visibility out of the viewport, with the top of the visor sitting midway down your forehead, not obstructing your view.
You should be able to feel the helmet around your head, including the base of your skull and around your jawbone. The chin bar or face shield, however, should not be touching your face; if it is, the helmet is not suitable.
Custom Fit Options
Some manufacturers offer a custom fit interior liner, which can increase or decrease by a couple of millimetres. Often, those tiny millimetres can mean the difference between a comfortable helmet and an uncomfortable one.
Shoei and Arai are the two premium manufacturers most known for this feature, and Arai has recently started doing peel-off pads as standard in some of their models.
Scorpion helmets also have pump-up cheek pads where you blow up the pads a bit more with air for a cosier fit.
Once you know how to pick a helmet size and check the fit, you should begin to look at what makes a helmet safe so you can get the most protective option available.
Read more: 10 Safest Motorcycle Helmets
The best place to start is to look at safety certifications and ratings. These give you a clear indication of how protective a helmet is and the peace of mind that it has been tested to at least the minimum required standard.
In the UK, helmet manufacturers have to meet the ECE 22 standard, with the latest variation being ECE 22.06. Manufacturers have to meet these standards in order for their helmets to be legally sold.
In 1972, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) passed the No. 22 Regulation, which laid out standards motorcycle helmets had to meet to be eligible for sale.
The standards cover things such as the level of head coverage, the weight of the helmet, and even where the stickers with the ECE certificate should be applied and what information should be included on them.
You may see helmets still being sold with the ECE 22.05 label, and these are still legal, but after January 2024, only ECE 22.06 helmets will be valid.
If you want more details about ECE 22.06, we’ve written a piece, ECE 22.06 Helmet Standards Explained, which goes into full detail about the testing procedures, the latest updates to the standard, and how to tell if a helmet has been ECE approved.
The main takeaway here is that helmets have to be ECE certified to be legal in the UK, and the latest standards are stricter than ever, so you can be assured that all ECE helmets will provide an adequate level of protection.
If you want to be even more safety conscious, check SHARP ratings too.
SHARP was launched in 2007 by the Department of Transport as an initiative to improve helmet safety. The programme is based on the most comprehensive study of motorcycle crashes conducted in Europe, a study from 2001 called COST 327.
Simply put, SHARP testing procedures are said to mimic ‘real-life’ road experiences based on the COST 327 data of head injuries, and the helmets tested are then rated from one to five stars depending on how well they perform in tests.
SHARP is an independent initiative; manufacturers are not required to send their helmets for SHARP testing. Furthermore, the latest ECE 22.06 testing procedures are thought to be on par with SHARP’s. SHARP ratings are not the be all and end all of safety but can act as a guide.
So, if a helmet doesn’t have a SHARP rating, it doesn’t mean it’s rubbish. It can just mean the manufacturer hasn’t submitted it for testing.
How a helmet fits will always be more important than any certification or rating a helmet is credited with.
You are likely to see helmets with DOT labels and sometimes Snell. DOT-approved helmets are helmets that have been approved for sale in the US and Snell is the US version of SHARP. Manufacturers often sell helmets internationally, so it is common to see helmets with both DOT and ECE approval.
The only thing you need to remember is that DOT-approved helmets are not legal in the UK unless they are also ECE certified. If a helmet just has a DOT sticker, it is not a legal helmet.
Occasionally, manufacturers are forced to produce helmets that have slight differences to meet standards in Europe or the US, so the helmets might go by the same name but be different. Just be sure to get the-ECE approved model and you will be good to go.
Materials and Construction
In the last 20 years, helmet technology has grown monumentally. Gone are the days of plain old fibreglass helmets. Instead, you are more likely to see mixed-composite shells consisting of fibres like Kevlar and Carbon.
The introduction of these new materials to helmet manufacturing has led to them being lighter than ever and performing to a much higher standard.
Outer Shell Materials
The outer shell of a helmet is the component that spreads the impact across the entire helmet and prevents an impact from being isolated in one spot. There are several main materials that are used for the outer shell:
- Fibreglass: Cheap, strong, and flexible
- Mixed composite: Mixed fibres woven and layered together for strength
- Carbon fibre: Expensive, super lightweight, high performance
- Plastic: Dense, strong plastic heated and moulded into a shell shape, cheap but heavy
Fibreglass and plastic shells were once all riders had to choose from, and they have saved many riders’ lives in accidents, so we aren’t mad that manufacturers still choose to produce them. They are cheap to produce so are often priced low. These are great for those with a tight budget who stick to more leisurely rides.
Mixed-composite helmets start in the mid-price range and make up some of the most expensive helmets on the market. Many professional racers wear a mixed-composite helmet on the track.
Carbon-fibre helmets are expensive to produce and therefore expensive to buy. Just like mixed-composite helmets, however, they are considered to be some of the most high-performing lids on the market.
If you spend a lot of time riding at speed, maybe with some track days, then a mixed-composite helmet is the way to go for the best performance.
The next protective layer of a helmet is the inner crush foam known as the EPS liner (expanded polystyrene). This layer’s job is to absorb as much of the impact as possible to protect your head.
All manufacturers use polystyrene for this layer; the difference between helmets is in the construction and the density of the foam used.
Some manufacturers, such as Arai, use multi-density EPS liners, which are supposed to be more effective at impact absorption. The Arai Quantic is an example of one such helmet.
There are two main types of chin straps on a helmet: the double-D-ring closure and the buckle-type micrometric closure.
The double-D-ring is widely considered the safest option. In fact, all race helmets only operate with this kind of closure. They are thought to be much stronger and hold up better in high-speed accidents.
A buckle closure is much simpler to operate, especially with gloves, but it is not as strong as the D-ring.
Type of Helmet
Once you’ve done your due diligence from a fit and safety standpoint, you can get on to slightly more fun things, like the type of helmet you’re looking for.
At one time, you could get either a black open-face helmet or a black full-face helmet, with nothing in between. Today the market is flooded with all sorts of weird, wonderful, colourful helmets that can fill every rider’s needs and dreams.
There are three main types of helmet:
- Full face: Offers the most protection, good for high-speed riding (read more: Best Full Face Helmets)
- Open face: Super lightweight, excellent ventilation, little to no face protection (read more: Best Open Face Helmets)
- Modular: Convenience of an open-face helmet with the protection of a full face, tend to be the heaviest option (read more: Best Modular Helmets)
Within these three types of helmet, there are a host of other categories to choose from, defined by riding style:
No matter what you ride, you’ll be able to find a helmet to match.
Sports helmets often have features like racing visors, rear spoilers, and race-derived ventilation systems, whereas touring helmets will focus on loads of useful features like internal sun visors or built-in speaker pockets.
Once you’ve figured out whether you want a full-face, open-face, or modular helmet, you can narrow down your search by thinking about your riding style and what features you want/need out of a helmet.
Our Best Motorcycle Helmets for UK Riders article will certainly help narrow down the best helmets for each category type.
There are some features of motorcycle helmets that take priority when comparing lids, such as weight and ventilation. However, manufacturers today are producing helmets with more and more additional features that are completely changing the way we view helmets.
Some riders love that you can drop in a comms kit and hook up a camera, while others still prefer things stripped back and simple. Whatever category you fit in, a helmet’s features can make a huge difference.
One feature of a helmet that gets brought up a lot is the weight of a helmet. As lighter and more advanced materials become commonplace, there are more lightweight helmets to choose from.
A lighter helmet reduces rider fatigue and strain on the neck, so you can keep riding for longer. Generally, mixed-composite/carbon-fibre helmets are the lightest full-face options and open-face helmets are the lightest choice overall.
Read more: Light Motorcycle Helmets
Ventilation for motorcycle riders is essential. A helmet with good intake vents and exhaust vents is a game changer, especially when you’re out on the track or on a long ride.
The key to good ventilation is that the helmet has exhaust vents at the back to let out the hot air. Otherwise, all the air that the helmet takes in stays there and gets warmer — this can be very uncomfortable.
Vents that you can adjust, open, and close are also another big bonus.
Some helmets are louder than others. How noisy a helmet is and how it affects the rider is a completely subjective matter, however, so it’s difficult to 100% define a helmet as a quiet lid.
Obviously, a quieter lid is favoured by most riders because the bike’s engine and exhaust, paired with the road and wind noise, can be loud and distracting.
Schuberth put volume levels of their helmets above anything else and make some of the quietest motorcycle helmets on the market, so it would be the manufacturer to look at for a genuinely quiet helmet.
Read more: Quiet motorcycle helmets
Other Notable Features
Helmets can come super stripped back or fully loaded with additional features. Take a look at this list and identify any features you might want in your helmet:
- Anti-fog visors
- Pinlock visors and inserts
- Breath deflectors
- Chin curtains
- Cushioned neck roll
- Speaker pockets
- Internal sun visors
- Tinted visors
- Built-in comms kit pockets
Whether you want your helmet all singing and dancing is a completely personal thing, but by being aware that helmets have these options, you can make an informed decision based on your needs and preferences.
There is a helmet on the market to meet every budget, and you can get good protective lids for under £100 easily.
Read more: Best Helmets Under £200
Helmets on the cheaper side of things are usually plastic shells lacking the extra features of more expensive lids.
In terms of features, you can find things like internal sun visors and speaker pockets on less-expensive helmets, but the difference from a more expensive helmet will be in the quality of the components.
There are plenty of mid-range mixed-composite helmets, and these go right through to the top or end of the range. Generally, carbon-fibre helmets are always the most expensive option.
Read more: Best Carbon-Fibre Helmets
Another big difference between cheap helmets and expensive ones is the number of shell sizes a manufacturer produces. You’ll find that cheaper helmets tend to be produced in just two or three shell sizes to cover a whole size range, from XS–XL.
The problem is that the manufacturer then relies on padding to make the difference up in size, whether they use more padding or take some away. This can mean a rider with an extra small head can be wearing a medium-sized shell. The EPS liner is the same thickness in both, so the rider isn’t getting quite the same protection, just more comfort padding.
Higher-priced helmets are often produced in more shell sizes to accommodate a wider range of sizes and to provide better fitment.