How Tight Should a Motorcycle Helmet be?

A motorcycle helmet should just fit your head and be neither tight nor loose. Some riders wrongly judge saying “the tighter the helmet the better” and some “a bit loose feels better”. Both are wrong. Remember, the level of safety a helmet provides depends on how perfectly it fits. Helmets originated not with motorcycles but when motorcycles endangered people’s life. 

It was only in the year 1935 and not before that helmet gained importance. It all started with Sir Hugh William Bell Cairns the Australian neurosurgeon. He thought about the necessity of protecting the head and brain through a helmet when he was treating one of his patients T E Lawrence popularly called “Lawrence of Arabia”.

Interestingly, when you compare motorcycle accidents with other accidents like buses, trucks, cars, etc. the statistics provide surprising information. As per the US Department of Transportation-National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-NHTSA, every year around 4800 people die due to motorcycle crashes which are 14% of the total fatality on US roads. 

The NHTSA in another report says that 80% of motorcycle accident victims either die or get seriously injured in comparison to 20% in bus, truck, or car accidents. Similarly, CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in its 2016 report claims that 1859 people survived motorcycle accidents due to helmets and an additional 802 victims could have survived if they wore helmets.

Tight Motorcycle Helmet

So, you know how important a helmet is when riding a motorcycle and especially in an accident. But any helmet available in the market may not be so important in terms of protecting you from accidents. Rather, an inappropriate and wrong helmet can be a curse in an accident. You must buy a helmet that has DOT or SNELL safety certification to ensure the safety of your head and brain in a crash. 

However, DOT or SNELL certification alone is not enough for your protection. The helmet must fit appropriately to your head without which your safety is still at risk. Going a step further, a too tight or too loose helmet can cause a crash in certain circumstances. Therefore, instead of hasting you should take your time while buying a helmet and ensure that the helmet fits perfectly. 

Why Should a Helmet Fit Your Head Perfectly?

Often riders do not go deeper while buying a helmet. Most people just look for the safety certification and examine how strong the external shell is. Besides this, some riders spend more time searching for the style, design, and colors that fit the motorcycle. But beyond this, you must know other factors associated with fitting the helmet to your head. Know why a helmet should not be too-loose or over-tight and must perfectly fit your head.

Loose Helmet

  • A loose helmet does not sit appropriately on the head and can any moment fall apart from the head. If it falls while riding it may cause an accident major or minor.
  • If you are riding wearing a loose helmet it may create visibility issues due to the impact of wind and shaking of the helmet.
  • The wind can throw away the helmet if it does not sit firmly on the head leading to inconvenience and often crashes.
  • The wind can move a loose helmet around leaving you blind resulting in a crash.
  • A loose helmet usually falls apart during an accident and thus does not protect the head as intended.
  • You may not ride confidently with a loose-fitting helmet.

Over-Tight Helmet

  • An over-tight helmet is daunting and often uncomfortable or painful while riding.
  • It also affects the vision leading to accidents.
  • A tight helmet usually creates pressure spots leading to headaches, blurred vision, and fatigue.
  • It is difficult for the rider to comfortably move his or her head wearing a too-tight helmet.
  • Your ears get folded when you wear a too-tight helmet. Though ears usually get folded when you wear a perfectly fitting helmet it is difficult to set the ear back in the case of a too-tight helmet.

Know the Type, Shape, and Size of Your Head and Face before Buying a Helmet

A study in the US reveals that the size of adult male and female heads is different. The average female head circumference measures about 55cm whereas male measures about 57cm. Another study in the UK claims that the average female head size measures 55.2cm and the male 57cm.

However, as per science, humans have three different types of skulls that determine the types of head and face along with their shape and size. They are (1) European, (2) Asian, and (3) African. In other words, your head and face get the shape and size based on the types, size, and shape of their skulls. So, know about the different types of the skull to determine the type of head and face, and the shape and size of your head and face below.

  • European: The European skulls scientifically called “Caucasoid” or “Caucasian” are usually narrow and long in comparison to the other two types of skulls or heads. European skulls have elongated chins and their cheekbones are less pronounced. These skulls have triangular-shaped nasal openings and have rectangular-shaped eye orbits. The teeth of these skulls are usually smaller than the Asian and African skulls.
  • Asian: The Asian skulls or heads are called “Mongoloid” skulls that are usually broader and shorter than the African and European skulls. The cheekbones of Asian skulls are forward-sloping and wide. They have round-shaped eye orbits and have shovel-shaped upper incisors. The nasal openings of Asian skulls are wider than the other two types and flared towards the bottom.
  • African: The African skulls or heads also called “Negroid” skulls are longer from the front towards the back and have a sloppy shape from the forehead towards the chin. These skulls have rectangular-shaped eye orbits and wider but less pronounced nasal bridges in comparison to the European and Asian skulls. The African skulls usually contain larger teeth and have wider space.

When it comes to buying a helmet, you need to not only count the size, shape, and type of the head but also the face. Similar to different types of skulls leading to the difference in shapes and sizes of human heads, humans also have different types, sizes, and shapes of faces. There are 7 different types of shapes of human faces as follows:

  • Oval Face: An oval face is longer in shape with narrower jaws in comparison to the cheekbones.
  • Round Face: These types of faces are round in shape with fullness under the cheekbones and wider hairlines.
  • Square Face: The square-shaped faces have a wider jawline and equally wider hairline. The jawline of square-shaped faces looks more powerful and angular.
  • Diamond-shaped Face: These faces usually have a narrower forehead and chin but also have a wider forehead along with wider cheekbones.
  • Heart-shaped Face: The heart-shaped faces have a narrow chin and a wider forehead.
  • Pear-shaped Face: Also called “triangular face” has a narrow or smaller forehead with a large jawline.
  • Oblong-shaped Face: These faces have narrow but long structures of bones.

Now that you know different types of skulls leading to different types, sizes, and shapes of heads and faces, determine which type, shape, and size of a head and face you have. Go to the mirror and attentively and carefully try to figure out the type, shape, and size of your head and face. However, it may not be easy to determine the size of your head to find a perfect fit helmet for which you may require the following measuring of your head.

Also read: How to Clean Motorcycle Helmet Pads?

How to Know the Exact Size of Your Head to Find a Perfectly Fitting Helmet?

You will come across varieties of brands of helmets with different shapes, designs, and sizes in the market. So, it may not be easier for you to determine the exact size of your helmet that perfectly suits your head.

For example, a retailer shows a certain brand with a certain size and measurement. He or she says that this brand is the best in the market and can fit heads measuring 57.1cm. Though you know the type, shape, and average size of your head you still do not know the exact measurement of your head. So, follow the below things to know the exact measurement of your head to find a perfectly suitable helmet for you.

  • Take a tape and ask someone to measure your head as the tailors do while taking your body measurement. If you do not have a measuring tape and nobody to assist you to measure your head, go to the mirror and take a piece of string and take the measurement of your head in front of the mirror.
  • Think where the helmet will sit on your head and take the measurement of that space. It should be above the ears and about two cm or an inch above the eyebrows. If you are using a measuring tape, then note down the length in cm as well as in inches. This will help you determine the right helmet size while buying one. Almost all brands display the size of the helmet either in cm or inches.
  • Take the measure of your head twice or thrice until you are confident about the measurement.
  • You can also check the sizes of your preferred brands in advance before measuring your head. This will help you directly ask the retailer with the name of the brand and model without wasting your time.

How to Ensure the Perfect Size of the Helmet that Fits Your Head While Buying One?

As stated above, you need to buy a helmet that is neither too loose nor too tight. You have probably measured your head to determine the size of your helmet and let’s assume it is the perfect measurement. Remember, helmets are not manufactured taking your head measurement to perfectly fit your head. It does not mean that you will have to spend big bucks to find a perfect helmet for your head size.

You can find a helmet from a variety of brands, shapes, designs, colors, and styles at an affordable price that perfectly suits your head size. But you need to be a bit more careful and follow the below steps to ensure the perfect size of your helmet in the market.

  • Determine the brand, design, and style of your helmet before you go buying the helmet in the market. For example, determine what type of helmet you are interested in. There are almost five different types of helmets available in almost all brands of helmets. They are (1) an open-face helmet, (2) a full-face helmet, (3) a modular helmet, (4) an ADV helmet, and (4) a dirt helmet for off-road riding.
  • The next step is safety certification which is the most important aspect of your helmet. Make sure of the DOT certification along with its sticker on the helmet if you are riding in the US. However, you can also choose a SNELL-certified helmet which might be a bit expensive in comparison to the DOT.
  • Then comes the shape and size of your head based on which you should choose the size of your helmet. Riders usually fit into three basic head shapes namely round oval, long oval, and intermediate oval. You can further determine the shape of your head by taking a photo of your head. Ask somebody to take a snap of your head from above. You need to flatten your hair as much as you can to ensure the exact shape of your head. Your head should be round oval if it looks round in the photo, and long oval if it looks long. Your head should be intermediate oval if it looks in between round and long. 
  • Now it is time for you to determine the right size of your helmet to perfectly suit the size of your head. Since you have already measured your head it should not be difficult to ask for a certain size of helmet. However, wait for a while for the retailer to find out the exact size of the helmet. Do not just walk out from the market once you get the exact size of the helmet but go for the following next step.
  • Ask the retailer to allow you to try the helmet before you pay and settle the deal. Put the helmet on and see whether it exactly fits your head. You can still ask for changing the size if you find it too tight or too loose. Do not forget to adjust your ears if they get folded while wearing the helmet. You should be able to adjust the ears easily and conveniently. 
  • Once you are satisfied with the size of the helmet and feel comfortable wearing it, then do not take it out from your head immediately. Continue putting it on your head at least for half an hour. Sometimes, the new helmet feels a bit tight but after 10 or 15 minutes it should be comfortable.
  • Grab and move the chin bar and see what is moving, whether your cheek or the helmet. Your cheek should move but not the helmet if it fits perfectly. Do not just reject it if it feels a bit tight. Remember, all new helmets break with their liners for about fifteen to twenty percent within a few hours (15 to 20 hours) of riding.
  • While wearing the helmet for half an hour test period do not just sit quietly and unmoved. Do some small activities like watching TV or reading magazines etc. Feel the pressure of the helmet while doing these activities. It is Ok if it is still a bit tight. But if it hurts and you feel like removing the helmet for some uncomfortable experience then this helmet is perhaps not for you. Remember, you may usually experience discomfort commonly at two places of your head. They are at the temples or/at the forehead.
  • Similarly, if you notice a redline, especially a big redline above the temples or on your forehead, never compromise for anything and look for a different helmet. Besides this, you should also reject the helmet if you feel a squeezing sensation on your temples as it may not be round enough for your comfortable wearing.
  • Remember, you need to spend this final half an hour with the helmet on your head (without riding the bike) for testing it seriously. Helmets are usually not taken back once you take them home and use them. However, check with the retailer if you can replace it in the case of some problems after a certain period.

Eventually, you can also break in your helmet by trying different methods like wearing the helmet while watching TV, walking around the garden, reading books, etc. It will get adjusted to the shape of your head if you feel a bit tight and the interior padding should adjust too. Similarly, if you feel loose and not too loose, then try tightening the chin strap and you might feel more comfortable and compact than before.

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