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Motorcycle Helmet Buying Guide

Added November 30, 2022
Four motorcycle helmets

A motorcycle helmet is arguably the most critical piece of safety gear.

There is a lot to consider when shopping for a motorcycle helmet:

  • purpose
  • fit
  • weather
  • style
  • price 

It takes time to find the helmet you feel was made for you.

Whether or not your state requires that you wear a helmet by law, you should always ride with a helmet—embrace ATGATT (all the gear all the time) as a riding mindset and nothing less.

Three Types of Helmets to Consider

Overall, there are six types of motorcycle helmets:

  1. full face
  2. modular
  3. open face
  4. half
  5. off-road
  6. dual-sport 

However, the following three primary helmets will be explored in greater detail below:

  1. Full-face helmet
  2. Open-face 3/4 helmet
  3. Half helmet

What about motorcycle helmet laws?

Helmet laws vary from state to state.

Sometimes, they're only necessary for riders under a certain age. Elsewhere, everyone must wear a helmet, or they are optional across the board.

Similarly, eye protection laws vary from state to state. And make sure to check if your passenger has to wear a helmet and, if so, what kind.

The Anatomy of a Motorcycle Helmet

If you thought a motorcycle helmet was just a shell for your head, think again. Helmets have been evolving right along with bikes. Here are their different parts:

  • Outer Shell: This is your helmet's rigid, outermost part. It's usually made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, molded plastics, or some mixture of those materials. It protects the rest of the helmet.
  • Impact Absorbing Liner: Usually made from EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam, the liner absorbs shock and displaces energy. Some helmets have one layer of foam, while others have two.
  • Padded Comfort Layer: This is what surrounds your head when you have your helmet on.
  • Chin Strap: This keeps your helmet secured to your head.
  • Vents: These keep your head cool. They're most often found on full-face or ¾ helmets.
  • Face Shield/Visor: This keeps bugs, rocks, and other debris out of your face and helmet.
  • Cheek Pads: These rest against your face when you're wearing a full-face or ¾ helmet. They provide added comfort and protection.

How to Find Your Motorcycle Helmet Size

Fit is the foundation of finding the right sized helmet.

You don't want your helmet too loose because it could slide down and obstruct your vision.

A helmet that is too tight is literally a headache.

Your helmet should touch your head, but not so hard that it puts pressure on it.

Determine your head’s shape and size

Head shapes come in three broad categories:

  1. long oval
  2. intermediate oval
  3. round oval

To figure out which you are, have someone take an overhead photo of your noggin. Make sure to flatten your hair since it can make your head shape less clear.

Now, look at your photo.

  • If your head is almost round, then your head shape is round or oval.
  • If it's long and thin, it's a long oval.
  • If it's somewhere in between, it's an intermedial oval.

In America, intermedia oval is the most common shape (although that doesn't mean you shouldn't check).

Finding your helmet size is easier. Just use a soft tape measure. Or improvise by using a string length and then comparing it to a ruler.

Try the helmet on

Once you've picked your helmet and size that looks like it'll match, put it on. Separate the straps to get the helmet onto your head.

Don't be discouraged if the helmet doesn't feel comfortable going on; what matters is that they're comfortable once you are strapped in.

If need be, adjust your ears.

Check the proper fit

If you're experiencing severe discomfort, that means you should try a different helmet. You can tell the helmet fits right because you'll feel the cushions against your cheeks. 

Your cheeks may even be pushed up a little bit. 

Open-face helmets don't have cheek pads, so you don't have to worry about your cheeks. Check the chin bar by moving it around. 

Your cheeks will move, but the helmet won't. 

If your helmet slides, go down a minimum of one size. If your helmet's a little tight, remember that your helmet liners will adjust by 15 to 20 percent after the first 15 to 20 hours of use. 

Wear the helmet

Leave the helmet on for 15 to 30 minutes. Pay attention to any pressure points. If your helmet is tight, that's fine. But if your helmet causes severe pain that you need to take it off to stop hurting, you need a different helmet. 

If you notice discomfort anywhere, it'll be on your forehead or right above the temples. Another sign that your helmet isn't for you is if it leaves a big red line across your forehead. That means the helmet isn't long-oval enough.

If your helmet is too tight on your temples, then it's not round enough.

Full-face Helmets

The best all-around helmet type you can buy is a full-face helmet because it covers more of your face and head. This type of helmet protects from wind, bugs, road debris, and other potential hazards.

However, it might not be the helmet for you if you're claustrophobic or want a breezier riding experience. 

Your high-traffic option could be the black Harley-Davidson® Stinger B14 Full-Face Helmet which features custom matte and gloss stinger tank graphics. The retro visor adds to its authentic look. Your head and chin are entirely covered, and an optional visor provides for full closure.

Studies have also shown that using a white helmet was associated with a lower risk of an insurance incident.

Open-Face Helmets (AKA ¾ Helmet)

A 3/4 helmet has a vintage feel and matches the stylish street-going motorcycles. Compared to full faces, the open-face helmet is structurally equal in terms of safety. However, open-face motorcycle helmets provide less coverage - as the name indicates.

Most notably, there is no chin bar and, in many cases, no face shield either. The airy feel is the benefit of this particular helmet. Ultimately, you will need to consider your own needs when balancing safety vs. comfort.

For example, if you live in a high-humidity state, you might want a ¾ or half helmet that weighs a lot less, but it won't cover as much, which means less protection.

Or, maybe safety is more important to you, and you opt for the full-face with less ventilation. Do you ride on country roads without much traffic, from cars or deer? Then the half helmet might work. 

An excellent compromise between the heavier full-face helmet and the lighter half-face helmet is the ¾ helmet.

Half Helmets (AKA brain buckets)

If you enjoy the wind against your face while you ride, a half helmet is perfect for you. The airflow and lightness of the helmet are like no other. That said, they lack safety features and offer minimal coverage.

The half helmet typically covers from the top of your forehead to about halfway down the back of your head, capturing that iconic image of motorcycling freedom. Compared to a full-face helmet, these are typically lighter and more comfortable for long-term wear.

For bikers who want a light and carefree ride, this half helmet is probably for you.

Bottom Line on Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

Choose the right helmet for safety – and style. Don't skimp and buy a cheap helmet. It won't last long or offer you the protection you want.

If you're still unsure of which helmet to choose, your local Harley-Davidson® dealer is the perfect next step.

You've chosen your bike and riding gear with great care. Be sure any helmet you buy measures up to your standards.

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