How To Break In A Motorcycle Helmet

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Most motorcycle helmets are considerably too tight when you buy them and can't be worn until they've been broken in.

It's a misnomer to think that helmets have to be uncomfortable; they should always feel snug around your head with no pressure points.

To break in a helmet, soak an old towel in cold water, ring it out, and put the wet cloth on top of the padding inside the helmet. You might want to cover your eyes with a sleep mask for an hour. The last step is simply wearing the helmet for about 30 minutes each day until the padding breaks in.

It is no secret that certain people, especially women, find it challenging to find a helmet that fits properly. I can go to store after store and find nothing. A helmet that fits my head but is too big for my face. A helmet that fits my face is too small for my head. Thus, it is tempting to hope that breaking in a helmet will fix the problems to end the search.

However, breaking in a helmet only fixes so much. It can also make a helmet too loose. Thus, it is essential to understand how to buy a helmet that fits in addition to how to break one in. A poorly fitting helmet does a terrible job at saving your life. As a person who has been in a motorcycle accident, I am eternally grateful my helmet fit properly and did its job to perfection.

In this article...


What Is The Best Method To Break In A Motorcycle Helmet?

Like shoes, the best break in method for a motorcycle helmet is by wearing it. Ideally, you want to begin the process when not on the bike. For example, you could watch TV in your helmet, play video games, or attend a Zoom meeting in it and give your co-workers a laugh.

When breaking in your new motorcycle helmet, wear it as you would on a ride. Thus, if you wear a skull cap under your helmet, make sure the skull cap is on during the break in sessions. Likewise, if you have long hair, ensure you've styled it as you would for a ride before putting the helmet on.

How Long Should I Wear My New Motorcycle Helmet?

Breaking in your helmet should be done gradually. Start with around 20 minutes. This should be easy since you shouldn't buy a helmet unless you can wear it in the shop for at least half an hour.

After your first short session, increase it to 40. Then work your way up until you are wearing it for a full 90 minutes. In the end, it takes 15-20 hours of wear for a helmet to be fully broken in.

As you are breaking it in, keep checking the fit. It is an absolute nightmare to discover the helmet has become too loose during the break in period. However, that financial pain is far less than the price of hitting the pavement in a helmet that's too big.

How Do I Avoid Breaking In My Helmet Too Much?

Motorcycle helmets can loosen up by as much as 20% while being broken in. This can turn a helmet that just fits into one that is too big. The way to avoid this is by doing a ton of research and purchasing it in a reputable shop that can give you advice.

Shops have people who have motorcycle experience and know the brands. They are up to date on their stock and how those materials break down (or not). Some helmets only break down in specific places. Thus, you can't assume the tight spot on your forehead will loosen up. However, you also can't assume the "just brushes my cheeks" will stay tight enough.

Thus, try on the helmet. Shake your head and let the shop assistant check how it fits. Give the shop assistant feedback on any place it feels tight / hurts. Then they can best advise on if you should change sizes, brand, style, or if it simply requires breaking in.

Can I Break Down The Helmet Pads Faster?

Motorcycle helmets sometimes have pads that can be removed. Thus, some people like to take them out and put something heavy on top to break them down faster.

However, while this can break the pads down, it doesn't conform them to your head. Thus, it could cause fit issues after this is done.

Replacing the pads is sometimes an option. However, this might impact its safety rating. Thus, research and talk to knowledgeable people in the field before taking such a step.

In the end, it's better to buy a properly fitting helmet than try to make it fit after you buy it.

How Do I Find A Motorcycle Helmet That Fits?

Finding a motorcycle helmet that fits requires research and tenacity. But if you persist in searching for a helmet that fits you the best, you will have a more comfortable ride and have the best chances of a positive outcome in the event of an accident.

1. Fit Over Style: Buying A Motorcycle Helmet

Motorcycle helmets come in various types. Unfortunately, these can favor a specific head shape. Thus, you may have to compromise on your desires to achieve a perfect fit.
For example, you might not find an off-road that fits but will find your perfect match in a dual-sport. Somebody wanting a modular might only find a full face that fits. Try to know what type you want, but have an alternative in mind if your favorite doesn't work out.

Also, color and aesthetic designs need to be your last consideration. It's annoying, I know. None of my gear reflects my personal style. Given the cost of equipment, manufacturers should do a better job of meeting clients' needs (especially women). But the person who will be hurt by putting personal style over proper fit is you, especially when your head meets the ground.

2. Try Motorcycle Helmets On Like You Ride

One vital factor in fitting a helmet is ensuring it fits your head exactly as you'll be out on a ride. What you put under your helmet and how you style your hair impacts where a helmet applies pressure. Save yourself a literal headache and a lot of hassle by trying on helmets by styling your hair like you're getting on the bike, and bring along any accessories you'd typically wear.

Thus, if you wear a doo-rag or a balaclava under your helmet, then wear it when trying on helmets. If you wear your hair in braids, show up to the shop in your braids.

3. Shake Your Head When Trying Motorcycle Helmets

After trying on a motorcycle helmet, the first thing to do is to shake your head. If it moves around like a plastic cup on a pole, it's too big. However, if you think it's okay, the next step is to do the same thing in front of an assistant. The second set of eyes might catch sight of a problem you don't spot because your eyes are jangling.

4. Smile When Trying Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycle helmets need to fit your face as well as your head. You should be able to feel it against your cheeks. If you can't, it's too big on the face. However, it's not supposed to squeeze your cheeks like you're a child being scolded in the 1950s. Thus, if you can't smile in it, the helmet is way too tight.

Another test is to chew gum. If you can't chew gum comfortably, the cheekpieces are too tight.

5. Motorcycle Helmet Chin Strap Test

Motorcycle helmets should not come off with the chin strap tightened. So fasten it up, then try to take it off. If it comes off, that's not the helmet for you.

Remember, the chin strap should pass the two-fingers test. If you need to throttle your throat to keep the helmet on, it is too big.

6. Motorcycle Helmets Shouldn't Hurt

Breaking in a helmet will only solve so much. You want a snug helmet, not one so tight you find yourself praying to new gods. Numbness is another big red flag. Thus, do not buy anything that makes you feel pain, too much pressure, numbness, or gives you bizarre tingly sensations.

7. Motorcycle Helmets Don't Restrict Vision

If the helmet comes too far down over your eyes, it's a poor fit. It also should not be "squishing" your brows into your vision. Thus, ensure you can see properly out of any helmet you are testing.

8. The 30-Minute Motorcycle Helmet Test

After you've found a helmet that both you and the shop assistant feel is a potential winner, keep it on for 30-minutes. While wearing it, you can look at other gear, drool over new bikes in stock, page through magazines, or answer all those text messages and emails you've been ignoring. You do you. Just make sure you keep that helmet on.

The helmet fails the test if you have to take it off in less than 30-minutes due to discomfort.

Don't buy it if you have a headache.

It has failed the test if you have developed any hideous or concerning red marks. Helmets get looser during breaking in, but not that loose.

If you have slight marks, talk to the assistant. They'll know if that's something that will ease up during the breaking in period or not. Also, a few brands have customizable pads, and a swop might fix the minor issue.

Lastly, you need to do all the wiggle, jiggle, and pull tests again after the 30-minutes. If it fails any of these, then that helmet is a no-go.

Do I Measure My Head When Buying A Helmet?

You can measure your head before buying a motorcycle helmet. This is crucial when purchasing online. However, the chances are high that even if you measure correctly and follow the manufacturer's guidelines on size, the helmet won't fit. Your success on buying a helmet online truly depends on how much you match the manufacturer's "ideal" shape.

But if you are buying in person, you don't need your exact measurements. Just start trying helmets on. You'll quickly discover your size will depend on the brand and style.

Always try to buy a motorcycle helmet in person. It will ensure you get a proper fit.

How Do I Measure My Head For a Motorcycle Helmet?

In an ideal world, we'd have access to the best motorcycle shops. However, sometimes buying online is the only option. If that's you, you'll need to measure your head to find your size.

  1. Find the widest part of your head, generally at the brows
  2. Wrap a tape measure or string
  3. If using string, then measure the string to get the length

The tape measure tells you your size. Each brand will have a size chart, and you match your measurement to their chart.

How Do I Measure My Head For a Motorcycle Helmet?

Motorcycle head shapes fall into three main categories:

  1. Round oval
  2. Long oval
  3. Intermediate oval

If your head does not neatly fit into these categories, you really need to do everything you can to try on helmets in a shop. Buying online is only successful if you neatly fall into one of these three categories.

There are two basic methods to figuring out head shape.

The first method is to have somebody take photos of the top of your head.

  • A round head makes a near-perfect circle
  • An intermediate head is slightly narrower ear-to-ear.
  • An oval creates long sides and a shorter ear-to-ear

The other way to do it is to measure your head, going over the top of the skull.

  1. Measure from front-to-back, using between your brows as the start
  2. Measure from ear to ear
  • A round head has the same measurement for both
  • An intermediate head has a slightly longer front-to-back than ear-to-ear
  • An oval (narrow) will have significantly longer front-to-back than ear-to-ear

Most people are an intermediate head shape; thus, most helmets fit this demographic. But a fair chunk of the population doesn't fit neatly into any of these categories, making buying a helmet all the more challenging.

Is A Too Big Motorcycle Helmet That Bad?

The obvious reason you want a snug fit is so your helmet doesn't come off during an accident. You hit the ground fast and hard, and anything loose isn't going to stay on, including your shoes. Once that helmet flies off, your chances of surviving the accident are drastically reduced. Death is a real bummer.

Even if a too-big helmet manages to protect your brain, you still risk losing enjoyable features like a chin and teeth. A loose helmet is also a great way to obliterate your nose on impact.

On a less dramatic scale, too loose helmets are annoying to wear. They can wiggle in the wind and allow too much ventilation. This makes noise, and your ears will hate you.

Is Wearing A Tight Motorcycle Helmet Dangerous?

Generally, the only danger of wearing a motorcycle helmet that is too tight is that you'll be miserable during your ride.

You probably couldn't manage to put on a helmet if it was tight enough to be dangerous. However, it is true that a helmet that only perches on top of your head will not do you any good in an accident.

But generally, most tight helmets simply give you a headache, unsightly red marks, and an aversion to riding.

Is Wearing An Old Motorcycle Helmet Dangerous?

Motorcycle helmets are expensive and tricky to find a perfect fit. Thus, it's understandable you want to get the most use out of it as possible before replacing it. However, older helmets are not as safe. Therefore, replacing your helmet every 3-10 years is recommended, depending on which safety regulations you follow. (Don't wait ten years.)

Sun damage on the outside can cause the outer shell casing to warp and lose its strength over time. The polystyrene also degrades from sweat, heat, and general use over the years. The insulating foam breaks down with age. Thus, old-faithful and you might have a long history, but there comes a point where that relationship needs to be retired.

Can I Improve The Fit Of My Motorcycle Helmet?

Generally, you should just buy a helmet that fits and not try to mess with it. However, if you have long hair, changing your style might help. For example, if you typically prefer a French braid, your helmet might not be as tight if you change it to a braid that begins at the base of your neck.

Similarly, if the scarf or skull cap is made of thick material, switching to thinner material will make a tight helmet more comfortable. However, you should not be wearing a bulky knit hat to make a loose helmet fit.

However, you can talk to a shop assistant about switching pads and lining and see if that can help it fit. Some helmets are made to be customized safely. However, others are not. Do your research first before trying this, as you don't want to render the helmet useless in an accident.