If you think it’s hard to get a test ride on a new motorcycle in Thailand, try convincing anyone to let you to take a ride in a new helmet before you buy it. Too bad it’s never going to happen, because the long-term comfort and feel of a motorcycle helmet is as important as that of a motorcycle, maybe even more important since the helmet’s job is to protect you in a crash. Finding one that fits right and feels good is a challenge, but with the right information you can tip the odds in favor of getting it right the first time.
A motorcycle helmet consists of several basic components. The shell is the first line of defense against impact. It’s unusual there days for a helmet company to use one shell for all sizes of a particular helmet; most come in at least two shell sizes – for example, one for small through medium, and the other for large through extra-large.
The inner EPS (expanded polystyrene) safety liner inside the shell compresses as it absorbs impact energy and then rebounds slowly. The EPS liner is molded specifically for the size of helmet it goes in, but some companies also offer liners made for different head shapes. The comfort liner, the layer of foam padding between the EPS and you, keeps you comfy, absorbs sweat and contributes to the overall feel of the helmet once you put it on.
The right helmet fit is subjective; it’s often described as ‘snug but not tight’, which leaves some wiggle room. In fact, you want a bit of actual wiggle room inside a motorcycle helmet for long-term comfort, but if you can tern the helmet on your head far enough to block the vision out of one eye, it’s too loose. Beware of pressure points, which can become unbearable after a while, and if you wear glasses make sure the comfort liner doesn’t exert so much pressure on the stems that your ears start to hurt.
Don’t be afraid to try another size, or a brand of helmet that comes in different head shapes, until you find one that feels right. You’re going to spend a lot of money on a motorcycle helmet, and wear it for long stretches, so comfort is second only to safety.
Because motorcycle helmets are safety devices, you modify one at your peril. Don’t cut, compress or remove any part of the shell or the EPS padding to improve the fit. Some helmets have optional comfort liners that effectively give you a size between, say, large and extra-large; for others, thicker or thinner cheek pads are available. If the basic fit is good, you can probably fine-tune it to be perfect.
A good motorcycle helmet isn’t cheap, but if properly maintained it can be worn daily for years. Be careful what you use to clean the shell; harsh cleaners, especially those with ammonia, alcohol or solvents, can damage the fiberglass or polycarbonate, and ruin the paint and graphics. Start by putting a wet paper towel over the helmet to soak and soften dead bugs and stuck-on grit. After 15 minutes, remove the paer towel and scrape off the stubborn bugs with your fingernail. Then use a cleaner that’s made for motorcycle helmets, or warm water and mild soap. Do the same for the dace shield, remembering to remove any anti-fog inserts first; the insert, as well as polarized and colored shields, might require a special cleaning routine.
The EPS safety liner inside the shell doesn’t need regular maintenance, nor should it be exposed to any type of cleaner. Nevertheless, the cleanliness of the helmet’s interior affects how long the EPS remains effective. Skin oil, sweat and hair products can degrade it over time, which is why helmet manufacturers usually recommend replacing a motorcycle helmet anywhere from five to seven years after it’s first worn. UV-light exposure also degrades the shell of the helmet, personally I replace my helmet in Thailand every three years…
The comfort liner acts like a sponge to soak up all the substances that can harm the EPS layer. Washable and removable comfort liners are common on most motorcycle helmets, and can be cleaned with just mild soap and hand warm water. Make sure you rinse the soap out thoroughly, though. If any residue remains, it can mix with your sweat on a hot day and run down into your eyes. As an alternative, use one of several spray cleaners made specifically for helmet liners.
When you’ve cleaned the outer shell, use a cotton-bud to remove debris from any forward-facing air vents, then apply a coat of spray wax to put down a protective coating that makes the helmet easier to clean the next time. Keep a container of spray wax and one of shield cleaner with a soft, clean towel near the motorcycle in the garage so you can give your helmet and shield a quick wipe-down before each ride.