Buying a helmet isn’t like buying a hat. You need to consider not just style but quality, safety ratings, materials, and fitment before making your purchase.
You also need to consider how the helmet fitment may change over time. Just like the way running shoes break in and fit differently over time, so do helmets.
In this article, we’ll discuss what to expect from the fit of your helmet and how helmets can break in.
Do Motorcycle Helmets Break In?
Motorcycle helmets break in in a similar way that your tennis shoes do. The more you wear them, the more they will form fit to you. After a certain amount of time, your helmet (like your favorite tennis shoes), will feel perfect and you won’t mind wearing it for extended periods.
How Much Should I Expect a Brand New Helmet to Break In?
Typically, you can expect a helmet to break in half or whole size larger from the time you bought it. During my time selling helmets at a motorcycle dealership, I would have riders come in to buy a large helmet and then return a month later to buy another helmet, one size smaller. When I had them try on an X-Large helmet, it would fit like their current helmet.
You need to give your helmet room to form fit to your face and head as it breaks in. This is why I always recommended customers purchase a helmet that felt tight in the store, because I knew it would break in later. If you purchase a helmet that is already a size too big when it “breaks in”, it will only become looser and cause discomfort while riding.
As the helmet breaks in, it molds the contours of your face and head, creating a custom fit specific to you. You’ll know your helmet has broken in when it slides on and off easily and feels comfortable while riding.
Common complaints from riders wearing a helmet too large are excessive wind noise, wind buffeting, and a sore neck. If the helmet is too large, the helmet can actually move or not protect your head well enough to prevent head injuries.
How Much Time Does It Take for a Helmet To Loosen Up?
The time it takes for a helmet to break in depends on how long and how often you wear the helmet.
My personal record for breaking in a helmet is two days. Over a 4th of July weekend, I rode through the infamous Twisted Sisters in Texas. The ride itself was about 6 hours, in addition to the commute time of getting to our lodging cabins and riding into town to shop and eat.
Within the course of that weekend, by wear and sweat, I had the helmet broken in and comfortable for my every day commuter riding.
This isn’t a way I’d recommend breaking in a helmet, though. My head and neck were sore from wearing a new helmet. Similar to the way your arms feel sore after lifting more weight than usual, if you continue to lift that same amount of weight, your body will build muscle to adapt.
So while my helmet made me sore in the beginning, long rides after the initial break-in didn’t leave my neck or back sore and achy.
If you can, break the helmet in over a week’s time. This allows for your head and neck to slowly adjust to the unfamiliar weight and for the helmet to form to the specific contours of your head and face. This is also a good amount of time to let the helmet break in without causing additional discomfort.
How Much Will It Actually Adjust in Size Over Time?
The helmet shouldn’t loosen up any more than it does during the initial break-in period.
The comfort liner is the part of your helmet that is actually breaking in and adjusting to your head. If your helmet seems to keep “breaking in”, it could mean that the interior needs to be refreshed with a good washing.
Some lower end helmet made of cheaper materials may continuously break down, causing the helmet to feel like it keeps getting bigger. If this is the case, you may want to consider upgrading to a high-quality helmet that will hold its shape.
Can You Increase the Size After It Had Time to Break In?
If you think your helmet is too tight, even after you’ve broken it in, you may still be able to increase the size through mild modifications.
Some people try to “stretch” their helmets by shoving a large ball or even using vices to enlarge the helmet. I do not recommend this method. You risk damage to the helmet by ruining the EPS liner or cracking the shell. Both would render the helmet useless in an accident.
As much as your helmet needs to fit your head, it also needs to be structurally sound to protect your head.
If you need to increase the size of your helmet, changing the padding to something thinner could do the trick. Some helmet companies offer thinner crown cushions to give the rider a little space around the top of their head. Switching to thinner cheek pads can also make a drastic difference if your helmet feels too tight around your face.
Can You Make a Motorcycle Helmet Smaller?
Opposite of having a helmet not break in enough, your helmet could break in too much. This typically happens if you purchased a helmet that was too big. Once it begins to break in, the helmet will end up fitting too large and create too much room for your head to move.
If you think this may have happened to you, don’t fret. There still may be something you can do before you have to buy another helmet.
The same way you increase the size of your helmet, you can decrease the size of your helmet to make it smaller. If the helmet has broken in too much, you can purchase thicker padding than what it came with to help make up the gaps.
For example, if your helmet came with 35mm cheek pads, you may be able to replace them with 39mm cheek pads.
Buying a new helmet can be exciting but also stressful. They’re a fair amount of money and you don’t want to spend your hard earned cash on the wrong size. When you’re trying on helmets, remember that even if you don’t get the size quite right, there are safe ways you can make your helmet fit.