Guide to helmets

So, you need a lid to wear in your Atom, but which one? And what type? Bike or car? Is there that much difference? Well, yes, there is. Meyrick Cox gives some guidance on choice, fit and caring for your helmet.

The car helmet

The first thing you notice is that the eye aperture is a lot smaller on a lid designed for cars. On closer inspection, you’ll see that the visors are made from thicker material, too. That’s because you’re much lower to the ground and are more likely to be hit by debris or parts of your car as it smashes itself to pieces with you strapped firmly in it. Car lids come with ‘aero-shaping’: this is pretty much up to you as to whether it makes a difference. If you can, try one with and one without (not easy!). In the Atom, I prefer one with the aero-shaping. They’re designed mostly for open race cars, so head articulation is less than on bike helmets, since you are in a fixed position (this is a marginal safety benefit). They have more compression protection (padding) and thinner shells with less puncture protection than bike lids (you aren’t likely to be skidding down the road in one) and have better fire protection (you aren’t going to be strapped into a bike ablaze).

The bike helmet

A bike lid features a larger aperture because peripheral vision is so much more important. There’s more cut away at the back to allow better articulation – downside is this lets more noise in. They usually have more vents etc, mostly for styling reasons. And they often have quick-change visor mechanisms, which is less common on car ones.


There are different standards for bike and car helmets:

Bike: ACU gold and silver are the main standards. Get a gold one, since there is little, if any, cost difference and they are definitely safer. There is a Snell standard too, but all bike helmets sold in the UK have to have BSI standards, so ignore Snell ones. Ignore the BSI standards, and look for the ACU ones, which are tougher.

Car: MSA and Snell standards are both acceptable for UK racing.

Fit, fit, fit

The single most important aspect of any helmet is how it fits. There are good Arai and good Shoei guides on this, which may be on their websites, but I’ll paraphrase what I can remember. Best of all is to get someone from one of the manufacturers to fit you:

It should be a tight squeeze to get on. Bike lids should be rolled on from the front, rather than pushed down from on top. Car lids more the latter.

No obvious pressure points on your temples or wherever. You should experience even support all the way round. Front, side, top, and back.

Open the visor and hold the chin bar firmly (or better, get someone else to). You should not be able to move your head at all. Not a bit. Not even a little bit.

Don’t worry – the padding will give over the first month or so, so it should feel slightly compressive all round – slightly too tight to be instantly comfortable. Many of the more expensive lids can be fitted with different cheek and rear pads. Certainly the top few Arais, Shoeis and Bells do. Ask if the helmet you are trying on has that option. Ask for different sized pads to try out. If the shop doesn’t have them go to a different shop. On my Arai RX7 IV, I have larger than standard cheek pads (for the full chipmunk effect) and smaller than standard rear pads (to allow space for my android-shaped head). Similar on my Bell race lid.

Ask what size shells there are; Arai and Bell do five different shell sizes and seven or eight helmet sizes. The shell is the hard outer bit, the helmet size is the space for your head. If you are between two sizes i.e. L and XL, the larger shell size will have more padding and polystyrene, which is inherently a little safer, but will compress more as you wear it, so needs to be tighter initially.

Chin strap should be easy to do up and undo. Tighten the strap with your mouth open. Ask them to show you the operation of all the vents.  Check you can open, close and lock the visor easily.  Ask them to show you how to change the visor. Buy both a dark and clear visor (I usually buy spares as well) at the time. Don’t buy road-legal tinted bike visors. For some bizarre reason you are only allowed a 25% tint and the powers that be think that it is safer to put shades inside a helmet than use a proper dark visor, so they do very little. Get a proper 50%+ dark visor from instead. Shops aren’t allowed to sell you dark visors officially, so some slightly ‘dodgy dealing’ is quite acceptable.

Where to buy one

The best place to try lids on is at bike or race car shows. Then you have all the manufacturers present and you can go and try them on with people who really know what they are talking about them fitting them for you. If that fails, GPR, Motorcycle City, Hein Gericke or the like are usually well stocked and patient. I deliberately haven’t recommended any brand or model: that’s because your head is unique (identical twins notwithstanding) and so what fits me is of no relevance to what will fit you. Go and try them on.

Don’t compromise at all on fit and if you aren’t sure walk away. Price and fit are almost entirely unconnected. Ignore the pretty graphics on the outside, you can always get them painted (usually about £250-300) if you want (I do!). If you need some helmet painters, I can suggest ones I have used.

Lastly, don’t buy mail order, via the net or from abroad unless you know exactly what helmet you want; in which size; where the helmet is made for (the shells and padding are different for different countries – we really do have different shaped heads); and how old it is. Get all of that confirmed in writing.

Looking after helmets

  • Always ask for a cotton bag with the helmet, they will usually chuck it in free.
  • Keep the helmet in it. Always If you can, get a proper helmet bag. Demon Tweeks and GPR Direct both do them for £15-30. Get a visor bag from a bike shop to stop them getting scratched.
  • Keep out of sunlight except when wearing them.
  • Never ever drop them. Best place to put helmets not in use is on the floor or in a cupboard (best, since you can’t kick them there).
  • Replace them after about five years.
  • Clean the inside with shampoo and a shower every six months or so. Don’t worry about getting it wet, they are designed to deal with sweat and rain, so hose it out properly. This avoids that nice familiar smell peculiar to your own helmet which welcomes you every time you put it on. It also means you look at it carefully. Leave it to dry naturally on a towel or a cake rack: do not put it by the fire, on the window sill, radiator or what have you, although on something gentle like an Aga is fine.
  • Be careful cleaning visors: scratch resistance is much better than it was, but soak flies etc (Autoglym do the best visor cleaner I have found) with an old flannel or dish cloth before cleaning them off. Remove the visor and use lots of water. If the visor has anti-fog coating check the manufacturers instructions, not all of them like being hosed.
  • I always put a Fog City insert in one clear visor for each helmet, but some people find anti-fog coatings work. I don’t. Some people find that Fog Citys create a star-like effect around lights at night. I’ve never had it. For all the full-face helmets I have, I rely on the anti-fog coating.
  • Lastly, look after it and it can look after you.

Written by Bruce Fielding and Meyrick Cox in 2006.

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