It was the best of helmets, it was the worst of fits. My winter of despair blew in behind an autumn of hope that my shiny new Shoei GT-Air (see MC Tested here) would release its vise-like pressure with the passage of time. My epoch of belief that I was and always shall be a Shoei medium tumbled down to disbelief: This helmet simply does not fit. It is, in every measurement, painfully confining. (Okay, enough Dickens.)
It used to be that buying the wrong-sized helmet was a costly mistake and that you might discover a helmet that you like in every other way that simply does not coddle your cranium. It happened to me with the GT-Air, which is, by Shoei standards, a tight-fitting helmet. Not in the normal silver-dollar-of-pain on my forehead, but everywhere.
It turned out that we had a size-large GT-Air around our office that I could try on. It was much closer but a bit too loose now. Before giving up, I called our local Shoei guys who reminded me that there are optional pads for the GT-Air (and a number of other Shoeis) that allow you to fine-tune the fit.
For helmets between S and XL, there are two optional pads on either side of the standard crown set, one thicker (to make the helmet tighter) and one thinner (to make it fit more loosely). For XS and XXL hats, the choices are going to a thinner pad set on the XS or a thicker pad set on the XXL.
What’s more, Shoei also makes cheek pads in sizes either side of standard for the S-XL helmets plus a thinner pad for the XS and a thicker pad for the XXL. Because these are separate components inside the helmet, you can mix and match crown and cheek pads to achieve the perfect fit.
And that’s what I did. Because the GT-Air in size-large was closer in fit than the medium, I pleaded my case with Shoei to get a replacement helmet. I also ordered up the “firm fit” thicker crown package to close the gap between the two sizes. (As an aside, I got luckier with my Schuberth SR-1, which was also too tight but close enough that a switch to thinner interior pads achieved comfort.)
Removing the interior of the GT-Air is, well, a breeze. The cheek pads snap out easily but first drawing them away from the shell and disconnecting the white button fasteners. Then you can remove the pads by pulling down and away from the opening. Note that the rear skirt needs to go in first when you reassemble. Just as easily, the crown pad set pulls right out; it's attached only at the back through two button fasteners and along the upper edge of the eye port. Serrations in the mechanism ensure you'll get it aligned properly. The other advantage of this layout is that you can remove the interior and wash it from time to time. Yea, that's a thing.
Result? Near perfection. Now my GT-Air fits comfortably, good for all-day stints without pain or fatigue. I was worried that after a few weeks of riding that the thicker crown pads would break in and make the helmet too loose-fitting, but that’s not been the case. Best of all? The pad sets run between $40 and $50 depending on helmet model and pad size, so it’s not expensive to create the ideal fit.
So I learned two things. First, never assume that you’re always the same size in a helmet. Designs change over time and there’s no guarantee that if you’re a size X in brand Y that you’ll always be so. I should have known better. Second, never give up on a helmet that you otherwise really like.