Lets face it – to a rider nothing should be considered more important than your motorcycle helmet. Protecting your head from injury has to be your number one priority. Simple as that. Fortunately, with today’s technology motorcycle and bike helmets are more effective than ever before. There is tremendous variety too, with hundreds of designs and styles each aimed at different applications or market profiles.
The choice can be overwhelming to any rider looking for the best motorcycle helmet: full-face, open-face, three-quarter, half, flip-up, off-road, etc. Then, even when you have determined which type of helmet you need there’s a plethora of other options to be considered: safety ratings, helmet retention, fit, coverage, interior features, communications capabilities, etc…and the list goes on.
I write this post to help you pick out the best motorcycle helmet for your situation and give you some recommendations along the way. I’ve been riding motorcycles for over 20 years and taught motorcycle safety to hundreds of riders. I can’t remember how many times my students have asked me about what helmet to buy so I decided to share my views through this site. My HUGE interactive table of motorcycle helmets is a great place to compare different helmets.
The Best Motorcycle Helmet Reviews and Buying Guide
Simply put, this is one of the most popular motorcycle helmets available today and for a good reasons. First, I love the Shoei brand and you’ll notice them appearing quite a lot on this site. They make many of the best motorcycle helmets which carry a high quality and are well respected across the entire riding community. Not always the cheapest but you know how that goes.
The RF-1100 was introduced back in 2009 as a replacement to the already super popular RF-1000. Shoei simply made it better, using top quality materials and well enough to earn the Snell M2010 approval which is no mean feat. The shell construction is Shoei’s own AIM+ design which encompasses fiberglass and organic fibers that are so freaking strong you’ll need a laser to cut them. On the inside you’ll find two layers of EPS liner which extend through the chin bar and feature small air channels for effective cooling. Everything is removable for washing and replacing.
With a ton of features and first class design aspects it’s clear why this helmet continues to be so popular. If you have a bit more to spend you may want to consider the slightly superior RF-1200 .
Another Shoei here but this time a flip-up or “modular” helmet which are becoming very popular among riders these days. The Shoei Neotec is the pinnacle in modular helmets in my opinion, replacing the Multitec which was an amazing modular helmet in itself. The Neotec is simply one of the best flip-ups you can buy for your money. The flip-up style is all about convenience, allowing you to carry out tasks that would typically require complete removal of a full-face helmet. You know, tasks like blowing a kiss to the hot girl on the bike next to you. Trusted brand Shoei created something that feels solid, reliable and downright sexy to boot.
The Neotec replaced the older Multitec model (and Syncrotec before that) and is better in most every category. The lightweight shell features a single button allowing you to open up the chin bar with only one hand. This baby is quiet too with very little noise once the chin bar is closed as compared to many other modular helmets. The design of the top vent is particularly clever as it’s basically a near flat plate that you slide back to reveal a couple of vent holes that increase the venting as desired. The Neotec isn’t cheap but most riders know the real value of buying a Shoei and the Neotec does not disappoint.
If you’re not ready to spend $500 or so on the Shoei Neotec modular then consider the excellent GM54S from GMax. GMax is now the fastest growing line of helmets in North America and claim to offer the best fit and finish for your hard earned dollars. Well, they stayed true to their mission with the GM54S. This popular DOT approved helmet features a thermo-plastic alloy shell with a flip-up shield that can be readily moved up or down using the exterior lever. The lens is free from any distortion and superbly clear.
This classy helmet also features battery-powered red LEDs at the rear which provide increased visibility during night time riding and are downright cool. The GM54S also features GMax’s D.E.V.S. dual-exhaust vent system which is fully adjustable and makes you feel like the wind is literally blowing through your hair (if you’re lucky enough to have hair unlike me!). Interior cheek pads can be removed and washed and there are in-built speaker pockets for installing a communication system. Overall, this is a superb low-priced modular option that really does compete well with similar helmets prices up to three times as much.
Bell has risen to be one of the most popular brands catering to both mid-level and premium markets. The Vortex is a great example of Bell’s superb ability to cram so much into a reasonable priced helmet and do it well. Released in 2010 this helmet meets both DOT and Snell 2010 standards using a lightweight polycarbonate shell covering EPS lining that is removable and washable. It feels tight and secure and comes in variety of solids and graphics that stand up easily to the most high priced competitors. No rough spots in the paintwork here folks.
Ventilation is excellent with rear exhaust ports, an adjustable top and chin vent and even brow vents which are rare to find on a helmet priced so competitively. The visor is super quick and easy to use even with your gloves on and won’t fog up as much as other helmets in this price range with Bell’s top performing anti-fog coating. With little to no buffeting and super quiet riding experience you’ll be tough pressed to find anything better at this extremely generous price point. At under $200 it’s a steal people!
HJC has been producing value-for-money helmets for years now and the CL-16 is the pick of the bunch. It’s amazing popular and meets both DOT and Snell 2010 standards which is rare to find at this price point. Fairly lightweight design, superb visibility and all-round sexy styling make the CL-16 a winner in my book. The shell uses polycarbonate and available in a bunch of solids and graphic designs. On the inside you’ll find the essential EPS lining together with a super comfy antibacterial moisture-wicking lining that can be removed when it gets smelly enough to need a wash.
The optically outstanding face shield provides 95 percent protection from UV and can be swapped out in a flash using the spring-loaded mechanism on either side. The locking mechanism ensures the shield stays closed when engaged and the eye port provides excellent visibility. For such a low priced helmet I’m almost shocked to see the excellent quality on the paint and general workmanship. You should have no trouble with fit as the shape is fairly neutral meaning you can generally expect it to fit snugly onto most heads. Overall the HJC CL-16 is a bargain considering what you’re getting for the money.
Help me pick out best motorcycle helmet!
I know just what’s on your mind: “I got a new bike and need a helmet but there are too damn many to choose from so please just tell me which is the best one so I can go and buy it!“. A common statement that resonates with me every day.
The problem is, it’s actually quite difficult to just tell you what helmet is considered the best. The reason for this is because there are a vast number of different types of helmets available and each suited to a different rider and style of riding. What I can do is help you filter out the worthless junk and focus your attention on my top recommendations from the best brands. Rest assured…I consider it my mission to assist you in finding the best motorcycle helmet.
As a good starting point, I have listed some of my most beloved helmets on this page. These are fine choices that you generally cannot go wrong with provided they suit your particular needs. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or an excited teenager who just bought your first bike, you’ll be in good hands with any of the helmets I listed. On top of these, my site is fill with tons of information to educate you on motorcycle helmets and give you the knowledge you need to make purchase decisions you won’t regret.
As for where to buy I do recommend the online retailers who cannot be beat on price and have excellent return policies if needed. I personally recommend buying Motorcycle Apparel & Gear at Amazon who have a great selection and competitive prices often have the lowest prices.
Still not sure which helmet to get?
You want more choices?! Don’t worry, I understand. It’s not easy picking out the best motorcycle helmets so I understand what you’re going through! Fortunately for you, I have put together a mammoth interactive list of best motorcycle helmets which includes all the juicy data points on my favorite helmets to help you sort, filter and compare. This really is an indispensable tool if you want to be able to browse through a long list of helmets available on the market. You will also find many helmet reviews in my reviews section.
What to consider in choosing your best motorcycle helmet
So what exactly is important to us when picking out the best motorcycle helmet? Here is a list of the things I look out for:
Certified and tested
The number one criteria is always safety and fortunately in the US there are safety standards in place to promote the manufacture of effective helmets. First, the US DOT standard defines the minimum levels of performance that helmets sold in the US must meet. You’ll find a “DOT” sticker on helmets which meet this criteria. Second, is the SNELL standard which is privately administered and requires even stricter standards. Helmets meeting these standards will bear the words “SNELL Approved”. In my view these standard are essential. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming all helmets meet these standards! Check before you buy. Always remember, the best motorcycle helmet is the one which saves your life when the day comes.
Design and Materials
While many riders can generally rely on the safety certification, I also like to know that the helmet is made from the best materials to maximize performance and comfort. In general, nothing is more important than the outer material which is the first line of defense. In short, you want it to be both strong and lightweight. I look for the use of Kevlar and carbon fiber in the high-end helmets and lightweight plastic or fiberglass composites. I also look out for the use of expanded polystyrene (“EPS”) foam on the inside which is great for high-impact energy absorption and dispersion. Dual layers of EPS is even better. The helmet design is also vital. While there is no magic formula here, you’ll find the better helmets employ a certain amount of aerodynamics that reduces lift and drag at high speeds.
The face shield should also meet the required safety standards but it should also be as clear as possible. Your vision is critical and you don’t want to experience any kind of distortion or extreme fogging. The best motorcycle helmet usually carry a solid, high quality visor that will provide an optically perfect experience by using high-tech materials to eliminate distortion and many carry an anti-fog coating. As you shell out a few more dollars you will also find nice features such as UV protection and quick-release mechanisms allowing you to swap the visor out for a replacement easily.
Adequate ventilation is not solely about comfort. In some situations toxic exhaust fumes could make their way into your helmet and when that happens you will be thankful for an effective ventilation system. A well ventilated helmet will ensure air flows properly around your head to minimize the impact of any toxic fumes and at the same time prevent you from sweating too much. On the higher end helmets the ventilation system is usually adjustable too, allowing you to increase or reduce the amount of airflow as desired.
My general rule is more is better. I typically prefer full-face helmets which offer the maximum amount of protection as compared to their half-helmet cousins. On top of the exterior design I look for increased EPS liner coverage on the helmet interior. You’ll find the cheaper helmets skimp on EPS and only cover the minimum required area whereas the higher priced offerings feature EPS that practically cover most of the shell and into the chin bar. Remember, at high speed there’s no need to show off your beard so stick to a full face helmet for maximum safety.
At the end of the day and above most else, your helmet must fit well. The best motorcycle helmets always fit well. That is obviously something personal to each of us but so very important when deciding on your helmet. It should be snug and tight but not too uncomfortable. Remember, it’s similar to buying skiing or hiking boots – what feels great on the first day may loosen a little over time as things break in so I recommend having it a little tight to begin with if anything. The good news is that the online retailers will typically let you exchange helmets that do not quite fit properly.
A key part of evaluating the fit is also testing the retention – a motorcycle helmet is useless if it doesn’t stay on your head when you fly off. When you strap it on you should not be able to remove it by hand without releasing the strap. Give it a try, use some force and make sure it stays put no matter what you try.
A slightly different measure to fit that I take note of is how comfortable a helmet is. Of course, there is rarely a helmet that is perfectly comfortable but the goal is to get something as comfortable as possible. Remember, you want to be able to enjoy your long rides and not feel like your head is in a vice. Things to look for are comfort padding, solid ear seals, place in well position neck roll and general lack of any protrusions that may cause discomfort.
My general tip with comfort is to stick to the well known and most popular brands. They typically put a lot of research into helmet comfort and even offer features like swappable cheek pads. It’s worth noting however that some brands fit some individuals better than others. One guy may swear by Shoei while another feels better in Arai. So, in many ways it comes down to personal preference on this one.
By this point you’re already dizzy from the previous attributes but you’ll want to spend a little time checking out a helmet’s additional features. We’re talking about things like quick-change face shields, strap securing, breath guards, removable padding, noise reduction technology, anti-fog systems, sun shields and last but not least bluetooth audio and communication technology. Features like these rank far below safety and performance but still very important if you want a helmet that will serve you well and comfortably over many years. My advice is not to get too hung up in these features – pick out one or two that you consider to be highly important and then call it a day.
Value for Money
As with most everything, you get what you pay for. There is typically no comparison between a $60 helmet and a $600 helmet. Naturally we would all love to have the very best but that means spending outside our budget in most situations. The key is value for money and I find the best motorcycle helmets offer the most bang for the buck. In a given budget range there are some helmets that offer more for your money and I tend to give credit those helmets. Do remember though, that you cannot, I repeat cannot skimp on your helmet. The day may well come when it will stand between you and a coma or worse even death. How much value can you put on that?