Most first time bikers will rush out to buy the flashiest helmet they can find – ideally one that matches the artwork on their bike. The same person who spent weeks, or months, reading through review after review on the bike of they’ve just spent $10,000 on will buy a cheap, flashy helmet that might look good, but offers zero protection in case of an accident. Remember that there’s a very good chance your head will come into contact with either a moving vehicle, or the sidewalk in the event of a bike crash, so you need to make sure you get the best helmet for your budget.
A quick online search will bring up plenty of motorcycle helmets costing around $50, and have lots of great reviews. The only thing we can say about cheap helmets is that if you think your life is worth $50 then go right ahead and buy it. In a world where you care about your long-term survival, and where you want to avoid the potential for brain injury, you should spend at least $200 on your helmet. This won’t get you an Arai, Shoei or a HGV, but it will get you a comfortable, reliable, and sturdy helmet. Check out YouTube for videos of guys testing those $50 helmets – the results aren’t pretty.
There are three basic types of helmet you can choose from:
Full face – this covers your entire face, chin and head, with an adjustable visor. Full face helmets are the default choice of most motorcyclists.
Half Face – these are also called open-face helmets, exposing your face to elements. Open face helmets aren’t suitable for touring, but are ideal for off-road riding.
Modular/Flip face – this is a full face helmet which flips upwards, converting it into an open face model. These have become very popular in the last few years with both touring and urban bikers.
It’s worth mentioning that certain styles of helmet will suit specific head shapes more than others. So, even though you might want a modular helmet you might have no choice but to choose a full face helmet instead, due to sizing and comfort issues.
There are a couple of major brand names who dominate the upper end of the motorbike helmet market, such as AGV, Shoei, Bell and Arai. If you can afford to spend $800 on a helmet it’s only a matter of choosing which one you like the look of best. For those of you with a $200-ish budget there are great options out there from Nolan, HJC, Lazer, Shark, Scorpion and entry-level AGV models. If you find a new brand name you don’t recognize just make sure that you look for reviews before you spend your money. Ideally your motorcycle dealer/mechanic would have made the recommendation.
The outer shell of your helmet will be constructed from either polycarbonate, or a composite of fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon fiber. Polycarbonate helmets are cheaper to produce, so cost less. They offer an adequate level of protection, once they’re manufactured by a brand name you recognize. Composite helmets are far more expensive, but are also lighter, more durable, and offer more protection for your head in the event of an accident.
You can save yourself a lot of time by knowing what size your head is before you go shopping online, or offline, for a new helmet. The size of your head is measured starting just above your eyebrows, wrapping right around the thickest part of your skull at the back. A correctly fitted helmet should give you a certain amount of “Chipmunk face”, feeling very snug, but not so tight that it causes pressure on any part of your head. You shouldn’t be able to shake your head from side to side in a new helmet – this is a sign it’s the wrong size. Some high-end helmets come with removable pads, so you can adjust the helmet configuration to fit you precisely.
You might want to buy a helmet with a tinted visor, but check your state and city regulations before you do – tinted visors are illegal in many states. Even in states where they’re not illegal they’re frowned upon by motorcycle police, because they know they inhibit your ability to see while driving. A clear visor is a better choice for day or night time driving, and if you want to upgrade yourself to the next level of poor weather visibility invest in a helmet which features a Pin Lock visor – it’s the only way to fly.
How much airflow you require inside your helmet will depend on where in the world you live. Anyone living in a hotter country or state will needs lots of ventilation, whereas anyone living in the colder parts of the world will require very little ventilation. Most helmets come fitted with ventilation ports on the top and front of the helmet, and so long as these are adjustable they’re more than enough.
There are now so many different safety ratings it’s more difficult than ever to make an informed choice as to which one you should look for. Right now you can choose from DOT (United States), ECE 22.05 (Europe), SNELL M2015, and SHARP safety ratings. So, which one is best? They all have their own individual pros and cons, but you should focus on a helmet which fits you properly, has great safety features, and has also received positive reviews from satisfied customers. A correctly fitted $200 helmet is going to provide much more protection for your head than an incorrectly fitted $800 helmet. It’s really that simple. Use safety ratings as a rough guide in choosing your helmet, but it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider.
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