Best motorcycle helmet for 2021 – Roadshow
Motorcycle helmets are serious business, because not only are they legally required in most states, they’re also the single most important piece of riding gear you can wear to help ensure your survival in a motorcycle crash. Not all helmets are the same, just as not all heads are the same, so finding the right size, shape and style is super important but not always easy.
We’re here to help make two of those choices a little simpler. Learning how to properly measure your head for a helmet is up to you, but it’s critical that you do it correctly to ensure the best and safest fit.
Our recommendations are based on personal experience, safety certifications, user reviews and sales data, and should provide you with plenty of information to confidently buy your next helmet. Make sure to read on afterward for helpful tips when shopping for your next motorcycle helmet.
So, you’re an average motorcycle rider with an average-shaped head, riding a street bike and you want an all-around helmet that’s going to work well in 99% of situations to make you feel safe and comfortable, but which helmet do you buy? Well, if you’ve got a medium-sized budget, you get the Shoei RF-1400.
The RF-1400 is a rare helmet that offers great protection with a Snell 2020 rating, tons of sizes with lots of shell sizes to maximize comfort and minimize weight, as well as great looks and good ventilation. If someone is looking for a helmet and they don’t know what to buy, this is our favorite starting point.
When most people think of AGV, they probably don’t think of affordably priced helmets designed for everyday riding, and yet, that’s just what it came out with when it debuted the K6. It’s a $500 full-face helmet with four shell sizes, most of which come in at under 3 pounds. The K6 is ECE certified and even comes with a Pinlock insert in the box. It’s also super handsome and available in a bunch of colors and graphic designs.
The only reason it doesn’t beat out the Shoei is its ventilation scheme. The K6 has plenty of vents, but they’re small and some testers found them a little fiddly to open with gloves on. That’s it. We even like the face shield change mechanism better than Shoei’s.
Not all heads are created equally, and while different-sized domes are something that everyone considers when buying a helmet, differently shaped heads might not be. Arai has thought of that and offers a pair of helmets with identical features, but for different head shapes.
Most Americans have what’s called an intermediate oval head shape. That’s what most helmet manufacturers cater to, but your author was blessed with not only a giant noggin, but one that’s a longer oval shape. This means that regular helmets create hot spots, mostly on the forehead, but the long oval shape of the Signet-X gets rid of that completely.
The Signet-X features Arai’s hand-laid complex weave shell, round shell shape for impact deflection and micro-adjustable cheek pads. It’s got removable padding all around, including an emergency cheek pad removal system for EMTs to use if a motorcyclist has been in a crash. It comes with a Pinlock insert and carries the Snell M2020 certification for safety.
So, as we’ve established, most motorcycle helmets cater to the intermediate oval head shape, and the Arai Signet-X covers the long oval, but what are you supposed to do if you have a more rounded head shape? Arai Helmets has you covered, too, with its Quantum-X helmet. It’s identical to the Signet-X from a features and certification standpoint, but because a proper-fitting helmet is key for crash safety and comfort, round-heads should look here.
Ahh, modular helmets. Best known as the helmets that many adventure touring motorcycle riders and police officers wear. A modular helmet seeks to bridge the gap between the safety of a full-face helmet and the convenience of an open-face helmet (which we DO NOT recommend). This is done by allowing a rigid chin bar to lift up at the push of a button. This makes it easy to get some air when you’re stopped or to talk to someone without needing a communication device.
The Schuberth C4 Pro Carbon isn’t cheap but what it lacks in value, it makes up for in silence and technology. It’s got a very round carbon outer shell that adds strength and reduces weight. It’s got a massive visor that is easy to remove without tools. It comes pre-wired for an integrated communication system, and because it’s a Schuberth, wind noise isn’t a problem being just about the quietest helmet you can buy. Is an expensive modular helmet a necessity for everyone? Nope, but it sure is convenient.
AGV’s Sportmodular is one of the lightest and most aerodynamic modular helmets on the market. That lightness comes from the use of full carbon fiber construction — including the chin bar — and all the metal used on the helmet is titanium. It doesn’t even look like a modular helmet when the face is closed and that’s pretty cool.
The Sportmodular isn’t cheap at around $800, but for that money you get a great shield change mechanism, smart ventilation, a drop-down sun visor and a Pinlock insert in the box. It’s likely going to be a bit louder than the quiet-focused Schuberth, but that also means it’s likely to breathe better and be a better lid for warmer climates.
Adventure bikes are the Swiss Army knives of the motorcycle world. They’re comfortable and powerful for long-distance touring, they have enough ground clearance and suspension travel to make off-road riding possible, and they’re even pretty handy on a twisty canyon road, for the most part. That versatility means that a motorcycle rider is likely going to find themselves in a bevy of situations, so you’re going to want a versatile helmet to match. Enter the adventure helmet.
Adventure helmets share traits of road-focused helmets like face shields and a more quiet-focused design, with increased airflow over a road-biased helmet. The inherent compromise of an adventure helmet can lead to heavy lids and weird ergonomics, but the Krios does a good job splitting the difference. It’s light, thanks to strong prepreg carbon fiber construction and we’ll be damned if it doesn’t look real cool, too.
When it comes to riding in the dirt, you’re going to want a very different helmet than you would if you were riding on the street, and that’s for a few reasons. First of all, overall speeds on a dirt bike off-road are lower, so having more ventilation in a helmet (which normally comes with a compromise in quietness) is important. Nobody wants a super sweaty head. Secondly, the types of crashes you’re likely to have off-road are very different than those you’ll have on pavement. With a crash on the dirt, you’re likely to experience more rotation of your head and neck thanks to the uneven terrain, but the overall energy of the crash is likely to be lower because of the lower overall speeds. This means that systems like Bell’s MIPS or Shoei’s EVO system in dirt bike helmets that allow an internal EPS foam liner to move independently of the shell are great for preventing injury.
That’s why the Shoei VFX-EVO dirt helmet is so interesting. It has that independently moving liner and also uses Shoei’s top-tier AIM Plus construction for maximum impact protection. The helmet is lightweight at just over 3.5 pounds and has tons of ventilation. It’s also DOT and Snell certified which means it’s legal for road use. It’s not cheap as far as dirt helmets go, but neither were those two years of community college, so it’s probably worth the money.
Vintage motorcycles are cool, as are vintage-looking modern cafe racers like the Triumph Thruxton or the Royal Enfield Continental GT. Vintage safety equipment, however, isn’t cool. Technology has moved on significantly over the years and while we totally get the urge to have vintage-looking gear for your vintage-looking motorcycle in order to look as cool as possible, you now have the option of getting a helmet that brings retro looks with modern safety. Our favorite of these is the X3000 from Italian firm AGV.
The X3000 is made from modern composite fiberglass technology and has a classic shape that Giacomo Agostini took to 15 GP championships during his career — including a little cut-out in the chin bar to let him put his chin on his motorcycle’s fuel tank at speed. Like most vintage-look helmets, it’s light on ventilation and features but heavy on quality materials like leather and suede. There are several colors including a limited-edition Agostini tribute model and while more expensive than some other retro-look options, it won’t break the bank and should help prevent you breaking your skull in a crash.
Bell’s Bullitt is arguably the motorcycle helmet that kicked off the vintage-look helmet craze and it’s pretty easy to see why. That round shell shape and massive visor screams 1960s racer and its huge variety of colors and finishes — including carbon fiber — means there’s probably a Bullitt for everyone.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for the Bullitt, though. Like most vintage-style helmets, it’s loud and doesn’t ventilate that well. Its massive eyeport looks cool but takes away from the rigidity of the helmet, leaving it with a not-so-hot side impact score from the SHARP testing organization in the UK. The Bullitt carries both DOT and ECE certifications.
So, you’re a hardcore track rider, or maybe you’re planning to be and you’re looking to get your first dedicated track helmet, which is cool. A full-on racing helmet is going to offer some unique features that a more road-biased helmet won’t, but it also introduces some other compromises that make it unsuitable for an everyday lid. Racing helmets lack a lot of convenience features like adjustable vents or any consideration for noise levels. They offer improved aerodynamics for riders in the tucked position as well as tear-off posts for quick visor cleans.
When it comes to racing helmets, one of the best-known and most commonly seen on the starting grid of series around the world is AGV and its flagship racing helmet, the AGV Pista GP RR carbon fiber helmet. This bad boy features super light carbon construction, a new spoiler design to reduce drag and lift at high speeds, tear-off posts, a Pinlock insert and, critically for some series, FIM certification. FIM, in case you didn’t know, is the world motorcycle racing sanctioning body and it recently introduced its own set of testing procedures specifically targeted at on-track crash safety. The Pista GP RR is seriously expensive at $1,499, but if you’re racing, it might be worth it.
When it comes to being safe on a motorcycle, safety shouldn’t be the exclusive province of those with lots of money. There are affordable helmets on the market that offer a decent set of features along with a heaping helping of safety. One of the best is the i10 full-face helmet from HJC.
The i10 is cheap at around $150, but it also carries a Snell M2020 certification like many of the more expensive lids on our list. Beyond that, it features plenty of ventilation and a moisture-wicking liner which should help keep you comfortable. The biggest downside to the i10 is its polycarbonate shell, which is plenty safe but tends to be a bit heavier than fiberglass or carbon fiber.
Comparison of the best motorcycle helmets for 2021
|Best motorcycle helmet for the street||Shoei||RF-1400||$530|
|Best motorcycle helmet for the street runner-up||AGV||K6||$500|
|Best motorcycle helmet for long oval heads||Arai||Signet-X||$680|
|Best motorcycle helmet for round oval heads||Arai||Quantum-X||$830|
|Best modular motorcycle helmet||Schuberth||C4 Pro Carbon||$900|
|Best modular motorcycle helmet runner-up||AGV||Sportmodular Carbon||$750|
|Best adventure motorcycle helmet||Klim||Krios||$500|
|Best dirt motorcycle helmet||Shoei||VFX-EVO||$540|
|Best vintage-style motorcycle helmet||AGV||X3000||$380|
|Best vintage-style motorcycle helmet runner-up||Bell||Bullitt||$430|
|Best track motorcycle helmet||AGV||Pista GP RR||$1,400|
|Best cheap motorcycle helmet||HJC||i10||$150|
What should you consider when buying a motorcycle helmet?
Because there are so many different styles and brands of motorcycle helmet, each with their own quirks and features, it can be kind of daunting to pick the right one for you. Hopefully, our guide helps, but just to make things super easy for you, we’re going to sum up what you should consider when buying a motorcycle helmet.
First, you need to think about what kind of riding you’re going to use the helmet for. This will help narrow down your choices by a huge percentage. Not every helmet is going to be good for every kind of riding or every kind of motorcycle rider.
Second, you need to set yourself a budget. Quality helmets can range from under $200 to over $2,000. If you know how much you have to spend, that will again help to narrow your choices a little. Still, don’t think that you absolutely have to spend a boatload of cash to get a good helmet that will do its job well.
Third, think about the climate you’re going to be riding in. If, like me, you’re riding in Southern California where it’s hot, you will want to prioritize a helmet that has really good ventilation and a lining material that will help to keep you cool. If you live somewhere colder or wetter, you should think about buying a helmet that will work with a Pinlock anti-fog insert so your visor doesn’t cloud up in the morning.
Fourth, consider what kind of safety certification you want your helmet to carry. For street riders, it’s less of a concern and is mostly based on preference. If you’re planning on taking your motorcycle to a race track to ride, you will almost definitely need a helmet that’s Snell certified and likely a Snell certification that’s current or no more than one iteration out of date (2020 and 2015, for example).
Lastly, think about your head shape and size. Helmets are not one-size-fits-all and that sweet Shoei RF-1400 isn’t going to work for you if you have a round oval head, no matter how cool it looks. Being comfortable when you ride is really important because it removes a layer of distraction and being distracted while riding a motorcycle is a good way to end up hurt or worse.
How do you choose the right size motorcycle helmet?
Measuring your head for a motorcycle helmet is one of those things that’s relatively simple to do properly, if you know how to do it, and if you have a friend handy to help. To begin, you’ll need to determine what your head shape is. To do this, have your friend take a photo of the top of your head. Most people will be what’s called an intermediate oval, which means it’s a little longer front to back than it is side to side. There are also long oval and round oval head shapes, both of which are pretty much as-described.
Next, get a soft tape measure or a piece of string and wrap it around your head above your eyebrows while getting the widest part of your skull. If you use a string, lay it flat against a ruler and you’ll have your head circumference. Pro tip: Helmet manufacturers mostly use metric measurements for sizing.
Having these two criteria will help pick your size, and that just leaves the style of helmet — street, dirt, adventure, track, modular, etc. — and actually trying it on. If you can, go try a helmet on in person and leave it on for around 30 minutes. This will let you know if there are any pressure points or hot spots to worry about, which isn’t something you want to find out after you’ve shelled out big bucks on a new lid.
Your helmet should fit snugly, without being able to move around on your head if you shake it. It shouldn’t be too tight, because that will make it uncomfortable for longer rides, and an uncomfortable helmet is a distraction that you don’t need.
How do you take care of a motorcycle helmet?
Taking care of a motorcycle helmet is pretty easy. The first thing you want to do is avoid cleaning it with any kind of chemical that isn’t expressly designed for helmets. Most helmet manufacturers will specify that if you’re going to clean the shell of your helmet, you use warm water and a soft cloth. This is going to be totally sufficient 99% of the time, even if you have to lay that warm, moist cloth over the helmet to rehydrate some dead bugs before you can remove them. Cleaning a visor is also easy. There are dedicated visor cleaning sprays, or, again, you can use water and a microfiber.
When it comes to cleaning the inside of your helmet, each manufacturer has different guidelines for its specific liner materials, but our pals at Revzilla have made a video that gives you a really solid overview of the process. I always like to store my helmet somewhere cool and dry with the visor open to help let it dry out and defunk if I’ve been wearing it on a hot day.
When should you replace your motorcycle helmet?
There are two main reasons why you should consider replacing your motorcycle helmet. The first is if you’ve had a crash. A motorcycle’s expanded polystyrene, or EPS, foam liner is a single-use item because it deforms to absorb the energy of a crash that would otherwise be transmitted to your brain. There are some folks who suggest replacing a helmet if it gets dropped, but unless you have a watermelon or a bowling ball inside it for some reason when it falls, it’s likely fine so long as the shell is intact.
The second reason to replace your helmet is age. A helmet is made up of all kinds of polymers, resins and foams, and all of these can suffer with age, particularly if you sweat in your helmet a lot or use a lot of hair products. The rule of thumb here is that you should swap your lid out for a new one every five years.
Do half motorcycle helmets protect you?
In short, not as well as a full-face motorcycle helmet. They are considered the bare minimum amount of protection by law enforcement, so they will get you past motorcycle helmet laws in the states that require it. Protection from the law is about the best kind of protection they offer, since they leave your face, chin and ears exposed — all of which will disappear pretty quickly after grinding on asphalt for a few feet. A good full-face motorcycle helmet will protect your whole head from impact as well as abrasion and won’t make it any harder to hear the world around you or restrict your vision in any kind of meaningful way.
Nearly all of the helmets we’ve recommended in our list share a number of features. For example, most of the helmets on the market use double-d-ring chin straps, rather than ratchet-style clasps. The double-d-ring chin strap has been time-tested and works to firmly hold your helmet on your head in a crash. Further, most of the helmets we recommended carry the Snell rating. This isn’t a legal requirement, and there is some debate as to whether a Snell-rated helmet is significantly safer than one that carries an ECE certification, but we feel that it’s a good starting point and generally a better bet than a helmet that carries only the minimum legal DOT certification.
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November 11, 2021 at 05:39AM