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As the saying goes, there are two types of motorcycle riders: those who have crashed, and those who will crash. Statistics suggest that almost every motorcyclist's luck eventually runs out—and more than half the time, it's not even the rider's fault. Despite your best efforts and advanced riding skills, chances are most motorcyclists are gonna kiss the pavement someday. Will you be ready when it happens to you?
While crashing may be practically inevitable, ending up with a serious head injury (or worse) is not. According to the NHTSA, in states without universal helmet laws, more than 57 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2020 were not wearing helmets, as compared to 11 percent in states with universal helmet laws. So wearing a helmet while motorcycling is a must.
But there are a gazillion motorcycle helmets on the market. Which one is right for you?
For some expert insight into motorcycle gear, we turned to Patrick McHugh, manager of product research and testing at Comoto, the parent company of popular moto-retailers Cycle Gear, J&P Cycles, and Revzilla. "My job over here is to have the gear market across the industry basically memorized and ridden in," McHugh told us.
If anyone knows motorcycle helmets, it's gear guru Pat McHugh. Let's dive into some of his choices for the Best Motorcycle Helmets.
How to Choose a Motorcycle Helmet
Another old rider's adage says, "If you've got a ten-dollar head, buy yourself a ten-dollar helmet." That's an aphorism, but the point is clear: A quality motorcycle helmet is essential for safe motorcycling. Which helmet you select will depend on a number of factors:
Style is subjective to every rider, so there are plenty of helmet types, colors, and graphics to choose from. Basic black is always "cool," but keep in mind that a bright-colored, hi-vis, or even gaudy-graphic helmet might make a rider more conspicuous to motorists. Making sure you're seen by drivers is one of the keys to riding—and arriving—safely.
Next, consider what type of riding you'll be doing. Carving canyons on a sportbike? Touring long distances? Cruising the boulevard? Riding streets to get to the trails? There are many different ways to enjoy motorcycling, and there are a plethora of helmets to suit each style. What, where, and how you ride is as important a consideration when shopping for a helmet as it is when buying a bike.
Of course, motorcycle helmet fit is supremely important. Any helmet you ride in must fit well and be comfortable for long stretches; any decent helmet will offer multiple shell sizes and shapes to suit every shape and size of head. If you wear subscription glasses while riding, consider the fit with those on.
In addition to shape, weight is an important consideration. A lighter helmet might be more comfortable, but super-lightweight helmets (say, 3 to 3.5 pounds) tend to be more expensive due to premium materials. Either that, or they're cheap junk that you shouldn't buy.
Features, such as built-in speakers/comms systems (or places to install them) and internal sun visors, are essential to some riders but irrelevant to others. Decide what's important to you before committing.
Wind Noise is an important feature of any motorcycle helmet. But you'll never know how loud a helmet is on the road until you ride with it. That's why you should try to buy a motorcycle helmet from a dealer or an apparel and gear retailer such as Cycle Gear and Revzilla. Most have return or exchange policies that let you swap one helmet for another if it's too loud for you.
Types of Motorcycle Helmets
There are three main types of motorcycle helmets, with plenty of options within each segment to suit every motorcyclist's riding style:
Full Face Motorcycle Helmets — This type of helmet has a solid chin bar that wraps around from one side of the face to the other, protecting the chin and jaw from impact in case of a crash. Paired with a visor, they provide premium face and head protection for motorcyclists. Full face motorcycle helmets are generally considered the best motorcycle helmets.
Modular (or Flip-Up) Motorcycle Helmets — With a modular helmet, the aforementioned chin bar flips up on hinges to rest above the eyeport, to provide the rider some fresh air, wider sightlines, and the ability to converse with others. They're particularly handy at gas stations and for quick conversations among group riders.
Open Face Motorcycle Helmets — There are various styles of open-faced helmets—3/4 helmets and caps (aka "brain buckets") chief among them. They're mainly popular among riders of Cruiser and Bagger motorcycles from OEMs like Harley-Davidson and Indian—although many younger Cruiser and Bagger riders are coming around to appreciate the advanced safety a full-faced motorcycle helmet offers. You won't find sportbike or ADV riders wearing open-faced helmets.
So which helmet is the one you need? McHugh offered the selections below as a starting point. Note that while we have linked to Revzilla and other Comoto brands, we've also linked to other retailers such as Amazon. By all means, shop around. Be advised, though, that many major moto-gear brands don't sell their products direct via Amazon; chances are, you're buying from a local dealership somewhere instead of a nationwide retailer with warranties, return policies, and other consumer perks.
Besides, who hasn't been burned by Amazon at one time or another? Remember, if you've got a ten-dollar head . . . you know the rest.
The EXO-R1 Air brings a host of winning features to all styles of road riding. It utilizes a proprietary blend of fiberglass for high strength, low weight, and better impact dispersal. A central locking mechanism for the face shield guarantees an uncompromising seal at even the highest speeds. On the inside, inflatable cheek pads let you dial in the fit, and the liner channels airflow from the large ram-air intake vent at the front through four exhaust ports at the rear. It's the ideal full face motorcycle helmet for everyday motorcycle riders.
Shape: Intermediate Oval
Modular helmets are perfect for both everyday riding as well as touring because the flip-up chinbar lets you eat, drink, and speak to riding buddies (or ask for directions) without removing the helmet. They're key when filling up the tank.
"For years, one of the most popular modular helmets on the market was the C3 Pro," McHugh said. "The C4 was a bit of a dud, but the Schubert C5 is a return to quality design and materials, great ventilation, and a comm-ready helmet. This one is really comfortable on longer hauls."
Shape: Intermediate Oval
The Nomad is a no-frills modular full-face helmet that readily splits the difference between high quality and a great price. It features an injection-molded, aggressive shell design, multiple vents, and a quick-release chin bar for supreme convenience at gas stations and stoplights. Best of all, it comes in three colors and multiple sizes, from XS-5XL. If you're just looking for a quality everyday helmet that's versatile and affordable, you've found it. Note: BILT is an in-house Comoto brand that specializes in quality, affordable motorcycle gear. McHugh didn't recommend this helmet to us, but we're touting it anyway because it's a great price for a decent full-face helmet.
Shape: Intermediate Oval
With plenty of colors, styles, graphics treatments, and shield options, the Airflite is renowned as an affordable, versatile motorcycle helmet that's great for almost any rider and any ride.
McHugh: "It's big, it's a bit loud on the road, but damn if it isn't one of the most popular helmets on the market for the past four-ish years. You can take the shield/graphic/spoilers and customize them to look the part for any riding segment (vtwin, commuter, touring, etc). The style factor is pinnacle ICON."
Shape: Long Oval
Corsair X Helmet
McHugh actually selected this helmet's precursor, the acclaimed Corsair V, as his favorite track helmet, calling it "one of the best options on the market from Japan." The Corsair X is the latest iteration of Arai's venerable track stud and takes that helmet's legendary performance and comfort to an entirely new level with a stronger shell and smoother shape that redirects impact energy rather than absorbs it. The interior lining features ear-pocket recesses to accommodate speakers.
Shape: Intermediate Oval
Bell brought its classic 500 helmet back to the future with the Neo-retro Custom 500. A new headform fits better and looks smaller, and the thin-profile shell allows it to sit lower on the head. With five shell sizes, it's easy to get the look you want while getting a great helmet for that open-faced riding experience. It comes in white, matte or gloss black, and this sick silver flake.
Note: McHugh didn't recommend this helmet either, saying "I'm not really one for recommending open-face helmets—just too many safety concerns even though they're so popular." But if you're looking to rock the open-face look, this is a fantastic choice. Cruiser-face, engage!
Shape: Intermediate Oval
RPHA 71 ST
McHugh recommends this HJC helmet on personal experience: "I daily ride my RPHA 70 ST, and while the new 71 is a bit more touring-oriented, [it] has some really cool features. It flows a ton of air and the drop-down internal smoke visor can be adjusted so you can even wear sunglasses underneath. They also partnered with Sena for a built-in comm system, as a lot of companies are doing these days."
Shape: Intermediate Oval
Note: The recommended 71 ST (pictured) was out of stock online at press time, but there are plenty of RPHA 70 STs still available at other retailers, such as Amazon.
MX-9 Adventure MIPS
ADV, or dual-sport, riding has exploded in popularity in recent years. But every rider knows that when it's time to transition from asphalt to dirt, a street helmet just won't cut it. The Bell MX-9 Adventure features three shell sizes plus multiple colors and styles, and the MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology absorbs side and glancing impacts to keep the head and neck more stable.
"It's the best bang-for-buck ADV helmet money can get you," McHugh said. "You can set it up for the trail or the road or both on a long trip. . . . You'll see this at damn near every single ADV ride out there."
Shape: Intermediate Oval
What to Look For (and What to Avoid) in a Motorcycle Helmet
When shopping for a helmet, there are plenty of things to consider. Improvements in design and materials have made helmets safer and lighter than ever. Even many chinstrap clasps have moved beyond the trusty ol' D-ring slip-and-loop system of yore.
Most modern motorcycle helmets can also be outfitted with techie features like Bluetooth connectivity, internal speakers, rider communications systems, and more. (Plenty of companies have tried, but sadly, a functional head-up display has yet to come to market.)
So what should you look for in a motorcycle helmet, and what should you run far away from? Revzilla's YouTube channel offers a fantastic 2-minute video on how to buy the right helmet for you. Even the NHTSA has a great list of guidelines on how to choose the right motorcycle helmet.
First and foremost, size and fit are the keys to a motorcycle helmet's comfort—and its safety. A helmet that doesn't fit right could move around or come off completely in a severe impact crash, eliminating its efficiency. Even if the helmet stays on but moves around on your head, it could compromise any safety features the helmet might offer. See below to determine the best shape and size for your helmet.
When it comes to features, get a helmet with adjustable airflow vents. Venting is essential on hot days; sweated-up helmets can end up smelly, and cleaning the interior padding can be tricky. On soggy, humid days, face shields can fog up while riding. Vents will help keep fresh air flowing.
Look for helmets with a removable lining for easy cleaning. Many offer removable cheek pads to improve fitment, and some will offer removable ear pads for installing aftermarket speakers and in-helmet comms systems. Versatility is key here.
Many helmets offer switchable face shields that allow you to swap in shaded or colored visors. These are key for riders who wear glasses or don't want to wear sunglasses under their helmets. Some pricier helmets will even come with an optional shaded visor. Flip-down interior sun visors are also popular; they're usually actuated by a lever on the helmet's shell that's easy to flip with gloves on.
Despite the temptation, we don't recommend buying a used motorcycle helmet. Secondhand items purchased online from private sellers are, shall we say, not always exactly as described. Moreover, helmets are designed to absorb a severe impact once; after that, their ability to function in the event of another crash is deeply compromised. So if you ever do go down and bang your helmet on the ground, you should always buy a new one before you ride again.
Finally, never buy any helmet that doesn't have an oval DOT badge on it. Helmets without this permanent U.S. Department of Transportation approval sticker are considered by law to be "novelty helmets"—toys, effectively. They are illegal to wear while riding on most U.S. highways (except in states without mandatory helmet laws).
Even better, look for Snell certification when shopping for motorcycle helmets. Snell is an independent non-profit organization with a far more rigorous testing process than either DOT or ECE (European helmet standards). Snell puts helmets through their paces and randomly re-tests them occasionally, to ensure the latest versions are up to its stringent standards.
If you're considering buying an off-brand helmet online, watch out for counterfeits disguised as the real thing; we've seen plenty of fake "DOT" and "Snell" stickers for sale at rally booths and even on the internet. Don't fall for it! An authentic regulatory sticker will be non-removable and shellacked over. If you can peel it, don't buy it.
Determining Your Head Size & Shape
Helmets come in three main shape styles—round oval, intermediate oval (most common), and long oval. While we all generally have between a round and oval-shaped head, it's important to determine your actual shape before buying a helmet.
According to Revzilla's McHugh, you will know what head shape fits you best when you identify the shape that fits snugly without points of increased pressure (hot spots) or areas with no contact between the helmet liner and your head. Use a mirror or have a friend look down on your head from the top. Remember to focus on your head shape, not the shape of your face.
Here are some tips on head shapes, direct from Revzilla:
The least common head shape
More spherical than their more oval counterparts
Riders with round head shapes are likely to feel hot spots at the temple along with extra space at the forehead when wearing intermediate or long oval helmets
The most common head shape
Slightly thinner than it is long
Most helmets made for the North-American market follow this shape
Long Oval Helmet Shape
Less common head shape
Designed for riders whose head is substantially thinner than it is long
Riders with this head shape tend to feel hot spots along the forehead and some extra space at the temple when wearing intermediate or round helmets
When measuring your head's size, use a cloth measuring tape. Start just above your eyebrows and circle it around the thickest point in the rear of your head. Cross-reference this measurement with a helmet size chart to find your size.
Note: Helmet size charts can vary by brand; what's a Large for one company might be an XL for another. That's why it's essential to measure your head with a tape measure.
A correctly sized helmet will be a little tight, providing even pressure around your head without uncomfortable pressure points. A fit that's a tiny bit snug should be fine, and sometimes even preferred; most helmet linings will break in 15 to 20 percent after 15 to 20 hours of wear, anyway.
Next, grab the chinbar (if applicable) and yank the helmet back and forth; your cheeks and head should move—not the helmet. It should also not move when you shake your head around. If it does, size down.
Our advice? Head to a motorcycle dealership or your local Cycle Gear store (there are 140 across the U.S.) and try on a few helmets before purchasing one online.
What is the safest type of motorcycle helmet?
Because they offer the most coverage around your head, face, and neck, full-face helmets are generally considered the safest type of motorcycle helmet. A full-face helmet is a versatile choice for all riders, regardless of the type of motorcycle you ride or where you ride it.
Do full face motorcycle helmets offer better helmet safety than open-faced helmets?
Clearly, having a chinbar offers a ton of advantages over 3/4 helmets and caps. Not only does a chinbar provide advanced protection for your face, jaw, and chin in the event you kiss the pavement, the presence of a chin bar allows motorcyclists to flip down a visor for eye protection. Moreover, a closed helmet is far quieter than an open helmet because it dramatically reduces wind noise, especially at speed. Full faced helmets are generally considered the best motorcycle helmets, no matter your riding style.
Are carbon-fiber helmets better?
Carbon-fiber motorcycle helmets are generally lighter. Plus, they're usually more robust and durable than regular helmets because the force of impact is distributed more equally across their surface. The only drawback is they cost more.
Are expensive helmets worth the money?
Generally, expensive helmets are quieter, better ventilated, more aerodynamic, and more comfortable. Fit and finish are often better too, with quality linings, fastenings, paint, graphics, etc. If you can afford one, it's definitely worth the spend.
Are cheap helmets worth it?
When you pay more for a helmet, you may get a better fit and finish, more vents and features, and snazzier graphics. But any helmet with a DOT sticker should offer comparable, basic impact protection. Bottom line: Look for a helmet that fits you well. If it also looks good and is comfortable at a great price, all the better.
Should I buy a used motorcycle helmet?
No. Spend a bit more and buy a new one. Motorcycle helmets are high-tech safety devices that are designed to absorb serious impact. Once a helmet hits the deck, its protective properties have probably been compromised. Even if a used helmet looks okay, its rider may have gone down. It may have even fallen off a high shelf, for all you know. Either way, used helmets are a hard pass.
What's the difference between DOT, Snell, and ECE?
DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) and ECE (European) are government-run helmet regulatory agencies that evaluate helmet safety. Snell is an independent, non-profit organization with far more rigorous testing processes and accreditation standards. Never buy a helmet that doesn't have a DOT or ECE sticker at least, and Snell approval at best. Beware of accreditation stickers that can be peeled off; they're likely counterfeit.
Why Trust Us?
Autoweek and its sibling publications at Hearst Autos represent three of the most influential automotive publications in the world. The Gear Team relies on decades of experience in the automotive and gear spaces to help readers make informed purchasing choices about products such as Rooftop Cargo Carriers, Action Cameras for Cars, and SIM Racing Rigs.
With the legacies of Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track behind us, the Hearst Autos Gear Team is more concerned with the trust our readers have in us than our bottom line. We won't tell you to buy something if we wouldn't buy it ourselves or recommend it to our friends, and we'll never claim to have used or tested something if we haven't. Our picks and recommendations of products and gear are based on testing and knowledge, not hype. Read more about our testing process here.