Best Motorcycle Helmets: Keep Your Noggin Safe

Performance first, appearance second.

byJonathon Klein|
Best Motorcycle Helmets: Keep Your Noggin Safe
Jenny Linquist/Zero

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BYJonathon Klein/ LAST UPDATED ON May 10, 2023

There's a lot to be said about which motorcycle helmet is truly the best around, as there are different riding styles, different disciplines, and even different shaped heads. In fact, go to any motorcycle gear shop around and ask which helmet is the best, and you're likely to get 17 different answers from the folks working behind the counter and those patrons walking around the store.


That, however, makes things difficult when you're trying to buy your first helmet or looking for an upgrade. Luckily for you, I'm here with my 20 years of riding experience, and nearly 10 years of testing helmets for joints all over the internet. I've pooled my experience and my research into the buying guide below so that it cuts the bullshit and helps you get back out on two wheels. Let's get into it.

Best Overall
Shoei X-Fourteen

Shoei X-Fourteen

Summary
Shoei remains our favorite helmet brand, not just because one saved the author's life once upon a time. The X-Fourteen is a fantastic model and you won't find a better full-face helmet on the market.
Pros
  • Incredibly safe
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable padding
  • Multiple shields
Cons
  • Air flow could be better
Best Value

Icon Airflite Rubatone

Summary
Icon has been around for a while, and the company's helmets are great value options. They're not quite as good as Shoei or AGV, but they're perfect for new riders.
Pros
  • Great value
  • Stylish
  • Good air flow
Cons
  • Not as well-made as others in the segment
Best Dual-Sport

AGV AX9

Summary
Lightweight, strong as hell, and backed by one of the best helmet companies around, the AX9 is the perfect backcountry exploration companion.
Pros
  • Incredibly large field of view
  • Light as hell
  • Can take a beating
  • Doesn't get hot
Cons
  • Can be noisy
  • Larger shield to clean

Summary List

Our Methodology

For this buying guide, I actually had my hands on a lot of these helmets. And when I didn't, I've had my hands on the brand's other models. Plus, I used my two decades of writing and decade-plus of reviewing products to weed out the wheat from the chaff when I couldn't get my hands on the helmets themselves.

When considering helmets, I looked at each manufacturer’s website to have accurate details about each helmet for shell sizing, internal shape, and included features. User reviews can be helpful in some cases, but they aren't the end all, be all. I also enlisted The Drive's Robert Bacon to assist with the AGV K3 review. I strive to stay true to our methodology by thoroughly researching each product or putting my hands on them before I suggest or recommend anything.

Best Motorcycle Helmet Reviews & Recommendations

Shoei’s X-14 is what I got after laying down a Kawasaki a few years back. It’s a little heavier than my other helmets, but the safety there is top-notch. The visor is super easy to swap out and doesn’t fog even when it’s wet out. It’s also excellent in terms of aerodynamics and riding sportbikes quickly. However, the air intakes could be better as airflow on super hot days can become an issue. That said, it's the best overall as Shoei's construction is second-to-none. These helmets are beyond safe, meet every safety standard around the world, and protect the world's best riders in MotoGP. This helmet in particular is the top of the line, and has all the features you'd want, including multiple air inlets and outlets for great airflow, swappable visor, great paint schemes, and customizable padding for a perfect fit. I've been running this helmet for a couple years now and it's only gotten better with age as I sweat more and the padding molds perfectly to my head. I will also say that the aerodynamics of this helmet are perfect, as some others can catch the wind if you're riding a naked motorcycle like the Ducati Streetfighter or Zero FX. But this one doesn't. I haven't had a single complaint other than the airflow could be better on incredibly hot days. That, however, is an issue with almost every single helmet out there. It's also pricey, but not overly so.

Pros

Incredibly safe

Lightweight

Comfortable padding

Multiple shields

Cons

Air flow could be better

The Icon Airflite Rubatone Helmet is a great overall helmet, and it won't put a huge dent in your wallet. We like the fierce look of this helmet and the fact that you can ride it on a cruiser or a sportbike. Made of injection-molded polycarbonate, the helmet has a uniquely designed chin vent for airflow and a fog-free, drop-down sun visor. A removable hydradry liner and multiple oversized intake and exhaust ports keep you cool. Other features include a chin curtain, molded breath deflector, and removable side plates. One downside is that it feels a little narrow on some people, and it may run on the small side for some users. Also, the drop-down visor may have a bit of light at the bottom in your field of view.

Pros

Great value

Stylish

Good airflow

Cons

Not as well-made as others in the segment

Best Dual Sport

AGV AX9

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From my full hands-on review, "AGV helmets tend to be on the expensive side, but from my experience with the brand, the products themselves warrant the price point. The AX9 is no different. There’s still room for improvement — less noise — but I had zero strain after multiple days riding for two to four hours at a time. In any of my other helmets, I would’ve ripped them off and laid down to rest my neck, or I would have had such a cramp the following day, I wouldn’t be able to chase my children. The best part has to be how little it weighs. I’ve had the opportunity to test a number of helmets during the course of my riding career, and this is by far the most comfortable helmet to wear for long riding days. Although you’re keenly aware it’s on your head thanks to the visor, there’s a nakedness to its featherweight mass — as if I wasn’t wearing a helmet at all. And as I mentioned, the outward and peripheral visibility is stunning. The shield goes on forever, reaching back toward your ears, seemingly arching so far back it practically touches the two ends of the shield together. When you’re riding on open terrain with a ton of hazards, this is exactly the type of IMAX-quality visibility you want. The AX9 isn’t cheap, but if you’re going off into the wilderness on two wheels, this is an excellent companion to keep your noggin safe and secure."

Pros

Incredibly large field of view

Light as hell

Can take a beating

Doesn't get hot

Cons

Can be noisy

Larger shield to clean

This Bell Qualifier helmet is a fine mixture of quality materials and handy features at an affordable price. It features a polycarbonate shell that’s sturdy yet lightweight and the click-release shield system allows for quick and easy shield swaps. You'll get clear and tinted visors so that you can swap between them according to your needs. Additionally, there are contoured cheek pads and integrated speaker pockets, and the liner is antibacterial, removable, and washable. An added wind collar reduces wind and road noise. What can be an issue with this helmet is the lack of padding in the chin area as this is where a lot of wind enters and creates noise at high speeds. For that reason, the helmet is more suitable for summer rides, also, it might be a little tight over a pair of glasses.

Pros

Bell Quality

Affordable Price

Clear and tinted visors

Cons

High speed noise

HJC is often a go-to for new riders as they're inexpensive and pretty well made, and this CS-R3 helmet fits that bill to a T. It's constructed from an advanced polycarbonate composite to provide the ultimate in comfort and fit. It has comfort padding that conforms to your face over time and the vent channels in cool air that works in conjunction with a moisture-wicking lining to keep you dry. The shield is Pinlock ready, and the RapidFire Shield Replacement System makes switching shields easy. On the negative side, the CL-17 can be a bit restrictive, and the padding takes a while to break in. Also, depending on your head position, the top of the shield can rub against your forehead while riding. That said, the HJC CL-17 offers a great combination of comfort, functionality, and cost that makes it one of the best motorcycle helmets on the market.

Pros

Moisture wickeing lining

Comfort padding

Inexpensive

Cons

Takes a while to break in

Honorable Mention

Shoei RF-SR Helmet

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The RF-SR is a durable full-face motorcycle helmet made out of a composite shell consisting of fiberglass, plastic resin, and organic fibers. Part of what makes Shoei helmets so special is that they are handmade in the company’s home city of Tokyo. There are many great features, including an aerodynamic design tested in both a wind tunnel and by professional riders and a dual-layer, multi-density EPS liner designed to maximize impact absorption and ventilation. There are four shells and six EPS liner sizes, giving every size a slim-fit design for a no-bobblehead feel. There are a couple of negatives to point out about the RF-SR. There is a gap in the seal between the helmet and visor that allows some wind noise, which can be distracting. And the shape of the helmet could be more aerodynamic to reduce the stress on your neck.

Pros

Shoei Quality

Safety

Multiple inner lining sizes for custom fit

Cons

Shoei price

Honorable Mention

AGV K3 Helmet

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From Robert Bacon's test of the AGV K3, "The AGV K3 SV is safe, affordable, practical, and stylish: for all these reasons, it’s the helmet I use every day. This model is both DOT and ECE rated, as well as having a four-star safety rating from SHARP. There’s a lot on offer at this price point, starting with the integrated drop-down sun visor. The four front vents and two rear extractor vents work a treat, even when I’m riding in 90-degree weather. Further adding to its warm-weather comfort are the liner and cheek pads, which are made from Dry-Lex fabrics." He added, "There are compartments for Bluetooth speakers, which I had no problem installing thanks to the easily removable and washable 3D inner liner and cheek pads. This model uses a micrometric chin strap system, which isn’t preferable for those who want to do track days, but makes it a more practical daily riding helmet. The aggressive hawksbill at the front and cutaways for the collarbones mean this is one of the most aggressive-looking helmets on the market. My only area of caution is the fit. This model gives more room around the temples and cheeks, so some riders might need to swap the cheek pads for a tighter fit"

Pros

Inexpensive

Easily washed

Great air flow

Cons

Might be loose around the cheeks

Honorable Mention

Arai XD-4 Helmet

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If you're looking for an ADV touring helmet, the Arai XD-4 Helmet is a great option. It has an aerodynamic design, so it feels good cutting through the wind and produces minimal drag or pull. We love the 5-millimeter peel-away pads on the cheek pads for precise fit customization. It also features a removable, washable, and replaceable comfort liner, chinstrap covers, and dry-cool technology. There are large sculpted side cowl vents, top diffuser vents with exhaust ports, and a chin vent with intake ports to keep you cool. Overall, it's lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. However, one downside is that if you don't have a windshield, it can catch a bit of wind when you turn your head. It can also make a whistling sound at faster speeds.

Pros

Arai name recognition

Safety

Peel-away inner paddings for custom fit

Cons

Price

The Scorpion EXO-AT950 Helmet is great for off-road adventures as it features a flip-up chin bar, removable peak, a big eye-port to accommodate goggles, an anti-fog face shield, and a drop-down internal sun visor. The LG polycarbonate shell is lightweight yet strong, and the intake and exhaust vents provide plenty of airflow, and the dual-position mouth vent serves as a defroster and another means of ventilation, while the KwickWick II antimicrobial liner wicks sweat away to keep you cool. It also features adjustable cheek pads to accommodate eyeglasses and pockets for communication system speakers. Unfortunately, it's a little heavier than some other options on this list. Also, the liner is not as soft as some higher-end brands.

Pros

Accomodates glasses

Anti-fog is great

Internal sun visor

Cons

Heavy

Our Verdict on the Best Motorcycle Helmets

While my top pick is expensive, the Shoei X-Fourteen is the best on the market in my humble opinion. It's lightweight, has good airflow, great colorways, and will stand up to whatever you throw at it. Including if you, unfortunately, hit the pavement. But there are other great helmets out there that aren't as expensive as I outlined above. I just hope y'all will wear one, as they absolutely will save your life. As my old Shoei did for me.

What to Consider When Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

Before I get into it, you need to know that the best way to buy a new motorcycle helmet is to put it on first. This can be tough when online shopping offers so many more options than your local shop. Narrow down your online search by looking for the type of helmet you need for your riding style. Then narrow down your options to the manufacturers that make helmets that match your head shape. Your final step is to compare features and design to find the helmet with the right combination to match your taste and needs. 

Types of Motorcycle Helmets

Full-Face Helmets

These are by far the best motorcycle helmets available in terms of protecting your head, face, chin, and neck from impact. They come in a variety of designs to suit riders of all types and you need to balance the characteristics to ensure you have a helmet suitable for your riding style. For example, sport bike owners can opt for a more aerodynamic design to keep their heads from popping up at high speeds. In contrast, helmets designed for cruisers are more focused on optimizing visibility.

Flip-Up Helmets

The distinguishing feature between a flip-up (or modular) and a full-face helmet is that the chin bar and shield are separate pieces that flips up via a hinge. This is great for putting on and taking off the helmet easily or having a quick chat with your friends at a red light. The downside is that the hinge can break on impact, leaving your face and neck exposed to the pavement. That's not to suggest that these aren't viable in terms of protection, simply that there's a limit to how effective they'll be and you'd not want to trust one if you regularly ride in high-risk situations. 

Dirtbike Helmets

Specifically designed for off-road riding, these are the best full motorcycle helmets when it comes to durability. They are specifically designed to absorb tremendous impact while keeping the rider’s head stable. They aren't the best choice for regular street riding because they aren't exactly aerodynamic. It's important to remember that they aren't designed with high speeds in mind and using them in such situations can make them something of a risk to riders. 

Motorcycle Helmet Key Features

Materials

Every motorcycle helmet has to pass certain quality standards to be sold, so there aren’t any ineffective materials used in their construction. However, there are some key differences in terms of the weight and strength of the materials used. The quality hierarchy of construction materials goes in this order: thermoplastic, fiberglass, composite, and carbon fiber/kevlar.

Inner Padding

Recommended motorcycle helmets have two layers of protection inside the helmet to keep your head from jostling around too much during an impact. The first layer is generally made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) that absorbs some of the kinetic energy that is transferred from a collision. The second layer is for comfort and can be made using suede, fabric, mesh, and other materials.

Shield

Shields keep your face clear of debris, bugs, etc., while riding. They come standard on full-face and flip-up helmets. They are available with a tint that offers UV protection, different transparent colors that can match your bike, or as a clear piece of plastic. 

Chin Strap

A padded strap that keeps the helmet securely on your head while protecting the chin is a must. Some have a quick-release button, while others use a traditional D-ring that is considerably more secure. 

Bluetooth Speakers

Higher-end helmets come equipped with speakers that sync up with your bike’s infotainment system to enjoy your favorite music. Some models also have a microphone to turn your helmet into a wearable smartphone.

Ventilation

This is an excellent way to reduce heat and humidity inside the helmet. Many helmets with ventilation slits also have a way to close them when riding in cooler weather. It's important to read into this feature carefully as it can make or break a helmet's ability to be used comfortably year-round. 

Motorcycle Helmet Pricing 

While you can find helmets less than $100, you should absolutely under no circumstances buy one. These barely provide you with simple protection. If you’re looking for your helmet to have some features, look around the $300 to $500 range, as these helmets are great for just about everyone. For a top-of-the-line helmet, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 or more.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q: Does every state require the use of motorcycle helmets?

No. Some states do not have any helmet law requirements while other states require all riders to wear a helmet. In addition, many states have an age restriction attached to the helmet law. Furthermore, Florida and Michigan use an age and medical insurance combination requirement to determine whether a helmet is required. 

Q: Which kind of motorcycle helmet is the best to wear?

A full-face helmet is the best, as it’s the safest helmet to wear. You can argue that being comfortable is important to safety, but face protection is one of those things that's better to have and not need than to need and not have. 

Q: What does DOT and ECE approved mean?

DOT stands for the Department of Transportation in the United States and refers to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #218 (FMVSS 218). Helmet manufacturers use the honor system when claiming DOT compliance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does random testing to ensure compliance. ECE stands for Economic Commission for Europe and has similar safety standards as the DOT.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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