Best Motorcycle Helmets: Keep Your Noggin Safe

Performance first, appearance second.

byAndra DelMonico| UPDATED Dec 9, 2022 3:35 PM
Best Motorcycle Helmets: Keep Your Noggin Safe

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BYAndra DelMonico/ LAST UPDATED ON December 9, 2022

If you buy your motorcycle helmet purely based on the design, you are doing it wrong. Purchasing a helmet is about more than just the cool artwork that’s plastered on the side of it. For those of you who love your helmet but haven’t purchased a helmet in several years, then you are also due for an upgrade. The experts say you should replace it every five years, which is plenty of time for manufacturers to develop new safety features and innovative materials.


But whether it’s your first-time helmet shopping or you have been riding for decades, we’ve got you covered. After carefully scouring manufacturer websites and comparing the many features, materials, and stats, we have compiled a list of the best motorcycle helmets riders can buy. Our list covers different riding styles and price points, so there’s something for everyone.

Best Overall
Icon Airflite Rubatone Helmet

Icon Airflite Rubatone Helmet

Summary

This aerodynamic helmet is more than a looker. It's a full-face helmet with an injection-molded polycarbonate shell and a fog-free face shield you can land at a reasonable price.

Pros
  • Recessed twin air channels 
  • Removable moisture-wicking liner 
  • Fog-free shield
Cons
  • Inner shield doesn’t block enough light 
  • Hard to mount a camera
Best Value

Bell Qualifier Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Summary

A decent helmet on a tight budget. This simple and lightweight helmet has a polycarbonate shell, and NutraFog II face shield.

Pros
  • Aerodynamic design
  • Integrated speaker pockets
  • UV protective shield
Cons
  • No chin curtain
  • Tight fit for glasses
Honorable Mention

HJC CS-R3 Helmet

Summary

This helmet's ability to form to the wearer's face and moisture-wicking lining paired with fresh air vents makes for unparalleled comfort. The RapidFire shields and its Pinlock compatibility aren't hurting anything either.

Pros
  • RapidFire Shield Replacement System
  • Moisture-wicking fabric liner 
  • ACS Advanced Channeling ventilation system
Cons
  • A lot of wind noise 
  • Leaky vents

Summary List

Methodology

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.

Learn more

Our goal is to find the best motorcycle helmets that not only look great but provide you with effective protection. Since different types of helmets work better with different types of motorcycles, we considered the overall design and shaping that dictates how the helmet cuts through the air while riding. We choose a selection of helmets that range across all riding types to address each rider’s needs.

When considering comparable helmets, we referred to each manufacturer’s website to have accurate details about each helmet for shell sizing, internal shape, and included features. User reviews were also helpful in determining how a particular helmet performed when put to use in various riding conditions. Helmets that effectively combined protective, comfort, and style were given preferential treatment. We also looked for helmets that integrated with technology easily. We strive to stay true to our methodology by thoroughly researching each product we suggest to ensure its quality and performance reliability.

Best Motorcycle Helmet Reviews & Recommendations

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.
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.
This DOT-compliant helmet is 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.
If you frequently ride at high speeds, the aerodynamic Shoei X-14 Helmet is the way to go. It has a lower air spoiler for better aerodynamics while in a tucked position on a sport bike, and the removable rear spoiler flaps can be replaced with smaller ones for a custom performance design. For comfort, there is a dual-layer, multi-density EPS liner, 3D max-dry technology, and a cheek pad cooling system to absorb impact and maximize ventilation. The CWR-F Shield and QR-E System block 99-percent of harmful UVA and UVB rays. It's quiet, lightweight, and is great whether you wear it on the track, in the city, or on country roads. Managing Editor Jonathon Klein actually owns this helmet. From his personal notes, “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.”
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.
Best Motorcycle Helmet for Racers
AGV K1 Helmet
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The AGV K1 Helmet has a strong focus on aerodynamics and ventilation. It features a spoiler with a profile intended to reduce collar bone injuries and it also has an integrated ventilation system, including a central air intake that's based on the AGV Pista GP R track helmet. The K1 has a high-resistance thermoplastic resin shell and an X-tra quick release system for the fog-resistant face shield, which provides 100-percent UV protection. It also features a 3D Dry-Lex fabric liner that is removable and washable.


Unfortunately, it is noisy, and the visor starts to lift at high speeds, which is annoying and could even be dangerous for riders. The peripheral vision could also be better, making this helmet better suited for the track than the street. There are also only two shell sizes, limiting the number of riders that can actually use this helmet.


This DOT-approved half helmet features an ultra-light TriMatrix construction so that it won't feel top-heavy. It includes a speed-dial fit adjustment system to minimize helmet lift and a drop-down internal visor that provides 100-percent protection against UVA and UVB rays. Made of a blend of Kevlar, carbon fiber, and fiberglass, there are speaker pockets that accommodate Pit Boss communication systems. For year-round comfort, a removable neck curtain provides more coverage in cold weather temperatures. One drawback is that it has the dreaded mushroom look that is tough to avoid with half helmets. There are only two shell sizes, making the mushroom effect more exaggerated on some sizes. Also, the liner is not removable, so you can't wash it if it gets wet from sweat.
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.
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.

Our Verdict on Motorcycle Helmets

Our top pick for the best motorcycle helmet is the Icon Airflite Rubatone Helmet, with its aerodynamic shape, fog-free shield, and removable moisture-wicking liner. For a more affordable option, you can’t go wrong with the Bell Qualifier Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet which will protect you and comes with some bells and whistles that come as a nice surprise for the price. 

What to Consider When Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

Before we 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. 

Open-Face Helmets

Popular among scooter owners, these helmets cover three-quarters of the head, leaving the face and chin unprotected. They tend to be less cumbersome than full-face and flip-up helmets, but the tradeoff is a higher risk of injury. If you’re thinking about purchasing one of these helmets, avoiding highways and other high-speed high-risk environments is best.

Half Helmets

These helmets are similar to bicycle helmets and only protect the top half of the head. Some models cover the back of the neck and ears, but everything below your forehead is exposed for the most part. They are the lightest street helmet available and have great airflow. Unfortunately, these helmets don’t have any sort of shield, so riders will need to wear glasses or goggles for eye cover and they don't offer the best protection.

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, these tend to be not street legal and a disappointing performance experience. You can find reliable entry-level helmets that cost about $100. These are basic helmets that provide you with simple protection. If you’re looking for your helmet to have some features, look for a mid-range helmet that’s in the $200 to $500 range. These helmets are usually more aerodynamic, have more ventilation, and come with several nice features. For a top-of-the-line helmet, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 or more. These are track-ready helmets and those with the latest innovative technological features. You can expect to find features like wind-tunnel-shaped molding, built-in Bluetooth, and shock absorbing composite liners. 

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and motorcycle helmets. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Make sure to wash the inside liner of your helmet periodically. Sweat, grease, hair, and other particles can build up over time, causing the liner to wear out prematurely. It’s best to use a mild soap to avoid damaging the liner.
  • Don’t let splattered bug guts build up on your helmet. Besides being unsightly, insect insides are corrosive to your helmet’s paint job. An easy way to remove the bugs is to soak a washcloth in warm, soapy water and drape it over the helmet for a while. Then, simply wipe them away.
  • If your helmet has a gloss coat, give it a good shine with some car polish. It will keep your helmet looking brand new for years.
  • Keep the moving parts of your helmet working smooth by using a silicone-based lubricant. The dry rubbing of these parts will wear them down in no time.
  • Use a cotton swab or Q-Tip to clean out the ventilation grates. Dust and particle build-up in the vents will inhibit airflow and worsen the quality of air inside the helmet. 

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 is the safest motorcycle helmet?

As we said above and in other articles, the safest type of helmet is a full-face helmet because it provides the greatest amount of protection to your head, face, chin, and neck.

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.

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