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Best Motorcycle Helmets: Our Picks for Staying Safe While You Ride

You know what they say: If you've got a ten-dollar head, then wear a ten-dollar helmet. These are far better choices. Stay safe, stay smart.

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BY Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON April 26, 2021

A good motorcycle helmet can be hard to find. They're such a subjective thing, and there are so many variables in size, shape, color, etc. There are hundreds if not thousands of options available, so it can be tough to find one that is comfortable, provides the right amount of protection, and falls within your budget.

 

In our buying guide below, we list some of the top options available. While our list is not exhaustive, it's a good place to start. If you need a new helmet for cruising, touring, or high speeds, check out the following models.

Best Overall
Icon Airflite Rubatone
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Summary
Summary

This full-face helmet meets DOT standards, is made of injection-molded polycarbonate, and is a good option for different riders.

Pros
Pros
  • Features an eye-catching design
  • Offers good ventilation
  • Provides good visibility
  • Affordably priced
Cons
Cons
  • Some users think it's too narrow, and it can run on the small side
  • Visor can reveal light in your field of view
Best Overall
Icon Airflite Rubatone
Best Value
HJC CL-17
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Summary
Summary

A full-face helmet that offers excellent protection is DOT- and Snell-approved and comes with a warranty.

Pros
Pros
  • Excellent ventilation system keeps riders cool and dry 
  • Quick-snap shield is easy to change out
Cons
Cons
  • Interior padding can take some time to adjust to facial features
  • Top of the shield can rub uncomfortably against the forehead
Best Value
HJC CL-17
Honorable Mention
Shoei RF-SR
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Summary
Summary

Handmade and aerodynamically designed to minimize drag. It’s made from a tri-part weave of fibers and is DOT- and Snell-approved.

Pros
Pros
  • Dual-layer, multi-density EPS liner
  • Legal for both street and racetrack use
  • Warranty covers defective parts
Cons
Cons
  • Wind noise can be an issue with these helmets
  • Expensive
Honorable Mention
Shoei RF-SR

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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Why Buy a Motorcycle Helmet?

  • Safety. If you think that your sense of freedom is hindered by wearing a helmet, we have three words for you: traumatic brain injury. A motorcycle doesn’t provide the structural support an automobile does, so riders need quality helmets to keep their brains protected.
  • Medical costs. If you choose not to wear a helmet and end up in a nasty accident, you are going to pay for it. According to the numbers, you will pay a lot more in medical costs and have a much higher chance of permanent injury than riders who wear a helmet.
  • Visibility. One difference between a motorcycle and an automobile is all the dirt, debris, bugs, wind, and rain that constantly hit you in the face. A helmet with a face shield will prevent this, and let you keep your eyes on the road.
  • Insurance rates. Insurance companies survive by calculating the cost-to-risk analysis of different driving situations. Since helmetless riders will rack up higher medical bills on average, insurance companies need to offset this increased cost in the form of higher rates.
  • Stay visible. Many of the most popular motorcycle helmets on the market have vibrant designs that are not only stylish but also serve to alert other motorists of your presence. This is especially helpful in heavy traffic where bikes can be obscured by other vehicles.
  • It's the law. In most states, wearing a helmet is not an option. 

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. For example, sport bike owners can opt for a more aerodynamic design that will keep their head from popping up at high speeds, while helmets designed for cruisers are more focused on optimizing visibility.

Flip-Up Helmets

The distinguishing feature between a flip-up (or modular) and full-face helmet is that the chin bar and shield are a separate piece flip-up via a hinge. This is great for putting on and taking off the helmet with ease, 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.

Open-Face Helmets

Popular among scooter and cruiser owners, these helmets cover the head but not the face, 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. 

Half Helmets

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

Dirt Bike 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. Make sure to use one if you plan on hitting the trails.

Top Brands

Shoei

Based out of Tokyo, Shoei has been in the motorsport helmet business since 1958. In 1965, Honda adopted Shoei helmets, which helped propel the company into becoming a major brand in the industry. It is considered one of the highest-rated motorcycle helmets on the market.

HJC

This French company has been in business since 1971, and since then, it has grown to become one of the best brands of motorcycle helmets in the world. It has corporate and production facilities throughout the world and regularly sponsors major race events. 

Bell

Bell’s founder is known for starting the world’s first speed shop located in California. Known for its quality and respected for its functionality, Bell helmets are backed by decades of industry knowledge and trust since 1954. 

Icon Motorsports

Icon is based in Portland, Oregon, and has been in business since 2002. The company is led by a group of bikers who know what riders need every time they twist the throttle. 

Arai

If you want a handmade helmet, look no further than Arai. This American-based brand makes each piece from the shell to the liner with precision. The founder, Hirotake Arai, was a hat maker and motorcycle enthusiast, and the family-owned business continues its mission to make protective helmets of exceptional quality. 

AGV

Based in Colceresa, Vicenza, Italy, AGV has been producing top-quality helmets since 1947. The company's mission is to create innovative systems to protect everyone who uses its products.

Pricing

  • $25-$100: At the low-end of the price range, you will find some good helmets that have passed the Department of Transportation’s safety tests and will protect against impact. Don’t expect too many perks at this level, just a solid helmet that’ll do its job.
  • $100-$200: The mid-range options offer some accessories and features like specialty shields and suede lining. In fact, this price point has some of the best motorcycle helmets for the price in the industry.
  • $200 and up: The premium level has lots of bells and whistles that appeal to riders who spend a great deal of time on the road. Technological accessories, like Bluetooth speakers that sync up to your bike’s infotainment system, are standard at this price point. 

Key Features

Materials

Every motorcycle helmet has to pass certain quality standards in order to be sold, so there aren’t any ineffective materials used in their construction. However, there are some key differences in terms of 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) and 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 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. 

Other Considerations

  • 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.

Best Motorcycle Helmets Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
 Icon Airflite Rubatone

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, it meets DOT standards and includes several intake and exhaust ports. 


The helmet has a uniquely designed chin vent for airflow and a fog-free, drop-down sun visor that is easy to flip into place. If you tend to sweat in your helmet, this one features a removable HydraDry liner to keep moisture at a minimum. Other features include a chin curtain, molded breath deflector, removable side plates, and a twin-channel supervent cooling system. Users report that it has good ventilation and visibility. 


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.

Best Value
HJC CL-17

This helmet offers superb protection and some amenities that will enhance your riding experience. It is fairly lightweight at about 6 pounds, is constructed from an advanced polycarbonate composite, comes with a full warranty, and is both DOT- and Snell-compliant. The HJC CL-17 is extremely comfortable to wear, with comfort padding that conforms to your face over time.


The two features that really make the CL-17 stand out are its ventilation and shield. The vent channels in cool air that works in conjunction with a moisture-wicking lining to keep you dry. Multiple controls allow you to fine-tune just how much air gets into the helmet. The shield uses an optional Pinlock lens that keeps it fog-free, and the RapidFire Shield Replacement System makes switching them out a snap. Replacement shields are available in virtually every transparent color, so you can customize it to deal with the sun or match your bike’s look.  


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.

Premium Pick
Shoei RF-SR

Made out of a composite shell consisting of fiberglass, plastic resin, and organic fibers, the RF-SR is a very durable full-face motorcycle helmet. It comes with many bells and whistles that make it a favorite of motorcycle enthusiasts. Shoei helmets meet both DOT and Snell safety standards, so you can legally take them on the road or to the racetrack. 


Part of what makes Shoei helmets so special is that they are handmade in the company’s home city of Tokyo. This is unique in any industry and makes for impeccable design and build. 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 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. Also, Shoei helmets are expensive and will run you a few hundred dollars. However, you get what you pay for, and with everything the RF-SR has to offer, it has to be our pick for the best honorable mention.

Best for Adventure Touring
Arai XD-4

If you're looking for an ADV touring helmet, the Arai XD-4 Helmet is a great option. It's one of the best products available in the segment, and it features a Snell safety rating, which makes it stand out from other helmets.


It has an aerodynamic design, so it feels good at high speeds and produces minimal buffeting. We love that this helmet has peel-away pads so that you can customize the fit. It also features a removable and washable comfort liner, chinstrap covers, dry-cool technology, top diffuser vents with exhaust ports, and a chin vent with intake ports. 


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 certain speeds.

Best Half Helmet
Bell Pit Boss

While full-face helmets provide the best protection, not everyone likes to wear them. The Bell Pit Boss Helmet is a good alternative. The helmet is DOT approved and features ultra-light TriMatrix construction so that it won't feel top-heavy. It includes a speed-dial adjustable fit system to minimize helmet lift and adjustable features, such as a removable neck curtain and a drop-down visor that provides 100-percent protection against UVA and UVB rays. 


Made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, and fiberglass, the helmet also has speaker pockets that accommodate Pit Boss communication systems. Users report that it's very comfortable, and it's a great option on warm days and when you want an open-air experience. It also stays on your head at highway speeds. 


One drawback is that it has the dreaded mushroom look that's tough to avoid with half helmets. Also, the liner is not removable, so you can't wash it if it gets wet from sweat.

Honorable Mention
 Ruby Castel Gabriel

The Ruby Castel Gabriel Helmet is definitely on the pricey side, but its retro look is so on point it's hard to pass up. Your investment goes towards a helmet that has a high-quality sheepskin leather interior, carbon fiber shell, and hand-painted exterior shrouds. 


The helmet is lightweight, and the lining feels really good on your head. It has a whopping 21 vents for airflow, including seven vents in the crown and 12 vents in the chin area. It's also quiet with very little wind noise. 


The DOT-approved helmet is available in three sizes, but you may need to order a half-size up for a more comfortable fit. Since it's constructed of leather, it may feel tight before you break it in. Also, it can scratch easily if you're not careful when handling it, and a visor is not included.

Honorable Mention
Shoei X-14

If you frequently ride at high speeds, the Shoei X-14 Helmet is the way to go. It features an aerodynamic shell design, and during development, it excelled during wind tunnel testing. It has a dual-layer, multi-density EPS liner to absorb impact and maximize ventilation. It also features a cheek pad cooling system and a removable lower air spoiler for added aerodynamics. 


The helmet's rear flaps can be swapped out with narrower versions, and this option is a strong, reliable product. The liner features 3D max-dry technology, and the CWR-F Shield and QR-E System blocks 99 percent of harmful UVA and UVB rays. Users report that it's very comfortable at high speeds, and your vision doesn't bounce. It's quiet, lightweight, and is great whether you wear it on the track, in the city, or on country roads. 


However, this helmet could be a little better when it comes to peripheral vision. Also, on sunny days, you may notice glare from the visor.

Honorable Mention
AGV K1

The AGV K1 Helmet is another DOT-approved option with a strong focus on aerodynamics and ventilation. It features a spoiler with a passive rear vent that removes warm air when you're riding, and the design of the profile is intended to reduce collar bone injuries. 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 face shield, which provides 100 percent UV protection and is fog and scratch-resistant. The 3D liner is removable and washable. Users report that it's comfortable, feels sturdy, and the vents are easy to open and close. It also provides a good field of view and is high quality overall for the price. 


Unfortunately, it can be slightly noisy at high speeds, and the visor may start to lift up, which can be frustrating.

Honorable Mention
Scorpion EXO-AT950

The Scorpion EXO-AT950 Helmet is great for both touring and off-road adventures. It features a flip-up chin bar that is easy to raise and lower. It has a removable, off-road-style peak and big eyeport to accommodate goggles, an anti-fog face shield, and a drop-down internal sun visor, so you'll be more than ready to handle a variety of different conditions. 


The LG polycarbonate shell is lightweight yet strong, and the intake and exhaust vents provide plenty of airflow. The dual-position mouth vent serves as a defroster and another means of ventilation, while the KwickWick II antimicrobial liner minimizes moisture. 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.

Honorable Mention
Bell Qualifier

This Bell Qualifier helmet is a fine mixture of quality materials and handy features at an affordable price. It's DOT-approved and meets FMVSS 218 standards, meaning your head will be safe and protected in case of accidents. Furthermore, the helmet has a lot of extras that will make every ride more comfortable. 


The helmet features a lightweight polycarbonate shell that absorbs impacts and can withstand a lot of pressure. It's sturdy and durable yet highly portable and easy to put on. The model is available in several sizes and colors, so you can pick the one that fits perfectly and matches your riding gear. 


What amazes customers the most is a click-release shield system that allows for quick and easy shield swaps. You'll get clear and tinted visors, so you can swap between them according to your needs. Additionally, there are contoured cheek pads and integrated speaker pockets. The interior is removable and washable, so the helmet is easy to clean. 


What can be an issue with this helmet is the lack of padding in the chin area. 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 glasses.

Tips and Advice

  • Make sure to periodically wash the inside liner of your helmet. 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 also 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, giving it a good shine with some car polish is a good idea. It will keep your helmet looking brand new for years.
  • Keep the moving parts of your helmet working by using a silicon-based lubricant on them. 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

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

Currently, only Illinois, New Hampshire, and Iowa have zero helmet use laws. Most states require one for all riders; in some states, only on minors. However, no matter where you ride there is a mountain of evidence showing motorcycle helmets save lives, so regardless of the law you should always wear one.

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

It ultimately comes down to what the rider is looking for. The safest are full-face helmets that protect the head, face, and neck. However, they are bulky and can be cumbersome. Other helmets tend to be more stylish, which may be enough of an argument to buy one. Finding a mix of safety, style, and functionality is the best route.

Final Thoughts

Our pick for the best motorcycle helmet is the Icon Airflite Rubatone Helmet. Its superior materials, aerodynamics, and features make it worth the cost. For a more budget-friendly option, consider the  HJC CL-17 Helmet. This is a durable, inexpensive helmet with solid features.