What style of motorcycle you ride and where you ride will determine what you need.
Do you live in Illinois, Iowa, or New Hampshire?
You don’t need to read this story – those are the only states without motorcycle helmet laws – but we hope you do and so do your parents.
For everyone else, if you ride a motorbike at all, or are about to, you are going to need a good helmet, which most experts suggest replacing every two to five years. If you are due for a new one or are craving an upgrade, I have some questions for you to consider.
Six questions to consider
How and where do you ride?
Riding at high speeds on a track requests aerodynamic, quiet, and durable helmets with solid eye protection, whereas puttering around town you could get by with better style and a more relaxed safety rating. On a dirt motorcycle, goggles are fine, but they will prove uncomfortable and distracting if you’re on a sport bike; for that, you want a motorcycle helmet with a full face mask.
Long-distance rides are much enhanced by helmets with the ability to include radios and Bluetooth connectivity, and they’ll go better with sun visors and extra padding, too. Plenty of hog riders wear skull caps—the bare minimum needed to uphold the law—while café racers can tend toward open-face or bobble-head caps. You’ll want to choose something for your head that matches the style of your machine.
Is it certified?
If it’s not, move along. Of the various acronyms you may see—DOT, ECE, SHARP, AUS—Adam Kallen of Brooklyn’s Jane Motorcycles says to focus on one: “Make sure they are Snell-certified. With a helmet like that, you can take a truck and run over it. It’s made to crash. And it’ll save your ass.” Snell certification, which concentrates on anti-puncture strength in a one-time crash, is voluntary and more rigorous than U.S. DOT certification, the mandatory benchmark in the U.S. Other helmets may have ECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) certification, which is the common internationally recognized safety badge.
Suffice to say that any crash immediately renders a helmet ineffective, at least in theory, and necessitates its replacement. “If you were to drop it or get into an accident, you should get a new helmet immediately. It’s like an eggshell—you want to be sure there aren’t ever any cracks.”
How does it fit?
Does it pinch your temples? Does it wiggle around your chin? Those are not for you. Instead, a good helmet should fit snugly around your forehead and skull—without giving you a headache after 10 minutes of wear. “You don’t want any movement on it,” Kallen said. “You don’t want it to shake at all. If it’s pushing the cheeks in, that’s OK, the check pads will open up a little bit. But what you don’t want is the helmet really pushing on the crown of the head; you don’t want too much pressure there.”
How does it ride?
Test the helmet on the street. If a shop doesn’t let you, shop elsewhere. You’ll want to feel how quiet it is when you ride. Open-face helmets allow the wind to buffet your ears much more than a helmet with a visor and chin guard, for instance. “I always try to steer people away from open-face helmets,” Kallen said. “People love them, and they’re fashionable, but your face is completely exposed. For a lot of reasons, it’s just not worth it.”
What is it made of?
High-quality components include leather, chrome, and microfiber (you can feel quality when you touch it); some people love the mean face of the Shark helmet, for instance, but the front chin guard has been criticized as inferior for being made of plastic. Also, is there an interior lining removable for washing? If you’re using your bike right, it’s going to get dirty, sweaty, and stinky.
What’s it cost?
Trick question. Price doesn’t correlate with safety when it comes to motorcycle helmets. “You have the same level of safety whether it’s a $160 DOT helmet vs. a $600 DOT helmet,” Kallen said. “Where the pricing comes into account is with the styling of the helmet—the paint, the venting, the integrated flip shield, the padding, whether it’s microfiber or has leather trim.” Some of the most expensive helmets have special-edition designs or tribute graphics, such as AGV’s €1,400 ($1,494) Pista GP R E2205 Replica Iannone from our list below.
Veldt Copper Foil Full Face
he British Isles-based company makes two collections per year. You can buy one already made, such as this carbon fiber shell in hand-applied copper, or you can make your own by choosing among the options on the website. There are eight main base configurations. Specify interior materials and cover the shell with leather or a special fabric; choose special metal trim finishes and even engraving. DOT and ECE certified.
Bell Bullitt Moto-3
The long-awaited remake of a dirt-bike original. This modern version has a fiberglass shell and a removable and washable terrycloth liner. It comes in seven vintage colors with the BELL MOTO III insignia along the bottom. DOT and ECE certified. ($399.95, amazon.com)
Bell Bullitt Stripes
The look is pure Bell Star vintage, but with modern upgrades: micro suede lining, metal mesh intake vents, leather trim. (It’s named after the Steve McQueen character in the film Bullitt.) Even better, it has 3D-cut cheek pads that allow for speakers if you want them. DOT and ECE certified. ($399, amazon.com)
Biltwell Bonanza Bright Silver
Love this one for the disco reference and the options it allows: You can switch out mirrored or curved face masks for extra style. Comes with a hand-sewn brushed Lycra liner and a D-ring neck strap. DOT certified. ($119, amazon.com)
Biltwell Gringo Full Face S Navy
This is a more finished version of Biltwell’s bestseller. It has a shock-absorbing EPS liner with hand-stitched interior padding, special cheek pads, and a BioFoam chin bar cushion for added comfort. DOT certified. ($199.95, amazon.com)
The large face shield is the main selling point here, hand-made to 2mm thick in Europe and attached with two raw copper and brass screws. The shell is full carbon fiber, with a natural calf leather trim and lining. ECE certified.
Hedon x Rake Artemis
Here’s another way the price can rise for a helmet—if it belongs to a special collaboration, such as this one Hedon did with the men’s style site the Rake. This one has a black shell with blue stripes inspired by the racers of 1971, plus brass hardware and antibacterial fabric lining. ECE certified.
AGV Pista GP R E2205 Replica Iannone
Its makers claim it’s the most advanced Moto GP helmet ever created, and that may be right: It even has a spoiler tested in a wind tunnel and a hydration system. The shell is pure carbon fiber; the paint job mimics that of Italian moto racers. DOT and ECE certified. ($1,599.95, amazon.com)
AGV Pista GP R E2205 Matte Carbon
The more serious cousin to the racing icon, with a matte black carbon fiber finish but just as expert at ultimate head protection. It comes with the same spoiler and hydration system, plus a special locking system on the visor that prevents it from flying off at super-high speeds. DOT and ECE certified.
One of the best-known and most-trusted brands around, Shoei sets the standard for premium full-face helmets. It has four air intakes and outlets to facilitate aerodynamics and ventilation, plus a wide-wrapping face shield and fully removable, washable, and adjustable interior padding and lining system. Snell and DOT certified. ($498.99, amazon.com)
Schuberth E1 Crossfire
Best-suited for adventure riders, the E1 Crossfire is one of the quietest helmets on the market today. The fully articulating peak visor can sit in three different positions to shield the sun and can be removed with or without the additional face shield. DOT and ECE certified. ($831.99, amazon.com)
Arai Defiant Pro Cruise in Bold Orange Frost
The totally handmade helmet comes with Arai’s unique “pro-visor” system and anti-microbial lining; it’s well-suited for upright riding. There is additional room in the ear pocket for communication speakers. SNELL and DOT certified. ($710, amazon.com)
Here’s a nod to the lovely Vespa rider, who in the U.S. falls under motorcycle laws. Vespa offers a distinct shape and color here with chrome trim, leather lining, and movable visor. Made in Italy, of course. ECE certified.