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Motorcycle Helmet Reviews and Buying Guide

Find motorcycle helmet advice targeted for the way YOU ride, as well as resources for online helmet reviews and shopping.

Sportbikes .::. Touring/Commuting .::. Cruisers/Custom .::. Dirt Bikes


In my opinion, the most important motorcycle accessory is the Motorcycle Helmet . Whether you like Shoei, Arai, HJC, Nolan or a cheaper brand, the most important thing is to wear it.

The fact is that most states require helmets, so we have to live with them anyway. This WiseGuy will wear a helmet whether laws require it or not. Ninety percent of the time, that helmet will be a full face helmet.

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Sport bike riders have some of the most colorful and varied choices in motorcycle helmets. Your sport is technical, on the edge and fast. With high speed comes increased risk (just ask your insurance agent ;-). Maximum protection is essential. You don't just want a fast bike, you want a motorcycle helmet that looks fast too.

The best choice here is a Full Face Helmet for a couple of reasons. You get the increased protection of the chinbar and cool tinted face shields are available to customize the look.

Consider the ventilation system on a full face helmet. High quality helmets have close fitting shields and snug padding around the bottom to minimize wind noise. The tradeoff to that is that it promotes fogging. Manufacturers attempt to avoid this by installing breath deflectors at the top of the chin bar.

The best ventilation systems incorporate air ducts in the styrofoam safety liner to pull hot air away from your scalp.

If you can, get a face shield system that has a handy tool free design. Most of the mid to high end helmets have this feature.

Examples of SportBike Helmets

High End: Shoei RF-1000 Strife Helmet - Legendary for quality and fit. This Shoei is an example of just how extreme some of the graphics can get at this price point. Expect to pay $350 - $550 for an RF1000, but there are even more expensive lids from Shoei, Arai, Suomy and others.

Shoei RF-1000 Strife Helmet
Shoei RF-1000 Strife Helmet

Mid Range: HJC CL-15 Mutant Helmet - Extremely popular, lightweight and the BEST shield change mechanism make this one of the best street helmet values on the market in my opinion. Expect to pay $150-$300 for a helmet in this range.

HJC CL-15 Mutant Helmet
HJC CL-15 Mutant Helmet

Entry Level: KBC Tarmac Hammerhead Helmet - There are plenty of fine quality and good looking helmets if you're on a budget. Consider the KBC Tarmac for example. For UNDER $150 retail you get a DOT and Snell certified helmet with way-cool graphics. KBC did something really smart when they designed the Tarmac. They carried over the shield and ratchet system from the VR-2 race helmt. To me that makes the KBC Tarmac a really smart choice. Speaking of KBC, if you wear a KBC you may want to check out my KBC Helmet Visors page.

KBC Tarmac Hammerhead Helmet
KBC Tarmac Hammerhead Helmet

At all price points in street helmets, look for closeouts . With ever-changing graphics, distributors have to clear out last year's inventory to make room for the new stuff.

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Touring and Commuting

For touring duty you need above all long lasting comfort in your motorcycle helmet. A full face design is not necessary, especially if you're sitting comfortably behind the screen of a Honda Gold Wing or Harley Electra Glide.

Besides, that chinbar will be in the way when you get ready for a drink of your favorite beverage that's probably sitting in your cup holder. :D

An open face helmet works great for touring and they are available in Snell certified models. The open face design makes it easier to install speakers and microphones for communication and entertainment.

I might go either way in choosing a motorcycle helmet for commuting. If you're a hardcore commuter you'll be out in all kinds of weather and in that case a full face helmet is in order. The open face would make it practical to take in that cup of coffee on the way to work though. Daily wear demands comfort and no nonsense design in either case.

There is an alternative to both the full face and open face motorcycle helmets. The modular or flip-up helmet combines the safety of a full face helmet and the convenience of an open face. Modular helmets are not eligible for Snell certification, so no matter what you pay you'll be getting DOT certification only.

Examples of Touring Motorcycle Helmets

Modular: HJC Sy-Max II Modular Helmet - HJC always comes to mind when I think of touring helmets. The Symax II is their version of a flip-up lid. It's in the mid price range at about $200 - $275.

HJC Sy-Max II Modular Helmet

Open Face: HJC AC-3 Carbon Helmet - A classic design in an open face helmet. Around $150 (the carbon fiber model shown is actually $250+) but you can usually find it on sale for $135.

HJC AC-3 Carbon Helmet
HJC AC-3 Carbon Helmet
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Cruisers and Customs

There's definitely nothing wrong with wearing any of the previously discussed motorcycle helmet designs while riding your cruiser or custom styled bike. As a matter of fact I do it all the time. I don't however, claim to exhibit the most cutting edge style either. :0

For cruising, most of you will be looking for a minimal lid, just enough to get by the sharp eye of Mr. State Trooper. A lot of cruisers will resort to wearing a novelty or beanie helmets, but please don't. My brain is worth more than $20 to me, is yours?

Cruiser helmets give up protection for the ears and cheeks and represent the minimum protection in a motorcycle helmet. Some do come with a zip off neck curtain to cut down on wind noise and help keep your ears warm.

Examples of Cruiser Motorcycle Helmets

The smallest, lowest profile helmet to meet DOT certifications that I know of is the Skid Lid Original Helmet .

Skid Lid Original Helmet
Skid Lid Original Helmet with Flames
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Dirt Bikes

Distinctive styling and single purpose design sets dirt bike helmets apart from the rest. Instead of having a face shield, these lids usually have a place for goggle straps. Almost all have a baseball cap type visor.

Colors and graphics are almost unlimited in Motocross helmets. Look for replicas of your favorite racer's helmet, but expect to pay more for the trick look.

Examples of Dirt Bike Helmets

High End: - Arai VX-Pro III Milsap Replica Helmet features a Hypershark II peak with adjustable forced-air intakes and fully removable/replaceable Dry-Cool® liner. At around $450, this is for the serious racers only. But this thing definately looks HOT!

Arai VX-Pro III Milsap Replica Helmet
Arai VX-Pro III Milsap Replica Helmet

Mid Range: - Get great bang for the buck in the mid range in dirt bike helmets. Fox Racing doesn't cut corners on their gear and the helmets are no exception. They have a very affordable and killer looking line called the V-1. Fox Racing V-1 Razor Helmet is pictured below. It's right smack in the middle of the mid-range at about $160 retail.

Fox Racing V-1 Razor Helmet
Fox Racing V-1 Razor Helmet
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Motorcycle Helmet Facts

The following information applies to all motorcycle helmet styles.


A motorcycle helmet consists of four primary parts:

  • The outer shell.
  • A shock-absorbing liner.
  • A comfort liner of soft foam and fabric.
  • A chin strap or other retention system.

Helmet shells are primarily manufactured in one of two materials: fiberglass or injection molded plastic. Helmet manufacturers are constantly working to develop less expensive, stronger, and lighter materials for helmet shell construction.

The injection molded plastic helmet generally is the lightest and least expensive available today. It may also have a shorter life expectancy. Its chemical composition can be changed if it is painted or decals are applied to its surface. Damage can occur if it is stored near gasoline, cleaning fluids, or exhaust fumes. The user should read carefully any and all information supplied with these helmets.

Fiberglass helmets can be more expensive than injected molded helmets, especially if the fiberglass layers are hand laminated. Fiberglass helmets delaminate on impact to absorb shock. You can paint them or apply decals without damage. However, because they are built to absorb shock, they can also break or crack if severely impacted in an accident, a fall or even if dropped sharply onto a hard surface.

Helmet Liner Diagram

The helmet liner is made of expanded polystyrene foam (or "Styrofoam"). This is an important part of the motorcycle helmet, as this polystyrene liner is non-resilient and evenly spreads the impact in an accident. The more impact energy that can be absorbed by the liner, the less there is of that shock energy to reach the head and do damage.

Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards

Your motorcycle helmet should comply with the standards from one or more of these agencies:

Each organization has established rigid procedures to evaluate:

  • Impact - the shock absorbing capacity of the helmet
  • Penetration - the helmet's ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object.
  • Retention - the chin strap's ability to stay fastened without breaking or stretching.
  • Peripheral Vision - the helmet must provide a minimum side vision of 120 degrees to each side (Most people's peripheral vision is between 110 and 115 degrees).

It's easy to get bored reading the specifics about each organization and how their standards are developed, but if you really want to, I've provided links above.

Department of Transportation (DOT) certification is mandatory. Since 1980 all adult-sized helmets must meet the DOT standard.

Snell Memorial Foundation. The use of the Snell certification is voluntary. Snell has been testing helmets since the 1950's.

Does your helmet have to be Snell Certified to be really safe? No. Take this perspective: There is a much larger difference between a novelty helmet and a DOT certified helmet than there is between a DOT certified helmet and a Snell Certified helmet. Visit the Snell website to get more information.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) The ANSI requirement is a voluntary standard developed by a committee or representatives from consumer groups, helmet manufacturers, testing organizations and the military.

Getting the Right Size Helmet

Your motorcycle helmet fit is critical to the comfort and enjoyment of your helmet. It also plays a critical role in the performance of your helmet in the event of a collision.

Never wear a motorcycle helmet without making sure you have a proper snug fit (not too tight, and not too loose - just right!)

Proper Helmet Fit
This image shows a properly fitted motorcycle helmet.

There are several methods and tricks to size a helmet. This is the recommended method:

  1. Estimate your size: Get a tape measure and your favorite manufacturer's sizing chart. Start with a helmet size you think will fit according to your measurements cross referenced to the chart. When buying online, this is about as far as you can go before taking the plunge. Now is the time to check the return policy of the shop. Most will charge a restocking fee, so if possible find a riding buddy who has a same brand helmet and try it on. As a last resort you might try on your favorite model at a local motorcycle dealer. (I'm not recommending this though. ;)
  2. Not too tight: Once you have your new helmet in hand, put the helmet on by grasping the chin strap in each hand and pulling it on over your ears until you feel the top portion of the helmet touch. Check for the following red flags: A. The helmet immediately feels too tight. B. Your head does not touch the top of the helmet. C. You can't pull the helmet down over your ears. D. It's painful in any way. If any of these apply, you probably need the next size larger.
  3. Not too loose: Once you have found a helmet that feels comfortable and snug, you must make sure that it is not too loose. To do this, securely fasten the chin strap, grasp the helmet chin bar or sides firmly with one hand and try to move the helmet from side to side and up and down. If the helmet slides on your skin and hair, it is too large. If your scalp and skin want to move with the helmet, the fit is about right.
  4. Just Right: One final check. Reach back to the back of the helmet and try to rotate the helmet as far down and forward as possible. Then as far backward as possible. If the helmet feels as if it might slide off in either direction, the helmet is either too big or the chin strap was not securely fastened.

Congratulations! If you passed these tests, you now have a properly fitting helmet that will maximize safety and minimize wind noise as well!

If you enjoyed this motorcycle helmet article, be sure you read all the motorcycle accessories articles at Motorcycle-Accessories-WiseGuy.com!

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More Resources

Check out my favorite online helmet store . They have a great selection and customer reviews.

Always shop around for selection and price. this store also offers same-day shipping and a money-back guarantee.

Don't buy before checking out the sometimes crazy helmet deals you can get here.

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Learn more about your favorite motorcycle helmet brands.


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