If you’ve not bought a motorcycle helmet before, it pays to do a bit of research to better understand what’s out there, in order to find the best helmet to suit you.
We’ve broken this guide down into the major areas that you’ll need to consider before you find the best motorcycle helmet for your needs.
The Anatomy of a Motorcycle Helmet
Outer Shell – Most budget-friendly shells are made from polycarbonate or thermoplastic, while they are heavier, they still do the job. If you want something a little lighter and more high-end, look for a fibreglass or carbon fibre shell. More on this below.
Inner Shell – Made from moulded polystyrene, the EPS liner is designed to absorb energy from impacts, helping reduce brain injuries.
Lining and padding – For a rider’s comfort, not protection. The lining should be comfortable against your skin and preferably removable. This way, if you sweat, you can take it out and stick it in the wash.
Cheek pads – Some manufacturers offer removable or adjustable cheek pads which makes them fit better.
Vents – Important if you have a full-face helmet. Vents allow airflow and stop you steaming up or overheating. A sign of a great vent is one you can open with your gloves on.
Visor – visors should be stiff and secure. They shouldn’t wobble or come open with little force. Quick-release visors make cleaning easier and emergency services can reach your head quickly if needed. Tinted visors must be marked BS4110 if you are using them during the day on UK roads. The current ECE22.05 standard requires a light transmission of at least 80% for day and night time use. Visors with a light transmission of 50 – 80% must state “Daytime use only” or equivalent logo.
Chinstrap – Double-D rings, buckles, slide bars or quick-release. Poppers or velcro are usually added to stop the tail end flapping about.
Safety ratings – In the UK, helmets should at least be ECE 22.05 certified or up to British standard. SHARP ratings build on ECE certified helmets to provide a guide for riders on performance and quality. Check the correct stickers are displayed on the back of the helmet.
Chin Curtain – This sits at the front of the helmet under the chin and helps to keep out drafts and reduces noise from wind.
Breath Guard – This site inside the helmet, mounted on the inside of the chin guard. It covers your mouth and to an extent, your nose, helping prevent your visor from fogging up
Different Helmet Types
Depending on which type of helmet you have, will determine what features and components it has. Here’s what you should look for with each type:
This style covers the entire head of the rider and is widely thought of as being the safest option for the majority of riders. The shell is in one piece, the helmet covers your entire head and the chin guard isn’t movable. It’ll have a built-in visor which can be opened or closed to offer you maximum protection from the elements and in the event of a crash.
A variation of a full-face helmet, flip-front, or modular helmets as they’re sometimes called, have a hinge that lifts the visor and chin guard up and out of the way. In short, it ends up looking like an open face helmet.
Flip-fronts include all the features that a full face helmet have but incorporate a hinge mechanism so you can open the front. This can make them weigh slightly more and you must make sure you choose a modular helmet which stays secure and does not open while you’re riding.
Adventure or ADV helmets are a hybrid of a dirt bike helmet and a full-face helmet. If you’re likely to go off-roading, they’re the perfect compromise. Adventure helmets have all the features of an open face helmet but differ in style. You can spot an adventure helmet because they often have peaks that make them resemble a dirtbike helmet.
As the name suggests, the helmet does not enclose the rider’s face. Open face helmets do not have a chin guard or visor; for this reason, they provide the least level of protection. Open face helmets do not offer a lot of extra features (because there’s no room for them), but you can buy some clip-on visors if the manufacturer has designed them this way. Buying a pair of goggles or suitable eyewear is essential, or wind will get into your eyes, making riding difficult. The good thing about open-face helmets is that they allow for plenty of air circulation.
Homologation is another word for approval or confirmation. For helmets, this relates to the safety regulations which must be passed for a helmet to reach road-worthy safety standards.
On the back of the helmets, you will see some numbers and letters. These are there to tell you which homologations the helmet has passed. In Europe, you will often see an E followed by a number between 01 – 18. Set within a circle, the E stands for Europe, and the number represents the country where the tests took place.
All tests within Europe conform to the minimum standard ECE 22.05. This is displayed along with 4 other numbers which are the homologation number of that particular helmet model. If you bought the same model of helmet, these numbers would match.
What do the letters P, NP, J, PJ mean on a helmet?
The letters refer to the level of protection the chin strap or chin guard provides:
P: For helmets that cover and protect the chin strap and chin. Often referred to as full-face helmets.
NP: For helmets which have a chin guard but this does not provide protection.
J: Jet J homologation means the chin strap is uncovered.
PJ: PJ is only used on modular helmets. This means the helmet has been approved for use with a lid that opens (acting as an open face helmet – J) and closes (acting like a full-face helmet – P). Using the helmet in an open manner or closed is entirely legal as long as the helmet has P/J approval.
Made by heating resins or other synthetic substances which become plastic on heating and harden on cooling. Thermoplastic helmets are usually the cheapest on the market because they are easily moulded and the materials used are relatively easy to come by, and mass produce.
Polycarbonate is one of the leading thermoplastics used to manufacture the outer shells of cheap helmets. Polycarbonate hardens well and has a high temperature and impact resistance.
A fibre-reinforced plastic made with glass fibres. Fibreglass can be made into sheets or fabrics and moulded into curved shapes easily. It is cheaper and more flexible than carbon fibre while remaining stronger than most metals of the same weight. Other names include glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP).
Composite fibres are a mixture of 2 or more materials. When they are mixed (usually with epoxy resin or polyester), they create a stronger, more durable material. This harder materials make them perform exceptionally well against impacts, making them perfect for crash helmets. Composite materials include fibreglass and carbon fibre, but helmet manufacturers use these terms. If another substance, such as kevlar is added, then the helmet is referred to as composite fibre.
A mixture of carbon fibre and kevlar, carbon fibre is a lot stiffer than kevlar yet kevlar is more resistant to abrasions. Adding them together to create a composite makes for a more abrasion resistant and durable helmet.
Carbon fibre is extremely lightweight, which is why it is a favourite for motorcycle helmets. It is 5 times stronger and 2 times stiffer than steel, making it incredibly durable. Carbon fibre helmets are usually one of the most expensive on the market.
Some helmets only have one size, others multiple. The benefit of this is that ultimately, the helmet will have a better fit as the manufacturer won’t need to pad out a larger shell size for smaller head sizes. A helmet shell that’s closer to your head size means that the internal foam (EPS) layer and comfort layer (the lining) can be designed to an optimum size reducing the need for excessive padding.
Finding the correct shell size:
Measuring the size of your head should be done by using a soft tailor’s tape measure. Wrap it around the back of your head, above your ears and about 1 inch above your eyes. Measure in centimetres. If you find you’re measurement is in between lid sizes, choose the smaller size. The padding inside will soften over time, and the fit will become loose. A snug fit ensures you have the right level of protection against injury.
A retention system is a name given to the clips or straps that go under your chin. There are many different retention systems available, and each has its own unique qualities. Here are some of the main closures used on modern helmets:
Double D ring
By far the most widely used. Double D rings are especially useful as they allow for a perfect fit every time. This retention system works by having 2 metal D rings on one strap and a long strap on the other. The strap’s material has a high level of friction to make sure it does not slip or come undone while in use. The straps are secured to the helmet with strong rivets to prevent breakage. A lot of newer helmets have a red pull tab which helps loosen the straps when you need to take off your helmet; if not, you need to wiggle the belt slightly to loosen it then pull open.
To secure your Double D ring, insert the long strap through both D rings, pull then loop the strap over the first D ring then pass through the second to create a slip knot. You can pull the strap gently to create a firmer fit.
- Adjustments to fit made on each use
- Strong and durable
- Can be fiddly if you haven’t used before
- Can be hard to undo if you don’t have a release tab
Quick-release buckles are straightforward to clip together and look like a mini seatbelt. The metal clip goes into a locking mechanism which is released by pushing a small button. You can adjust the length of the straps to find the correct fit.
- Quick and easy to use
- Strong and secure
- Riders may be tempted not to adjust the fit of the strap before each use
A new addition to helmet retention systems, micrometric adjustment is made with a plastic strap with teeth on one side, and a levered ratchet catch on the other. Like D rings, they are adjustable and ensure you get the correct fit every time.
To fit a micrometric adjustment, insert the strap with teeth into the clip and push together until snug. You can loosen off or undo by pulling up the lever and releasing the clip.
- Less fiddly than Double D rings
- Adjustable for a correct fit on each wear
- The straps are relatively short so finding the right fit only has a short-range
- Plastic straps may stretch over time
No straps (yes, really!)
Originally designed as a safer helmet for skydivers, the Vozz helmet branched out to the motorcycle world. This helmet doesn’t have any straps to retain it to your head, which is revolutionary.
It works a bit like a modular helmet but has a clip at the top of the head. By placing your head into the chin section, you simply close the lid and your full head is enclosed and secure.
Vozz helmets are ECE 22.05 certified but are yet to receive a SHARP rating.
- Incredibly easy to fit
- No fiddly buckles or straps to adjust
- Quick release for emergency services
- Generic fitting may be uncomfortable for some
- Must be closed properly to be used in a safe manner
- Fit may change over time and become less effective once the padding begins to flatten inside
Plain colours often cheaper, will probably date better. Race replicas often you pay more for and they date faster too.
Helmets come in a wide variety of colours and designs, which is perfect if you want a little bit of personality on your ride. Single colours are cheaper to produce than more intricate designs, which is reflected in the price of the lid. If you want a race replica, limited edition or custom print, these cost significantly more. Helmets are in contact with direct sunlight so they will fade over time, single colours tend to fare better.
Helmets come in a range of finishes too; a classic gloss gives a helmet a beautiful shine, while matt finishes are becoming popular and have no sheen. Matt finishes look great in blacks and dark greys and add a level of sophistication and class.
For the safety-conscious, you can buy lids with fluorescent colours and reflective details that show up in dark and foggy conditions.
Each brand has different colourways, and some even stick to uniform designs which reflect the brand image. Remember, the design on the lid is not your priority. Safety is. Make sure you choose a motorcycle helmet with ample safety protection and never wear a “novelty lid” out on the road.
Designed to ensure the helmet fits comfortably and securely in place. A removable lining is a seriously handy feature as it means you can keep your helmet fresh and re-plump-up the padding so it fits well. Or you can just buy a new lining to give your helmet an as-new feeling.
Some linings are anti-bacterial and others use high-tech materials to help wick away moisture and keep you cool.
The lining of a helmet is designed to make it fit securely and provide comfort for the rider. Linings are made from dense foam and soft material; they have a tendency to collect sweat and moisture over time. A lot of liners these days have plastic clips or magnets so you can take them out to clean. Simply stick them in your washing machine and freshen them up and tumble dry on a low heat setting to dry. If your liner isn’t detachable, you can sponge wash the liner with fabric cleaner (which won’t damage the foam or outer material). Let it air dry for a good 48 – 72 hours.
Manufacturers have created ingenious ways to stop liners smelling and keep you dry by using materials which are moisture-wicking, antibacterial and even hypoallergenic. Take a look at our lining article for more information.
Liners will lose their thickness over time and can make your helmet feel loose. A loose helmet will not protect you in a crash. To regain some thickness, washing and drying the lining can help. If not, you can always replace the padding if it is removable. If not, it’s time to buy a new lid.
Cheek pads support your face within the helmet and keep it in the correct position. Well-fitting cheek pads give your cheeks a plumped up look, a bit like a chipmunk. So what do you do if your cheeks feel too tight or too loose? If the helmet has removable cheek pads, manufacturers often create different thicknesses for an improved fit. Also, this allows you to wash them to keep them fresh.
If these are removable, you can wash them and keep them fresh. However, you should also be able to buy different size cheek pads if they are removable, ensuring that you get a better quality fit.
Helmets like the Scorpion EXO 1400 feature a technology called Airfit which allows you to inflate the cheek pads to get an optimum fit.
Often, helmet manufacturers create shells in standardised sizes and then use the padding to adjust the fit for different heads sizes. Thinner padding is used for larger sizes, and thicker padding is used in smaller ones. Not only does this keep costs down, but it also stops people with larger or smaller head looks odd in a helmet.
Of course, not everyone has the same head or face shape, which makes this standardisation a bit tricky when you need to look for a new helmet. This is where cheek pads come in. If you try on a lid and find it fits nicely on your head, but your face is a little squashed or too loose, you can change the cheek pads to a larger or smaller size.
Different cheek pad thicknesses
Some manufacturers offer different cheekpad thicknesses to enable you to tailor the fit of your helmet. For example, Shoei fit all their helmets with a standard size cheek pad of 35mm and a headlining of 9mm. Then, Shoei offer a broad range of cheek pad sizes so you can custom fit the size of your helmet; it makes for a more comfortable and well-fitting lid.
Another innovative cheek pad design is Airfit technology. These cheek pads can be pumped up or reduced for a more custom fit. Helmets like the Scorpion Exo-1400 Air Carbon feature this design and receive a lot of good reviews from customers. The Exo-1400 Air Carbon received a SHARP rating of 4 stars.
When you choose a helmet, we would recommend finding one with at least removable cheek pads. That way, you can amend the fit of your helmet to remain comfortable and above all, safe.
Visors are the bit you see out of, so an essential component. Visors help keep the wind, rain and other debris out your eyes. Visors do have drawbacks; visibility issues thanks to condensation or low-quality plastics can affect their overall quality and clarity. Cheaper helmets tend to use acrylic which scratches easily and can change colour or haze or time. More expensive helmets use polycarbonate which is a lot denser and reduces the risk of scratches plus it does provide better visibility, losing that goldfish bowl feel. Choosing a wider visor will help you have as much peripheral vision as possible, which is exactly what you need out on the roads.
At some point, you will need to open and close your visor; a lot of visors come with a little lip at the bottom, usually in the middle or on one of the sides. The lip should be large enough you can open it with a gloved hand. Some visors will have a clip on the front which allows you to lock it in place. Some have a smooth action, like Arai, meaning you can adjust it to whatever level you like. In contrast, others have a ratchet-type system with 20 or so clicks of adjustment.
With all that wind in your face, visors will pick up dirt, grime and grease from the roads so cleaning them helps keep your vision clear. Helmets with quick-release visors make removing your visor a lot easier because you don’t need tools to do it. Each manufacturer will have a different release system, so get to know what you’re doing to avoid any damage.
The outside temperature will differ from inside your helmet, which means condensation can occur. To prevent misting, helmets are equipped with vents, or you can buy a breath guard (more on this below) or anti-fog treatment. The best way to avoid condensation build-up is to buy a “Pinlock ready” visor or similar. Adding a second layer of plastic with a seal will prevent your visor from fogging up a lot better than other solutions – more on this below.
Most helmets are supplied with a clear visor, although tinted and coloured ones are available. There is often a lot of debate around road laws and tinted or coloured visors. Gov.uk states: “If you use a visor or goggles they must be approved to one of the appropriate standards [British Standard or ECE 22.05]. Those visors marked ‘Daytime Use Only’ or having the symbol with the same meaning should only be used in daytime. Visors that transmit less than 50% of visible light do not fully comply with any of the standards above and can not legally be used on the road.” In other words, if your visor is certified to the stated criteria, it is street legal and can be worn during daylight hours.
Being ‘Pinlock Ready’
A Pinlock system effectively turns your visor into double glazing; it is the most effective way to stop your view fogging up. A Pinlock is another piece of transparent plastic-type material which has a silicone bead around the edge to prevent moisture reaching your visor. The larger MaxVision versions are best as they don’t restrict your view as much.
If your visor is “Pinlock ready” it will have little pins in the sides where you slide in a Pinlock system. If you want to know more, check out our Pinlock article for a more comprehensive fitting guide and other useful information.
Internal Sun Visor
Sunlight can seriously affect your vision. If you’re not one for wearing sunglasses or currently wear prescription glasses, having a helmet with an internal sun visor can make the difference. An internal sun visor drops down by the use of a switch or lever located on the outside of the helmet and this reduces the chances of the sun dazzling you.
The height of each manufacturer’s drop-down visor varies, so you get different coverage, but some helmets do offer adjustable visors for different heights.
Adjusters are either located on the helmet’s base, side or on the top, and it’s worth checking that you’re happy with the placement and that you feel comfortable operating it with gloves on.
An alternative option to sun visors is photochromic visors. These work like transition lenses for prescription glasses and react to UV light. Depending on the level of UV light depends on how dark they go. If the sun goes in, the visor will change back to clear. Photochromic visors are relatively new, so not a lot of brands have them, and they are more expensive. Bell, Shoei and Lazer have a few models available, and all vary by the level of tint they provide.
Not all vents are created equal. Some helmets have plenty of vents and others not so much. The best vents to have are definitely on the front of the helmet. Chin vents are almost always the best way to prevent a visor fogging up too much. Positioned underneath the visor and near your mouth, chin vents regulate the temperature of the air and avoid that dreaded condensation.
Some helmet brands like Arai have vents above the eyebrows which have proven effective in quick demisting. In addition to front vents, some helmets have “exhaust” vents located at the back of the helmet. These help warmer air inside the helmet escape and reduce that hot and humid feeling.
All vents on your helmet should be strong and durable, so they remain open and closed, depending on how you want them. Also, you need to be able to operate them efficiently with gloves on in case you have to adjust them during a ride.
If you ride in a group or prefer to keep in touch with the outside world, having a helmet with Bluetooth integration is the answer. Some helmets have. Bluetooth preparation’ which means the helmet has been designed to accommodate a specific brand of Bluetooth intercom. For example, Nexx has teamed up with Sena to create the X-Com system. Bluetooth-ready helmets have cut-outs built into the EPS layer which allow you to route the cables and locate the device comfortably. This means it doesn’t sit on the outside of your helmet, which can cause wind noise.
Bluetooth systems can act as walkie-talkies between riders (up to a certain distance), hands-free devices for mobile phones, or simply listening to music.
Another option is to buy a fully integrated Bluetooth helmet which already has a working system built-in and require no additional purchase or installation. These helmets do require charging, just like Bluetooth communication devices but certainly cut down on the technical skills you need to get going.
Breath guards deflect your breath away from the visor to prevent fogging. Most helmets come with one preinstalled, but if yours doesn’t, you can buy them separately. Some look like dust masks, while others are a lot thinner. They work by clipping onto the inside of your helmet where your mouth would rest, usually by some form of velcro. Your breath is directed down and out the bottom of your helmet rather than inside.
Cheap vs Expensive helmets
What is the difference between a cheap helmet and a more expensive one except for the price?
Cheap lids are still safe as long as they pass regulation but don’t have the same level of spec or additional features. More expensive helmets are usually offered by well-known brand names that may have racing connections or large scale research and development departments. This further research often leads to the best materials and features for an all-out, high-quality helmet, which feels incredibly comfortable and usually a lot safer.
Cheap helmets do not carry additional features like built-in sun visors, Bluetooth communication, Pinlock ready visors or even removable linings. The materials used are often less expensive too, for example, polycarbonate shells instead of carbon fibre or a cheaper EPS liner. You can tell a more inexpensive helmet by the weight, as thermoplastics are a lot heavier than carbon fibre.
Of course, cheaper materials will result in a lower retail price. Still, these helmets may not perform as well against safety tests. If you’re after an extremely safe helmet like SHARP rating 5, you will have to spend a lot more than £50. Low-quality materials can often be a lot weaker than their more expensive counterparts, for example, visors may scratch more, or the colours may fade. Choosing a more expensive helmet will reduce the risk of that happening.
Statistically, cheap helmets may have ill-fitting features such as vents or your visor. Vents which may not open correctly can cause vision problems if you begin to fog up and a lot of noise too. More expensive helmet brands perform more quality control testing, which is reflected in the price of the lid. This way, you know you’re getting a decent helmet with fully working essential components you need out on the road.
As well as noisy vents, low-cost helmets tend to have less dense padding which doesn’t act as a noise defender from the roar of the wind. It makes for an uncomfortable journey and could cause hearing damage over time.
Overall, if you’re on a tight budget, your helmet will still be safe, but you may not have the best level of comfort or additional features. If you want something that is going to last and feel great every ride, save up and buy a more expensive lid.