As far as the law is concerned, the only item of protective kit you are required to wear on a motorcycle is a helmet. There’s a good reason for this, as repeated studies have shown that wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the chance of serious injury (or worse) in the event of an accident. It’s common sense to look after your noggin anyway but deciding which is the best motorcycle helmet for you can be a difficult decision, especially with such a vast choice available.
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1. Nolan N100-5 Graphic Flip Front
2. HJC CS-15
3. Airoh Commander
5. AGV K6
6. Shark S900 Dual Special Edition
An overview of different helmet types
Budget - Shark Ridill 1.2
Open face - Bell Custom 500
Jet - Scorpion Exo-230
Sports - Arai Quantic
Modular - Schuberth C5
Retro - Shoei EX-Zero
Adventure - Nexx X WED.2
Off road - Alpinestars Supertech M10
How to choose the right helmet for you
The basic rule of thumb is to buy the best motorcycle helmet you can afford, however that still leaves a lot to consider. Let’s start by looking at the fundamentals and work our way through to options.
A helmet’s primary function is to protect your head from an impact with a solid object. It does this with two main elements – a hard outer shell that is designed to absorb the impact across its entire surface and a deformable inner layer that acts as a cushion, or crumple zone. Fibreglass, polycarbonate or carbon fibre are typical materials for the outer construction, whilst expanded polystyrene (EPS) is widely used for the inner.
Many manufacturers incorporate a multi directional impact system (MIPS) which offers additional protection by allowing the inner to move independently, thus reducing rotational injuries. Some helmets also have an emergency quick release system (EQRS), which gives emergency services the opportunity to withdraw the cheek pads whilst the helmet is still being worn. This reduces pressure on the head, loosening the fit and making removal easier and safer.
How are helmets tested?
All helmets sold in the UK must comply with the current European standard of ECE 22.05. This involves a whole range of tests to ensure that any given helmet will perform as it should. You’ll find a tag somewhere on the helmet to confirm this, usually on the chin strap. As of 2024 all new helmets on sale will have to be tested to the newer ECE 22.06 standard, although it will remain legal to wear those tested under the current certification.
In 2007, the UK government set up its own testing scheme, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP). This awards helmets a star rating out of 5 and can give a further indication as to the best motorcycle helmet for you.
Which type of helmet do I need?
There are three main types of helmet – open face, full face and modular. Deciding which will meet your needs is the first step in finding the best motorcycle helmet for you.
An open face is the most basic type, offering protection to the top, back and sides of the head. These are more suited to riders who prefer a less restricted view, want maximum ventilation or who feel claustrophobic with their face covered. They’re popular with those who ride urban, classic, trials or cruiser type bikes. Many have provision for a clip on visor and peak, or you could choose to wear goggles. A variation on the theme is the ‘jet’ style, which incorporates a visor much like a fighter pilot’s helmet.
So called because it wraps around the whole head leaving just an aperture for your eyes, a full face helmet provides much more protection, both from an impact and the elements. There are many different sub-types, from the more rounded road/race style to peaked adventure and off road helmets. Both latter types can be identified by their extended chinbars, designed to give greater airflow for coping with the exertions of riding on the dirt. Off road helmets don’t have a visor and are intended to be worn with goggles.
Modular, or flip front, helmets offer the best of both worlds. The front part of the helmet is designed to rotate upwards, converting it from full to open face - although it should be noted that not all are approved to be worn open whilst riding, so check before you buy. Modular helmets provide a level of convenience for people who ride a lot, such as for work or touring. Although the most versatile, modular helmets are generally the heaviest of the bunch due to the extra mechanism required.
How do I choose the right size?
A correctly fitting helmet is paramount, both in terms of safety and comfort. Too loose could cause it to move around in use and it won’t be able to protect as it should, maybe even coming off, in an accident. Too tight and it will quickly become uncomfortable, affecting concentration and giving you a headache – a few miles in a helmet that’s too small can be akin to a medieval torture device. The best motorcycle helmet should be just snug, moving with your head without causing discomfort.
Measuring your head is a good place to start in finding your size (above the ears and around the forehead), but the only way to be sure is to go to a shop or show and try some on. Manufacturers offer a range of shell sizes to suit different size heads, as well as liners and cheek pads to achieve a full custom fit. The best motorcycle helmet is the one you feel most comfortable wearing.
What’s the best type of strap?
Keeping a helmet in place is crucial to its effectiveness and there are three main types of fastening systems - double D-ring, ratchet clasp or a car seatbelt style clip and catch. All meet the required standard, so ultimately it’s down to personal choice.
A double D-ring is the traditional method and is adjusted each time it’s fastened by simply tugging it snug. With no moving parts it’s also the simplest and remains the standard at the top level of bike sport. A ratchet clasp is similar in that you tighten it to suit every time, but some will find feeding the strap through the clasp less fiddly to get the hang of. The seat belt type has to be adjusted first altering the length of the strap to suit, so may involve some trial and error. In operation it's a simple case of clipping the buckle into the catch and pressing a button to release.
A strap is correctly tightened when you can slip two fingers between it and your jaw. Any more than that could restrict breathing or blood flow, any less and your helmet may not stay on when it needs to.
Which helmets are rated by MCN?
MCN's expert road testers have a wealth of experience in testing every aspect of motorcycle kit and have put a huge variety of helmets through their paces. Here's our pick from each category - you can find more options plus in-depth reviews by clicking on the relevant links.
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