All the options out in the market today will make your head spin. Motorcycle helmets will come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The general advice is to buy the best that you can afford in most cases, but if you are looking to splurge or if you are looking to make the most out of your helmet-buying dollar, then read this first.
Aside from the brand, there are also several aspects right now that you need to take note of before you pull the trigger. There are questions that you need to ask yourself first because helmets are important, and helmets don’t come cheap!
Do you need a new helmet?
If you are a beginner without a helmet, then by all means skip this question because the answer is “yes!” If you already have a helmet or two or several that are still road-worthy, then really ask yourself this question to prevent an impulse purchase.
I’m not gatekeeping here because there is no shame in wanting a new helmet when your current one is (or current ones are) still good to ride. In my book, it’s good to have two helmets in your rotation so you don’t wear one out prematurely and you’ll always have one ready to go if the other’s pads are in the wash. Also, having two helmets keeps things fresh!
The question of need will depend on whether you’re replacing a crashed, expired, or worn-out helmet. Usually, the pads will be worn out and buying replacements will save you a bit of money and make a lid feel new again. However, if you are convinced that you “want” or “need” a new helmet, then continue on.
What is its safety rating?
As far as the current state of the industry is concerned, there are two ratings that come out on top, ECE 22.06 and FIM. Other standards like Sharp, Snell, and DOT are widespread but are a bit behind compared to the latest and greatest standards in the market.
ECE 22.05 lids could still be available on shelves, though it’s best that you prioritize an ECE 22.06 helmet over a 22.05-rated lid. FIM helmets are few and far between, but it’s a nice-to-have at this point. Most riders will be well-protected by an ECE 22.06-homologated lid and an FIM lid will be worth it if you do find yourself on track and participating in sanctioned racing events. Many consider the ECE’s latest safety rating to be the “standard” moving forward, so it’s what you should be on the lookout for if you’re shopping for a new helmet. If you are looking at a helmet for track use, do consider the tracks you will be racing on and the managing body’s policies on helmet safety standards.
Does it fit your ride?
Match the helmet to your ride. If you’re a road rider, get a road helmet. If you are a dirt rider, get a dirt helmet. After that, what kind of bike do you have? Is it a retro scrambler, or a modern sportbike, adventure-tourer, sport-tourer, cruiser, or scooter? Some helmets are well-suited to the type of bike that you ride or the style that you want to go for.
While matching the bike and looking good on it is good, you have to consider that each kind of helmet is tailored to a specific kind of riding. For example, a sport/track helmet usually favors a tucked riding position. Other helmets will favor a more upright riding stance as is the case with most road, adventure, retro, and dirt helmets.
Also, aerodynamics and noise isolation are key considerations depending on what kind of ride the helmet was designed for. Helmets without visors will be noisier than helmets with visors on the open highway, and peaks will catch the wind at speed. You should get a helmet that is designed to match the way you ride and where you ride, plus the bike that you do all of your stuff on.
Again, if you’re going for a certain look, you do you. Style is also a considerable factor in a helmet purchase, but if you’re riding a modern sportbike with a retro-style helmet, it may look a bit off. If you’re riding on the road with a dirt helmet, it could look out of place, and if you’re on a hyper naked with an open face, that’s quite an imperfect pairing.
Does it fit?
Take note that all helmets are different. Even with certain brands, the internal helmet shape can vary wildly between models. One brand's idea of an intermediate oval head shape may not be the same as another's.
You can do your research and ascertain if you will fit a certain lid, but the best way to determine whether or not a helmet is meant to be is to try it on for yourself. Sizing up or sizing down is something that you can do, as is switching to a different cheek pad size in some helmets, but having space inside will result in a poor fit that may compromise both safety and noise isolation.
Measure your head and get the size that matches up to that. If it doesn’t fit at all, then going up a size may work but it’s not ideal. If your head’s diameter is matched to the correct size, but you’re still feeling pinching and hot spots on your head, then perhaps it would be best to try on another model or a different brand altogether. Those are indicators that your head shape and the internal shape of that helmet aren't a good match.
Other things to consider
Can you afford it?
Please do not go hungry for the next few months by buying an expensive helmet. You don’t have to get the top-of-the-line stuff all the time to be protected. Going for more expensive lids may get you something quieter, safer, or more feature-packed, but by going for those things you’re stepping into the realm of want more than need.
Do consider your financial capacity with purchasing and also the cost-per-wear. If you like nice stuff and you can afford nice stuff, then go ahead and splurge! If you can’t, being a little more conscientious will leave room for other necessities like oil changes, some accessories, and other pieces of essential riding gear.
Does it come from a reputable brand?
Brand recognition is one thing, but brand reputation is another. A brand may be able to market itself well and get the word out, but you need to consider whether it knows what it is doing. Not to gatekeep against any of the new and up-and-coming players in the market, but do consider that many of the established makers in the industry cement their reputation and product quality through motorsports and millions of dollars in research and development tied to their products. It’s safest to go with an established helmet manufacturer in a majority of cases.
Does it have enough features?
Nowadays, most established brands in the industry have all the modern basics covered like removable cheek pads, a replaceable visor, and accommodations for a communications system. These modern standards indicate that a helmet will last you a while.
If there are features that matter to you like a dual visor, a Pinlock, or even accommodation for goggles (or eyeglasses), keep a checklist of features in mind while shopping so you don’t regret a purchase.
Do you like it?
There is no point in buying a motorcycle helmet that is safe, affordable, fits well, is appropriate for your ride, and from a reputable brand if you don’t like it. It’s not uncommon for a helmet to tick all or most of the boxes without making your heart flutter. As important as fit, safety, performance, and features are, you should buy what you like at the end of the day as long as all the fundamentals are covered.