Shopping for a helmet is always an exciting step, whether it’s your first lid or your fifth. With so many options on the market, unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for, it can be a bit overwhelming to make a choice.
Before considering the price range, brand, and color, your first step towards helmet ownership should be to pick a type of lid. Not all helmets are equal and specific designs serve specific purposes. There are six widely recognized types of motorcycle helmets, each with its purpose, advantages, and disadvantages. We broke them down for you and listed their pros and cons at well as the type of riding they're ideal for to help get you started.
The full-face helmet is the type of lid people usually think of when motorcycles are discussed. It has the quintessential round, bobble-head-like profile, and is featured in some of the world’s most popular racing events, including the Isle of Man TT, MotoGP, and World Superbike.
As the name suggests, a full-face helmet “covers the entire face”; or, should we say, the entire head. There's an opening at the neck (for fitting, of course) and one at eye-level (to see, of course), protected by a retractable, transparent visor (either clear or tinted). Wrapping around the bottom of the visor is what we call the chin bar. It’s the portion of the shell that circles the rider’s chin and mouth.
The bar and visors are particularly important components considering that, according to an Australian study, half of head impacts happen to the front of the helmet.
Modern full-face helmet designs also feature closable intake air intake vents at the front of the shell, usually on the chin and the forehead, as well as a set of exhaust ducts at the back of the head, at the crown, and/or at the neck, which allow air to flow inside the shell and keep the rider’s head cool.
In the case of more old school helmet designs, the air vents are replaced by small circular openings covered by mesh screens to keep particles from getting inside. Some manufacturers even opt to remove the vents altogether in which case ventilation relies more heavily on the visor.
Full-face helmets come in various shapes to fulfill different purposes. The funkier profiles with pointy chin bars, aggressive ridges, and winglets are designed for sportier applications. Their design makes them more aerodynamic which creates less resistance. Touring or street-oriented models have simpler silhouettes but tend to have more features such as retractable sun visors and integrated comm systems.
Pros: Best all-around protection, comfortable, best soundproofing
Cons: Limited airflow despite air vents, fogging
Types of riding: City, Highway, Track
Examples: Bell Qualifier, Shoei GT-Air II, Icon Airflite, AGV K6
At first glance, a modular helmet looks exactly like a full-face. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s easy to notice what sets them apart. While a modular helmet offers most of the same features as a full-face, it comes with a bonus flip-up chin bar. Picture a modular as a helmet with a garage door—the front portion opens up for added convenience.
On some models, the chin bar and the visor are attached and lift as one piece. You usually can’t lift the “face” portion of these helmets higher than the forehead. That comes in handy if you want all the protection of a full-face while riding but like the versatility of opening the helmet up during the pit stops without having to take it off.
If you’re looking for a proper full-to-three-quarter hybrid, look for a modular helmet that allows you to lift the chin bar separately from the visor and to flip it to the back of the head.
This type of helmet is particularly popular with adventure and touring riders as it allows them to spend almost an entire day without having to continuously take the helmet on and off.
Pros: Convenient, versatile
Cons: Heavier, reduced chin protection
Type of riding: City, Highway
Examples: HJC i90, Bell SRT Modular, Schuberth C3 Pro, LS2 Valiant
The motocross helmet is a variation of the full face designed to meet the particular needs of off-road and dirt bike enthusiasts. Like the full-face, the motocross helmet is a single piece helmet with a hole to put your head through and a hole for looking through. However, it doesn’t have a visor. It’s designed instead to be paired with a pair of goggles that provides superior eye protection against obstacles and debris.
The shape of the chin bar is truncated and wraps more loosely around the face. It also usually features a “mouthpiece” component at the front that covers the nose, usually equipped with a massive air vent. This type of helmet also comes with a peak on the forehead that makes it look like a baseball hat that serves the same purpose—protect the eyes from the sun.
This type of helmet also features multiple large air vents and ducts to ensure maximum airflow. They are also much lighter than their road counterparts as they’re meant to be worn all day in more extreme conditions. That being said, they don’t provide the same level of isolation and soundproofing.
Motocross helmet designs are pretty standard across most manufacturers. It all comes down to the livery, the look, and the brand you prefer. The vintage fad trickled into the motocross helmet segment as well and some brands offer a more old-school take on the trail-ready lid with a streamlined shell, fixed air vents, and a snap-on peak.
Pros: Ultralight, well ventilated
Cons: Specific to off-roading, not ideal on the road, poor soundproofing
Type of riding: Off-road
Examples: Fox Racing V1, Alpinestars Supertech M10, Bell MX-9, Shoei VFX-EVO
The dual-sport helmet is a hybrid between the full-face and the motocross helmet. The shape is similar to the motocross helmet, with the ovoid chin bar, large air vents, a mouth guard, and a sun peak at the top. It does, however, provide better isolation and sound-proofing than the motocross helmet and come with a retractable visor like a full-face model.
That being said, the face opening remains goggle-friendly for when the rider wants to hit the trails. The peak is also more aerodynamic so it can be used on the highway without creating resistance in the wind.
Like on full-face helmets, some dual-sport models come with added features including pre-installed comm systems and an integrated sun visor. This type of helmet is the most versatile of the lot and is great for adventure riders who wish to transition between road and off-road along the way.
Pros: Most versatile road-to-trail helmet
Cons: Jack of all trades, master of none
Type of riding: City, Highway, Off-road
Examples: AGV AX9, Scorpion EXO-AT950, Sedici Viaggio, Arai XD-4
Three-Quarter Helmet (or Open Face)
The three-quarter helmet is what happens when you remove the chin bar from a full-face helmet. Structurally, a three-quarter helmet offers the same level of protection and isolation for the head (top, sides, and back) as a full face, minus the face protection.
There’s a wide variety of three-quarter helmets on the market whether you have a preference for a full open-face, prefer to have a visor, a peak, or both. Some models even come with a “face mask”—a sort of chin piece that can be removed.
In more modern designs, some three-quarter helmets also feature closable air vents on the top of the head. Thanks to their open designs, however, most classic silhouettes don’t require vents to keep the head cool.
This type of helmet is great for scooter riders and cruisers and fulfills its purpose best in an urban setting. Once on the highway, the lack of face protection can quickly turn into a nuisance.
Pros: Lightweight, great airflow, great-looking vintage aerospace-inspired liveries
Cons: No face protection
Type of riding: City
Examples: Scorpion EXO Covert, Arai Classic V, Biltwell Bonanza, HJC IS-5
The half helmet is the most minimalistic type of helmet on the market and truly only ensures the top of the head’s safety. This is the type of helmet that’s perfect for those who kind of want the protection but want to look nonchalant about it.
Though usually DOT-certified, brain buckets (as half helmets are also referred to) are more about the looks than they are about actual protection. They’re the last step before riding helmet-free and can be used as a compromise for those who would rather rider al fresco but live in a state with mandatory helmet laws.
Pros: More affordable
Cons: Very limited protection
Type of riding: City
Examples: Bell Scout Air, Sena Cavalry, LS2 Rebellion, GMax GM65