Where I live, the sun shines all the time, the roads are clean and dry, and if you want to hop on a motorcycle, nobody’s gunna make you wear a helmet. The good state of Arizona just figures you know what’s best for you. And in my line of business, it’s shocking to see how many riders don’t.

The rationale, no matter how freedom-spun, can usually be distilled down to some version of perceived invincibility: “I’m really careful”, or “I’ve been riding since I was six and I’ve never...”. A statement of accepted fatalism inevitably follows, like “if ah’m gunna die, so be it”.

If only brain injury were that simple. We should all die doing something we love, right? Unfortunately, protecting your gray matter isn’t as black and white as life or death. Although wearing a properly fitted helmet increases your chance of survival in an accident by 37% (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), preventing one of the fifty shades of messed-up is where helmets really make sense.

C’mon; wearing a helmet’s never made more sense (not that it’s ever made less sense), but without a doubt, helmets have never looked so good! Keeping up with technological advances that have made helmets safer, lighter, and more wearable, high-vis colors and wild graphics have transformed the most important piece of safety equipment you’ll ever own into bona fide conversation starters. Here’s a few that’ll turn heads while protecting your own.

The Shoei RF-1200

The RF has been a favorite for safety-conscious riders for decades because it’s compact and quiet. The latest version, the RF-1200, is even more compact and more quiet. (It’s also Snell M2010 certified). Other updates include a new pin-locking system on the shield, beefed-up ventilation, and a variety of 3D cheek-pads for a more customized fit.

The silhouette is curvier, too, improving aerodynamics at fast speeds. And a potentially cool new gizmo is a quick-release mechanism for EMS personnel (this should appeal to all you hold-outs who’ve succumbed to the hooey that helmets increase the risk of neck injury). I haven’t actually tested this feature yet; Shoei will have to send me one so I can run it by some EMS experts. I know people.

The Icon Airmada

Hands down, my absolute favorite helmet right now. Not only is it available in more combinations of graphics and solids that you could throw up on a Saturday night (44 different choices, people), it’s light (about 3.5 lbs), quiet, and as safe as all get-out with world-wide certifiction: DOT FMVSS 218 (USA), ECE 22-05 (Europe), SAI AS1698 (Australia), and SG (Japan). Icon’s long oval headframe renders a superior fit, and the locking shield mechanism adds another layer of safety. Venting is sleek, and I’ve not experienced a better breath deflector ever (it’s removable if you don’t like it). The most amazing thing: it retails for $250.

Arai RX-Q

Speaking of paint jobs, few manufacturers do it as well as Arai. They also have safety down in spades. The new RX-Q is targeted to the experienced street rider, but for the same reasons (supreme aerodynamics, lightness, quietness, mega-peripheral vision), I think it’s an excellent helmet for anyone. It’s a premium helmet at a premium price:  $600-$700 and up.

Knowing even the safest, most comfortable helmet in the world won’t get worn if it’s ugly, the RX-Q comes in a variety of spectacular designs, like the one below. Interestingly, Arai is the only manufacturer I’m aware of that makes the important disclaimer that bright colors might fade. Think of it like one of those toothbrushes that turn color when it’s time to buy a new one.

AGV PistaGP and K3

Italian brand AGV, aside from making one of the most impact-resistant brain buckets of all time (the PistaGP, transmitting a whopping 36% less force than current ECE standards allow), also offers a solid option for riders looking for something more affordable than the Pista’s $1,400 price tag. The AGV K3, however, is available for around $200 bucks and is DOT certified. It’s lightweight and comfortable, and aerodynamic. The K3’s big sister, the K4 EVO, carries both DOT and ECE 22-05 certification. Both come in a variety of solids and graphics, including partnership designs with Italian jeans brand, Diesel. Sacrifices include a locking shield mechanism, fewer options for fit, and a not-so-compact  shell.

While helmet use remains a matter of choice in much of the world, the right choice seems easier than ever, doesn’t it?

Continue Reading: Modern Helmets – Making The Right Choice Easier>>


A word about certification: certification labels are specific to the country where the helmet is sold. If it’s sold in the US, look for DOT (Department of Transportation) certification. If it’s sold in Europe, look for ECE 22-05 certification, etc. Snell is optional for any manufacturer who wants that stamp of approval.

Certification is also not mandatory. Nobody nowhere is certifying those novelty helmets and skull caps, worn by riders who...honestly...I don’t know why anyone would spend a dime on these things. Here in the US, in states with helmet laws, only about a dozen of them mandate any kind of safety standards. Nice job, legislators. Why even bother?

With the improvements made in DOT standards (Standard #218, a.k.a. FMVSS 218), helmets are safer than ever here in the US, closely paralleling the advanced standards applied in Europe (ECE 22-05). Comparison is difficult, and beyond the scope of this article (and my ability to synthesize sophisticated physics), but in general, helmets are tested to withstand standards of impact to the shell, transmission of force beyond the inner liner, object penetration, and the ability to stay put. Shields on full-face helmets are tested for durability. Chin bars are tested, and modular helmets must withstand the same chin-bar testing as full-faced helmets. All standardized certifications assume that the helmet actually fits you and is properly secured.


What? No Snell certification? The Snell Memorial Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization who’s purpose in life is to make sure you’re wearing a safe helmet. They set voluntary, rigorous standards, have their own lab and their own technicians, and manufacturers submit individual helmet models for certification as an added selling point to the consumer. Snell certification is not required by any government. Their standards were recently updated (Snell M2010) and closely parallel those set by DOT and ECE 22-05. However, if a helmet was previously certified with the older, M2005 standards, Snell continued to certify it until March 31, 2012, so if you’re relying on Snell certification for purchasing decisions, make sure it’s after that date. (Hint: it won’t say so on the outer Snell sticker; check the label on the inner foam liner).

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