For motorcycle lovers, one of the most exhilarating feelings is flying down a road in the open air with the amazing feeling of the wind running across your body as you ride. Unfortunately, though, that sensational feeling of flying like the wind can be significantly diminished if the helmet that you’re wearing makes you feel like you’re inside a deafening wind tunnel.
Helmets are a critical piece of safety gear as they can protect you from serious head and brain injury in the event of an accident, but if a helmet doesn’t fit properly or allows air to move through the helmet creating a high noise level inside the helmet, this can not only be uncomfortable but also distracting, which can also be a safety concern.
To improve your riding enjoyment and safety you need a helmet that will fit well and reduce noise while you’re riding.
The US Federal Highway Administration has reported that traffic noise on highways can reach 70 to 80 decibels. And the noise generated by a motorcycle engine alone can reach 95 decibels and yet other sources indicate the noise level while riding a motorcycle can reach decibel levels of up to 115 in some circumstances.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), exposure to decibel levels of 95 decibels and higher for longer than 50 minutes is enough to risk permanent hearing damage. When considering the amount of time we’re exposed to this noise level on long weekend rides, it’s possible that we could be subjecting ourselves to irreversible hearing damage.
As serious as this concern is, traditionally there is a minimal amount of promotional advertising for helmets that include a focus on noise level or information about how noisy or quiet a helmet is. And, much of what determines the noise level you can experience while riding is dependent upon how well a helmet fits your head despite the roaring traffic and wind around you.
Of course, it’s just not possible to try on every motorcycle helmet that’s currently available on the market but there are steps you can take to find out which helmets will fit you best. But a properly fitting helmet will offer you the greatest amount of comfort and noise reduction.
What Features Affect Noise Levels in Helmets?
Although there hasn’t been a great deal of marketing emphasis placed on noise level and noise cancellation abilities of helmets in the past (with focus placed more on safety, helmet weight, and aerodynamics) it is evident that this is a growing area of consumer interest and, more recently manufacturers are investing a lot of time and effort in creating designs specifically intended not only to improve aerodynamics but to also reduce noise levels of motorcycle helmets.
Based on a study performed by the University of Bath in England in 2011, sources of helmet noise are primarily associated with how the air flows through the opening at the neck of the helmet more than across the helmet’s surface.
They also recognized that noise levels vary with how a helmet fits a rider’s head finding that any opening or ill-fitting component can result in a higher level of wind noise.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a whistling noise in your helmet or from your visor, you’ll relate to this reference. This type of noise caused by airflow inside the helmet could also be associated with poorly functioning features such as neck rolls, chin curtains, cheek pads, and the interior design of a helmet.
Other reports state that first and foremost a helmet’s aerodynamics plays the primary role in reducing noise levels as when there is less wind resistance and the wind moves over the surface of a helmet more smoothly there is less turbulence which can cause noise. Any feature that disrupts the flow of air over and around a helmet will result in some level of noise inside the helmet.
All these features and components can affect the level of wind and road noise you experience.
Finding a Helmet that Fits Best – Head / Helmet Shape & Size
The first step in finding a helmet that fits is to determine the general shape of your head. There are three primary head shape categories that people’s heads generally fall within.
These categories are Round Oval, Intermediate Oval, and Long Oval. Using a flexible measuring tape, you can take 2 measurements of your head to determine which of the three primary head/helmet shapes apply to you. (If you don’t have a flexible measuring tape, you can use a string or a shoelace and mark these lengths and then measure them with a ruler or non-flexible measuring tape.)
Measure your head from the center of your forehead to the center of the back of your head (front to back dimension). Then, measure your head again from the center of one ear to the center of the other ear (side to side dimension). Once you have these dimensions, use the following descriptions to determine which head/helmet shape applies:
- Round Oval – a head that is very round and has almost identical front to back and side to side measurements
- Intermediate Oval – a head that has a slightly longer front to back dimension than the side to side dimension. This is the most common category.
- Long Oval – a head that has a noticeably longer front to back dimension than its side to side dimension.
Once you’ve determined your head shape, the next step is to determine your helmet size.
Helmet sizes (S, M, L, XL, etc.) vary with manufacturers and helmet models so it’s important to determine the actual circumference of your head in order to find the correct helmet size. And, as some helmet sizes are presented using metric measurements in size charts you should the circumference dimension in both inches and centimeters.
You can then use this information to more easily determine which size of each model you look at is the correct size for your head. If the circumference of your head falls between size ranges for any specific manufacturer or model type, select the larger of the two sizes.
To measure the circumference of your head, place the measuring tape just above your eyebrows on the front of your head and then around the back of your head. It’s recommended that you take this measurement multiple times and then select the largest of the resulting dimensions to use when shopping for a helmet.
Now that you know what head/helmet shape you need and which size based on your head’s circumference, you can search for helmet styles that you like that are available in the size that’s right for you.
Trying Motorcycle Helmets On
Through the years engineers have worked to improve the protection offered by helmets and to reduce wind noise caused by wind moving through the helmet. This has resulted in the openings on helmets becoming smaller. When trying on helmets, pull the chin straps apart and pull the helmet on over the largest part of your head first (which is usually the back of your head).
When a helmet is new, it should feel very snug and slightly tight with the inner lining coming into contact with most of your head. There shouldn’t be any places that you feel a lot of pressure or pain, but the helmet should not move around freely on your head.
If your helmet is too big and can move up and down or around on your head, it might be noisy and allow more wind in than you would like. You should also keep in mind that in time, the inner lining will begin to compress and conform to the shape of your head which will cause the helmet to loosen up a little. Some additional checks you can perform to ensure the helmet fits well are:
- You should not be able to insert your fingers in between the lining of the helmet and your forehead
- The cheek pads should be touching your cheeks
- On a full-face helmet, the face shield should not touch your nose or chin when you press on the chin piece
- When the straps are fastened, move the helmet from side to side and up and down. Your skin should move with the helmet and you should feel a slight, even pressure all over your head.
As mentioned above, your helmet will loosen up some with wear so when purchasing a new helmet it should fit as tightly as you can comfortably wear it.
Other Noise Reducing Features
- Helmets that have plenty of padding around the neck can offer some level of noise reduction. And, if the helmet you prefer does not have neck padding you can also purchase a thick and fitted neck roll or wedge to help reduce the amount of air that flows into the helmet. The better the lining and padding are fitted to your neck and head, the better the noise reduction.
- A good quality full-face windshield can help significantly with noise control and reduction, too. The face shield should seal properly when closed and should be made of a material that’s sufficiently thick and sturdy (not flexible or easily distorted). Any air ducts or vents on the helmet should also close and seal properly as any opening or component of the helmet that doesn’t close or fit well can cause additional noise.
- You can also try to shift your riding position while on your motorcycle to see if you’re able to reduce noise as some of the noise may be caused by vibrations running through you and through your helmet.
Quietest Motorcycle Helmets
After addressing all of the above to try to eliminate noise that can be due to poorly fitted equipment, you can also search for consumer reviews of helmets associated with noise levels and noise-canceling qualities. Some of the quietest helmets based on recent consumer reviews are:
The shape of the Shoei RF-1200 is aerodynamic. The liner of the helmet fits snugly and the neck padding and chin deflecting wind tunnel allow the helmet to be one of the stealthiest on the market. It performs incredibly well during upright riding making it an ideal touring helmet.
Shoei has conducted extensive wind tunnel testing on this helmet to ensure that it is as silent as it could possibly get it to be. Wind noise is reported to be exceptionally low. The air vents are also considered to be very efficient, easy to use, and allow riders to easily adjust them while on the go.
- High-quality level
- The low wind noise level
- Reviews indicate slight fogging
- Sizes run smaller / tighter fitting (so ensuring proper fit as discussed above is important)
2. Schuberth C4 Pro
Specific improvements were made by Schuberth to this generation of their modular helmet to make it quieter and more comfortable. The helmet provides great noise reduction especially when your head is tilted forward in the riding position as the helmet provides protection from both the headwind and the updraft from the tank.
A thick and tight-fitting neck roll and a well-sealed visor with insulated acoustic foam do a great job of dampening vibration and noise.
- High-quality level
- Low wind noise
- Wide field of view
- Some reviewers have reported some whistling noise when the top vent is open
3. Arai Signet-X
This helmet is one of the quieter full-face motorcycle helmets on the market but it is more expensive.
The helmet does have a ventilation port that runs across the top of the helmet that will generate some level of noise if left open. new ventilation port running across the top of the helmet which if left open but with this helmet’s other noise-reducing design features such as the chin curtain which is very effective at blocking noise, it’s definitely one of the quietest helmets available.
The fit of this helmet, however, does seem to be more suitable for people with a narrower / oval-shaped head.
- Great noise-blocking chin curtain
- Good air intake
- Wide field of view
- Top vents can pick upwind (and noise) that’s deflected by the visor
- The shell seems to be better fitted to people with a narrow/long oval head
4. HJC-RPHA-11 Pro
This helmet is slightly less expensive than the helmets listed above. But it is likely one of the quietest budget motorcycle helmets on the market. At average to lower speeds, this helmet offers great noise cancellation.
However, at higher speeds with a fairing, the helmet tends to pick up the wind being deflected and channels it through the helmet’s ventilation port which does increase the level of noise the rider experiences.
This helmet is categorized as a racing helmet so it’s also very lightweight and fits tightly. And, although most racing helmets do not come with ear packets, the HJC-RPHA-11-Pro does.
Overall, this helmet offers an average to good riding noise level when riding without a fairing.
- Great ventilation
- Very comfortable
- High-quality level
- Very lightweight
- Liner is moisture-wicking
- Comes in a variety of colors
- Eyeglass friendly
- Some vent noise at higher speeds
- Small ear pockets for speakers
- Sizing runs small (again, ensuring proper fit as discussed above is important for both safety and effectiveness of noise reduction features)
5. Shark Evo One 2
The Shark Evo One 2 is another great modular visor flip-up option with the added benefit of being able to move the chin bar all the way to the back of the helmet. This allows the helmet to maintain a low center by keeping the chin bar away from the rushing wind when shifted to the backside of the helmet.
The helmet is sturdy and quiet. In fact, its shell design is specifically focused on not just aerodynamic design but noise cancellation. If you prefer the flexibility of riding with an open-face style helmet, the Evo One 2 might be the perfect choice for you as it offers this flexibility.
This helmet is also very lightweight. Although it may not be the quietest helmet compared to some others, it does offer a relatively quiet ride with additional bells and whistles such as the flexible chin bar and anti-scratch sun shield.
- Adaptable chin bar
- Premium anti-scratch shell design
- Very lightweight
- Removable / washable / anti-bacterial liner
- Some reviews indicate the chinstrap can be slightly uncomfortable
- Airflow from front to back is restricted
- Average noise reduction/cancellation
6. Sena-Momentum Evo
This helmet is one of the quietest available and very lightweight. It has a more narrow profile (as a result of trimmed down interior ‘fluff’) and is a very aerodynamic design. The air vent design is simple but provides effective airflow from the front right side of the helmet to the exhaust vent located in the back.
The neck roll and chin guard are well designed to reduce noise under a wide range of riding and fairing positions.
- The face shield fits well and offers great noise cancellation
- The narrow design makes the helmet quieter than some other models
- Very lightweight
- There is no separate sun visor
- Interior lining is not as comfortable as that offered by some other models
- No color variety offered (offering only Matte Black)
7. Bell Race Star Flex DLX
One clear benefit of this helmet is that it is very comfortable and weighs less than previous models. The helmet has been rigorously tested under harsh wind tunnel conditions and is extremely aerodynamic which contributes to the helmet’s noise cancellation qualities.
Also contributing to the helmet’s noise cancellation ability are the narrow neck roll and snug-fitting inner cheek pads which are very effective at reducing noise at high speeds. The helmet also offers a great field of view which improves the quality of the overall ride as well as improving safety.
A special feature of this helmet is the automatic transition visor which automatically balances the amount of light coming through the viewing port for the rider.
- Extremely comfortable fit
- Automatic transition visor
- Great field of view
- Takes some time to break in the inner padding
8. LS2 Challenger Helmet
This is a high-performance, full-face, sport touring helmet made with a 100% carbon fiber shell for lighter weight. It has a retractable sun visor and offers great ventilation with fully adjustable vents. The shell is aerodynamic and lightweight and has fully adjustable vents that are ported through the liner to promote flow-through ventilation.
The helmet was designed for comfort during long rides with padding that is breathable without any hot spots. The face shield is scratch-resistant and has a retractable internal sun visor. The neck roll is designed to seal well and keeps wind noise to a minimum.
- The helmet is very lightweight
- Very comfortable.
- Comes with a built-in shield that protects the rider from UV rays.
- The helmet’s shield is optically correct and has fog resistance too.
- The helmet has good ventilation with chin straps for a snug fit during racing or riding.
- The wide eye port of the helmet doesn’t automatically come with goggles (you have to buy them separately)
- Cheek pads fit on the tighter side
- Minimal size selection (with fit being a primary concern for both safety and noise reduction)
As you can see by just a few helmets listed above, there are many models on the market with a wide variety of features. If you’re focused on finding a helmet that keeps noise levels at a minimum, one very important factor is that the helmet fits you properly.
Once you’re able to find helmets that fit you best, you should consider and look at the additional features associated with noise cancellation such as the ability to achieve successful seals around openings such as your neck, visor, and vents as well as reviewing the overall aerodynamics of the helmets before making your decision.
About the author: Michael Parrotte was the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, and a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, Sparx Helmets. In addition, he is the founder and owner of AGV Sports Group.