In the world of motorcycle safety, the quality of your helmet is paramount, and knowing how to check it effectively can mean the difference between a trusted guardian for your head and a potential safety hazard on the road. To check a helmet’s quality, ensure it complies with rigorous safety standards (ECE, SNELL, FIM, SHARP, DOT), provides a secure fit with comfortable padding, efficiently absorbs impact energy through its EPS layer, and incorporates features like ventilation and visibility enhancements for added safety.
At the core of this excellence lies a robust polycarbonate, fiberglass, or carbon fiber outer shell, further complemented by a retention system complete with chin straps and D-ring closures — crucial components designed to ensure the helmet remains securely in place during a crash, reducing head injuries by a staggering 85%.
Yet, as the seasons change and the miles pile up, your trusty headgear bears the brunt of nature’s elements in the form of direct sunlight, relentless moisture, and extreme temperatures (both hot and cold). Add to this mix the occasional run-ins with foreign substances (yes, even your body chemistry plays a role) and the inevitable wear and tear from the open road. During this natural aging process, you may begin to notice scratches, cracks, and deformities. But with proper care and maintenance, you can extend its lifespan and effectiveness for up to 5 years from the purchase date or 7 years from the manufacturing date, per the Snell Memorial Foundation’s recommendation.
These telltale signs—unfortunately, also common in fake, knockoff, and grey market helmets—compromise a helmet’s quality, significantly limiting its effectiveness in preventing motorcycle deaths by 37% for riders and 41% for passengers. Such circumstances underscore the pressing need to seek out a suitable replacement, a sentiment echoed by Michèle Harrison in her captivating eBook travel memoir, ‘All the Gear, No Idea: A Woman’s Solo Motorcycle Journey Around the Indian Subcontinent.’
“Embrace the evolution of safety on your two-wheeled odyssey. Just as your adventure unfolds, so too must your helmet. Protecting your future means replacing the past.”
Quality Helmets: My Top 9 Picks for Your Safety Today
Scroll to the right to find out where to buy, discover the best prices, and see if you might be lucky enough to get a discount from the sellers.
|Helmet Model||Category||Safety Certification||Get Yours|
|AGV K3||Best Overall||DOT, ECE, SHARP||RevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon|
|Shoei X-15||Best Road Racing||DOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP, FIM||RevZilla | CycleGear | J&P Cycles|
|Arai Corsair-X||Top Pick for Track Days||DOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP, FIM||RevZilla | CycleGear | BTO Sports|
|Arai XD-4||Best Adventure||DOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP, FIM||RevZilla | CycleGear | Amazon|
|LS2 Thunder Carbon||Best Sport-Touring||DOT, ECE, FIM||RevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon|
|Scorpion EXO-R420||Best Urban Commuter||DOT, ECE, SNELL||RevZilla | CycleGear | Amazon|
|Bell MX-9 Adventure Mips||Best Dual-Sport||DOT, ECE||RevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon|
|Sedici Strada II||Best Sport/Tour/City||DOT, ECE, SNELL||RevZilla | CycleGear | J&P Cycles|
|HJC i90||Best Budget Friendly||DOT, ECE, SHARP||RevZilla | MotoSport | Amazon|
6 Key Pillars to Check a Helmet’s Quality
In my illustrious 50+ year journey through the world of motorcycling, I’ve had the privilege of holding leadership and consulting roles with over 25 helmet brands worldwide, besides owning more than 100 motorcycle helmets. And with each new helmet quest, I eagerly employ these six pillars of quality verification methods:
1. Meets Stringent Safety Standards
The overarching goal of all helmet standards is safety, but each has its strengths and dedicated focus areas, allowing you to choose a helmet that aligns with your safety priorities. And as I always say, the more standards met, the merrier!
DOT (FMVSS 218) is the minimum legal requirement in the U.S. and Canada, with a focus on impact attenuation, retention mechanisms, and peripheral vision. ECE adds penetration tests to the mix and conducts comprehensive impact testing on the sides, back, top, and chin of the helmet at varying speeds and angles to replicate real-world scenarios, establishing stringent requirements for the European market, especially with the upgrade to ECE 22.06 level starting in January 2022.
SNELL (M2020D/M2020R) goes a step further by incorporating extreme temperature testing, multiple impact points, and unique impact scenarios. Innovatively, SHARP introduces a 5-star safety rating system and evaluates oblique impacts and torsional forces, informed by rigorous injury data analysis.
But the plot thickens. While DOT, SNELL, SHARP, and ECE standards primarily prioritize protection for the riders under normal riding conditions (both on- and off-road impact scenarios), the FIM offers a distinct proposition. It introduces the FRHPhe-01 certification, tailored specifically to meet the demands of professional racers with a particular emphasis on speed and oblique collision impact tests. But to earn FIM homologation, helmets must already hold ECE, SNELL, or JIS certifications—an unequivocal indicator that relying solely on DOT falls short. They must also be full-face, non-modular with a Double D-ring closure system.
Today, FIM-certified helmets (refer to the product table provided at the outset or click on my top recommended helmet icon below) are readily available in the mainstream market if you’re willing to invest between $500 to $4,000. Quality, it seems, comes with its price tag! An option further enhanced with the recent introduction of the new FRHPhe-02 standard rating in November 2022, aimed at expanding its scope to include off-roading. But FIM doesn’t plan to emphasize this new standard rating until 2025, with its full implementation scheduled for 2026.
2. Ensures a Comfortable, Secure and Snug Fit
Your helmet should fit snugly, yet securely, all while providing even pressure across your head without causing discomfort. Precisely why you’ll find a model like, say, AGV K6 available in four distinct shell sizes (XS-SM, MS, ML-LG, XL-2XL) and in an intermediate oval shape, which differs from the Icon Airflite Peacekeeper’s long oval and Arai Quantum-X’s round oval. These considerations guarantee consistent and meticulously engineered protection, regardless of the helmet’s size and shape.
Multiple shell sizes also help minimize weight, with our reference models weighing just 3.02 lbs., 3.79 lbs., and 3.52 lbs., respectively—placing them on the lighter end of the spectrum (between 3 and 3.79 lbs.), effectively minimizing rider neck fatigue.
And this commitment to an exceptional fit extends beyond premium models. You can expect the same level of attention to detail across all original helmets, including HJC i10, Scorpion EXO-R320, HJC IS-Cruiser, Sedici Viaggio Adventure, Bell Qualifier, and Bell Custom 500 entry-level options, to name just a few. It also holds true across all motorcycle riding disciplines, whether it’s adventure, street, racing, touring, sport-touring, dual-sport, off-road, or retro/classic styles.
Every quality helmet, of course, features a chin strap enhanced with a retention system. It’s even mandatory to ride with a closed chin strap, primarily for your own safety to prevent the helmet from falling off during the ride or in the event of a fall. The type of retention system, however, can vary from one helmet to another—even within the same brand—and interestingly, it’s often linked to the helmet’s style. Take, for instance, the road racing AGV K6, which employs a Double D-ring retention system, while the urban commuter AGV K3 comes with a steel micrometric retention system.
But regardless of the type, all helmets undergo rigorous retention mechanism testing as mandated by safety standards—one big selling point for DOT lids. The ECE test is particularly stringent, subjecting the chin strap to progressive loading, ranging from 50 to 300 lbs., and evaluating the amount of extension. This value is deemed acceptable only if it’s less than one inch.
Lastly, there’s one often-overlooked yet crucial aspect of helmet’s quality: the Emergency Quick Release System (E.Q.R.S.), a feature you’ll find on the new Shoei X-15, enabling the swift and simple removal of cheek pads from a helmet in the event of an injury to the rider.
3. Constructed with Robust Materials
Much like the formidable foundation of a skyscraper that perseveres through the rigors of construction and the demands of future use to give rise to a towering structure, the outer shell of a helmet plays an indispensable role in fortifying its resilience and enhancing its protective capabilities. With that in mind, let me first dispel the notion that all helmet materials are created equal; such thinking is a disservice, they’re not mere commodities. Instead, they represent a critical choice in ensuring the paramount objective of your safety, where some prove decidedly superior to others.
To withstand the punishing forces of impact and the relentless abrasion of the unforgiving tarmac, the outer shell is subjected to DOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP, and FIM rigorous impacts against rounded and flat anvils. These trials unfold under diverse conditions, including humidity and temperature fluctuations, with at least four impact points strategically chosen above the test line. A material must meet the highest standards to emerge victorious in this crucible. We mustn’t overlook the stringent ECE, SNELL, and SHARP penetration tests, where a sharp striker assails various regions of the helmet.
And that’s when materials like carbon fiber (including carbon composites and carbon-Kevlar blends), fiberglass (woven, single continuous strand, laminate, random weave, etc.), Kevlar (para-aramid) in its organic and synthetic forms, and advanced polycarbonates come into the spotlight. They’re strong and do a great job at keeping you safe.
Equally remarkable is their lifespan. For instance, carbon fiber lasts indefinitely, while fiberglass, a prominent component in Arai helmets—borrowing from the AGV Model 160, the first fiberglass helmet in the world—can last up to an impressive 50 years. Kevlar, as showcased in LS2´s KPA (Kinetic Polymer Alloy) shell in their LS2 Valiant helmet has a lifespan of 5 to 10 years. Likewise, the Hi-Tech Injection Molded Polycarbonate shell used in the DOT-certified BILT Techno 2.0 Sena Bluetooth helmet lasts for 5 to 10 years.
Now, you might ponder why SNELL recommends replacing your helmet after 5 years of normal use or 7 years from the date of manufacture, despite these materials offering a longer lifespan. The reason is simple yet crucial – helmets gradually lose their ability to provide optimal protection over time and with consistent use, which could potentially put your safety at risk. Why take chances with the possibility of head trauma or even fatal injuries when obtaining a replacement is a straightforward and wise decision?
The lesson is clear: opt for helmets made of quality materials and never compromise on your safety by resorting to subpar plastics.
4. Efficient Impact Energy Absorption
A key pillar of helmet’s quality is its capacity to absorb impact energy effectively, a feat accomplished by the use of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), sometimes referred to as Styrofoam. Yes, a sturdy outer shell serves as the first line of defense during a collision, but the head inside the helmet continues to move until a force stops it. The EPS liner plays a crucial role in decelerating this movement by collapsing and effectively absorbing the impact energy.
But it’s not just any EPS liner that suffices. To maximize the benefits, manufacturers craft EPS liners with varying densities, as evident in AGV K6, which features four sizes of inner shells, each constructed from multi-density EPS, significantly enhancing its impact absorption capabilities.
DOT, ECE, SNELL, SHARP, FIM, and even JIS, rigorously test this aspect. SNELL and SHARP, for instance, utilize multiple impact points, with SHARP adding 32 impact and oblique impact tests. FIM takes the evaluation to a greater extent by considering speed impacts. The ECE test is notably thorough and involves testing a larger batch of helmets. Under the previous ECE 22.05 rating standard, the primary approval of a helmet model that offered two shell sizes required 17 test helmets. But with the new 22.06 regulation, this number has increased to 33 test helmets.
You’ll also appreciate the thoughtful profiling along the lower edge on premium helmets like, say, AGV K6 S, minimizing the risk of impact on the collarbone, highlighting a commitment to safety and rider comfort that’s reminiscent in exceptionally aerodynamic Scorpion EXO-R1 Air.
5. Optimized Ventilation for Comfort
Comfort on the road is essential for focus and safety, and a quality helmet offers efficient ventilation systems to help regulate temperature and reduce discomfort during rides. It has strategically placed vents and channels that promote airflow, as good ventilation prevents overheating and reduces fogging on the visor, ensuring clear visibility.
But remember that helmet designs vary, so the optimization for climate and riding style will also vary. That’s why the Arai Corsair-X racing helmet, with its six front vents and seven rear exhaust vents, may not suffice for adventure touring like the AGV AX-9, just as the new modular Shoei Neotec 3 may prove inadequate for dirt bike off-road riding, where the Fly Racing Formula helmet excels. AGV GP RR goes above and beyond to keep you cool with the integrated hydration system.
My only concern with the AGV AX-9 is the adjustability of its chin vent, which was a bit challenging to operate with my gloves on. But once you become accustomed to its location, it will no longer be a significant issue. I digress!
To reap the full benefits of optimized comfort, SNELL subjects helmets to weather chamber testing under extreme temperatures, ice, and continuous water spray to ensure they remain functional.
6. Enhanced Visibility and Safety Features
Reflective materials and well-designed graphics can enhance your visibility to other road users, especially in low-light conditions. Quality helmets may also feature integrated communication systems and drop-down sun visors. DOT and ECE regulations check peripheral vision, requiring a minimum of 105 degrees from the centerline.
Michael’s Summary and Conclusion
How to Check a Helmet’s Quality: When it comes to assessing the quality of a helmet, this article has provided several methods, as outlined in the six pillars. However, in my extensive experience riding motorcycles worldwide for many years, I’ve found that the simplest and most reliable way to ensure you have a high-quality helmet is to be familiar with both the brand and the manufacturer.
It’s essential to distinguish between the brand and the manufacturer because many brands do not produce the helmets themselves; instead, they are manufactured by a separate company. Some companies like Arai, Shoei, and Schuberth operate their factories, aligning their brand name with their manufacturing facilities. In contrast, Bell, Airoh, Suomy, Shark, and many others outsource production to countries with lower manufacturing costs.
Icon, Fox, Fly, and so on have always outsourced their helmet production from the outset. AGV, on the other hand, manufactures some of its more expensive helmets in its Italian factory, while mid-priced helmets are produced in Asia.
It’s crucial to note that the country of manufacture alone doesn’t determine a helmet’s quality. Exceptional helmets are made in countries like China, Indonesia, and Thailand, Just as lower-quality ones are still produced in some Western countries.
What you should seek is a company with a proven track record of consistently delivering superior products. This entails checking customer reviews, considering personal experiences, delving into the company’s history, and observing collaborations with professional racers.
Opting for a reputable brand that complies with the latest safety standards available in the market is generally a reliable choice. Ultimately, your decision should revolve around which helmet provides the best fit, aligns with your personal style preferences regarding graphics and design, and falls within your budget.
While I have a personal inclination towards AGV, I would feel confident in any helmet from a major brand like Shoei, Arai, Schuberth, Bell, Shark, and others.
Please check out my recommended helmets page below.
I've diligently categorized my motorcycle gear recommendations into all available categories, with the aim of providing you with a comprehensive analysis that showcases the absolute best options for all your needs. These items are the culmination of in-depth research, extensive testing, and personal use throughout my vast experience of 50+ years in the world of motorcycling. Besides being a passionate rider, I've held leadership positions and offered consultancy services to reputable companies in over 25 countries. To See Top Picks and the Best Prices & Places to Buy: Click Here!
Information for this article was partially sourced and researched from the following authoritative government, educational, corporate, and non-profit organizations:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Snell Memorial Foundation
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
- FIM Racing Homologation Programme