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5 of the best motorcycle helmets

Helmets not only come in a range of types – full-face, open face, flip-front and so on – they’re made by a huge variety of manufacturers and can cost anything between £50 and £1000 – so which should you go for?

Ultimately that decision is down to you: buying a helmet is also a very personal, intimate choice, and, even putting aside individual taste, we all have differently shaped heads – some fit and some don’t.

But we CAN help make a wise, informed choice that’s the right buy for you.

Below we highlight, not any outright ‘Top five helmets’ – no such definition exists – but instead ‘Five of the best’ helmets across five different helmet types, pointing out their strengths and features and hopefully guiding you to a correct choice.

But first, here are a few guiding principles that should apply when buying any type of ‘lid’.

Safety – by law, any motorcycle helmet sold for road use must currently be tested to the ECE 22.05 standard and should have a label sewn onto the chinstrap as proof. Some also have an ‘ACU Gold’, which is the requirement for UK racing and track days.

Budget – with helmets varying in price so much and yet potentially being so vital for safety it’s often glibly said that ‘If you’ve got a £10 head buy a £10 helmet’. Naturally, there is an element of truth in this but we can’t all afford the most expensive helmets. As a rule of thumb, cheaper helmets tend to be in thermo-plastic rather than sophisticated fibre composites, have fewer features, less sophisticated visor systems and is lower quality. Our advice, although reassuringly any helmet passing ECE 22.05 is tested to the same standard, is to spend the most you can afford.

Try before you buy – fit and comfort are vital when buying a helmet. If you’ve never bought one before you probably don’t know your size and even if you do fit varies between brands and models and even between successive models. The only way to get both right is to visit a reputable shop and, ideally, get the help and advice of an assistant.

Buy from a reputable seller – of course, if you’re sure of size, fit, model etc there’s nothing to stop you then finding the best price online – but beware. Helmet ‘fakes’ are not unheard of and overseas models sometimes have different sizes and fit or won’t have the correct safety labeling. Buy only from a proven, trusted seller.
‘Full-face’ helmets – eg Arai Quantic, from £500
‘Full face’ helmets, as the name suggests, give fully enclosed head protection and as such is the safest of all designs – and also gives the greatest weather protection. American firm ‘Bell’ launched the concept with its Star in the late 1960s and today it’s the most common form of design. On the downside, some find them claustrophic, they’re not as ‘cool’ as a retro or open face, and they can be awkward for spectacle-wearers.

Japanese firm Arai is among the highest regarded of all helmet brands and is renown for its incredible build quality, innovative visor systems, sophisticated shells, classic designs – and high prices. Many also rate them among the best, although rivals such as Shoei, AGV and Shark should also be considered. Prices range from £299 for its entry-level Debut up to £2,799 for its top of the range, carbon RX-7V. Although the best compromise is probably its new Quantic, from £499, which boasts not just sophisticated shell materials and design but customizable, adjustable linings, the latest vent and visor designs and more. A perfectly acceptable full-face helmet from the likes of MDS or HJC can be had for as little as £80 – but Arai are among the best.
‘Open face’ helmets – eg Bell Custom 500, from £100
An ‘open face’ or ‘Jet’ helmet is the classically styled helmet design used before the introduction of the ‘full-face’. As such it offers no face protection, requires goggles, sunglasses or a visor to protect your eyes and yet remains popular both for the ‘wind in your hair’ experience and for a style, which suits both classic and retro bikes. Being simpler they’re also far cheaper than most other designs.

Historic US brand Bell were helmet pioneers in the 1960s and its Custom 500 is an authentic modern recreation of the open face helmets made famous by the likes of Steve McQueen. With the classic shape, right ‘badge’, quality modern construction including a quilted lining, huge range of colours and retro accessories including a ‘60s-style bag and ‘bubble’ visor, it remains the definitive ‘open-face’ lid today – but there are other, less stylish, cheaper alternatives.
Bell Custom helmet
‘Flip-front’ helmets – eg Shoei Neotec 2, around £500
A ‘flip-front’ helmet is a fairly modern invention that attempts to combine the advantages of full and open face helmets via a lifting chin bar. Once lifted, it’s like an open face – easier to put on, eat, drink, have a conversation with someone etc. With the bar locked down it offers safety and weather protection similar to (but not the same as, due to its less rigid structure) a full-face.

Today, a huge variety exist, with a variety of mechanisms with comes also including built in sun visors, with prices ranging from around £80 to £700 to the highest rated brands Schuberth and Shoei.
Quality Japanese brand Shoei is arguably the closest rival to Arai, was a pioneer with flip-front helmets and remains the class leader with its latest Neotec 2, a top quality, sophisticated, lightweight composite helmet that passes all standards with both the chin bar up and down.
Shoei Neotec 2
‘Adventure style’ helmets – Nexx X.WED 2, around £300
With the continuing huge popularity of adventure bikes such as the perennially best-selling BMW R1200GS it’s only natural that the popularity of specific ‘adventure helmets’ has grown too – off-road style helmets a sun peak and more lightweight chin bar and plenty of street cred but with the sort of visor mechanism and comfort you’d expect from a normal full-face design. Be aware, however, their peaks and shape often make them far less aerodynamic than flip or full face helmets as their peaks can catch in the wind.

Again, all of the leading helmet manufacturers offer their own adventure designs and prices range from about £100 to over £500 from specialists Klim, so we’ve picked out the middle-market Nexx which is an innovative, highly-rated design with a fibreglass composite shell, multi-position peak, glove-friendly sun-visor and more.
Nexx X.WED 2
‘Retro-style’ full-face helmets – AGV X3000, around £300
The surge in popularity of retro-styled motorcycles such as Triumph’s best-selling Bonneville has also led in recent years to the creation of ‘retro-style’ full-face helmets – modern lids but with ‘70s/80s styling which suit retro bikes in the same way that open-face helmets go well with classic bikes. And while we don’t really subscribe to the idea of buying a safety product on the basis of looks it’s also worth pointing out that this type are all brand, new modern designs built to the latest safety standards – although few boast the protection and features of the very best full face designs. Also, be aware, their shapes and styles vary more than most so trying for size and fit is more important than ever.

Again, although a recent trend, many of the leading helmet manufacturers now offer their take on the ‘retro-style’ helmet – even Arai and Shoei. Bell was among the first with its Bullitt, has the advantage of being a ‘period-appropriate’ brand and has since added a retro trail and cruiser designs. Shoei has its awkwardly-named Glamster and Arai its 1980s-style Rapide. But for us the most authentic of the bunch is Italian brand AGV’s X3000, which is a near exact recreation of its classic X3000 from the early 1980s as used by no less than Barry Sheene but with modern construction, visor system and more. You can even get it in classic, replica Sheene colours!
AGV X3000

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