Open-face (jet), full-face, adventure, modular (flip-front), and retro helmets; which is right for you?
Legally, a helmet is the only piece of motorcycle kit that you have to wear… it’s also arguably the most important thing you’ll buy. Here at BikeSocial, we take testing seriously, so the reviews of the best motorcycle helmets linked below are the result of hundreds of thousands of miles, riding in all weathers.
Whether you’re looking to spend £40 or £400 (or even more), let us guide you through the dos and don’ts of buying a bike lid. We’ll have to touch on some safety issues, but if you’re new to riding, don’t be put off by the talk of crashing. Ride defensively, stay alert and you’ll have a lifetime of enjoyment aboard the very best form of transport…
Nobody has reviewed every single helmet, regardless of what they claim, and some might be being paid to influence you, or perhaps want to sell a particular brand. In this article, we’ll be highlighting our favourites, and we’ll keep it updated regularly as we review more products, but what’s most important is that a helmet fits you properly. If you want to know how good certain brands are based on the opinions of over 2,000 real-world riders covering over 8 million miles, check out our video later on in this article.
A correctly fitting helmet is not just about safety; if yours isn’t totally comfortable, it can mean the difference between loving motorcycling, and packing it all in. You MUST try a helmet on properly before buying. Some online stores will allow you to return lids that still have their visor stickers on, but you can’t beat going into a shop and trying on a range – try something from every manufacturer, and at first don’t look at the prices – just get a feel for how well different models can fit you. And please don’t try them on at your dealer then buy online from someone else – one day you’ll need that dealer.
You can measure the circumference of your head – just above the eyes – to work out what size you should be, but keep in mind that you might be a medium in one brand, but a small in another. And some brands use different shapes in their range.
Once on, you should feel even pressure all around your head, with no tight spots. Common problem areas are excessively squashed ears or cheeks, and pressure around the brow area, or around the lower back of the head.
Really do concentrate on feeling for pressure points, and don’t feel rushed. Once you’ve bought your lid, that tiny pressure in the shop can feel like a knife being dragged across your head after an hour’s riding. And then it’s too late to get a refund.
Try holding the helmet still while you move your head – if you can turn your head or tip it up and down to any significant degree, the lid’s too big or the wrong shape for you; a very large proportion of bikers own helmets that are too large for them. As the interior naturally compresses during use, those helmets will get noisier, less comfortable and less safe.
As the average head shape varies around the world, some manufacturers make different shaped lids for different regions; besides the fact you won’t have a useful warranty, it’s not recommended to buy a helmet from overseas.
Finally, if you wear spectacles, you must try them on with the lid, as while many have cut-outs to take the glasses’ arms, some don’t; they can be uncomfortable and not allow your specs to sit properly on your face.
Note that some premium brands offer a custom fit service, so if you’ve bought a helmet and just can’t get on with it, talk to your dealer or the UK importer. There’s more info in the video below…
A full-face lid completely encloses your head, and is the most common style, offering excellent protection. They’re also what racers have to wear on track.
The label (usually on the strap) is marked with a ‘P’, but be aware than some lids have a mask that makes them look like a full-face, but only offer the safety of an open-face – these are marked ‘NP’ for Not Protective or as a Jet – ‘J’.
Some people find a full-face a bit claustrophobic, and if you wear glasses you’ll have to take them off before you put the helmet on. Oh, and some petrol stations will ask you to remove it before you can fill up, but you can find out why that is here (you might be surprised).
Here are five of our best full-face helmets, based on our reviews. Be sure to check back regularly, as we’ll keep this updated as we review other helmets…
These are just five of the many full-face motorcycle helmets we’ve tested at BikeSocial. With fit being so important, be sure to check out all our other reviews of the best motorcycle helmets, from the lowest prices to the top of the range.
An open-face, or ‘jet’ helmet is great in the summer, and the favourite of many custom, cruiser and even trail-bike riders, but it has no protection on the front so your face is vulnerable to stones and bugs (you’d be surprised how much a bee can hurt at 70mph). You do also need to be aware that in a crash, an open-face lid is far less protective than the other options.
Some open-face helmets have a drop-down sunshield that helps protect the eyes, but wind will typically still whip up under these at speed. Really, you’ll need to buy a pair of goggles to wear with an open-face lid. You’ll find a ‘J’ on the label, indicating that it’s homologated as a ‘jet’, or open-face helmet.
Some open-face lids look better than others when on, and you might be surprised how much of a difference the shape of the shell can make. Try one on to make sure you don’t look like Ardman’s Wallace. Unless that’s the style you want.
Here are five of our best open-face helmets, based on our reviews. Be sure to check back regularly as we’ll keep this updated as we review other helmets…
These are just five of the many lids we’ve tested at BikeSocial. With fit being so important, be sure to check out all our other reviews of the best motorcycle helmets, from the lowest prices to the top of the range.
Often sitting somewhere between open-face and full-face helmets, the retro-style lids we’ve tested look great on custom and classic bikes, as well as often working well for trail and adventure riding. Keep in mind that the visors – if fitted – on some retro-style helmets don’t always seal as well as a sport/touring full-face. They can also be noisier at times, depending on the fit around the neck and ears, but as with any helmet you’ll need to wear earplugs over about 40mph anyway.
Here are four of our best retro-style helmets, based on our reviews. Be sure to check back regularly as we’ll keep this updated as we review other helmets…
These are just four of the many open-face motorcycle helmets we’ve tested at BikeSocial. With fit being so important, be sure to check out all our other reviews of the best motorcycle helmets, from the lowest prices to the top of the range.
Flip-front, or modular helmets offer the advantages of an open-face, with the safety of a full-face. If they meet the new ECE 22.06 standard then they’ll all be homologated to P (full-face) and J (open-face). Put simply, it means they’re designed to be safely ridden in while either open or closed… you don’t want the chin bar falling in front of your face while riding! In reality, emergency services riders used the old Shoei Neotecs while open, and they were only homologated as full-face. You’ll see both P and J on the label of dual-homologated lids, and very often some form of locking mechanism on the side of the chin bar.
You’re unlikely to need to remove a flip-front at a petrol station, you can ask directions or chat to mates easily, and you can get a great blast of air in hot weather. A traditional modular helmet flips to an upright position, and that chin-bar can act as a bit of a sail, though some lids now flip right over the back, making for a much more aerodynamic design while riding.
Here are five of our best flip-front / modular helmets, based on our reviews. Be sure to check back regularly, as we’ll keep this updated as we review other helmets…
These are just five of the many flip-front, or modular motorcycle helmets we’ve tested at BikeSocial. With fit being so important, be sure to check out all our other reviews of the best motorcycle helmets, from the lowest prices to the top of the range.
Looking very much like a motocross lid, adventure helmets typically have a peak and a visor. The peak will be less about keeping mud and stone roost from hitting, and more about keeping the low sun out of your eyes – on autumn evenings it can be a massive help to just tip your head down a little and block that glare. Just be aware that the peak can, on some helmets, cause some drag (more often when turning your head for a shoulder check), or flap about annoyingly in the wind.
Peaks can sometimes drum a little when behind some bike screens, though if you suffer this, try affixing some wheel weights to the underside of it. If you do though, make sure the surface is thoroughly clean and that they’re really stuck well. I found my Arai Tour-X4 drummed a bit on my GS, but some weights cured it.
Some adventure helmets will have the option to remove the visor and use goggles instead. If you want to do this, ensure the visor mechanism becomes properly blanked off, that your goggles fit in the aperture comfortably, and that the goggle strap sits securely on the back of the shell.
Expect great venting on adventure lid, typically with a direct-to-mouth vent on the chin (usually with a grit-blocking mesh inside).
Here are four of our best flip-front / modular helmets, based on our reviews. Be sure to check back regularly, as we’ll keep this updated as we review other helmets…
These are just four of the many adventure motorcycle helmets we’ve tested at BikeSocial. With fit being so important, be sure to check out all our other reviews of the best motorcycle helmets, from the lowest prices to the top of the range.
From July 2023, the production of all motorcycle helmets certified to the long-standing UK and European standard of ECE 22.05 will cease. From that point, any helmets made for sale here will have to conform to ECE 22.06, a much tougher testing standard that means you’ll be provably safer.
You can download an excellent presentation from Shark that explains the differences between ECE 22.05 and ECE 22.06 here, but as an overview, these are the key advantages of the new safety standard:
There has been some confusion over when the sale of ECE 22.05-certified helmets will cease, but most brands believe that, in the UK at least, stocks will continue to be available until they’re all sold out, keeping in mind that none will be built from July 2023.
It’s important to note that it will not be in any way illegal to wear a helmet certified to the older ECE 22.05 standard, though it continues to be the case that ONLY helmets certified to ECE 22.05 or ECE 22.06 are legal to wear in the UK. Those certified only to DOT and/or SNELL, for instance, are not legal.
SNELL testing is voluntary, and is often used by manufacturers in the development of helmets.
DOT is an American standard with testing carried out by the manufacturer. DOT helmets can transfer a lot more energy to the wearer’s head in a crash than an ECE lid can.
SHARP is a government-funded helmet safety scheme that carries out its own tests on helmets. You won’t find every lid on there, but it does feature a large proportion. It seems unlikely that any ECE 22.06 helmets will fail to gain five stars in SHARP’s current test methodology, though we’re only aware of the Shoei NXR2 having been rated for now. The ECE 22.05 Arai RX-7V is also five-stars, and is largely unchanged for the RX-7V Evo that is ECE 22.06 certified.
No, an ACU sticker does not mean that the helmet is necessarily better than another.
The ACU (Auto Cycle Union) is the governing body for motorcycle sport. Motorcycle helmet brands that pay to submit a helmet to the ACU are awarded a sticker that approves it for use in racing; off-road racing requires a silver ACU sticker, while road racing requires a gold one.
At the time of writing, it’s understood that the ACU doesn’t carry out any additional testing on helmets, besides occasionally sending them to a lab to confirm they comply with the outgoing ECE 22.05 standard.
You should wear an ACU-approved helmet on public track days, though it’s unusual to see full-face (or flip-front) lids in good condition being turned down for use. And with stickers easily bought online, a scrutineer would need to have a very good knowledge of helmets to know if one hadn’t been approved by the ACU.
Compare these two linings as a small example of the amount of extra work that goes into some models
Ask many bikers this question, and the reply will likely be “How much is your head worth?”. You can spend as little as £30-40, or as much as £1,000+, but remember that all helmets reach a minimum safety standard.
More expensive helmets will often have more expensive materials in their construction. The cheapest have a polycarbonate outer shell, which is fine but it’s potentially more vulnerable to degradation (especially from petrol), and can’t be painted.
More expensive lids will have a composite shell, often using mixes of aramid fibres (like Kevlar), fibreglass, carbon fibre and other materials. These might be less prone to deformation, and more capable of spreading an impact. They can also be painted by a professional, if that’s your thing.
The combination of the outer shell and inner EPS (expanded polystyrene) liner are what make for the impact protection, and in my experience at least, those helmets with tougher composite fibre outer have sometimes tended to have softer interior shells that I’ve found more compliant and comfortable.
Higher costs often come with more outer shell sizes, which means there might be three shells used across the interior size range – if not, an XS lid will have to use an outer shell big enough to accommodate an XXL interior, making it look unwieldy.
You’ll also be paying for better quality interior materials, and potentially better ventilation. In my experience, you’re more likely to find a comfier, better-performing helmet in the higher price brackets, but there are plenty in the sub-£150 category that can be just as good a fit. It depends on your head shape, so always try any helmet on.
Remember that race-replica paint schemes are usually more expensive than generic graphics, which tend to be dearer than plain colours.
Micrometric and double-D fasteners are the most common and reliable on modern helmets
Your helmet will typically either have a ‘double-D’ fastener, or a ‘micro-metric ratchet’.
Double-D is the choice of racers and gives a very secure fit every time you put the lid on, with a really simple mechanism, but it’s hard to use if you have your gloves on.
Most touring lids have a micrometric ratchet; with this, you set the strap to the size you want at first, then it gives around an inch or so of adjustment every time you put the helmet on, which means you should still get a secure fit. Some people don’t like the fact that it depends on moving parts, but it’s a very secure and simple self-locking design, and a vast improvement on the old seat-belt buckle types that were set to one length only, so didn’t always give the most secure possible fit.
The only other fastener we’ve seen on modern helmets (besides the Vozz, which has no strap at all), is the ‘Fidlock’ fitted to the Ruroc. However, despite its fancy magnetic closure, this is a step back to the bad-old-days of seat-belt style fasteners and we’d recommend against it.
Never leave your helmet on your bike’s tank, as the fuel vapour can damage the polystyrene liner. And don’t put it on the wing mirror, as that can dent the inside, and it’ll make it dirty. Stuffing your gloves inside is a no-no as well – not only do they add dirt, the Velcro fasteners will pull at the liner.
If you need to put your lid on the ground, lay your gloves flat, then stand your helmet on them. While wet paper towels – or better still a microfibre cloth – will help remove dried-on bugs, for advice on keeping a motorcycle helmet clean, check out our article here.
Nobody can tell YOU what the best helmet is. Not a shop owner, not an influencer, and definitely not a shop-owning influencer. Why, because nobody has worn every single helmet.
Any honest reviewer will tell you that they can only advise based on their own experience, and that you should take that advice into account – along with your own assessment of fit and affordability – when you choose what to buy.
Here at Bennetts BikeSocial, we believe in giving you as much information as possible, and as owner experience can be really valuable, we surveyed more than 2,000 BikeSocial members to find out what they thought of the lids they ride in.
You can see what they thought were the best helmets in our video below, but here are the headline awards:
Top 3 helmet brands most associated with overall build quality:
Top 3 helmet brands considered the most comfortable by owners
Top 3 best value helmet brands according to their owners