Modern Helmets: Making The Right Choice Easier

Expert Advice, Gear, Safety -


Modern Helmets

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.

Shoei RF-1200

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.

Icon Airmada

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

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.

AGV Pista GPhelmet

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>>

  • Bluesceyes

    When will they release a light-up PistaGP? Maybe with that feature I could justify the cost during the winter as a nightlight.

    • Lindsay Ross

      A great alternative to the Pista is the AGV Corsa. In the US, Pistas come with the same neck roll as the Corsa so the weight savings aren’t as dramatic as in the EU where the Pista’s neck roll is a super thin Neoprene piece. I suspect it’s due to the US-market selling point of a “quiet helmet” for the road.

      Corsas start at $750 and you get all the same protection and technology as the full-carbon big brother. The price difference really only coming from the current cost of carbon fiber (and of course perceived market value).

      Anyway, it’s pretty easy to bash a $1400 helmet if you can’t afford that spend, but don’t discredit the huge effort put forth into design and safety, also offered in a much easier-to-swallow $750 price point.

      • Bluesceyes

        I wasn’t bashing the Pista. It is a very nice helmet. Just making note of the light-up spoiler that Rossi was sporting on his during the Qatar GP race.

        • Piglet2010

          To be legal, the LED’s would need to be red.

        • Lindsay Ross

          Haha, yeah I hear ya. But let’s not beat around the bush, $1400 is a shitload of cash for a helmet. For half that you can basically get the same thing which is obviously a massively better deal.

  • enzomedici

    Living in a sunny place, I use the Bell RS-1 with the photochromatic shield. I won’t buy another helmet that doesn’t have a photochromatic shield, that’s how awesome it is.

    • Jeff Witters

      I’m surprised there isn’t an aftermarket manufacture (besides Wikishift skins) making replacement shields with the photochromatic covering.

      • Generic42

        Bell had an exclusive agreement with the Transitions people to make those shields. That just expired so they are appearing for other helmets now.

        • Jeff Witters

          There are other companies that produce photochromic lenses besides Transitions.

    • Heather McCoy

      True that, enzomedici…I have a Bell Star Carbon, and that shield is THE BOMB!

    • Piglet2010

      I rotate my Transitions shield between three different Bell lids, since it takes less than 5 seconds to swap visors.

  • Aaron

    I love my RF-1200. LOVE. I came from an Icon Alliance, which I like a lot. LOVE my shoei.

    • hunkyleepickle

      same. Came from an alliance, Icon’s other lines don’t seem to fit my melon, so i tried an rf1200 when it was time to replace, it is a ridiculously good helmet. Even the price is reasonable. Now 170$ for a transitions shield for it, i’m having a little more trouble swallowing that pill….

      • Aaron

        I got the Dark Smoke shield, very happy with it. Transition would be nice but it’s too much and as I understand it the transitions don’t get that dark.

      • Piglet2010

        .$170 from Shoei? – Bell only wants $119 for a Transitions shield.

  • Jai S.

    Heads up Heather, The Airmada retails/starts at $180.

    It’s what I’m rocking. Solid, comfortable helmet with good ventilation. Just a little loud.

    • Heather McCoy

      I stand corrected on the price of the Airmada, Jai; thanks. Solids due run $180; wild graphics (like mine), up to $280. My new 2014 model (the Chantilly in white gloss), is crazy-ass quiet. Nothing like previous year’s which were, sadly, noisy things. HUGE improvement.

      • Guest

        Thanks Heather. It was (at the time it was released) the lightest Snell 2010 helmet. Liner and materials comparable to other higher end manufacturers, and aerodynamically stable (very little buffeting in freeway traffic). If I had one complaint is that the venting isn’t as good as other helmets. It also comes with a 2d (flat) shield, which I perceive as distorting your view less than curved shields.

      • eddi

        I had to go over to Revzilla to see what style helmet you wear. “Chantilly lace and a pretty face…” As an old sorta hippie all I can say is “far off and way back!”

      • Tom Gabriele

        Are the 2014 Airmada helmets designated as a new version? Over at RevZilla (or anywhere else) I don’t see a v2.0 designation or anything.

        • Jay

          I’m wondering the same thing, is there any way to be sure to get the newest version other than ordering a 2014 graphic?

    • Mark D

      Likewise, I picked my white Airmada up for $180. Its friggan fantastic. Its very stable at high speeds, and I always were earplugs on the highway, so it actually makes a wondering touring helmet as well. The shape also allowed me to fit into a size S, so its physically smaller, and weighs less, than nearly any other helmet I tried on.

  • Michael Howard

    Does “pin-locking system” on the RF-1200 mean it has a Pinlock® anti-fog visor?

    • Louis

      Comes with pinlock ready shield and pinlock insert…just got one a few days ago, had an RF1100, and talk about addressing all of the previous issues. I really can’t justify buying anything else at this point for street riding. Big plus is photochromatic shield is coming out in another month or so, I already have one on back order.

    • Heather McCoy

      Type-o: that should say “ProLock”, which yes, does include “Fog-free Icon Optics”. I’ll try and see if the editor can fix that…

      • Michael Howard

        “Fog-free Icon Optics” on a Shoei (RF-1200) helmet?

        • Heather McCoy

          D’oh! Don’t know why I thought you were referring to the Airmada. Clearly, I need a nap. Will look into this when I wake up…

  • Campisi

    The Airmada is not the be-all and end-all of helmets; the face shields and their pivoting mechanisms suffer inconsistent materials and manufacturing quality, the helmet itself is on the loud end of things, and that excellent ventilation starts to work against you above the 45th parallel. The Airmada’s charm lies in its utter superiority in comparison to anything else available at that end of the market. I wear one, and despite being on my third face shield in six months I’m happy with it.

    It doesn’t fit perfectly, but then again most helmets don’t. Curse my Geiger-esque skull.

    • Koczk

      Well said, and I have the same experience with my airmada.
      Still, I’m curious how your are breaking the face shields so often.

      I’ve swapped my shield several times, but have never broken one.

      • Campisi

        It’s not that they break, it’s that the anti-fog coating is incredibly fragile. I live in a part of the country that’s wet and cold (but not freezing) most of the year. Having some sort of anti-fog system is imperative here, and Icon’s anti-fog shield coating degrades rapidly; six weeks of daily riding is the most I’ve gotten out of a single shield before I have to ride with the shield cracked. Riders in warm dry climates likely won’t ever have a problem with it.

        This current shield has the ProLock pin hole drilled ever-so-lightly out of place, making opening the shield with one hand nearly impossible. Oh well.

        • Sjef

          Have you ever tried Rain-X anti fog on your visor? Might not be as good as the original coating but it works ok for me most of the time.

          • Campisi

            Just once, years ago, with a Nolan helmet that I still have (but don’t wear, of course). I was cleaning that visor so often that I probably just wiped it right off within a day or two.

    • Heather McCoy

      I’ve had previous Airmadas that were pretty noisy, but they seem to have fixed the problem with the 2014 version. It is seriously, the quietest helmet I own.

    • dinoSnake

      If your helmet doesn’t fit perfectly then you have the wrong helmet, probably because you haven’t gotten your head examined (pun alert!). You need to get your head measured by a pro, or at least someone who knows what they are doing, in order to learn what you should be looking for. An Arai rep measured and examined my head shape and, for the first time, put me into the perfect helmet for my noggin and it is AMAZING – I actually was able to go down 1 full helmet size, from large to medium, because the helmet shape was so perfect for my skull. And here I always thought that I had a big fat head! lol

      • Campisi

        A large Signet Q fits like I was born into it, and it’s on my short list for an eventual replacement.

  • Justin McClintock

    I’m really kinda surprised how many people don’t just go straight to webbikeworld and check their helmet comparisons for fit. I love reading other reviews, of course, but they seem to be the best out there at comparing and contrasting what helmets fit what headshapes. If you’ve ever found a helmet that fits well, chances are they can tell you a bunch of others that’ll fit you well as well.

    • charlie

      They’ve been a go-to spot for me but sometimes they are hit or miss. For example, some of their conclusions don’t mention that the reason for a high noise-level was due to a certain type of wind screen on a bike. That’s a pretty important aspect to leave out. If you mention an error or ask a question, they get really defensive for some reason and then end up changing something in the review anyways. They’d be a lot better if they dropped the elitist vibe when responding to people who are just trying to get some info. I usually check out the overviews on Revzilla but these guys aren’t bad either.

      • Justin McClintock

        Yeah, they’re certainly not perfect. That’s why I like reading other reviews as well. But their helmet/headshape fit comparisons seem to be unmatched.

        • charlie

          Agreed. Aside from those few issues, nobody is as thorough with helmets.

  • Travis Zilch

    I can’t say enough about the HJC RPHA 10 helmet. Too bad it didn’t make the list.

    • Heather McCoy

      That’s good to hear, Travis. I don’t have any connections with an HJC rep, so wasn’t able to get my paws on one to include in this article. Always good to hear what other riders have to say, though, so keep it comin’.

      • Patrick Britain

        I used to work at HJC, if you want to get in contact with someone there, let me know.

    • Kr Tong

      ventilation, downward vis, weight (for U.S at least), and wind noise aint great. Comfort and upward vis/side vis is good. Good track helmet. Bad street helmet. I hear the plus version fixes a few of those issues though. Might sound stupid but i seriously miss my ax-8.

      • Travis Zilch

        I upgraded to the plus after owning the original RPS 10. The plus does improve ventilation a bit, noise is about the same. The top vents are great, the chin vent is an improvement over the original design, but there’s room for improvement. For the features/price it’s still a tough helmet to beat IMO. I had an AGV prior to the original, I don’t recall the model name, it was comfortable, with good visibility and good ventilation. However the noise and terrible buffeting ruined it for me.

  • octodad

    About a year ago stepped up to Shoei RF 1100, feels very safe and comfortable. However, I wish the RF 1200 was available. It is lighter and the styling is superior. Where did the story about helmeted riders breaking their neck come from? I got this from medical professionals, but I do not believe it is true. Has anyone else heard this tale?

    • Heather McCoy

      It is storied folklore. I mean yeah, a helmet is not designed to prevent a neck injury (duh), but helmets do NOT CAUSE them. Period! I have heard this voo-doo recited time and time again over the years…even came across a reference to some helmet that weighed something crazy like 18-lbs or something…pretty sure it was by a guy who saw BigFoot once and had a nasty run in with aliens and some kind of “probe”. I’m so sure!

      • Piglet2010

        Now you have to write a follow-up article on neck braces.

        • Heather McCoy

          Yes…now if only Leatt would pay attention to me when I call…

      • eddi

        Thank you for another good article on head protection. Helmets as neck-breakers dates back to the 60s. And even then there was nothing but FOAF* rumor.

        FOAF “friend of a friend” the usual suspects for any urban legend.

  • Chris Gillham

    Hey RA, things seem to be getting better so credit where credit is due. Wes is a big loss but maybe the void will be filled by someone better. Feeling optimistic! cheers

    • Aaron Baumann

      Wait, what happened to Wes?

      • Doug Herbert

        Yeah, what happened?

        • mbust

          He left RA a few weeks ago; it was so quiet no one knew about it for a bit. RA made no mention of it. You may have noticed at the time an increase in car related materials for Drive Apart, because the editor at large is from that site. Complaints were heard and they returned to RA-only content. But still no word about Wes. A few comments made were deleted but others are still there. Not that you’ll find any news about Wes in them. But he is gone. And yes, the quality of the articles is returning to what attracted many of us to the site. Thanks, RA. And, good job, Heather. Again.

          • mimo256

            However, not so good a job on letting us know what happened with Wes. Any reason to be so secretive RA?

            • sixgunsteve

              Grant Ray, Jamie Robinson, Wes Siler . . .!? Is there anyone left from those HFL halcyon days?

            • Nolan Zandi

              We know that if we talk about it publicly (ie, say what happened from our point of view), other people might not see it the same way and a disagreement could flare up. That could destroy any possibility of Wes and RA working together again, which I want to avoid. All I can say is that it had nothing to do with his writing, which we all love. And I, for one, believe that the disagreement wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t work together again down the road.

    • Nolan Zandi

      Thanks Chris. We’ve got a lot of great stuff being loaded into the cannon that I’m really excited about. A lot of gear out for review right now and some new bikes being delivered very soon. I’m also pumped about some of the travel/adventure reviews were lining up. I’ve got a lot of love for Wes, and i’m still hoping that we can get him back for a weekly column this summer. Don’t hold your breath for it, but cross your fingers

  • kent_skinner

    Are you saying that DOT certification actually means something now? This is news to me.

    • Heather McCoy

      It does. Standards are very comparable, but where DOT differs (primarily) from ECE is in the administration of it all. I believe DOT certification is obtained after production; manufacturers comply to set standards, and there are huge fines imposed in the case of non-compliance (NHTSA enforces by acquiring random samples and sending them to independent labs for testing). ECE certification involves batch sampling at the beginning of production with standards to be met along the way before certification is issued.

      • Piglet2010

        Anyone cracking down on retailers selling lids with fake DOT stickers?

        • William Connor

          In a short answer yes. There have been several companies in lawsuits over it. I know Biltwell actually recalled their original Half Helmet because of a DOT issue, ten re released as the Bonanza that you can buy now.

          • Piglet2010

            I was thinking more of the FBI bringing them up on criminal charges.

  • nick2ny

    What country are all these puppies made in?

  • Dennis Hightower

    But how can we make helmet hair the latest thing??

    • eddi

      I keep my head shaved. Your mileage may vary. ;-)

    • Michael Howard

      With some of the “just woke up and got out of bed” hairstyles, I’d think helmet hair would be quite fashionable in the right company.

    • Heather McCoy

      Helmet hair is inherantly cool. Own it, guys!

  • nick2ny

    What’s the country of origin on these puppies?

    • Aaron

      Shoei is Japan. I don’t know about the others….I assume AGV is Italy.

    • Campisi

      Shoei and Arai are both Japanese. Icon is based out of Portland, OR, USA (helmet manufacture takes place in South Korea), and AGV is Italian.

  • KC

    Great article, Heather. I prefer AGV and Nolan because they fit best, but they are hard to find sometimes. I also prefer modular helmets because they close tighter under the chin.

    Dealers often carry what looks good. The helmets have an attractive price point, bold colors and graphics, scoops and fins, and other funky bits. That doesn’t always make them good helmets. They may provide protection, but are noisy and wobbly at speed. Some helmets work best with a particular type of motorcycle because of aerodynamics.

    It would be nice if you could “test drive” helmets but that’s not always practical.

    • octodad

      hey KC, what do you think about impact protection on those modular lids? appears that good jolt would separate at the hinge. maybe that is good idea as shock absorber? know what you mean about close fit at chin area. my RF1100 fits tight but there is a lower area gap. appreciate any input as I am full face fan, but open to new information.

      • Heather McCoy

        I believe both Snell and ECE consider modular helmets ‘full-face’, and as such, test them to the same standards (including the chin bar). However…would I wear one? No, I would not. You can’t tell me anything with a hinge is as safe as a solid form.

        • Heather McCoy

          Joe Gustafson from Icon just informed me that most certification agencies test modular helmets to 3/4 standards. I left all my research at home, so maybe it’s just Snell who tests them to full-face standards. Stay tuned.

          • octodad

            answered my question. must preserve that dentition, implants are expensive…

        • Piglet2010

          A helmet with a hinge can be made just as strong as one with a fixed chin-bar, but not at the same weight or price.

          Why is it that if you go to the scooter section of almost any retail site, all the lids are open-face? Do scooters have magical properties that protect riders without proper gear?

    • Heather McCoy

      Agreed. I get a lot of info just taking them for a ride!

  • atomicalex

    I’m an HJC wearer simply due to fit and the RPHA-MAX has been my best friend for a while now. What I would really like to see is the Feds allowing EC 22.05 as an acceptable replacement for DOT. There are sooooo many nicer ECE 22.05 helmets!
    FWIW, Snell focuses heavily on impact resistance, due to their long-term association with cars and rollbar impacts. This is only one part of the crash on a motorcycle. Sliding behaviour and wear of the shell during sliding are another. Both ECE and DOT testing give more weight to the sliding behaviour.

    • Piglet2010

      There are plenty of lids out there that are both (US)DOT and ECE 22.05 certified – the two are not incompatible.

  • CaptainPlatypus

    Excellently written! Airmada looks like a steal at that price.

    • Heather McCoy

      Aye-aye, cpt; thank you!

  • PaulD

    It would be cool if more helmet reviews would indicate which head shape(s) (round, long oval, etc.) each helmet is best suited for.

  • Kemal Kautsar

    i’m going to replace my current helmet, and i’m asking anybody here who had used AGV K3? how they perform (wind noise, weight, etc)

  • Kamil Usoof

    HJC CL17!

    snell certified and can get for around 120 bucks :)

  • FreeFrog

    Dude, that’s a pretty minimal variety of helmets you lined up. Nothing wrong with what’s mentioned, but different styles/types/brands should be mentioned from touring, sport, flip-up, ADV, etc. Go check out Revzilla or Webbikeworld for more info/options.

  • Elizabeth Picray

    My helmet is a Scorpion EXO-R410. It’s Snell 2010 certified, and has the same emergency cheek-pad release as the Shoei model that was mentioned for under $200. I love my helmet! Except when I have to sneeze…