The 3 Best Motorcycle Helmets Reviewed For 2017

With so many manufacturers and options available in the marketplace, it can be a daunting task to decide how you’ll spend your hard-earned dollars on a full-face or modular motorcycle helmet.

To help you make the decision we’ve done a lot of leg work to narrow it down, and to summarize our research findings in this review. The findings are a combination of our own first-hand evaluations, published user ratings and marketplace sales statistics.

In reviewing the top-rated Full-Face and Modular Motorcycle Helmets we will give you the highlights and select the one that will be named our overall “Editor’s Choice”.  We will also take a look at the helmets that meet the budgetary requirement of “under $200” and “under $100” with details of each.

And finally, we’ve provided you with some background and technical information that’s helpful in choosing the right motorcycle helmet for your needs in our Buyers Guide section.

Here are the categories we reviewed and rated:

Best Full-Face and Modular Motorcycle Helmet (Overall)

  1. Bell Qualifier DLX Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
  2. Shoei RF-1200 Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
  3. HJC SY-Max III Modular Motorcycle Helmet

Best Full-Face and Modular Motorcycle Helmet (under $200)

  1. Bell Qualifier Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
  2. HJC CL-MAXBT II Modular Motorcycle Helmet

Best Full-Face and Modular Motorcycle Helmet (under $100)

  1. BILT Fusion Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet
  2. IV2 VIPER Model #953 Modular Motorcycle Helmet

The Best Motorcycle Helmets

 Bell Qualifier DLX Full-Face Motorcycle HelmetShoei RF-1200 Full-Face Motorcycle HelmetHJC SY-Max III Modular Motorcycle Helmet
editors choice




 
Modular No NoYes
Colors Available:
Devil May Care Matte, Isle of Man Black/Red, Rally Matte Black/White, Matte Black, Hi Viz, Solid WhiteBlack, Yellow, Matte Black, Matte Black, Red, Silver, White, TC-2 Graphic, TC-6 GraphicBlack, Silver, White, Matte Black, HI-Viz Yellow
Bluetooth-readyYesNoYes
Ventilated YesYesYes
Built-in Sun Visor
YesYesYes

#1 Bell Qualifier DLX Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Bell Qualifier DLX Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Bell Qualifier DLX

Since the 1950’s Bell Motorsports has been a highly-respected maker of great racing helmets for all types of motorsports from amateur Sprint car racing and Pro Street drag racing to Formula One and Indy cars. There’s a strong tradition at Bell and the DLX carries it forward in the full-face motorcycle helmet category.

The combination of comfort, quality, light weight, road noise abatement and a transitional face shield make the selection of the Qualifier DLX as our #1 pick hard to dispute.  At Outdoor Pursuits the price/value analysis has relevance to all of our product reviews, as well as the selection of our top-rated picks.

So it’s especially nice to have all of these features packed into a DOT/ECE full-face motorcycle helmet. For this reason the editors of Outside Pursuits believe that the Bell Qualifier DLX is the best motorcycle helmet under $300.

The patented Transitions photochromatic face shield gives DLX owners the flexibility to ride day or night without a shield change. It’s hard to overlook the growth in demand for motorcycle helmets with bluetooth.

The Qualifier DLX can house the SENA SMH-10 or a Cardo Scala Rider Q1/Q3 Bluetooth unit with earphone recesses and accessible side-mount cavity. These are features found only in helmets costing hundreds more.

It was truly a pleasure to be a participant in selecting the Bell Qualifier DLX as our #1 pick and the Editors Choice among strong competition.

Features

    • Lightweight polycarbonate shell
    • 3 shell sizes and 6 fit sizes
    • Includes the Transitions Adaptive Shield
    • Ventilation and padded wind collar
    • Padded wind collar drastically reduces wind and road noise
    • ClickRelease for the fastest, easiest, tool-free shield changes ever
    • NutraFog II superior anti-fog, anti-scratch and UV-protected shield
    • Accepts Bell Sena SMH10 and Cardo Scala Rider Q1/Q3 Bluetooth stereo headset and intercom (sold separately, separate mounting plate required)
    • DOT/ECE – certified and 5 Year Warranty
    • 3.5 lbs.


#2 Shoei RF-1200 Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Shoei RF-1200 Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Shoei RF-1200

Shoei is a Japanese motorcycle helmet manufacturer founded in 1958. Since the formation of the company Shoei helmets have been designed and manufactured in Japan. Today they are distributed and sold all over the world. Despite their worldwide success, Shoei has stayed true to their roots and remains a small company, dedicated to making only the highest-quality motorcycle helmets.

The Shoei RF-1200 helmet definitely keeps to tradition delivering a lightweight, quiet and performance-oriented helmet built from superior materials. The fabrics and plastics used in fabricating the RF-1200 are a slight cut above anything else we reviewed.  However, this premium manufacturing comes with a price which may not be inline with the functional gains of the helmet.

If price and ancillary features were not factors the Shoei RF-1200 wins this review hands down. But the RF-1200 lacks an adaptive shield and the Bluetooth-readiness of our Editor’s Choice.

There are so many patented design features to this model that we could see immediately the singular focus that Shoei possesses toward motorcycle helmets. Four intake vents and uniquely positioned upper exhaust outlet vents make for superior ventilation.

Lots of wind tunnel testing has been applied to the design to cut wind noise at high speeds without blocking necessary road noises.  Four shell sizes, three-dimensionally-shaped center pads and cheek pads ensure a really personal, nearly custom, fit.

Overall we agreed that the RF-1200 was the safest motorcycle helmet primarily due to its attention to size and fit customization.  So it is also considered the best fitting helmet in our review.  Thus, the RF-1200 is the best choice as a helmet to be used in a racing environment,  or if you plan on pushing the envelope with more extreme and higher-speed riding.

Features

    • AIM+ Patented Light-Weight Multi-Ply Shell Construction
    • Superior Design Air Ventilation System – (4 vents)
    • 3D Max-Dry System II Interior absorbs and dissipates sweat
    • Q.R.S. (Emergency Quick-Release System) allows emergency medical personnel to easily remove cheek pads from an injured riders helmet
    • Shield locking mechanism ensures shield stays locked at high speed
    • Dual-layered window beading ensures windproof/waterproof seal
    • Unique shield ribs at top and bottom eliminate shield bending in high speed during opening or closing
    • Safety Certification Standards: Snell-M2010, DOT
    • 3.46 lbs.


#3 HJC SY-Max III Modular Motorcycle Helmet

HJC SY-Max III Modular Motorcycle Helmet

HJC SY-Max III

HJC has specialized in manufacturing motorcycle helmets since their formation in 1971.  Their innovation, style and reasonable pricing have resulted in HJC’s success in selling motorcycle helmets all over the world. You may notice a number of HJC “knock-off models” appearing due to the worldwide popularity of their products.

According to Motorcycle Industry Magazine HJC eclipsed all other helmet makers in 1992 in both volume and revenue making them the #1 helmet brand in North America.  HJC takes pride in the amount of design testing that they perform and they’re one of the very few helmet companies that are equipped with its own state of the art wind tunnel testing laboratory to test for aerodynamics, ventilation and noise.

As modular helmets go there are a few trade-offs regarding convenience and safety. We left the debate over whether to go modular or not out of this review.  Instead, we  selected what we considered to be the best all-around modular helmet for the money in the HJC SY-Max III to pair with the two full-face helmets selected above.

As the name implies the SY-Max III is a twice-improved version of a modular helmet that HJC released some years ago. The new patented ventilation/cooling design is the most significant improvement. The SY-Max III had the best ventilation we observed from all of the helmets.  A 3-position locking shield and Bluetooth-ready recesses all make the SY-Max III a really capable all-around helmet and our #3 overall pick.

Features

    • Advanced Fiberglass Poly Spectra (Composite Weave) Helmet Shell
    • Lightweight Space-age Polycarbonate Chinbar
    • Bluetooth-ready with aerodynamic exterior module recess and ear speaker recesses.
    • Accepts ChatterBox XBi2-H Bluetooth Wireless Intercom unit
    • Convenient Single-Button and One-Handed Chin Bar Release
    • “ACS” Advanced Channeling Ventilation System
    • Full Front to Back Airflow Flushes Heat and Humidity Up and Out
    • Three-position Shield – Multiple Positions with Locking Mechanism
    • Tool-free Shield Swap System
    • Multiple Optional Face shields and SunShields Available
    • Meets or Exceeds D.O.T. Standards
    • 5.2 lbs.

Best Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet Under $200

Bell Qualifier Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

Bell Qualifier (600px)

Bell Qualifier

The Bell Qualifier full-face helmet is an entry-level helmet from a top-rated maker. As full-face motorcycle helmets go, the Qualifier is quite popular. It lacks some of the features (like Bluetooth-readiness and transitional shield) of its big brother, The Qualifier DLX.

The Qualifier has a lightweight shell made from Polycarbonate/ABS and a tool-free shield replacement feature. Also includes the NutraFog 2.0 anti-fog and anti-scratch shield with UV protection. This helmet packs an incredible value at this price and comes with a 5-Year Warranty.

Best Modular Motorcycle Helmet Under $200

HJC CL-MAXBT II Modular Motorcycle Helmet

HJC CL-MAXBT II Modular Motorcycle Helmet

HJC CL-MAXBT II

When considering the factors that make the best motorcycle helmets in any category the manufacturer’s reputation and longevity in the industry has big significance. For an entry-level modular helmet the HJC CL-MAXBT II is clearly a recommended helmet at its price point. And it’s  made by a highly-respected manufacturer.

With a polycarbonate shell and single-button chin bar/face shield release this model has all of the basic functionality of most higher-priced modulars and therefore we rated it the best modular motorcycle helmet under $200.

It is Bluetooth-ready and has HJC’s tool-less shield replacement system. And HJC’s patented Advanced Channeling Ventilation System (ACS) provides full front-to-back airflow and hot air exhaust.

Best Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet Under $100

If you’ve read any motorcycle helmets reviews you probably noticed the absence of a category called “Cheap Motorcycle Helmets”.  But with advanced materials and offshore manufacturing it has become possible to buy a viable DOT/ECE-certified helmets for under $100. These may lack some new innovations like multi-position lockable shields or Bluetooth recesses, but they can get the job done for a spare or rider helmet without compromising safety.

BILT Fusion Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

BILT Fusion Full-Face Motorcycle Helmet

BILT Fusion

BILT is a house brand for lots of motorcycling accessories and rider apparel.  They have a pretty good selection of helmet types from half helmets to dual-sport models. Bilt hangs in the low to mid-range helmet market, but delivers quite well on basic features and functionality.

The bilt Fusion has a hinged clear shield and two slide-opening forehead vents.  The Fusion is as basic as it gets for a legitimate full-face motorcycle helmet. It’s even limited to Black, White and Matte Black.

Best Modular Motorcycle Helmet Under $100

IV2 VIPER Model #953 Modular Motorcycle Helmet

IV2 VIPER Model #953 Modular Motorcycle Helmet

IV2 VIPER Model #953

The IV2 VIPER Model #953 helmet appears in Outside Pursuits’ review entitled Best Bluetooth Motorcycle Helmets where it’s part of a Bluetooth Combo along with a SENA SMH5 Bluetooth 3.0 Unit. We chose it because it doesn’t skimp where DOT-certification is concerned.

The IV2 VIPER Model 953’s Fiberglass-reinforced thermal plastic composite shell and EPS impact absorption liner make it a legitimate helmet for motorcycle-speed head protection.  It features a one-button flip-up system to convert from full-face to open-face with ease.

There’s an inner drop-down visor and easy-open air vents for circulation. Overall the IV2 VIPER Model 953 is worth the price as a basic DOT-certified modular helmet or as your backup  helmet.

Full-Face and Modular Motorcycle Helmets Buyers Guide

Best Motorcycle Helmet

History

The use of motorcycle helmets dates back to 1914 when motorcycle racers at the Isle of Man (a British dependency off the coast of Great Britain) were suggested to wear them as a protection against head injuries including concussion and even death.

Early on it was apparent that helmets reduced the number and severity of head-related injuries and were soon adopted as standard equipment.  The very earliest helmets were crudely made of canvas heavily covered with shellac to form the hard outer shell.  Technology and advancement have brought about better-fitted and more durable helmets over the decades since.

Motorcycle Helmet Types


full-face motorcycle helmetFull-Face – As the name suggests a full-face helmet covers the entire face in addition to the entire head and skull.  A large cutout area in the front allow for visibility and may be covered in clear or tinted transparent plastic shield.

Because they are so enclosed, full-face helmets have air vents on the top and/or chin bar portion of the helmet allowing for ventilation and cooling.

Some riders have a “claustrophobia-like effect” when wearing a full-face helmet and for that reason opt for another less constrictive type of helmet.  Nonetheless, full-face are considered to be the most effective at protecting riders of all other helmet types.

Full-face helmets have been in use since the early 1900s and represent the status quo for many riders.  And for these reasons the racing communities and high-speed non-professional applications predominantly utilize full-face helmets.

modular motorcycle helmetModular – A modular helmet was originally referred to as a “flip-up” or “flip-face helmet. It is essentially a full-face helmet that can be opened to convert to an open-face helmet.  This hybrid design has been the subject of some debate in regards to the pros and cons.

Many have said that modular helmets are easier to remove in an emergency and thus making it easier to access the rider’s face in an emergency.

The flip-side of the argument says that the chin bar portion of the modular helmet can open inadvertently or even be broken free from the helmet during an accident.

There is definitely a convenience to be had with a modular helmet. It can be opened to talk, eat or drink quickly during a ride. For instance motorcycle-mounted law enforcement use modular helmets to more easily converse with drivers in a traffic stop.

With today’s materials and technology the modular helmet is nearly as protective as a full-face. (Note: While no studies exist to compare full-face vs. modular helmet efficacy, a safety study by a consumer group showed that 35% of all crashes showed major impact on the chin-bar area).

So whether you’re riding with a full-face or a modular helmet you’re taking the extra precaution to protect the face and chin area. It should be noted that riding with a modular helmet that is open can add significant wind drag and can also increase the risk of neck or back injury during an accident.  A good rule-of-thumb is to only use a modular helmet for riding while in the closed position.

open face motorcycle helmetOpen Face (aka “Three-Quarter”) – The open face, or “three-quarters”, helmet covers the top and back of the head as well as the ears, but lacks a chin bar like that of the full-face helmet.

Some of these type helmet include a removable sun visor that snaps on and off.  This feature helps block sun glare from the eyes and also shades the face.

Open face helmets provide the same rear head protection as that of a full- face helmet, but little to no protection for the face.

Separate eye protection from glasses or goggles is a necessity with open-face helmets and is also required to meet most state and local riding laws

At high speeds the smallest of bugs can be painful and hazardous.  Dust and wind to the face and eyes can cause rider discomfort, distraction and possible injury.  So it is common (and as stated above required by local laws) for riders to wear goggles or sport-style sunglasses to provide some level of eye protection when riding with open-face helmets.

And there is also a variation on open-face helmets that adds a snap-on full-face clear or tinted plexiglass shield.   While these cannot compare to a chin bar for protection they can stop insects or debris from hitting the rider’s face.

half helmetHalf – The half helmet has been referred to as a “brain bucket.”  This reference comes about on account of the helmet meeting the very minimum requirements for helmet laws requirements.

While this style offers the least amount of rider protection, it offers the rider the most freedom, and the least amount of constraint.  Half helmets became popular In the UK and with road racers of the 1960s in the British Isles.

As with the open face, it is a requirement to use eye protection such as goggles or wrap-around sunglasses with a half helmet.

Despite meeting most local and state regulatory requirements for motorcycle head protection,  most Motorcycle Safety Foundations do not endorse their use.

motocross helmetMotocross – The motocross-style helmet has an extended chin bar to allow for maximum airflow during physically challenging off-road and track riding.

Air can flow unhindered through this chin bar to the rider’s mouth while still protecting the mouth and chin. The chin bar is also lengthened to accomodate full-sized foam goggles which block debris and dust from the rider’s eyes.

The enlarged visor on motocross helmets blocks sun and stadium lights from hindering rider visibility.

Using a modern motocross helmet with chin bar combined with proper goggles can provide nearly the same level of protectiion as that of a full face street helmets.

dual-sport helmet Dual Sport (Adventure) – a fairly new category of motorcycle helmet has emerged from the advent of dual-sport or “adveture” riding.

In this style of riding it may be necessary to ride on highways or improved roads for long distances and then go off-road to unimproved roads or trails on the same ride.

These helmets combine the aerodynamics of a clear flip-up shield like a full-face helmet with the visor and extended chin bar of a motocross.

There is typically also a tinted drop-down eye visor like modern full-face helmets.

This features makes it possible to have eye and sun protection without the need to periodically engage and remove tinted goggles or sunglasses.  It’s a quick and simple single release button to engage and disengage the drop-down eye visor.  This helmet type is gaining in popularity as dual-sport and adventure bikes grow in popularity.

Video Tutorial: Types of Motorcycle Helmets


Construction

Motorcycle helmets are generally constructed from various grades and formulations of plastics. There are a range of density and strength compounds from which various parts are constructed. These varied material types have a bearing on overall construction costs of a helmet.

Premium-priced helmets use plastics that are high in tensile strength, adequately flexible as needed, while remaining lightweight.  The outer shell (or crown) of premium-priced helmets use composite materials made of plastic combined with fiberglass, Kevlar and/or carbon fiber to strengthen and to reduce weight.

The inner shell or (core) is generally a combination of fabric and foam. These materials are selected for #1 protection and #2 comfort.   The inner shell elements are constructed from EPS  (aka Expanded Polystyrene Foam) and an outer shell to protect the EPS.

The overall thickness and density of these materials is formulated to lessen the impact of an accident so as to avoid particular penetration of the skull and thus reducing head injuries.

Helmets can be with different thicknesses and densities to offer enhanced protection form high-speed or racing environments. The outer shell of the helmet might be made of a variety of plastics or fiberglass-type materials.  To varying degrees the plastics offer protection from penetration.

For example, Lexan which you may recognize as bulletproof glass will not crush when impacted.  Therefore, the outer shell will look undamaged but the inner EPS will be crushed. Fiberglass is less expensive than Lexan but is heavy and very labor-intensive.

Fiberglass or fiber shells will crush on impact offering better protection. Some manufacturers will use Kevlar or carbon fiber to help reduce the amount of fiberglass but in the process it will make the helmet lighter and offer more protection from penetration but still crushing on impact.

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About El Tigre

Richard M. aka El Tigre is an avid adventure traveler with extensive trekking experience throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In 1998 he weathered category 5 Hurricane Mitch on the northern coast of Honduras. He has mountain-biked, hiked and 4x4 toured extensively in Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico. In the summer of 2004 he lived among the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands in Panama. Today, he manages a real estate investments company based in San Jose, Costa Rica and organizes adventure travel excursions to Costa Rica. He is a motorcycle enthusiast and enjoys sport touring and dual-sport riding. Richard lives in Arizona.