Why a Full-Face
Although wearing any helmet that is at least DOT approved is better than wearing none at all, here at Rider we prefer full-face helmets. A full-facer is one on which the chinbar is an integral part of the helmet rather than an add-on that can be pivoted upward, such as with a modular helmet. Because it’s all one piece, a full-face helmet can generally be considered stronger under impact. A 1991 German study identified the impact areas to motorcycle riders’ heads and discovered that the two most common impact areas were the right (19.4 percent) and left (15.2 percent) chin areas. Knowing that we have better than a third of a chance of slamming our chins into the pavement in an accident, we think a full-face helmet is a good choice to wear. Besides…the more of us they cover up, the better we look!
How a Helmet Works
The ultimate purpose of a helmet is to absorb impact energy. Its outer shell is usually composed of fiberglass, thermoplastic or a high-tech blending of fibers; its job is to disperse the crash energy over a wide area. Within the shell is a layer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, similar to the stuff comprising those disposable beverage cups, but much thicker and of higher quality. The foam may be of several layers of various densities and is designed to crush at a controlled rate to absorb energy. Air passages for ventilation may be positioned between the layers. Of course, if the impact is so severe that all of this crushable foam is used up, the rest of the energy will be transferred directly to the rider’s head. Because an accident-involved helmet has likely had its foam compressed and may also have suffered structural damage, it cannot be used again and must be discarded.
Finally, within the foam is a comfort liner made of a moisture-wicking fabric over padding. Its job is to offer comfort to the wearer. No one likes riding around in a grubby, sweaty helmet, which is why the comfort liner of each of these helmets is removable and washable. Many helmet companies provide the dealer or accessory store with a selection of interchangeable cheek pads so the helmet can be custom fit. This is one good reason to buy your helmet in person rather than online.Helmet Standards
There are three major helmet standards in use in the United States. For a motorsports safety helmet to be legally sold in this country it must meet the basic U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standard, as do all the helmets in our test. During testing, an instrumented headform is placed in the helmet, which is “dropped” (by a guided, sliding device) onto various flat and right angle surfaces. In simplified terms, the DOT standard states that a helmet dropped from a height of about 10 feet may pass no more than 400G (400 times the force of gravity) to the headform, and this impact may last no longer than a specific, very short dwell time. A hat that meets or exceeds this requirement is a pretty good helmet.
The Snell Memorial Foundation specifies that helmets that meet its standard must survive two impacts at four specific spots, one from an equivalent drop of about nine feet, and the other from 7.8 feet. It may transmit no more than 285G to the headform. While the Snell Foundation does not specify a dwell time, all helmets still must pass the DOT’s dwell standard regardless.
Another standard now in common use is the European ECE 22-05, which has its own specifications. We could argue the relative merits of the various standards till the cows turned into leather jackets, but the thing to understand is that they’re all good standards and the best way to protect yourself from head injury is to wear a good helmet every time you ride. A helmet that passes any or all of these standards is a very good helmet indeed.
One trend we’re noticing in helmets today is a concern with cutting wind noise. Most of the noise comes up from the opening along the bottom, so many helmet manufacturers are now having the liner protrude into the interior to diminish the open area around the wearer’s neck. As a result it may take a little extra oomph to force your head through this opening, but once in place the helmet should be quieter.
Another major trend is that about half the helmets here are provided with a drop-down sunshield. It’s an inner tinted shield that, with the push of a lever, pivots down in front of the eyes and resembles the shield on a fighter pilot’s helmet. It’s especially useful when riding near sunrise and sunset, when the weather changes abruptly or when entering or leaving a tunnel.
We asked these manufacturers to send one of their helmets that they wanted to spotlight, then rode a preset course with each on an unfaired motorcycle during which we noted wind noise, tested the ventilation system, ease of moving through the air and general comfort.
Good vision is critical while riding, so it’s important that the helmet shield be easy to remove for cleaning and/or changing from clear to tint. Each of these helmets in our test is equipped with a modern toolless shield changing system, which renders the screwdriver obsolete for the task. Simply raise the shield and, with most, it’s only necessary to push a lever and twist to remove the shield; reverse the motion to install.
We don’t normally comment upon fit unless there is something unusual about a helmet’s fit, as our heads will likely be different from yours.
Helmets Above $450
Arai Signet-Q$619.95-$749.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 6.4 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: XS-2XL
Arai offers helmet models that fit specific head shapes, and describes the Signet-Q as an elongated version of the RX-Q, adding 5mm front to back. Its shell is made of Super Complex Laminate Construction, and the way it snugs up around the bottom makes it one of the quietest helmets here. Its interior is likewise one of the most comfortable.
The cheek pads and temple/side pads have Arai’s exclusive 5mm peel-away custom fit layer to optimize comfort. Venting includes the very controllable chinbar vent, a pair of crown vents partly controlled by the two-position exhaust vent, and the unique eyebrow vents in the shield, which are very effective when used in concert.
Changing the shield on an Arai is not necessarily intuitive, but with practice can be done efficiently. Raise the shield, raise the lever under each side pod, then release them while simultaneously pulling the shield upward and outward and it will come out. To replace, work the edges of the shield under the pods until they fall into place.
Like Arai helmets we have tested in the past, the Signet-Q offers a top-quality interior, graphics and function. A clear Pinlock anti-fog face shield insert is also now included.
Schuberth S2$699-$749 * Weight: 3 pounds, 7.2 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XS-3XL
Schuberth’s S2 provides a glass fiber shell that has been compression molded with a special resin. Its interior combines Coolmax with Thermocool materials for a luxury feel. Sign up for Schuberth’s Mobility Program and, if your helmet is involved in an accident, you will be able to purchase a new Schuberth for one-third the suggested retail price.
The shield mechanism is ingenious: pull up a lever on each sideplate, continue to lift and the shield comes right off. To reinstall, place the shield protrusions in the openings in the sideplate mechanism and rotate it back into place. Included is a Pinlock anti-fog insert.
The chinbar vent opens only slightly and does not introduce a great deal of air, but that’s OK as the helmet is fairly breezy and generates only moderate wind noise. The top vent, however, delivers a focused amount of cooling to the center of the crown and offers two open positions. Like the Nolan, the Schuberth also offers the convenient quick-release ratcheting strap mechanism, which works well.
Schuberth’s sunshield deploys easily with a sliding control along the bottom of the helmet’s left side. And like most others here, I only wished that it would drop lower. Overall the S2 is light, has a luxury feel and provides a good number of features.
Shoei RF-1100$440.99-$551.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 9.9 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: 2XS-3XL
Shoei’s RF-1100 is made with its AIM+ shell construction, which combines fiberglass with organic fibers for enhanced strength. It features an integrated spoiler, and with its quick-release, self-adjusting base plate, provides one of the easiest shield-changing mechanisms available. Simply lift the shield, pull a lever on each side and the shield can be lifted off or easily replaced. A separate control allows the shield to be positioned slightly open to counteract fogging or to be locked closed.
In addition to the chinbar vent, the very effective and controllable venting system includes a pair of two-position crown intakes and two pairs of open/closed exhaust vents. Utilize these and the RF-1100 can very precisely place the proper amount of cooling breeze just where you want it. Buttoned up, it’s also one of the quietest helmets in our test. The Shoei moves through the air very quietly and its interior material is a comfort to the skin.
The Shoei RF-1100’s comfort begins with the nicely appointed interior, continues through the well thought out ventilation system and includes the easy-change shield system. Add in its paint and graphics and the RF-1100 is a very impressive helmet.
Vemar Eclipse Night Vision$475 * Weight: 3 pounds, 11.5 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XS-2XL
Night Vision—why? Ride from the daylight into dusk and, what-ho, this thing glows in the dark for conspicuity—cool! Its shell is a composite of Kevlar, carbon and fiberglass, and the proprietary paint formula includes a phosphorescent pigment that is applied in three layers over a special base coat.
Beyond this fascinating feature, however, the Eclipse’s interior is rather firm and less compliant than other helmets here, and at 3 pounds, 11.5 ounces, it’s heavy. The chinbar vent control (which is up underneath and pivots side-to-side) is difficult to find while wearing gloves, but provides good airflow. The crown vents provide just a minimal amount of subtle cooling to the crown, while the vent over the eyeport is ineffective. At least the helmet is reasonably quiet.
To change it, lift the shield, pull out the back of the locking device on each side and pivot it downward. Now close the shield and pivot the forward device downward so it corresponds to the opening in the shield; pull the shield outward and off. It takes some fiddling, but it works.
Though not enamored of the venting and weight of the Night Vision, I found the glow-in-the-dark feature very trick! The initial brightness quickly fades, but the helmet will continue to glow for up to eight hours definitely improves nighttime safety.
AGV Horizon$359.95-$399.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 9.4 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: S-XL
The AGV Horizon’s shell is made of Carbonglass, a mix of fiberglass and carbon fiber. Inside, it’s upholstered with Dry-Lex fabric, which is cushiony but I found the fit rather tight and the cheekpads intrusive. Its main shield and drop-down sunshield are both scratch-resistant and anti-fog.
Out on the highway, I noted an inordinate amount of airflow even with the vents closed and discovered it was coming up from underneath. I could nearly stop it by blocking it with my hand; a chin curtain (a flexible piece of cloth across the chin area intended to block the wind) would have been welcome. The two top vents offered very little air movement, but the chinbar vent was quite effective. Despite this, the helmet is relatively quiet. Its drop-down sunshield is effective and easy to use, but like most such shields here it did not drop down as far as I would have preferred, which means a lot of light came in from below. Main shield removal is as simple as pulling down a lever; installation is just as easy.
The Horizon is nicely upholstered, but could have more effective upper venting along with better wind control from below.
Bell RS-1$399.95-$449.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 9.5 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: XS-2XL
New in 2011, the RS-1 is positioned between Bell’s top-line Star and the value-priced Vortex. In positioning it here, Bell gave the RS-1 a Kevlar/fiberglass shell with a spoiler at the rear. It moves cleanly through the air, but I did experience a slight wind roar when turning my head to the sides.
Shield changing is as simple as it gets. Raise the shield, push a lever on each sideplate and the shield pops off. Installation is likewise easy: align the shield with its mechanism, push the lever and it snaps into place. The shield can also be locked closed.
There are two sets of vents on the crown, each with dual openings flanking a single control in the center. Open either to experience a soothing coolness passing along the crown of your head, or open both for a good pool of coolness. The chinbar vent is also effective and sends a good amount of wind up the shield.
The RS-1 offers very effective venting, which makes it a good choice for warm-weather riding. It also includes a wonderful shield changing process and an acceptable level of wind noise.
Bilt Techno Bluetooth$319.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 15.1 ounces * Standards: DOT only * Sizes: XS–2XL
This helmet is the heaviest in our test not only because it has a drop-down sunshield, but also because it is equipped with an integrated DWO-3 Bluetooth system that offers a rider-to-rider or rider-to-passenger intercom and syncs with your mobile phone, GPS or MP3 player. Its shell is constructed of injection-molded polycarbonate and its crown vents introduce a pool of coolness to the top of the head, though its chinbar vent provides very little. If you do wish to take advantage of the sound system capabilities, note that the Bilt is one of the noisiest helmets here, emitting a low roar even at low speeds, but it does not increase much with speed.
Many other helmet sunshields do not deploy far enough and thus leave a strip of daylight coming in from underneath. However, the Bilt’s nearly touches its breath guard and thus provides the most complete coverage here. Its face shield took more fiddling than most to remove and install, and its pivot pieces come off, which makes it possible to lose them.
If you’re looking for fully integrated built-in electronics, the Techno Bluetooth is worth a look, but testing its capabilities was beyond the scope of this review. Just be aware that the helmet is relatively heavy and noisy.
Joe Rocket Speedmaster Carbon$399.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 2.4 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: XS-2XL
Check out the Speedmaster Carbon’s shell with its black carbon fiber weave immersed in deep gloss and you’ll likely appreciate its high-tech look. Not only that, but at just three pounds, 2.4 ounces it’s easily the lightest helmet in our test, and lightness is a major factor in day-long comfort. Its lack of weight, while nevertheless meeting the tough Snell standard, gives further credence to the fact that its high-tech carbon fiber weave shell with dual-density EPS liner is for real. It’s certainly a handsome hat.
The anti-fog face shield requires only a forward push on the lever for release, and a proper positioning with a backward push to lock the shield back in place. The vents under the rear spoiler cannot be closed, but the chinbar vent and the pair in the crown are controllable. The upper openings are quite small, so even with both of them open, airflow ventilation is minimal. At least the helmet is relatively quiet.
Lightness, quiet riding and a high-tech style are the Speedmaster’s strong points, but minimal ventilation is its drawback. As a result, it’s recommended for cooler weather riding, especially since it only comes in black.
Nolan N-85$249.95-$299.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 7.9 ounces * Standards: DOT only * Sizes: XS to 2XL
Well known for its modular helmets, Nolan bills the new N-85 as its return to the American full-face market. Its polycarbonate shell encloses a comforting Clima liner. At the center of the face shield pivot is a release button. Push it in and the shield (which accepts a Pinlock anti-fog insert, included) pops off forward. Push the shield slightly rearward and it realigns into the mechanism.
Airflow from the chinbar vent is barely discernible, yet even with vents closed I could feel a breeze at the top of my head. Pivoting open the twin top vents will tousle what’s left of my hair. The sunshield is effective and easy to use with its single control.
The Microlock adjustable quick-release retention system resembles a ratchet-style buckle. Slide the serrated end into the buckle and it grabs it with a self-adjusting, spring-loaded catch. To release, lift the latch and it slides out. It’s simpler and quicker to use than a traditional D-ring, but without the D-rings cannot be locked to a helmet holder.
The pocket integrated into the left side of the helmet is for Nolan’s N-Com communications system. This optional item allows the rider to utilize a music system, phone, GPS or intercom. Overall it’s a comfortable helmet, but weak on ventilation.
RPHA 10$359.99-$549.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 6.5 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: XS-2XL
This new premium brand from HJC is pronounced “arfa” and stands for “Revolutionary Performance Helmet Advantage,” and it’s a very nice effort. The interior has a luxury feel that is second to none and it’s also one of the quietest helmets here. Formerly the RPS-10, the HJC RPHA 10 was designed with input from MotoGP racer Ben Spies. Its venting system is top-rate. With the helmet buttoned up there is still a slight amount of airflow, enough to keep things from getting stagnant inside, yet it’s not cold, either. With the shield open a crack you feel a slight breeze, then the chinbar vent sends airflow up around the temples. The two intake scoops within the top pods have five position settings and offer a wide array of airflow.
Shield changing is a snap: push a lever within each sideplate rearward and the shield partly pops out, waiting for the rider to grab and remove. Reinstallation is just as easy, as a light push toward the mechanism allows the shield to snap back in. At just 3 pounds, 6.5 ounces, the helmet is one of the lightest here.
With its lightness, comfortable interior, quiet operation, easy shield changing and effective venting, the RPHA offers a lot of function.
Scorpion EXO-1100$289.95-$329.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 9.2 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XS-2XL
Scorpion tells us that the EXO-1100’s shell utilizes Thermodynamic Composite Technology, a proprietary five-layer blend of interlaced and specially formulated fiberglass, Aramid and organic poly-resin fibers. It also includes a KwikWick 2 liner for moisture control and an AirFit cheekpad system. The latter includes a built-in air pump controlled by a small bulb inside the chinbar. Give it 20 or so pushes and the cheekpads slowly expand to meet your cheeks. Push a separate control and the pads deflate for easy helmet removal.
On the road the helmet is very breezy, though relatively quiet. Ventilation includes four intakes (chinbar, above the eyeport and two in the crown) and controllable exhaust vents below the rear spoiler. The shield is both anti-fog and scratch resistant, and changing it is literally a snap. Turn the circular control on the pivot point and the shield pops off; place its pin properly on the mechanism, push and it snaps back on. The shield can also be locked closed or left slightly open for ventilation. Finally, the retractable sunshield lives up inside, but allows a lot of light up from below.
The Scorpion is fully featured and its paint and graphics really pop, but its breeziness suggests it works better in a warm climate.
Helmets Under $200
Fulmer 62B$119.95-$133.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 8.9 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XS-2XL
Though the Fulmer 62B I tried was labeled as a size medium, it fit me like a large with plenty of room inside. Its shape is very modern with a spoiler and extra sexy curves in the back, and its shell is made of ABS composite. The interior is covered with a soft liner that wicks away moisture and feels good on the skin. Utilize the sliding control on the left side and the sunshield drops into place, but like many others it leaves a gap where light can come up from underneath.
The chinbar vent, which pops open forward, offers minimal air movement, but the twin two-position top vents deliver two intense pools of coolness to the crown. Use it in conjunction with the sliding two-position rear vent for very precise upper vent control. With the shield raised, pull down on a lever on each sideplate and the shield pops off. To reposition, slide a tab into the pivot area while pulling the lever again and repositioning another tab and it’s in.
Overall, its interior composition and ventilation make for a comfortable helmet, while its interior and graphics belie the fact that it and the Vega are tied for being the least expensive helmet in our test.
GMax GM69S$124.95-$134.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 7.5 ounces * Standards: DOT only * Sizes: XS-3XL
One of the least expensive helmets in our test, the GM69S offers a thermoplastic poly alloy shell with water decals and a clearcoat finish. Its Coolmax interior fit me tight in the cheeks, but the pads are removable with optional sizes available, so that could be easily remedied. The interior was reasonably comfortable.
The shield slides in a track as it rises, until it comes up against a stop. At that point, pulling down a control retracts the stop so the shield can continue up and out for toolless removal. It slides back in relatively easily. For added value, both a tinted and clear shield come standard with the helmet.
The twin vents in the side of the chinbar cannot be closed, but the center one can be and offers two positions. Its vent directs fresh air upward across the inside of the shield to reduce fogging. The crown vents in the ducts each have two open positions and are quite effective in cooling. With all vents closed except the non-adjustable chinbar vents, the helmet remains breezy, but wind noise is only moderate.
The GMax is proof that you can still buy a pretty comfortable and convenient helmet for not a lot of money. Still, it meets only the DOT standard.
HJC FG-17$189.99-199.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 11.5 ounces * Standards: DOT and Snell * Sizes: XS-3XL
According to HJC, the FG-17 is made of an advanced fiberglass composite shell that has been wind-tunnel tested. This composition results in a helmet that weighs 3 pounds, 11.5 ounces, which is a bit on the heavy side. Slip it on and its SilverCool interior provides a luxury feel, soft yet supportive. Its face shield has been prepared to accept the Pinlock insert. Good airflow issues from its two top vents, though the small controls can be difficult to locate while wearing gloves. The chinbar vent does not offer much airflow, and I had to concentrate to determine the difference between having the lower vent open as opposed to closed. Noise is moderate.
Like other HJC models, it utilizes a shield retention mechanism that allows the shield to pop outward when a lever on each side is pushed. To reattach, push the lever and twist the shield until it pops into place. It’s simply one of the best mechanisms here.
HJC claims to sell more helmets than anyone else in the world and the FG-17 is an indication of why. Though it may not be top-notch in venting, noise control or lightness, it offers good value for its price.
LS2 CR1 FF385$169.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 4.6 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XXS-3XL
New in the United States, the company behind LS2 has been manufacturing helmets in China for 20 years. About five years ago, it began selling helmets under the LS2 name in Europe. The CR1 FF385 offers bright and tasteful paint and graphics, meets the European standard in addition to the DOT and is the second lightest helmet in our test.
With five controllable vents (chinbar, top, two in the crown and an exhaust vent) the CR1 can move a good deal of air and it’s all very controllable. Whether open or closed, however, I found the helmet quite noisy. Give the little pump inside the chinbar about 20 pushes and it inflates the cheek pads to conform to your face; a second control deflates them.
Shield changing is a snap by opening it, sliding the control on the pivot to the open position, then twisting the round piece counter-clockwise a quarter turn until it pops off. One negative is that the round piece comes off and could be dropped; the only other is that there is a slight gap when the crown vents are closed, so presumably rain could enter during a prolonged ride. Otherwise, this is a very good effort for a relatively new company.
Stealth F117$179.99 (estimated) * Weight: 3 pounds, 8.0 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: 2XS-3XL
This is a relatively new brand, launched in 2011 by the folks at Vega. It’s their more high-end helmet with Euro styling and a few extra features like the Coolmax interior and high-tech specialty thermoplastic shell.
Despite its chin curtain, a fairly steady flow of wind comes up from the chin area, but it’s relatively quiet. Opening the chinbar vent exposes four small openings that usher a good deal of air to the face. Likewise the twin two-position crown vents provide a good amount of airflow in their fully open positions.
To remove it, open the shield one click, press on the black elongated tab in the center slot of the shield pivot mechanism and slide the shield forward off the pivot point. To replace, slide the shield rearward until it clicks into place. You’ll want to use a soft cloth for this step to avoid fingerprints, as you’ll be pushing on the shield directly. The drop-down sunshield requires a decided push with the thumb control, but pops back up easily with the use of a second control. It also deploys low enough that minimal light comes up from underneath.
The Stealth works well, its interior is comfortable and it has a high-tech style.
Vega Insight$119.99-$129.99 * Weight: 3 pounds, 7.4 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: 2XS-2XL
Vega’s Insight is constructed of a thermoplastic shell cradling a dual-density EPS layer inside, which is nicely padded by a Wick-Dri fabric liner. It all felt good on my head, and if the fit isn’t quite right the liners are interchangeable at the dealership for a custom fit within the shell size.
Out on the road, the Insight is among the noisier helmets in our test, despite its chin curtain and flush-mounted shield. It has a drop-down sunshield, but the mechanism on our unit was balky and not only took an inordinate amount of force to deploy, but didn’t always “catch” and remain in the down position. The control up on the crown opens two small vents that introduce a barely perceptible amount of cooling to the top of the head. Likewise, the chinbar vent flow was also barely noticeable.
Changing the shield takes some fiddling by properly positioning the mechanism so it pushes off forward and snaps back in place. Vega tells us that its Series B shields are available in nine tint, mirrored and anti-fog options.
The Insight is inexpensive, but with a balky sunshield, finicky shield changing, wind noise and minimal venting, it didn’t perform as well as others in our test.
Z1R Jackal$189.95 * Weight: 3 pounds, 7.0 ounces * Standards: DOT and ECE * Sizes: XS-2XL
The ABS/polycarbonate shell conceals a removable, washable, moisture-wicking, anti-microbial Heal-Tec comfort liner, a dual-density EPS foam liner with ventilation channels, and an integrated, drop-down sunshield with a quick-release mechanism. The interior feels fairly smooth against the skin and skirting underneath cozies up to the neck to block wind noise.
Wind noise is moderate on the highway and venting is negligible. The chinbar vent pivots forward slightly, essentially preventing wind from entering it directly. Crown venting consists of a sliding control that exposes a single circular opening on each side, which directs meager airflow over the crown with a slight cooling effect, then continues out the back.
The sunshield drops down when the rider slides a control along the top toward the front of the helmet. It works flawlessly, but a considerable amount of light comes up from below the shield. Shield changing is simple by pivoting a lever forward on each sideplate; this uncovers the projections that hold the shield in place so it can be pulled right out. To replace, set the shield back in the mechanism and push the lever so the plate rotates back over the projections.
The Jackal is comfortable and looks high-tech, but its ventilation is so minor that I would not recommend it for warm-weather riding.
(This article Heavenly Hard Hats, Eighteen Full-Face Helmets to Complete Your Look—And Your Safety was published in the July 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)