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  • Snell is still widely considered the top rating for helmet safety, but some people argue the european ECE rating is better. They both surpass DOT standards, and update their tests every few years to keep in line with new research. The debates consist of the relative benefits of different helmet hardnesses and shapes, and what sorts of impacts are most likely in the case of an accident (direct blunt impact, glancing impact, multiple impacts).
  • Because the materials break down, it is recommended that you buy a new helmet every 5 years (this is from helmet companies and retailers, so take it with a grain of salt).
  • Full face is highly recommended as >60% of impacts are to the front of the head.
  • Some new helmets include tabs for emergency responders to remove padding, making it easier to slide your hands inside and stabilize c-spine while removing the helmet.
A 2011 Forbes article "The Motorcycle Helmets Consumers Like Best" says,
"As for what the motorcycle cognoscenti are wearing these days, Arai and Icon helmets hold the most sway. This is the 13th consecutive year Arai has topped J.D. Power's list of the motorcycle helmets consumers like best."

Full Face Helmets: (See Modular Helmets below)
Click on review scores below for complete reviews. <
Helmet HJC CL-17 Arai Vector-2 Shoei RF-1200 Shoei Qwest Icon Airmada Scorpion EXO-R2000 Scorpion EXO-500 Scorpion EXO-1100
Price $145 $450 $425 $325 $180 $380 $200 $300
RevZilla rating 2 4.8 (32) 4.7 (70) 4.8 (129) 4.6 (381) 4.6 (311) 4.8 (30)4.6 (181) 4.7 (253)
webBikeWorld Reviews 5 5 4 ? 4 * See
below
helmets at Cycle Gear ? 4.2 (48) ? ?
Helmet Advisor % 5 star 79% 80% 79% 67% 67%
Weight (lbs) 3.75 3.5 3.5 3.6 3.8 4
SNELL Approved y y y y n y n n
ECE 22-05 Approved y y y
Polycarbonate
or Fiberglass
or Composite
Emergency Cheek removal n n y n y
Removable Liner p
Interchangeable Cheek Pads1
Head shape 3 SR SN SN N SN SN SN
Modular - Flip-up Chin Bar
Ventilation
Quiet
Anti-Fog Shield y
Fog Resistant
Ease of Shield change
Others:
Full Face: Bell Vortex $180 4.3 (417), Bell RS-1 $399 4.4 (130)

1. Removable liner - p = partial (crown & cheelpads)
2. rating average score out of 5 (number of reviews)
Most helmets were 3.2 - 5 pounds

3. Head shape: SN - Slightly Narrow, N - Neutral, SR - Slightly Round
Motorcycle Helmet Shapes - webBikeWorld

* Review at WebBikeWorld.com says, "The Scorpion EXO-1100 is basically an EXO-700 that weighs about 200 grams more and costs $120.00 more? We think the best deal in the house is the Scorpion EXO-400."

Modular Helmets (Flip-up chin bar):
Flip Up Modular Motorcycle Helmets Buyers Guide | Rider Magazine says,
Modular helmets, or flips-ups, were once curiosities; Today, modulars are popular with all kinds of riders, from tourers and sport-tourers to dual-sport riders, and just about every helmet manufacturer has a modular in its lineup. With the chinbar closed they offer the same weather protection as a full-coverage helmet (if not the same crash protection, since rubber or plastic is typically used to line the chinbar instead of EPS). With the chinbar up, they’re easier for riders who wear glasses to put on and take off, you can eat or drink and they make conversation with others less intimidating. >
Helmet HJC IS-MAX BT HJC RPHA MAax Align Shoei Neotec Nolan N44 Nolan N104 Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer
Price $180 $460 $650 $277 $295 $270
RevZilla rating 2 4.4 (123) 4.4 (46) 4.7 (453) 4.7 (40) 4.4 (456) 4.3 (107)
webBikeWorld Reviews? 4 5 4 5 2
Weight 3.9 3.6 4 3.7 3.8 4.2
See also:
Premium Modular Helmets - A Head to Head Comparison | Competition Accessories
Flip Up Modular Motorcycle Helmets Buyers Guide | Rider Magazine

Ventilation and Noise:
Cycle Gear Testing (Chart in SF Store 1500 Harrison @ 11th)
Shoei X-11 and Arai RX7 Corsair had better than average ventilation and worse than average noise.
Shoei RF-1000 had average ventilation and better than average quite ride.
Arai Vector and Profile had average ventilation and average noise.
Some comments at MotorcycleDaily.com complined of noise in the RF-1200.

Shell Construction:
A helmet's shell is generally made from either a molded polycarbonate plastic or a fiber composite (FRP - Fiber reinforced Plastic) that can consist of fiberglass, Kevlar and/or carbon fiber. A polycarb shell is cheaper to produce, so this construction is usually found at the lower end of the price spectrum. A fiberglass/Kevlar/carbon shell results in lighter weight and is usually found in pricier name brands.

A 2005 article "Motorcycle Helmet Performance: Blowing the Lid Off" by Motorcyclist Magazine editor Dexter Ford said that helmets manufactured to the more stringent Snell standard transmitted more forces to the head than less expensive DOT helmets.
The helmet's shell absorbs energy as it flexes in the case of a polycarbonate helmet, or flexes, crushes and delaminates in the case of a fiberglass composite helmet.

In tests the DOT helmets transmitted an average of 152-174 Gs (with no part over 200 Gs) to the head, while the Snell helmets transmitted an average of 181-211 Gs, with at least one part over 200 Gs and a maximum of 243 Gs to the right front of the Arai Tracker GT.
Exposing a human head to a force over 200 Gs for more than 2 milliseconds is what medical experts refer to as "bad."

In Snell's response they say,
"Injury risk is not thought to be proportional to G's but, instead jumps from some low level to some very high level when the impact G's pass through some threshold level. If a crash helmet can attenuate impact shock so that it remains below this threshold level, the expected injury risks will be minimal. "
They claim the limit is 300 Gs.

Snell M2010, the new standard, closely follows the recommendations made in "Blowing The Lid Off." See:
Leaked docs show Motorcyclist caved to advertiser pressure, fired editor | RideApart

Terms:
EPS - Expanded Polystyrene (lining material)
FRP - Fiber reinforced Plastic
ABS - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene - a molded thermoplastic similar to polycarbonate
ECE - Economic Commission for Europe (ECE 22.05 standard) 
DOT - Department of Transportation 
SMF - Snell Memorial Foundation 
PINLOCK® - A pin on face shields that allows an anti-fog lens to be attached.

Arai terms
HCM - Head Circumference Measurement
I/O - Intermediate Oval head shape
L/O - Long Oval Head shape
FCS - Facial Contour System - 5 mm peel-away cheek-pad layers
R75 - Minimum radius of 75mm to avoid getting hung up when sliding across the street
ScLc - Super Complex Laminate Construction

Shoei terms:
E.Q.R.S. (Emergency Quick-Release System) - Allows medics to remove cheek pads
Q.R.S.A. (Quick Release Self-Adjusting) Base Plate System - Easy change face shield
CWR-1 Shield System - They don't say what CWR stands for
         They are distortion-free UV blocking face shields.
Sizing:
Sizes will vary so you should try them on. A medium in one model may work while it may take a large in another.

WebBikeWorld says, "Internal shape is one of the most important factors to understand when purchasing a motorcycle helmet.
  They list 5 basic shapes. In addition to round and narrow (oval) they list earth and egg shape.
  Ratings at RevZilla and webBikeWorld rate shape on a scale from narrow to round.
WebBikeWorld goes on,   "Motorcycle helmet manufacturers seem to have been converging towards a "neutral" internal shape over the last few years.
  For example, Arai, who used to be known for making helmets with quite varied internal shapes, have eliminated the "round" shape Quantum II in the U.S. market, while other Arai helmets that once had a very narrow internal shape now tend towards a more neutral internal profile."

Most helmets have some adjustments by replacing or adjusting internal pads. Tips:
Pull out on the chin straps to get them on.
If you feel like you're biting your cheeks when closing your mouth it is too small.

The Fit Test at Buyer's Guide | motorcycle.com says,
"When you're trying on a helmet, take this quick test to ensure that you've got a good fit: First, fasten the strap snugly (you should feel some force on your chin). Next, grab the back of the helmet and try to lift it up and pull it forwards off your head. You should not be able to get the helmet off even with significant effort. Also, the cheekpads should allow only minimum movement when twisting the helmet from side to side. Many riders buy a helmet too large for their heads - a good-fitting helmet should be on the snug side, and the fit will become looser as the padding breaks in. A loose-fitting helmet will transfer a greater amount of impact energy to your brain - haven't you already made your grey matter suffer enough?"

Motorcycle Helmet Shapes - webBikeWorld lists helmets by head shape.

Links:
Buyer's Guide to Motorcycle Helmets | motorcycle.com
Motorcycle Helmets, Helmet Reviews and Guides - RevZilla
Shoei Helmets vs Arai Helmets | Expert Comparisons - RevZilla
Reviews of the Best Motorcycle Helmets | Helmet Advisor
The Motorcycle Helmets Consumers Like Best | Forbes 2011
webBikeWorld reviews
Cycle Gear helmet reviews
Helmet City
Motorcycle Helmets - Motorcycle Superstore
Full-Face Helmets Buyers Guide 2013 | Rider Magazine
High-End Helmets Archives | Helmet City BlogHelmet City Blog

last updated 7 Sep 2014