Updated January, 2020
Here’s a dirty little secret: The typical motorcycle journalist rarely pays for a helmet, which is the reason we’re seldom seen with our heads shoved in anything less than the latest luxurious offerings from Shoei, Arai, AGV, etc. Were we doing this on our own dime, believe me, you’d be seeing us in a lot more of the helmets on this list. And truthfully, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Though the expensive lids are definitely the Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes of the helmet world, we know from experience you can have just as much fun flogging a nice Mustang or last year’s Corvette. Maybe more, since you’re less concerned with scratching them up. What you’re paying for in the high-end stuff is exemplary fit-and-finish, top-shelf materials and graphics, prestige – and sometimes hand assembly by old-world craftsmen. That’s all great if you have $800 to drop on a helmet.
But the number-one thing that defines a great helmet in the end is how it fits your head, and there are a surprising number of helmets in the sub-$200 category that will ensconce your skull very nearly as comfortably as the expensive imports. Well, they’re mostly imported also, often from places where labor is cheaper, but you get the picture. Buying a helmet is best done at a brick/mortar store where you can wear the thing for 10 or 15 minutes to see if your head begins to throb – and just about all bike shops still standing will match your online price if only you ask. If you’re buying online, be sure to check the return policy of the seller.
Then there’s the whole safety component of the thing, of course, but every helmet here carries at least an official DOT (Dept. of Transportation) sticker that means it’s passed USA safety tests. Some take it further by going above and beyond to meet the voluntary (and controversial) SNELL standard: It’s really going to be up to the consumer to decide which safety standard they’re compatible with. Anyway, with no further ado:
Okay, your paint and graphics aren’t up to Shoei/Arai standards, but again, not that far behind at all given the huge price difference – and one of the things that keeps the price down is there’s really only this one design in the Matt Black/Yellow “Hive” seen here, or Matt Black/Orange or Matt Black/Gray. The Sharki is a modular, which means the whole faceshield and chinbar flips open – a style we’ve come to love, and it comes with a retractable interior dark visor as well.
This is my first Vemar, but it’s not Vemar’s first rodeo by any means. They’ve been at it since 1975 in Tuscany, Italy, though the helmet is made in China; you can read all about Vemar’s history here. In addition to the mandatory DOT sticker, every Vemar helmet is engineered to Europe’s ECE-22.05 standard.
AGV’s latest entry level helmet takes its aero shape, ventilation, and spoiler directly from the wind-tunnel tested Corsa R and Pista GP R worn by Valentino himself. The shell and spoiler are said to provide aerodynamic stability at speed, while five front vents and two rear extractors, ah, extract hot air as you ride, which leads AGV to claim league-leading ventilation for this lid. A fully removable and washable 3D inner liner and cheek pads made of Dry-Lex fabrics keeps the interior comfy and cleanish. Two shells sizes cover everybody from XS to 2XL. For a few dollars more, the K1 is available in a bunch of highly stimulating graphic treatments.
The LS2 Breaker helmet brings a host of features at a great price point. Three different sizes of its Kinetic Polymer Alloy shell keep it light, and a wide eye port increases peripheral vision. To keep things cool the Breaker has two closable air vents up front and one open vent in the rear. LS2 uses its Fog Fighter shield on the Breaker to prevent fogging, and the helmet also includes a drop down sun visor. A nice feature not found on many helmets regardless of price point is the quick-release ratchet closure system which allows you to get the helmet fastened or removed quicker than using the typical D-rings. The Breaker comes in a host of graphics, all of which are available for well under $200; that’s the Breaker Pinball Glow in the Dark shown.
The HJC IS-17 is another helmet that offers many features at a great price point. IS stands for Internal Sun visor and 17 is the predecessor to the IS-16, a straight-forward naming scheme once you know. The IS-17 uses two shell sizes to allow users a smaller shell for smaller sizes. Former editor Thomas Roderick, had the chance to review the IS-17 and found it to be a great helmet at its price. This helmet can be had in a bunch of different graphics for under $200, including the Arcus version pictured. If you can do without the internal sun shield, and are in the market for a lightweight, Snell-approved fiberglass-shelled lid, check out also the very popular FG-17, also a serious bargain from HJC under $200.
If you have a longer head, you might want to try on the Icon Airmada for fit. This one’s been around for a while but has been recently overhauled with a new and better shield system. It’s come in plenty of wild graphics over the years. Wild is still available, but if you want to keep it under $200, you’ll be choosing black or white. The lightish polycarbonate shell comes in four sizes to provide a compact aerodynamic signature across a wide range of head sizes.
Speed and Strength’s SS1600 includes a locking anti-fog shield, drop down sun visor, removable liner, D-ring closure, and aggressive styling. The helmet is available is 19 different colorways as well. We think the blacked-out version would look good on just about any motorcycle from sportbikes to cruisers making it a versatile option no matter what you ride. If you’re looking for something similar in a modular, check out also the S&S SS4100.
Ah, the Bitlwell Gringo S. The S denotes an attached shield that you can flip up versus the Gringo, which comes without a shield. The Gringo S is slightly more rounded in its head shape. Biltwell helmets are fairly devoid of extra features, focusing more on the simple styling cues of days gone by, along with plenty of interesting color options for the S model, which makes them a favorite among the hipster set. Jon Langston reviewed the Gringo for MO a few years back, and that can be found here.
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