How to buy a motorcycle helmet

Here’s a Schuberth C4, one of the best motorcycle helmets you can buy, and a brand that CMG testers have always enjoyed using. But if you can’t afford something like this, you can still buy a perfectly safe helmet without breaking the bank. Don’t think that only an expensive helmet can protect your head.

Money talks

Motorcycle helmets are like any other commodity. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Some lower-priced helmets offer good quality for your dollar for less than $300, and some expensive helmets costing three times that will fall apart quickly, but as a rule, spend more to get a better, more comfortable helmet that will last longer.

This is one area where you really benefit by shopping at a dealership, as you’re able to compare several brands in person, to judge their fit and finish for yourself. A little bit of online research can also give you a pretty good idea of a brand’s reputation for value.

But while a higher-priced helmet may be better quality, don’t be suckered into the old argument that spending less on a helmet means you’re being stupid and unsafe. The “$50 helmet for a $50 head” line is frequently parroted by riders who want to justify their own expensive helmet purchases and make you feel inferior for not spending the same. The reality is, no amount of money can buy you a replacement head, so you’re best off determining the safety level you need and buying a helmet you can afford that delivers that safety level, whether that be $250 or $1250.

This Icon Variant helmet costs far less than other high-end adventure riding helmets, but has held up over several years of dual-sport usage.

If you’re broke, especially if you’re just starting out riding, it might be tempting to buy a used helmet to save money.

But ask yourself: do you know for sure if this helmet hasn’t been dropped? Dropping a helmet can damage it, and many manufacturers recommend replacement afterwards. Do you know how old the helmet is? Many manufacturers recommend replacement after a few years, as helmet linings can deteriorate over time and offer less protection.

With those caveats in mind, buying a used helmet certainly can save you some bucks, if you’re getting it from a trustworthy friend.

Of course, you can often get new helmets cheaper online than in your local dealership, but as we’ve already pointed out, there are a few advantages to buying in person. If funds are super-tight, shop around to find a dealer who will price-match with online retailers (they do exist), or wait until a motorcycle show or other event where dealerships offer significant discounts on helmets.

7 thoughts on “How to buy a motorcycle helmet”

  1. Last year high sided after a car pulled out in front of me. Head crashed to the ground wearing a Shoei full face Snell rated helmet. Sliding down the road thinking how loud it is in my helmet! Helmet chin bar scraped to the base and no head injury. Broken wrist and road rash on my knee. If I was riding a 3/4 helmet my chin would still be on the road! Always ride with the best protective equipment. I was only riding around the block to fill my bike with gas at the end of the season in November.

  2. Agreed TK4, I buy Bell online 1 year old leftovers for 75% off. I got hit by a deer wearing one and it saved my life, EMT said good thing you had a full face helmet or we’d be picking your bottom jaw off the road. The service life is based on exposure to UV and your sweat. a 5 year old new helmet in the box never in the sun or been sweat into is good for the next 5 years, and if you are a very occasional rider you could go longer. I bought my first Bell at the dealer, after that I buy the same model in the same size from the least expensive online retailer I can find it at. I’ve had more pricey helmets but the 250 USD helmet reduced by 75% because it is last years graphics is the right bang for the buck and after a crash test with 0 head injury but a destroyed helmet I’ll keep buying every 4-5 years. (Hopefully not sooner due to another crash)

  3. Great article! Canadians crossing the US border to ride in the USA should make sure their helmets also display the US DOT along with either Snell or ECE rating. Having the Snell or ECE ratings only as some Canadian riders may have or removing the US DOT rating sticker can cause problems at the US border crossing.

    1. Joel – current DOT stickers are a lot more sophisticated than the knockoffs. They display the manufacturers name and some other pertinent information. Too bad we can only post pictures in the Soapbox, I’d show you.

  4. Editor Mark asked for suggestions about what to do with old helmets. I’ve posted previously in Soapbox that your local fire department or EMS can sometimes use them for training purposes.
    If you’re just going to toss them in the trash, first cut the straps off so someone doesn’t end up reusing it.
    If you look on the back, or inside on the liner you’ll usually find a date of manufacture stamp.
    5 years of use, as you’ve suggested, is usually about it BUT if you find something brand new, old stock that the retailer is willing to discount savings can be had. Just because its been sitting in the box in a warehouse somewhere for a couple of years doesn’t mean its no good.
    Colours and graphics change every season, so if you’re willing to not be the coolest kid on the block there are perhaps savings to be had there.
    Next….

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