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Best motorcycle helmet 2021 UK: Safety, style and comfort, from £120

Curtis Moldrich
3 Aug 2021
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Ride smart with the best motorcycle helmets for safety, protection and style on UK roads

Whether you’re learning to ride or an experienced biker, a helmet represents your most important bit of gear. It’s the thing that protects your head and face from the elements, and – in the event of an accident – it’s your main protection from other vehicles, road furniture and tarmac too.

Here you’ll find our guide to the best motorcycle helmets in 2021. While all motorcycle helmets are safe enough to pass the UK’s safety guidelines, here we’ll cover everything from cheaper helmets ideal for those just taking their CBT, to lighter, more expensive helmets for those with a bigger budget.

Best motorcycle helmet: At a glance

  • Best value motorcycle helmet: Nolan N87 | Around £120 | Buy now
  • Best all-round helmet under £400: Shark Spartan GT | Around £350 | Buy now
  • Best helmet for retro style: Shoei Glamster | Around £400 | Buy now
  • Best value flip-front helmet: HJC IS Max-2 | Around £120 | Buy now

How to choose the best motorcycle helmet for you

What type of helmet should you buy?

Motorcycle helmets can be divided into four main groups; full-face lids that cover the entire head and are most common, open-face lids which leave the face exposed, and flip-front helmets which can be enclosed or open depending on the position they’re in. Finally, motocross-style helmets enclose the head, but replace a visor with a peak, while adventure helmets feature both a visor and a peak. You’ll need to factor in the cost of goggles for a motocross-style helmet.

Although each helmet style lends itself to a particular type of riding, they can all be used in various riding situations.

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How can you tell whether a helmet is safe and road-legal?

Before you reach for the credit card, it’s important to remember that for a helmet to be road-legal in the UK, it has to adhere to one of the following safety standards:

  • Meet British Standard BS 6658:1985 and have the BSI Kitemark
  • Meet the ECE 22.05 or newer 22.06 standard
  • Alternatively, EEA-produced helmets need to adhere to a safety standard equal to or better than the BS 6658:1985 standard and be marked accordingly

Even though all genuine UK and European road-legal helmets will meet the minimum standards, it pays to look out for cheap fakes which may be on sale for a suspiciously low price – these may not actually adhere to any safety standards at all. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is, so double check that you’re buying from a reputable, trusted source before rushing to snag a bargain.

Do all helmets offer the same level of protection?

No. Although every helmet needs to meet the same safety standards, some will protect you better than others in the event of an accident. In fact, there are a variety of different safety standards for motorcycle helmets each with its own specific suite of safety tests designed to reflect the dangers in different territories.

For instance, the ECE 22.05 and newer 22.06 standards are specifically designed to reflect the lower average crash speeds in Europe, while SNELL and DOT (Department of Transportation) are US-based standards and designed to test helmets for the speed and type of impacts more prevalent across the pond. Bear in mind, though, that even if a helmet meets SNELL and DOT standards, it’s not legal for use in Europe or the UK unless it also meets the ECE or British Standards listed above.

If you want even more reassurance, then UK-based official safety standards bodies, such as SHARP, carry out additional, more rigorous tests over and above the legally required ones. SHARP is an official UK Department for Transport consumer information programme: it only tests helmets which have already received ECE approval, and further subjects them to a slew of impact tests to provide a more detailed breakdown of a helmet’s protective potential.

We’d recommend searching through SHARP’s test database before purchasing a helmet – at the time of writing, it has test data for 489 helmets from all the major brands. We’ve listed the results in the Key Specs section beneath each of our mini-reviews here. If you’re expecting performance to correlate with cost, you may be surprised.

So, is it worth spending more on a high-end helmet?

Spending more on a helmet doesn’t necessarily guarantee greater protection, but a great helmet needs to do more than just protect your head. High-end helmets will employ more expensive materials such as carbon fibre, fibreglass and kevlar, which incidentally do tend to perform better in crash tests on average, but they’ll often feel lighter than cheaper helmets as a result. This also means they’re less tiring to wear for long rides.

More expensive helmets may also provide a more comfortable fit, better ventilation and they may also offer reduced wind noise – thanks to better insulation and a more aerodynamic outer shell. If you’re going to wear a helmet for hours on end, it makes sense for it to be one that keeps you safe and comfortable in all conditions.

How should a helmet fit?

When trying on a helmet, you should look for a snug fit that applies light but even pressure to all parts of your head. If a helmet fits loosely it’ll easily come off in an accident, and won’t be of any use. If a helmet puts pressure points around your head or gives you a headache, it’s almost certainly too tight.

Fasteners?

Most helmets will have a double-D fastener, which is tried, tested and secure – if not a little fiddly. However, an increasing number of helmets feature a modern micrometric fastener that can be easily plugged in and then detached – even with gloves on. Both are as safe as each other, provided they’re calibrated properly.

And visors?

The visor is a key part of the helmet you buy – if it has one – because it’s your sole window for making observations and seeing the road ahead. Most good visors have a Pinlock or are Pinlock-ready – and it’s something you’ll likely want your new helmet to have. Simply put, a Pinlock is a plastic insert that fits into your helmet’s visor and creates a double-glazing effect to stop mist and fog. Both are annoying and dangerous in practice, so a Pinlock system is worth having.

One more thing, visors must transmit 70% of light, so dark tinted visors are illegal. However, some helmets feature an internal dark visor that can be deployed in sunnier settings.

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The best motorcycle helmets to buy in 2021

1. Shark Spartan GT: Best all-round helmet under £400

Price: £360 | Buy now from Ghost Bikes

The Spartan GT replaces one of Shark’s most popular helmets, but it’s significantly better in every area. In addition to an aerodynamic fibreglass shell, the Spartan GT features a range of helpful features; a safety mechanism keeps the visor closed, while ‘shark skin’ around the visor hinges aims to reduce noise.

Inside, the interior of the Spartan GT is snug and comfortable and does a good job reducing the amount of unwanted air coming under and into the helmet. What’s more, a chin guard helps to redirect breath away from the Shark’s Pinlock visor and out. The result? Less noise and less fog, which can only be a good thing.

Finally, the Spartan GT also features an internal sun visor and combines it with an intensive network of vents – so the Shark is good for summer as well as winter.

The Spartan GT is available in a range of colours and sizes, so there should be something to suit even the most discerning rider.

Key specs – Sizes: 6 (XS to XXL, 53-64cm); Colours: 4+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05, ACE Gold; SHARP: 4 stars; Weight: 1,390g (Medium)

Buy now from Ghost Bikes


2. Arai Debut: An entry-level Arai for £300

Price: £330 | Buy now from Demon Tweeks

Arai is one of the most well-respected brands in the industry, and for good reason; its products are known for high-end build quality and top-notch engineering – and the Debut is no different. With a starting price of around £300, it’s about as cheap as Arai helmets get.

The Debut is made from a Special Fibre Laminate and features a remarkably strong outer shell. It’s designed to encourage glancing impacts rather than solid ones to help dissipate forces in the event of an accident. And inside, the Arai uses basic but high-quality padding and offers a typically snug fit – but there are a few drawbacks.

The visor can be fiddly to open when wearing gloves, and although the Arai is naturally airy, its venting system is hardly the most extensive here. What’s more, Arai refuses to add a sun visor to its products as it believes they compromise safety – that means you’ll need to carry a spare darker visor if it gets too bright.

Key specs – Sizes: 5 (XS to XL, 55cm-62cm); Colours/designs: 16+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: Unrated; Weight: 1,440g ± 50g (Small)

Buy now from Demon Tweeks


3. AGV K-5S: Best value big-brand helmet

Price: £280 | Buy now from Get Geared

Now around five years old, the AGV K5-S is a solid all-round performer. In addition to sharp looks – which AGV say have been sculpted with aerodynamics in mind – the K5-S promises to be lightweight but stable at high speed, and features a range of useful features.

Like some helmets in this list, the K5-S features a special internal sun visor – though it’s a little hard to operate with gloves. Venting in the K5-S is good, and though five vents and two extractors do a decent job during rides, it’s good to see the K5-S is also Pinlock compatible.

It utilises a traditional double-d ring fastener rather than a more modern micrometric system, but that’s about the biggest complaint we have. Light and packing in a good range of features, the K5-S offers a lot of helmet for your cash.

Key specs – Sizes: 6 (XS to XXL, 53-64cm); Colours/designs: 14+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: 4 stars; Weight: 1,390g (Small)

Buy now from Get Geared


4. Shoei Glamster: Best motorcycle helmet for retro style

Price: £410 | Buy now from Get Geared

The Shoei Glamster might not be the best value lid on this list, but it’s certainly one of the best looking. Inspired by classic helmet designs of the 70s and 80s, the Glamster has a clean retro look that sets it apart from other helmets you’ll see on the road.

The Glamster is decidedly retro when it comes to features too; venting is kept to the chin and forehead, and you won’t find a sun visor inside either – but you will find a double-d ring when putting it on.

Inside, the Shoei features a comfy modern lining, and there’s also a Pinlock system – though some riders report the visor is a little tricky to use once the Pinlock is installed.

Retailing at around £400 to £500, the Glamster isn’t cheap – but it does look great, and it’s lighter than you might expect given the retro looks, too.

Key specs – Sizes: 6 (XS to XXL, 53-64cm); Colours/designs: 8+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: Unrated; Weight: 1,210g (Medium)

Buy now from Get Geared


5. HJC IS Max 2: Best flip-front helmet under £150

Price: £120 | Buy now from Sportsbikeshop

If you’re looking for an affordable helmet but also want something versatile, it’s worth checking out the HJC IS-Max 2. As it’s going end of line, the current discounted prices are seeing it retailing for around £100 to £150, which is cheap for any type of helmet let alone a flip-front model. Throw in the fact that it’s SHARP safety rating equals far pricier helmets, and this HJC is simply incredible value for money.

The spec list isn’t bad at all; you get a polycarbonate shell with EPS foam inside, and there’s also a slot for glasses along with a simple to use dropdown sun visor for eye comfort during summer rides. HJC have also managed to equip the IS Max 2 with a micrometric latch rather than a double-d ring, so it’s easy to deal with when wearing gloves. Throw in a handful of vents and an adjustable chin bar, and in practice it’s more robust than you’d expect for the money.

The only major downside is that it’s quite a bit heavier than other helmets here, but at this price it’s difficult to complain.

Key specs – Sizes: 6 (XS to XXL, 53-64cm); Colours/designs: 6+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: 4 stars; Weight: 1,780g (Medium)

Buy now from Sportsbikeshop


6. Nolan N87: Best value motorcycle helmet

Price: £120 | Buy now from eBay

The Nolan N87 packs in several useful features into an extremely affordable package. The N87 uses a lightweight polycarbonate shell – which keeps the price down – but includes all the features you could possibly want from a modern helmet, and it matches pricier helmets for protection, too.

There’s a good amount of vents and exhausts around the shell, and it’s backed up with chin protection and high-end Pinlock visor – so it’s both clear and comfortable whatever the weather. And the N87 somehow packs in a sun visor and micrometric toggle too.

Inside, you’ll find a removable and washable lining made from agreeable ClimaCool material, and unlike some other helmets we’ve encountered, its ‘eyewear adaptive’ design accommodates glasses nicely.

The N87 is available in a vast range of sizes and colours, so there’s no excuse not to find one that matches your tastes – and your bike.

Key specs – Sizes: 8 (XXS to XXXL, 54-64cm); Colours/designs: 35+; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05, DOT; SHARP: 4 stars; Weight: 1,420g (Medium)

Buy now from eBay


7. Shark D-Skwal 2: Best for training courses

Price: £135 | Buy now from SportsBikeShop

The Spartan GT might not be the cooling-looking lid, but Shark’s D-Skwal 2 offers most of the key features for an even more affordable price. Shark has stuffed a lot into its injected thermoplastic resin shell including an anti-scratch sun visor, washable snug interior and a high-end Pinlock system.

There’s also space for Shark’s own Bluetooth communication system, aptly named Sharktooth.

The D-Skwal 2 might not be the most exciting helmet around, but if you need something for a CBT or for training thereafter, it’s all the helmet you need.

Key specs – Sizes: 3 (XS to M, 53-58cm); Colours/designs: 12; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: 4 stars; Weight: 1550g (Medium)

Buy now from SportsBikeShop


8. Shoei Ryd: Best for build quality and features

Price: £240 | Buy now from SportsBikeShop

The Shoei Ryd is one of the cheaper lids you can buy from the Japanese brand, but that doesn’t mean it’s low on features. Instead, the Ryd combines a strong spec list with all the build quality you’d expect from a Shoei product.

It starts with Shoei’s Advanced Integrated Matrix, which is made from fibreglass and organic fibre mix. Go further inside, and you’ll find shock-absorbing EPS material, though the Ryd’s is multi density so it’ll slow progressively in the event of any impacts.

What’s more, the Ryd also uses EQRS, an emergency quick release system that allows for easier helmet removable in the event of an accident. In theory, it should help emergency services reduce the disturbance to the neck and head in more severe situations.

The Ryd’s visor is pinlock-ready, and there’s also very prominent vents – which you’ll see contained in the Shoei’s Loki-esque horns. But sadly there’s no sun visor here, so you’ll need to try one of Shoei’s own photochromatic visors – and that’ll bump costs up even further.

Finally, the Ryd uses an old-school double-D ring latch.

Key specs – Sizes: 4 (XS to XL, 53-62cm); Colours/designs: 1; Safety ratings: ECE 22.05; SHARP: 5 stars; Weight: 1300g (Light)

Buy now from SportsBikeShop