Motorcyclists: cheap helmets vs pricey helmets

I started riding about a year ago, and I got a fairly cheap helmet – a full face HJC, about $150. I’m reasonably happy with it; but then, I don’t have much basis for comparison.

If I was to upgrade to, say, a $500 Shoei*, what would I notice immediately? Fit, comfort, features…? They’re all DOT/Snell approved, so I’m assuming that they’ll all provide the same level of protection.

(*Is that pronounced Show-ee? Or Shoo-eye?)

Maybe better sound protection? More aerodynamic? Better graphics? :smiley:

Is there a merchant or a website anywhere that lists that helmet? Usually there’s a “nifty features” list of what cool stuff they have that makes it worth it to blow $500 on their helmet.

Very interested in this thread - I finally found a bike I like, and I’ve been looking around at gear while I save up money (slowly…) to actually get it.

I know *nothing *about any of this gear, and there’s so much for sale, and so much conflicting advice, especially about helmets!

I believe the actual pronunciation should be ‘show-ay’, since it’s Japanese. But I say ‘show-ee’, as do most people I’ve heard pronounce it.

It’s not really relevant, but this brought back memories for me of an old Bell helmet ad from the 70’s (and I may well have misremembered both the manufacturer and the date):

“If You’ve got a ten-dollar head, go ahead and wear a ten-dollar helmet.”

(Please note that I’m not implying that there’s a quality difference in the helmets named in the OP. This was just an ad from a manufacturer of (then) pricy helmets.)

I thought my $120 helmet was expensive. My used scooter came with a used helmet, a sweat-stinking skull cap beat up and filthy that was too big for my pointy little head. I got a Nolan half-helmet with zip-off ear covers. The fit is amazing - very comfortable. And the chin strap is much more comfortable and convenient - the tail tucks into a clip so you don’t have the excess strap dangling down your chest. It’s also got a little tag on the buckle that you pull to release the chin strap - very handy. In the meantime, I repainted the old helmet, so it’s got a funky flat black finish with white checkered stripe/zipper down the middle, and I added adhesive Velcro tabs to the strap ends to keep the excess strap out of the way, and I added a buckle release tag like my Nolan. I shampooed most of the stink out of it, and added extra padding to the inside of the liner. Now it fits, and it’s a really cool looking custom helmet. Why here it is right here: And here’s me riding my scooter!!

For a reasonable definition of ‘cheap’ helmet, the protection should be the same. The DOTand Snell standards are the same for every manufacturer. A more expensive helmet is likely to be lighter, quieter, more durable, and to have more and better implemented comfort features.

As an example, I just bought a stupidly expensive Arai. It has a number of features that I found attractive.

[li]Variable fit. The interal pads come in a variety of finely graded sizes. So there are four or five steps between the standard S/M/L sizes that allow you to fine tune and adjust for differently shaped heads.[/li]
[li]All of the components of the liner are removable and washable. They’re made of wicking material and are anti-microbial.[/li]
[li]The vents work better than most cheap helmets i’ve tried, while not adding noise at the same time. Supposedly a lot of wind tunnel time goes into the design. [/li]
[li]There’s a couple of pull-tabs for emergency responders that allow them to remove the cheek pads separate from the rest of the helmet. Makes removing the helmet in an emergency a safer prospect.[/li][/ul]

I’ve also heard that dealing with the expensive guys for warranty and repair work is easier, but I’ve never had to deal with that.

I have a so-called “Shoei Head”, meaning Shoei helmets fit my head very well (I own an RF-1100).

I find the helmet to be very comfortable: lightweight and the noise reduction is excellent, as is the ventilation.

I think I paid about $450 for it and would definitely do it again.

Well, expensive ones can offer more protection. In the UK there’s the SHARP system, in which helmets have 1-5 stars. I just got the cheapest one I could get, £35 and 4 stars, and never had any complaints.

It would be interesting to compare noise levels. I was noticing this morning, that at freeway speeds the wind sound is pretty overwhelming.

Fit is the biggest factor, but more expensive helmets won’t necessarily fit better. Fit will be highly subjective because everybody’s head is shaped differently. Frankly, fit should be your biggest concern; all the awesome features of a high-dollar helmet won’t mean a thing if you develop a screaming headache every time you ride. Spend some time at bike shops trying on different brands/sizes of helmets and seeing how they fit. Put one on, and keep it on for a few minutes while you wander around the store. Wobble it around with your hands, see if there are any spots where it’s likely to rub and make your head sore. Some helmets come with several soft pads that you can swap out to make minor adjustments (e.g. thicker cheek pads if you’ve got a skinny face), but if the basic shape of the hard styrofoam isn’t well matched to your cranium, you’ll be setting yourself up for some miserable riding.

I’ve been riding for 12 years/150,000 miles, and during that time I have used Shoei full-face helmets exclusively. The visor retention/release system is quick and easy to use, so I can readily switch between tinted and clear visors depending on weather/time of day. Shoei’s also have a reputation for being relatively quiet (though your motorcycle’s windscreen can greatly affect this). But the biggest reason I choose Shoei is because it fits me well.

Some people really like helmets with the flip-up front, like Shoei’s Multitec. This lets you flip up the entire front of the helmet so you can drink from a cup/can/bottle, or talk to someone, without having to take the helmet off of your head. Shoei isn’t the only brand that has this feature, so if you want it and Shoei’s don’t fit you well, don’t despair.

If you’ve really got a lot of money to burn, check out Schuberth helmets. Not only do they have a flip-front, but they also have a built-in sunshade that retracts up into the helmet when not in use.

Whatever helmet you get, I strongly recommend wearing earplugs when riding. Unless you’re riding a Goldwing (with its barn-door windscreen and ultra-quiet motor), the noise from riding will fatigue you over the course of a day’s ride, and rob you of your hearing before you get old. I wear earplugs whenever I ride (and lots of other occasions, e.g. when mowing the lawn or using power tools), and despite my high mileage, my hearing is still perfect (documented by annual hearing tests at work).

Assuming it’s been correctly transliterated from the original Japanese spelling, the vowels in a Japanese word/name pretty much always get pronounced the same way:

a sounds like “ah”

e sounds like “eh” (not “aye” like in “hay,” but “eh” like in “hen”)

o sounds like “oh”

i sounds like “ee”

u sounds like “oo”

So “Shoei,” dragged out slow, sounds like “Shoh-eh-ee.” The reality is that when the average american rider blurts it out fast, it sounds more like “Showay” or “Showee.”

That was how I did it - buy the safest one you can afford. Unless what you put inside it isn’t worth anything.

This is basically what I was going to say. As long as the helmet is certified, it’s just as safe as any other helmet. Weight and wind noise are the two things that will go down as the price goes up. And the difference is worth paying for, IMHO.

However, I’m not sure what you mean by durability. Motorcycle helmets are designed to take one impact and disperse it over the helmet. But, it’ll only do that once. Helmets should be handled carefully and if they are ever dropped - especially if they hit something like a concrete floor from any height - it’s likely that the strength of the helmet is compromised.

Windscreen, huh? I gotta get me one of those! :slight_smile:

Good tip about the earplugs – I’ll try a pair sometime.

Yep I go stir-crazy without earplugs. I’d like to find a quiet helmet, but want to be sure it will be quiet before I spend $200+ on it.

I don’t really like windscreens, but I may get one.

No helmet for me, thanks. I want to hear and see what is coming up alongside me.

Not an option in California.

Where are you? There are still some places with no helmet laws?

Kansas has an interesting helmet law. Motorcyclists here are required to wear eye protection, at the very minimum. Thus, you can ride without a helmet, but you have to wear sunglasses, goggles, etc.

There are states that have repealed helmet laws. It gets complex, but the basic thing is that helmets help prevent some types of injuries when the rider is in an accident while riders not wearing helmets tend to be involved in fewer accidents because they are more aware of the traffic in their immediate environment.

In SC you don’t have to have any gear whatsoever, and believe me, all the ancient dudes on harleys take full advantage of that. I’ve seen people riding bikes in clothes that I wouldn’t wear to WalMart in the middle of the night.

It’s almost worse to see people wearing helmets and no other gear. Great, so now you’ll be sure to be awake and conscious through your months of painful skin grafts. What a great idea.