Ever since I started riding, I’ve been a motorcycle gear nerd. Early in my riding career, the search for quality, protective gloves sent me on a mission to educate myself about motorcycle gear, and I haven’t let up since.
But here’s something weird: I’ve never put much thought into buying my motorcycle helmets. As long as it was a DOT-approved, Snell-certified full face, that was enough for me.
Until, of course, now.
But on my trip to Canada last May, I realized my Bell Vortex (now discontinued) wasn’t cutting it anymore. The visor flipped open whenever I turned my head, everything fogged up in the slightest bit of humidity, and the highway-speed buffeting on my upright FZ-07 left my neck sore for days.
On that trip, I knew: it was time for a new helmet. A better helmet. A helmet that not only did its job, but helped me enjoy the ride.
So, for the first time in years, I started reading up on motorcycle helmets.
The most important thing about buying a helmet
These days, helmet technology is pretty solid. As long as you’re wearing a DOT- or CE-approved full face, it’s going to do its job in a crash.
Unless, of course, it doesn’t fit.
If your helmet doesn’t fit you, it doesn’t matter what certifications it has. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on it, or how technologically advanced it is. If your helmet doesn’t fit you, it can’t protect your head.
The Bell Vortex I’ve worn for the past three years doesn’t fit me.
When I bought my Vortex, I knew a helmet should be snug (hello, chipmunk cheeks!) without causing painful pressure points. Check and check.
But I missed something: a helmet should also have a uniform fit all the way around your head, like a baseball cap.
And, sure enough, when I wear the Bell Vortex, there’s a gap between my forehead and the helmet shell, large enough to fit my index finger. This indicates that the head shape is slightly too long for my head, and if I had crashed in that helmet, this mismatch may have put me at unnecessary risk. Oof.
Armed with this new information, I knew it was even more critical that I find a quality helmet that, above all else, fit.
My new helmet: The Shoei RF-1200
After doing my research and trying on as many helmets as I could, I chose a crowd favorite: the Shoei RF-1200.
All the reviews agree: it’s an excellent helmet for the price — and most importantly, it fits my head shape perfectly, no gaps or pressure points.
When I rode in my RF-1200 for the first time, the first thing I noticed was how light it feels. It’s amazing how much of a difference 0.42 lbs can make.
Last week, I took a 250-mile ride to the coast, and I’m in love with this helmet. Even in my FZ’s upright riding position, the aerodynamics made it much more comfortable at highway speeds.
At around 60 mph the wind buffeting was unnoticeable, and at 75 only slight. In all the Shoei feels much more compact, much more stable. It makes a 250-mile ride a leisurely cruise, even on a wind-buffeted FZ-07.
Another premium feature I wasn’t expecting to appreciate is the venting. As a native Texan, you’d think I’d understand the importance of a well-vented helmet. But I hadn’t experienced what quality venting felt like. With three forehead vents, a chin vent, and a rear exhaust, the RF-1200 does an excellent job.
On my trip last week, I did still wear earplugs, so the wind noise isn’t altogether gone. But I found myself appreciating the aerodynamics much more than I cared about the noise.
Revzilla calls the Shoei RF-1200 the “gateway drug” to premium helmets, and I’m inclined to agree.
Bonus: The Shoei CWR-1 Transitions Visor
For years, I’ve wanted a Transitions visor, which adapts to ambient light (you know, like the glasses!). So when I chose the Shoei RF-1200, which has a matching Transitions visor, I decided to treat myself.
And now? I’m never going back.
The first thing I noticed wearing this visor was that everything looks more “real.” With the adaptive tinting, everything is the right color, and somehow it all looks clearer, too.
Now, as the packaging says, the photochromic shift is gradual. But I’ve tested it in a few tunnels now, and I never felt unsafe.
The Shoei Transitions shield is Pinlock-equipped, but the visor is pretty good at clearing away fog on its own, too. On my first ride, I tested it by breathing heavily into the helmet at a light. With the vents open and a slight breeze, the fog cleared up in no time.
Plus, it was especially nice to not have to pack a second visor on my day trip last week.
At $170, the Transitions visor is by no means a necessity. But it is an awesome nice-to-have.
PSA: Helmet color matters!
You might have noticed that both my old Bell Vortex and new Shoei RF-1200 helmets are white. There’s a reason for that.
For my first helmet, I went with a cool, classic look: matte black. But by the time I bought my second helmet, I was much more interested in motorcycle safety. Surely, I thought, white would make me more conspicuous on the road than black.
Turns out, my instinct was right. According to a New Zealand study of 460 crashes and 1,200 riders, “light colored” helmets are associated with a 19% reduction in crash risk. And compared to black helmets, white helmets were associated with a 24% lower risk.
Especially because I tend to wear casual-looking gear, a white helmet is an easy way to add an extra boost of always-there visibility.
How much should you spend on a helmet?
I agree. It wasn’t until I started riding farther and longer that I even started to feel the need for an upgrade.
If you’re a new rider, you likely won’t notice or appreciate the features of a premium helmet. At that stage, you’re thinking about so many things that 0.42 lbs of helmet weight won’t make a difference.
What you get when you pay for a premium helmet is creature comfort. Better ventilation, less wind noise, more aerodynamics. Longtime riders might say they can’t live without these features, but they’re not required for learning.
Plus, motorcycle gear is expensive, and you’ve got the rest of your body to cover, too.
If you can afford to get a $500 helmet and the gloves, boots, pants and jacket, then by all means, go for it. But otherwise, get the $250 helmet, and spend the difference protecting your feet (or torso, or hands, or legs).
As long as you’re wearing a full face, certified helmet, your head will be protected. As long as, of course, it fits.