Today we are going to take a look at one of the single most important pieces of gear you will ever buy, your helmet. Nothing else is going to do more to protect you than your helmet. While some budget helmets are not sturdy enough to be called a costume, others are actually great helmets from either small companies working to get off the ground, or are budget models from larger manufacturers. There are also other companies that sell parts to smaller companies who then assemble the helmet and sell it under their own brand name. This means two helmets from different budget manufacturers can be virtually identical despite being different brands. One piece of advice I always give new riders, never buy a bargain basement helmet off of eBay unless it is a brand you are familiar with. These are usually just thin plastic with Styrofoam in them for padding and will not do anything for you in a wreck. The ones to be especially leery of are the “ships from China” ones as these can sometimes be so flimsy you can crush them with your hands. Not something I would want protecting my head in the event of a crash.
Pricing last updated on 2019-04-19 - Disclaimer
While you can also go to a dedicated motorcycle gear store and buy a helmet these can be expensive with some models reaching as much as $500 for just the helmet. These options are great for those who can afford them, but for most of us buying the bike itself has depleted our limited resources. At times like these we have to look to the internet to provide a selection of cheap, but still DOT approved, helmets to make sure we are staying safe and legal while riding. Now, let’s go over some of the helmets available on Amazon that have a proven history of success.
YEMA Dual Visor Modular Helmet
We are going to start this listing off with a bang. This is a modular helmet. What this means is that the front section lifts up with the visor and is not fixed in place. This can make getting your helmet on and off easier, but can also reduce the structural strength of the helmet because it is no longer one solid piece. When the chin guard is down, however, the difference in strength is negligible. With a modular helmet you have the option of lifting the chin guard and visor out of the way when you are stopped. This can make pit stops and eating faster and easier since you don’t have to remove the entire helmet. This is also an advantage in cold weather since you won’t have to expose yourself to the elements.
The YEMA comes in all major sizes and in four color options. It is a dual visor design which means no stopping to swap visors like you would with some budget helmets, simply flip down the tinted visor and continue on. This is a great option for longer rides since if it gets dark while you are riding you won’t have to stop and swap visors, just flip the shaded visor back up.
Cleaning this helmet will be easy since it has removable, pretreated, pads and liner. The liner is pretreated with an antibacterial, odor resistant coating to keep it from smelling. The helmet also includes air vents to allow for air flow which will help keep you from sweating into it too much and keep the helmet fresh and comfortable. This is great since riding in a grungy helmet is not fun. I know from experience how bad it can get after a week of riding through the southwest in the heat. After a while it will start to itch if you don’t clean your pads regularly.
The Bell Rogue helmet is a great option for those who want the freedom of an open face, but the extra comfort and protection of a full face helmet. Which it may not offer as much protection as a full face, thanks to the muzzle it comes close. I have personally worn this helmet from Birmingham Alabama to Albuquerque New Mexico and back and I have to say, it does its job very well. The muzzle protects you from debris like rocks and bugs, but can be removed if you don’t want it. The muzzle also has an insert which can be removed in warmer weather, but keeps your face warmer in the winter. If you choose to remove the muzzle then the Bell Rogue becomes, essentially, a normal ¾ helmet.
The Bell Rogue is also one of the most comfortable helmets I have worn. While my headphones did start to hurt my ears towards the end of the day this is from riding with earbuds in for 10 hours, not from the helmet. Getting this helmet on over headphones is much easier too. Most of the time with a full face you will end up struggling to get the helmet to go over a pair of earbuds and it can hurt, but with this helmet I have never had any problems getting it on or off with my headphones.
Last, but certainly not least, because this is a Bell helmet you can rest assured that, in the event of a crash, you will be well protected. Bell is one of the top helmet manufacturers out there and they have a proven history. As for the sizing, I will say, buy a size smaller than you think you need. I bought my usual size and it was way too large. Swapped it out for one size smaller and it is a perfect fit.
HJC is solely a helmet manufacturing company and has been around since 1971. Since helmets are their sole product they are able to offer quality, safe helmets for a much better price than most of their competitors. They are also one of the few manufacturers that readily sells replacement visors, so if you need one in a different color, or if yours breaks then it is easy to order a replacement. The visor is not the only thing they make easy to replace as the pads are interchangeable between different sizes. As with most quality helmets the liner and pads come pretreated with an anti-bacterial and odor resistant coating.
The visor that comes with the helmet is clear, but is rated to block up to 95% of UV light and is pretreated with an ant-fog coating. This is a small thing, but is a nice touch since it means you won’t have to waste time treating it once you get the helmet, you can just put it on and ride. The one downside to the HJC Banshee is that it only comes with a clear visor. As I mentioned earlier, you can buy extra visors, but it would be nice if they included a tinted visor too for riding on bright days.
In addition to being DOT approved the banshee is also Snell approved. For those who don’t know, the Snell Foundation does independent testing of helmets and has much stricter guidelines than DOT. This means that helmets with Snell approval exceed the standards set by DOT. If you are looking for the safest helmet possible this is what to look for.
Torc Streamline Mako
The Torc Streamline Mako is nearing the top of our price range, but it comes with a built in Bluetooth system. This can save you a good bit of money on buying a separate system if this is something you plan on installing in your helmet. The Torc Mako comes in four different graphic options and is a good looking helmet.
The Mako is not Snell certified like the HJC Banshee, but still well exceed DOT standards and features a dual density EPS(expanded polystyrene) which allows for a stronger “crush zone” in the helmet. This means it can absorb more of an impact before risking injury.
The Torc Mako comes with removable pads, so it is always going to be easy to clean. This makes the Mako a good hot weather choice since it is fairly easy to remove the pads to clean them and then just put them back in without a whole lot of hassle. You don’t want to be riding around in a sweat soaked, smelly helmet do you?
The Bluetooth system that is built into the helmet allows you to listen to music, talk on the phone, and get directions from your phone. This will also prove more comfortable than using earbuds since the system is built in to the helmet. The system uses a noise canceling microphone for making calls.
The Torc is a sturdy helmet that will hold up well in w wreck, but that comes at the cost of weight. The Torc Mako weighs in at close to five pounds making it a fairly hefty helmet. This shouldn’t be an issue once you are used to it, but it may cause extra fatigue in the beginning.
IV2 Full Face
This is another full face helmet that comes in cheap, but is a good helmet. This one does not have dual visors, but instead the visor is interchangeable. It comes with a clear and a tinted visor, so you don’t have to wear sunglasses under your helmet. The visor is pretty easy to swap out, but the tinted visor can be a little hard to line up sometimes. The one drawback here is that it can sometimes be difficult to find a replacement visor if one of yours breaks, but you also have to consider that this helmet is roughly the price of most replacement visors anyway.
This was one of the first helmets I ever bought and it saved me when I had my wreck. A car ran a red light and clipped me. I was going about 55 miles per hour and hit the ground hip first, then my head hit and if I wasn’t wearing this helmet it would have ended much worse than it did.
The cheek pads come out, but the rest do not. This can make cleaning it a little more difficult, but far from impossible. The pads are comfortable and not too tight. They also breathe well, so you will not have a problem staying cool in the summer. The other side of that is that it is not a great cold weather helmet since it doesn’t retain heat. For most riders this won’t be an issue since most don’t ride in the winter.
The aerodynamics of this helmet are exceptional in my opinion. It’s rare that I feel myself being thrown around by the wind wearing this helmet, whereas with an open face helmet you will be catching a lot of the wind as you ride. This can increase fatigue and wear you out faster. With this helmet though the only time I can feel the wind tossing me is when it is about to storm or a semi passes me on a narrow back road.
Road noise isn’t terrible and is easy to drown out with a cheap pair of earbuds. The helmet itself is comfortable and is fairly easy to get on over a pair of earbuds, but don’t try to get it on over a Bluetooth headset. It will work, but it hurts.
Fuel Helmets Full Face
This is another bare bone basic helmet that is worthy of this list. Like the IV2 the Fuel Helmets Full Face is an aerodynamic helmet that should reduce fatigue on longer rides. It also has a removable visor, but only comes with a clear one. The cheek pads are also removable, but not the rest of the pads. Again, this will make cleaning it a little more difficult, but not very much so.
The vents on this helmet are larger than most which will really help with keeping the rider cool in hot weather. The visor on this helmet is interchangeable with the one from the IV2. This at least makes it a little easier to find a replacement visor if needed. This makes sense too, since if you look at the Fuel you can tell it is the same shell as the IV2, but with bigger vents. While it is pretty obvious that this is a clone of the IV2, that should not be off putting. Several of the cheaper budget helmets use interchangeable parts from the same few manufacturers, then resell them under different brand names. There is nothing wrong with this, actually it is a good idea. Since all of the parts are made together that means only one factory must be inspected and meet industry standards. Because of this it keeps costs down all around, but also means you aren’t going to get a helmet that isn’t going to do you any good in a wreck because it was made in a budget factory.
It wouldn’t be right to do a best budget helmet article without including a full face helmet from one of the top manufacturers. The Bell Qualifier is a good looking full face helmet with several different options for graphics. Sixteen different options in all. It also comes in all major sizes from extra small all the way up to XX-Large.
The Bell Qualifier comes with a removable visor as well, but unlike the IV2 and Fuel it does not use a latch to release the visor, but instead it has a quick release button which makes getting it off even easier. The visor also comes treated with an anti-fog and scratch resistant coating which should prove useful to some riders. Because this is a Bell helmet replacement visors are easy to come by, and can be found on Amazon.
The Bell Qualifier comes with a padded collar too that helps reduce wind noise by hugging your neck. This can also help out in the cold since it will help keep the wind from blowing up into your helmet. In addition to the wind collar it also has speaker inserts in the ears, so you can use a Bluetooth system or earbuds if you want without having them smashed into your ears. The downside to these inserts is that it reduces the sound deadening potential of the helmet. If you are like me and are going to be listening to music all the time anyway this is not really an issue, but if you live in an area where headphones are illegal while riding then this can prove distracting. Even without headphones it should still be on par with most other helmets for noise levels thanks to the wind collar.
As you would expect from one of the top helmet manufacturers the Bell Qualifier comes with removable pads for easy cleaning. On the other hand, the Qualifier does not come with a tinted visor, only clear. I would call this an issue on a higher priced helmet, but for what you pay for this helmet and all that it provides it is an acceptable trade off.
The aerodynamics of this helmet are what you would expect from a good full faced helmet with little to no issues with buffeting even at highway speeds.
This is our first three quarter helmet to be mentioned on this list and for good reason. Three quarter helmets do not offer the same protection of full faced helmets, but offer more than a half helmet will while allowing the rider a greater sense of freedom. Yes, the Bell Rogue was a three quarter, but it also had the muzzle, so it wasn’t quite a true three quarter.
For most sport bike enthusiasts a three quarter helmet is not an option, but cruiser guys will appreciate the extra feeling of freedom they provide since you are not confined behind a visor. A three quarter, unlike a half helmet, does still protect the back of your head completely, but does nothing for your face. This means if you go down wearing a three quarter and hit your face there is nothing there to save you. I mention this because everyone deserve to know all relevant safety information before they make a purchase, and I also know that the people who want a three quarter helmet are the same ones that are willing to take that risk.
The Daytona Basic comes in all major sizes and some less common sizes. It ranges from extra small all the way up to 4X-Large. One of the things that sets the Daytona Basic apart from other three quarter helmets, and especially budget helmets, is that it comes with a bubble visor. This still doesn’t offer the same protection as a full fave helmet, but does give you a wind shield to keep the wind out of your face and keep the bugs from hitting you. I wouldn’t expect most people wanting a three quarter helmet to use this though since it defeats the purpose.
In the end this is a good looking, basic helmet. It is exactly what you think of when you think about the classic three quarter cruiser helmets. Grab a bandanna and some sunglasses and you are ready to ride. The helmet also comes with speaker inserts for a Bluetooth system. The Daytona Basic is advertised as being the “slimmest three quarter helmet” on the market and it lives up to that claim. Because of the design of the helmet it is much smaller, externally, than most similar helmets. Not only is it externally small, but it is also comfortable and sizing is on point. All in all this is a great three quarter helmet for the price.
The NutCase is a vintage inspired three quarter helmet that features modern design elements, but maintains a classic look. The graphics are reminiscent of the 60s and 70s with one even being inspired by Evel Knievel’s Americana style. Thee are eight options available and they are all good looking helmets. If you are looking for a vintage inspired helmet this is the one to go for.
The visor is removable and can be purchased separately. It does only come with a clears visor, but as with several on this list it comes pretreated with an anti-scratch coating that also blocks UV light. Sizes range from extra small to extra large and the helmet itself weighs in at around three pounds. This makes it a moderately heavy helmet, but still well within the realm of comfort. The sizing does run small though, with some reviewers suggesting buying up to two sizes up from your usual. This can be an issue for some riders like myself who usually wear a large or extra large.
If you have a vintage bike or scooter this helmet is a great option that will match up well with the bike.
The Scorpion EXO is another example of a budget helmet that meets the Snell Foundation’s strict standards for safety. The Scorpion Exo comes in all sixes from extra small to 2X-large, and comes in a few different color combinations. The shell is poly carbonate plastic, so it is going to stand up well to the sun and rain over the years and will also hold up well in the event of a crash. The Scorpion’s visor comes with a hardened anti-scratch and anti-fog coating for convenience and longevity. Replacement face shields are also readily available, so if you lose or break yours you don’t have to worry about finding on that is interchangeable with your helmet or buying a third party visor which could be lower quality.
The Scorpion EXO weighs in at around five pounds making it one of the heavier helmets on this list, but it is well worth it for the extra security you get from the Snell certification.
The liner and pads are made with an anti-bacterial, moister wicking fabric to maintain rider comfort that will keep you dry while you are out riding. The pads are also easily removable, so cleaning the EXO is a breeze. In addition to the pads being removable the cheek pads are also designed to easily allow you to take your glasses or sunglasses on or off. If you are using a tinted visor this may not be a big deal, but for those who are using the clear visor or that have to wear glasses this can make riding much easier and more comfortable.
Daytona SlimLine Skull Cap
Our final entry on this list is also our first half shell helmet. Originally I was not going to include a half shell since they do not provide the same level of protection as full face a three quarter helmets, but I decided to go ahead and include this one as something of an honorable mention. The Daytona SlimLine Skull Cap is about as minimalist as it gets with a helmet. It is a black half shell helmet with no extra features to mention, but it is DOT approved, so you know it will keep you as safe as a half shell can.
The Skull Cap is a slim helmet, just like Daytona’s Basic model we mentioned earlier. This helps to prevent the “mushroom” look that is common with half shell helmets. The shell itself comes in three sizes which are further divided by the thickness of the padding. The helmet is offered in sizes from 2X-small to extra large and sizing is on point with their size chart.
Comfort is key with this helmet. It has a moisture wicking liner that will help keep the rider cool when it is hot out and weighs in at just over two pounds making it one of the lightest helmets on this list. Since this is a half shell helmet you don’t need to worry about getting it over your headphones if you choose to use them, but you better get a pair that is going to stay on since there is nothing covering your ears to hold them in.
As I mentioned earlier, a half shell helmet will not do as much to protect you as a three quarter shell or full face helmet, but it is still better than wearing a brain bucket, or worse still, not wearing a helmet at all. I have only ridden without a, helmet once and it was in New Mexico where there are no helmet laws. I have to say, even with so many more motorcycles around and drivers actually watching for them this was still nerve wracking. I am from the southeast where motorcycles aren’t as common as they are out west and no one ever looks where they are going, so I am a bit more jumpy than some when it comes to helmet safety.
We have covered ten different helmets available on Amazon that come in at under $200 as well as an honorable mention of the Daytona SlimLine Skull Cap. I hope this helps some of you realize that you don’t need to spend a small fortune on a helmet to be safe while out riding. This is one area it definitely pays to shop around since there is usually no reason to buy the more expensive brand helmets unless you are out racing. If this is the case then you have come to the wrong place and I would advise you to buy the best helmet you can afford, but for those of you riding on weekends or for your daily commute these should be some of your top considerations.
No matter which helmet you decide on always make sure to check and see if it is DOT approved. This should be your bare minimum criteria. If a helmet does not have DOT approval it is not going to do you any good in the event of a crash and could also get you a ticket. Depending on your location, most states require that your helmet meet DOT specifications. If you feel the need to be extra secure you should also look for a helmet that is approved by the Snell foundation. These helmets usually cost a bit more though and may be above most people’s budget, but the HJC Banshee and Scorpion EXO from this list are very reasonably priced helmets that do have this approval. This makes these the top choice for anyone looking for a budget helmet that will offer maximum safety.