Is An Expensive Helmet a Safe Helmet? A Look at Helmet Safety Ratings and Price

“If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet. If your head is worth more, buy a Bell.” That was the famous ad that Bell ran in the 1970’s and it’s still often quoted today when people talk about motorcycle gear, especially motorcycle helmets. It sounds right – who puts their faith in something cheap over an expensive item, especially when it comes to safety? But how true is that today? Is that $700 Shoei really what you need to keep your head safe or can you get away spending only $150? We’ve collated as much data as we can and analysed the correlation between helmet prices and their safety and the results are pretty surprising.

We took our data from the UK Government organisation SHARP, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme. It provides by far and away the most comprehensive motorcycle helmet safety testing data available freely online. It’s obviously UK centric though, so we’ve stripped out the helmets that aren’t readily available internationally. We also removed all models that appear to be discontinued and finally only included brands that had at least three helmets rated once the above criteria was met.

Below we have charted those remaining helmets, and you can them see by each helmet listed individually and by a brand as a whole. Hover your mouse over the individual circles to see the helmet name, its rating and its price. Note that the prices on the Y-Axis are in Pounds Sterling (£).

Now let’s do some analysis.

If we put a trend line through the graph like below, you can see that the trend is that the higher the helmet rating the higher the price, but only marginally. In fact the most expensive helmet in our data, the Arai RX-7 GP only receives a 4 star rating from SHARP, but costs £589, or around $1,000. Compare that to either the G-Mac Pilot or the Viper RS-33, both of which are the equally cheapest helmets in our data and cost only £40 or around $65. Like the Arai, they also receive a 4 star rating.

Helmet Safety and Price All Helmets

To demonstrate it even more starkly, the Schuberth S1 Pro is listed at £450 and only received a 2 star safety rating from SHARP. It received ‘Poor’ results for both left and right side impact tests and yet it is more expensive than all the 5 star rated helmets except three.

The cheapest 5 star helmet you can buy is the Nitro Aikido which costs £70 or around $120 on Amazon. The Nitro Aikido was first released back in 2011 and is still produced today. They’re a good example of why you shouldn’t take brands on face value either. If you’d previously heard about the Aikido and it’s great value for money, you may have assumed that the rest of the Nitro range was as good.  And while the Aikido is damn good for the price, it’s the company’s only 5 star helmet – they even have a few 2 star rated helmets for sale. In fact,  the safety of Nitro’s helmets almost increases as the price decreases:

Helmet Safety and Price Nitro Helmets

On the flipside, the most expensive helmet money can buy if you want a 5 star rated helmet is the AGV Corsa.  The AGV Corsa is listed at £550, or around $750 at Revzilla.  But if safety is your only concern and you really want to wear the same brand Rossi wears, you can save yourself $450 and buy the AGV Stealth. Again, this shows that helmet price doesn’t necessarily correlate with helmet safety.

Helmet Safety and Price AGV Helmets

Of the major brands by far and away the most disappointing is Schuberth. Not only is the average price of their helmets the most expensive of all the brands featured here, they also have no helmets with a safety rating of 5.  But they do have two helmets with a safety rating of 2. If there’s any example of expensive helmets not equalling safety then Schuberth is it.

Helmet Safety and Price Schuberth Helmets

So how much is your head worth? Well, if you’re short on funds, about £70 for a Nitro Aikido. But while a helmet like the Nitro Aikido provides the same amount of safety as the AGV Corsa or Shark Race R Pro which cost up to seven times more, does it make it necessarily a good helmet?

Of course not, and safety and price are just two of many factors you should consider. But don’t be fooled by the price (or brand) of a helmet. Never is the phrase ‘Buyer Beware’ more important than when it comes to protecting your head. If someone had asked you before reading this article if you thought a $700 Schuberth S1 Pro was safer than a $120 Nitro Aikido, I’m sure you would have gone for the former.

In part two of this story which will be published later in the week, we’ll take a look at the best five helmets that are rated 5 stars, including comfort, noise levels and price.

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  • Iain Farrell

    The major flaw with the SHARP ratings is that – as I’ve been told – they don’t use different head shapes. So, they do tests on a helmet that doesn’t actually fit the dummy model properly. This will naturally skew the results.

    So, the ratings are good for a guideline, but shouldn’t be taken as an absolute gospel.

    • Hi Iain,

      Thanks for that – that was certainly something I wasn’t aware of. It’s very disappointing that to have any idea on the safety of a helmet, you have to rely on SHARP or… well, that’s it. I believe there’s some testing being published by the NSW Government in Australia, but at this stage it’s very limited.

      For something so important, it’s very unfortunate there’s so little available data for riders to base their purchases on.

      • Iain Farrell

        I believe it would make a better metric if they had access to multiple dummy head shapes, and could give ratings for each. Especially given that they make a point of making sure a helmet fits.
        It would certainly help show just how much difference an ill fitting helmet makes.

        Of course, that would drive costs of the scheme up considerably.

        I’m going to see if I can find a contact email address for them, and see if they have further information on it – if I get anything, I will report back.

        • Thanks Iain, it’d be interesting to hear what they say.

          But as you say, it all comes down to cost…

          • Iain Farrell

            SHARP eventually got back to me. The information they gave was:
            “For testing SHARP uses three-quarter head forms as used by regulation ECE 22.05. The
            head forms are of size code A, E, J, M and O and of appropriate geometry
            as specified in ISO DIS 6220:1983 and EN 960:1994.”

            Page 19 of this link shows what those mean:

            So, it looks like it’s a single headshape per size. Likely the one that fits the snuggest. But, leaves a lot to be desired about the safety standard in general [not just SHARP’s testing]

          • Thanks for the follow up, Iain.

            I wonder what ultimate difference that makes to the tests. Unfortunately it looks like it’s a cost saving measure. Sad when they can crash cars which cost tens of thousands of dollars, but a couple of hundred dollar helmets with different head shapes breaks the banks.

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  • Ben Moore

    Surprisingly similar to an analysis I did about 6 months earlier: — even down to the opening sentence and data source.