Photo of a motorcycle rider with one hand on his chin in a contemplative pose, observing the retro helmets on the wall-mounted
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Retro Helmets: 7 Things to Consider When Buying One!

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When buying any motorcycle helmet, retro or otherwise, you should primarily consider safety standards, fit and comfort.

However, you’ll need to factor in other considerations such as style, price, finish and extras, in your quest to find the perfect helmet for your needs.

Key Takeaways

Safety Certifications: Prioritise helmets with DOT, ECE, or SNELL certifications as they adhere to rigorous safety standards, ensuring optimum protection.

Perfect Fit: A well-fitted helmet is crucial for effective protection. Measure your head’s circumference and try various models to find a snug fit.

Comfort Features: Look for adequate padding, ventilation, and noise isolation for a comfortable riding experience, especially during long journeys.

Vintage Style and Finish: Explore various vintage styles and finishes that resonate with your aesthetic preferences and complement your riding gear.

Price and Quality Balance: Analyse the cost-quality balance, ensuring your chosen helmet doesn’t compromise on safety for a lower price point.

Additional Features: While retro helmets lean towards a minimalist design, some offer modern conveniences like speaker cutouts and anti-fogging visors.

Exploration and Comparison: Delve into different brands, read user reviews, and compare models within your budget to make an informed decision.

Things to Consider When Buying Retro-Style Moto Helmets

Below, we’ve outlined the seven main factors to keep in mind when searching for retro and cafe racer helmets.

1. Safety Standards: DOT, ECE and SNELL Certifications

A crash test dummy with its iconic yellow colour, wearing a black retro motorcycle helmet. The scene captures the juxtaposition of old

The protection a helmet offers should be a top priority when shopping for a retro motorcycle helmet. A key indicator of this is safety certifications like mandated ECE (Economic Commission for Europe), voluntary SNELL or DOT (Department of Transportation).

Each of these certifications sets minimum requirements for helmet construction. They also stipulate how they should perform in a crash.

Crash test performance includes impact absorption, penetration resistance and strap strength, among others.

The SNELL and ECE certifications offer assurance that the helmet will perform to the minimum standards they each set, under crash conditions, potentially saving lives and reducing the severity of injuries.

The ECE updated its certification to ECE 22.06 in 2023 which now incorporates rotational impact testing along with other advanced testing methodologies. The upgrade from the previous ECE 22.05 standard represents a significant leap in helmet safety and means a higher level of protection for riders. 

SNELL also updated its standard in 2018 to more closely align with the ECE 22.05 and DOT standards.

The latest standards for SNELL and DOT are M2020 and FMVSS 218 respectively. SNELL is generally considered the more stringent of the two, particularly when it comes to impact attenuation.

SNELL and ECE certifications with visible labels and stickers on the helmet, signify that the helmet has passed rigorous safety tests and meets or even exceeds them. Whereas DOT relies on a self-certification system with random tests undertaken by the NHTSA yearly.

2. Helmet Fit: Maximise Protection

Ensuring a perfect fit is vital when choosing a helmet. The size and shape of your head play a significant role here.  Most helmet manufacturers create the bulk of their products to fit intermediate oval head shapes, as that is the closest thing to a one-size-fits-all. 

That said you should be able to find helmets that fit your head if it’s more a round oval or long oval shape.

Helmet manufacturers also offer different lining and shell sizes.

To find the best fit, measure your head’s circumference at its widest point above your eyebrows and ears. Try on various helmet models to see which one fits best. A well-fitted helmet should feel snug but not too tight and it shouldn’t move around when you shake your head. Besides comfort, a correctly fitted helmet offers optimal protection if you go down with your bike.

3. Comfort: Weight, Padding, Ventilation & Noise

While safety is paramount, comfort features in a helmet should also be considered. Padding inside the helmet ensures comfort during long rides. It should neither be too hard nor too soft and must mould to your head’s contours over time. Ventilation, another key aspect, is crucial for keeping your head cool during warm weather rides. Proper vents in the forehead and chin areas can drastically improve airflow. 

Noise isolation plays a significant role in the overall riding experience. A helmet designed to reduce wind and road noise can make for a much quieter, enjoyable ride. Ventilation and noise should be evaluated within the context of this style of helmet. If you’re after a quiet helmet you’re probably in the wrong place.

With weight in mind, many retro lids use high-grade lightweight materials so you can expect lighter carbon-fibre models that contribute less to fatigue. Although, you should also anticipate paying a premium for this.

4. Vintage Style: Full-Face but Which Era?

Photo of a motorcycle rider with one hand on his chin in a contemplative pose, observing the retro helmets on a wall-mounted shelf

While full-face helmets offer the best protection, they also provide a canvas for many style expressions. Full-face retros vary significantly in style – from those emulating low-profile classic racing helmets of the 60s and 70s to minimalist neo-retro designs from motorsport of the 80s. 

There is enough variety now within the vintage-style helmet segment that you can choose a helmet that suits your specific tastes and complements your bike and riding gear. So take the time to explore the different designs and brands. That’s if you don’t find anything on this particular list that tickles your fancy.

5. Price: Balancing Cost & Quality

When shopping for a retro motorcycle helmet (as with most things) there’s a balance between cost and quality. While it’s true that high-end helmets often come with top-of-the-line materials and features, not all budget helmets skimp on quality or safety. 

Take time to compare different models within your budget range, checking for necessary safety certifications, user reviews and manufacturer reputation.

While a helmet is a significant investment, remember that it’s an investment in your safety and well-being. So, choose wisely and don’t compromise on safety for the sake of saving a few dollars, pounds or spondulicks.

6. Finish: Colour & Graphics

Retro brain buckets are offered in a variety of finishes.  Manufacturers, of these helmets, are in tune with the aesthetic aspirations of riders of retro, custom and classic machines. As such you’ll find solid colour and graphic finishes to suit your tastes. 

Limited edition designs are frequently released by manufacturers meaning you’re likely to find a design or finish that suits your style. Furthermore, some brands offer customisation services which means you can create a unique design. 

7. Additional Features: What Extras?

Contemporary helmets come equipped with an array of features and accessories designed for convenience and enhanced riding experience. These may include built-in sun shields and anti-fogging/scratch visors etc.

Some helmets also offer integrated speakers, camera mounts or even built-in cameras if you want to record wish to record ride. 

Retro helmets tend to steer clear of most of these features in exchange for a minimalist classic aesthetic. You can nonetheless expect speaker cutouts in the lining of some helmets. 

I’m sure that’s given you food for thought or at the very least confirmed your thinking. If you’re in the market right now for a retro helmet, don’t punch in your card details until you consider these 12 fine examples.