Regardless of how you feel about wearing a helmet, or whether there should be laws forcing riders to be equipped with one, there’s no getting around the fact that helmets not only protect your head from severe injury, they could also save your life. But they haven’t always been around to do that. In fact, they didn’t become mandatory in racing until 1914’s Isle of Mann TT, and weren’t lawfully required in the US until the 70s. And it took the death of T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia, to really get the ball rolling on helmet safety.
Since then, the motorcycle helmet market has exploded, and riders of all kinds wear them to not only protect their heads from impact, but also to express their individuality and creativity. One of the more popular segments in the motorcycling world is the café racer craze, or the use of vintage and modern classic motorcycles, such as Triumph’s twin-cylinder lineup of bikes. And those riders that buy into the café racer lifestyle, tend to accessories appropriately to fit the overall vibe of the movement. That means donning a lot of retro gear like gloves, jackets, boots and, perhaps most importantly, helmets. Fortunately, there are a lot of options to consider, when approaching a retro helmet purchase, with varying price points, styles and safety features.
10 Biltwell Gringo
One of the more simple and inexpensive options is the Biltwell Gringo. There are no features like vents, inner sun visors or slots for comm units to speak of. It’s a barebone exercise in style and comfort. But what you do get is a massive variety in colors and patterns and a fantastic fit and finish, especially on the liner of the helmet.
There are also the standard three buttons on the top of the helmet to which you can affix either a visor peak, which helps keep the sun away from the eyes, or bubble screens and blast shields of different finishes like smoke, yellow or mirror. The helmet itself harkens back to the 60s motorsport look, yet features an ECE R22.05 safety rating, and has a removable liner for washing or replacement. The rugged outer shell is made from injection-molded ABS material and the overall fit may be just a little tight for your typical size.
9 Bell Bullitt
One retro helmet trend that has become prevalent as of late, is what we call the “astronaut look”. Bell Bullitt is one such helmet, though many others like the Torc T1 and the Origine Vega have begun to compete, offering alternative prices and different features. But Bell is a well known entity in the motorcycle world, and if brand recognition is paramount to making a purchase then the Bullitt is a great place to start.
Once again, these types of helmets are light on features, though most of them do have at least one vent. There are also multiple colors and livery to choose from and clear, smoke or chrome face shields. To justify the higher price, Bell built the Bullit with front and rear vents with metal mesh, provided three different shell sizes for larger variety of head shapes and included speaker pockets inside the liner. The Bell Bullit is DOT and ECE certified.
8 HJC V60
Not all vintage motorcycle lovers ride on pavement. Some choose to attack dirt roads and forest trails on their scramblers, vintage BMW 80 G/Ss and, circa 1988 Honda Africa Twins. And for those riders, HJC, another well-known helmet brand, created the V60. It’s a simple helmet, inspired by the FG-01 from the 1980s, consisting of a fiberglass shell, static front vents, open visor area for use of goggles and three standard buttons for attaching peak visors. There are plenty of colors and patterns to choose from, depending on where you buy the helmet from, as sometimes European markets differ from the US. There’s also an inner sun visor and built-in speaker pockets. The liner is removable and washable. To be fair, there are better and cheaper off-road helmets. But for those riders seeking to avoid the garish, modern patterns and colors, and want a minimalist, retro vibe when riding on dirt, then the V60 delivers the goods.
7 SMK Retro
The SMK Retro, seemingly only available outside the US, presents a very clean and simple vintage silhouette. Perhaps recalling racing helmets from the 70s and 80s, the Retro comes in multiple colors and styles that continue to reinforce the vintage esthetic. The visor can be removed and replaced with a dark, smoke version, as well as a gold “iridium” tint. There are two shell sizes, which is typical of moderately priced helmets, but the interior comfort, fit and finish is the surprising stand out. The material is comfortable and plush, with a real premium look, despite the lower price point. You can also utilize a Pinlock visor, to help prevent fogging in rainy conditions. The vents are static, with no adjustments available, and are placed at the top and chin to help with ventilation. This helmet is both ECE22.05 and DOT certified.
6 Nexx X.G100R
If you live in the United States, you may not have heard of NEXX helmets. Based out of Portugal, NEXX has an enormous variety of helmets that befit any style of riding, from adventure and racing to urban and scooters. But it’s the X.G100R that really pulls on our nostalgia strings. Make no mistake, unlike many of the other, more budget offerings in this article, the NEXX helmet is a premium item, with the appropriate pricing that goes with it. But for that price you do get some innovative features, you may not see in other retro helmets. The outer shell keeps the weight light, with a proprietary material that mixes fiberglass, 3D organic fibers and carbon. The scratch resistant visor, made of optically clear lexan allows for Raleri’s fog-free lenses. The interior fit and finish features next level drying and cooling materials. And the vertical vent mounted on the chin has an on/off slide switch that can control the levels air coming through into the helmet. Like most retro helmets, the X.G100R comes with a variety of accessories and colors.
5 Hedon Heroine Racer
If NEXX wasn’t fancy enough of a retro helmet, then Hedon has one to sell you that’s even better. Heavily associated with the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride as a partner, just like Triumph Motorcycles, Hedon produces luxury, retro helmets. The price is up there, to be sure, but for those riders with some extra jangle in their pockets, Hedon can custom-build a Heroine Racer helmet to their exact specs. If you navigate to Hedon’s website, you can activate their customization portal and create your own, highly personalized helmet. Some of the choices include multiple base colors, stripe graphic shape and color options, matte or gloss finish, trim, liner and hardware color and visor tint. You can even choose whether to display the DOT certification on the back or not. And all of that is displayed in real time, as you make your changes, with a digital model of the helmet that you can rotate in any direction. Hedon even offers an insurance policy for an extra cost, in case the helmet is not up to your standard, and you need to return it for a better fitting version. How’s that for white glove service?
If you need your retro helmet to be a bit more versatile, say for a long distance trip, HJC has the V90 as an option. Taking inspiration from astronaut and vintage bubble shield helmets, the V90 is a minimalist lid full of premium features. The only modular helmet in this article, the V90 comes with an interior sun shield, negating the need to wear sunglasses. HJC also included a slot for its proprietary comm device, the SMART HJC, co-developed with SENA. It comes standard with chin, forehead and exhaust vents. But the real eye-catching feature is the MC9SF MOBIX color scheme, with dark, neutral blue, black and bronze accents and the standard bubble face shield.
3 AGV X3000
AGV is primarily known for racing helmets, but they do put out an occasional outlier, such as the X3000. This helmet, similar to the other minimalist options, is a no-frills affair that capitalizes on AGV’s racing history, albeit with some modest features. It is in the mid-price range, and for that you’ll get three different shell options to best suit the size of your head, as well as additional sizes such as medium small and medium large.
There’s one vent in the front, an anti-scratch lens and a micro-opening system. The interior is made of removable genuine leather and suede fabric, and has an interior pocket to store the vent cover if need be. There are some color variations as well, in keeping with the retro vibe, and the clear face shield can be replaced with a tinted, yellow or iridium one.
The Shark Street Drak is a helmet like no other. While other helmet makers went for the astronaut look, Shark chose to focus on fighter pilots. Technically a three-quarter helmet, the Street Drak has a facemask/goggles combination that give it its striking good looks. The goggles are tinted, anti-scratch and antifog, but make note that it won’t protect your face as well as a full face helmet. But if you’re accepting of the higher risk, and love the style of the helmet, it’ll keep rocks and nasty bugs out of your face just fine. It comes in a variety of colors and finishes, depending on the market, and is UNECE 22-05 compatible.
1 Shoei Glamster
Shoei is, perhaps, the true gold standard when it comes to motorcycle helmets. And it’s no surprise that they threw their hat into the retro helmet ring. The list of features in the Glamster is extensive. Built in typical Shoei style, no small detail was left to chance. As riders, we can sometimes be frustrated by the smallest things while at speed, including the latching systems in our helmets. Shoei paid great attention to the lock mechanism, crafting an intuitive tab on the visor that strives to alleviate rider frustration.
There’s also the prerequisite Pinlock option for the shield, multiple air vents for greater airflow and Shoei’s Emergency Quick Release System (EQRS) in case you go down, and the paramedics need fast access to your head. And while all the brands in this article are top-notch, only Shoei can flex its muscles as a manufacturing world leader by creating such a flawless retro helmet.