One of the more frustrating aspects of riding can be finding good gear. Or, well, that’s not totally true: good gear is relatively easy to find, but affording it is a different issue entirely.
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I make no apologies for suggesting good gear that costs a lot; sometimes that’s just the way of things. An Aerostich R-3 Roadcrafter, for example, is a demonstrably awesome product. Yes, you could probably buy a handful of old Honda Rebel 250s for the price of a tailored version of the suit, but that doesn’t make the product not good. Still, you don’t always have to spend top dollar for the best gear. Take helmets for example. Recently I spent some time digging through the SHARP archives to find helmets that sit at that happy intersection where safe and affordable meet.
Also known as the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, SHARP was set up by the UK Department for Transport to provide additional guidance on the safety of motorcycle helmets. The program seeks to go above and beyond the standard testing that is required for helmets to be be sold in certain countries (for example, the DOT standard in the United States). It does this by subjecting helmets to a series of high-speed impact tests: top, rear, and side. Additionally, SHARP supplements its research with information gained from hundreds of motorcycle accidents.
It should be noted that some folks feel SHARP testing doesn’t quite mimic real-world incidents as well as it could. Usually these are people who own helmets like the Schuberth C3 Pro (three stars) who don’t like the idea of their expensive helmet not being rated the best in everything. Since every single motorcycle accident is different, there’s no foolproof way to test for every possible scenario, but I feel that SHARP ratings are a solid guide.
So, here’s a list of the most affordable high-rating lids I could find – each of these costing less than US $200. Obviously pricing will vary depending on where you shop, but for this particular article I’ve based selections on the prices listed by our pals over at Revzilla.
The HJC IS-17 is the only five-star helmet we could find (that’s sold in the United States, at least; if you have access to Caberg helmets, lucky you). It’s a helmet that demonstrates its South Korean manufacturer’s trademark ability to deliver a lot of helmet for not a lot of money. You get a whole bucket load of fancy-sounding features that are written as proper nouns and followed by ® symbols (eg, “Advanced Channeling Ventilation System®,”) but beyond the PR speak there are useful features such as Pinlock and integrated sunshield – features you’d normally only expect to find on a more expensive lid.
A stalwart entry-level offering, the AGV K-3 (as well as the equally affordable K-4) performed very well in top and rear impact tests performed by SHARP. Performance in side-impact tests, however, are the reason for its (still very good) four-star rating. Although sold as something of a bare bones model, it does feature a removable/washable liner, multiple vents, and a breath guard.
Another four-star helmet to consider is the HJC FG-17. In many ways HJC has chosen to carve out a niche for itself by creating high-quality helmets without the high-quality price. As an additional bonus, HJC offer quite a lot of very cool designs. There are at least a dozen designs and colors to choose from. As far as features are concerned, you get Pinlock, and, as I pointed out in my review of the RPHA 11 Pro, HJC’s visor removal system has got to be one of the easiest in the biz.
As it happens, I am one of those folks rocking a Schuberth C3 Pro as his daily helmet. I think it’s a fantastic piece of kit, but there’s no escaping that my weapon of choice costs far more than the trusty Icon Alliance. True, that’s something of an apples and oranges comparison – the Alliance is a full-face helmet (as opposed to modular), and it has fewer features. But where it really counts the helmets aren’t that different.
Lastly, I’d suggest the Bell Qualifier. I’ve got one of these beauties hanging on the wall in my office. It’s sporting a custom design that supergenius pinstripe artist and fellow Texan Skratch did for me, so I refuse to wear it riding (My proclivity for crashing is such that you know I’d end up ruining it). Which is a shame because my wife says (and I agree) that it’s one of the best-looking helmets she’s seen. It’s pretty basic in terms of features, but light and airy. The visor removal system isn’t as easy as, say, an HJC, but it’s still pretty straightforward. You’re going to struggle to find a better helmet that costs less. The design on the top of my Bell Qualifier helmet features the yellow rose of Texas.
Keen observers will note that all the helmets on this list are full face. Such is the price you pay for safety. It may not look exactly “correct” when riding a bobber or other classically styled bike, perhaps, but sometimes you have to make concessions. Your face will thank you when you’re sliding along the pavement.