To kick this off, I’m going to talk about helmets. Yes – helmets.
I know– nothing beats the feeling of the wind running through your hair while you blast down the road, but I’ve recently made a decision to wear one all the time after being fortunate to not have had any issues. Now the wrong helmet can make riding a chore, whether they are too tight, too loose, too hot, bad field of vision, or other issues.
At the International Motorcycle show in Cleveland this year I got to try on a ton of different brands and have settled on a few. For today, I’ll just talk about one in particular:
This is an expensive helmet – you might be wondering why I’m not talking about some $99 special that can be found all over Erie and you’d have a point. It’s hard to shell out this kind of money but I tried a lot of less expensive helmets on and they just kept making me not want to wear one at all. Pretty lame maybe but the fact that I can barely tell this thing is on is what makes me wear it. I promise I’ll look at some less expensive helmets too in the near future, and see if there something at a lower price-point that would do the trick as well.
The Star is bascially Bell trying to shoot one right across the bow of Shoei and Arai. As some of you may know, Shoei and Arai are pretty much the top when it comes to helmets. Shoei has built a strong reputation for quality, safety and performance and Arai frankly is off the charts. Making them in Japan is almost like making a katana (samurai sword right?) – I’ve heard that people have to work there for five years before they can even start working on helmets.
When I think about what it must be like to work there I imagine a bunch of extremely serious Japanese men quietly making their masterpieces in perfect harmony. For this Bell to be even spoken about in the same class is a pretty big accomplishment all things considered. Top of the line safety (DOT and Snell 2010 Certified), terrific aerodynamics, beautiful finish, incredible plush lining, and availability of a photochromatic visor put this one right in the class of the Arai Corsair-V and the Shoei X-12 – on paper. How does it really do though?
First, when looking at the finish of the Bell vs. the Arai you can tell that Bell certainly wants you to judge the book by its cover. The intricate black and white pattern on my “Cerwinske” Carbon Fiber is dazzling and very well done, right up there with the best from Arai, Shark, and other top brands, and better than just about anyone else. Dazzling as it is I do have to admit it is it did take some getting used to, considering that when I have worn helmets they’ve typically been of the solid black variety.
I’ve read just about everywhere that a white helmet really helps get you noticed though so I figured I’d go half-way and try this one out. I kinda like it now although I may go back to a more sedate color with my next one. I’ve gotten really positive feedback on it from friends as well as strangers so if that’s the kind of thing that makes you feel good (like me!) it’s a plus. This super light helmet weighs in at just under three and a half pounds and is constructed using a “Trimatrix” shell that is a combo of Carbon Fiber, Kevlar, and Fiberglass. The shell construction is what makes it so light and strong, although you can still get a light, safe helmet going with good old-fashioned fiberglass.
As soon as I opened the box I knew I was in for a treat. First off the helmet comes in the best helmet bag I’ve ever seen. Soft inside, tough outside – it’s perfect for my far too cluttered garage. Once I lifted the helmet out if the box I really loved the quality feel in just about every aspect of it. The padding is plush – some might complain that it is not quite thick enough, but I think it is just fine.
The visor swaps in and out in just a few seconds, and it really feels secure. The fact that I was able to do it at all is huge – I am a complete mess at putting things together so this visor mechanism truly must have been made for idiots. The mechanism for locking the visor into one of its three positions is made of high-grade aluminum and lends itself to a very secure feeling. The visibility on this helmet is exceptional as well. Side to side and top to bottom my field of vision with this helmet is extraordinary. I love the view this helmet affords me and I also really appreciate how stable it is at high speeds. They even include a mini spoiler that you can attach for speeds over 150 mph. I know a guy – not me of course – who tried it out but he could not really get a feel if it was making a difference from the already excellent stability.
Speaking of the visor, I picked up one of Bell’s “Transitions” shields and I’m hooked. Not having to carry around an extra visor is really terrific. It gets nice and dark and works great in all but the most direct sunlight and is just fine at night, lightening up almost as much as a completely clear visor. It also never fogs – even riding in unpredictable Erie weather I have yet to have it fog up on me at all. The transition and the anti-fogging make me keep picking up this Bell on my way out for a ride over my older Arai.
The venting is outstanding. The vents open and close with authority, and you can feel a huge difference when you use them. The drawback is that the helmet can be a little noisy, but with earplugs in it is just fine. For a guy like me who really didn’t want to have to wear a helmet the fact that this helmet is not overly hot really makes a big difference.
Another little thing I love about this helmet is the magnetic clip for the chin strap. Instead of having to snap it in place I just fold it up and it sticks there. I know it seems pretty trivial, but all these $500 plus helmets are so good that you really have to pay attention to the small stuff.
Finally, there’s fit. My head shape is somewhere between Charlie Brown and a basket ball, so I was really concerned that this helmet just wouldn’t fit me right. It is pretty much neutral to narrow right out of the box but by swapping in some thin cheek-pads I was able to get the fit just right for my round head. I’m sure I could get a better fit with one of the new Arai’s. Heck, I KNOW the Shoei RF1100 fits me perfectly, but for now I’m choosing the Star for its features, looks and rock-solid stability at speed. I’ll give the other high-end helmets a chance soon, but that transition lens is going to be tough to beat.
Now these Bell helmets are pretty tough to come by – I called just about all the new bike dealers and couldn’t find one. Luckily I checked the dealer website, www.bellsports.com, and I found a dealer right in town – NorthCoast Powersports over on 26th Street. (www.northcoastpower.com). While they don’t stock Bell Helmets they can order them – and they did promise to work with you to find the right size. If you give Bell a try I don’t think you will be disappointed.
If you are looking for something a little easier on the wallet you can try out their Vortex which can be had for under $200. They also just released a mid-range RS-1 – I’m hoping to get my hands on one to see how they will do in the very competitive $400 price range.