Bell. You probably knew the California-based auto parts company produced the first modern crash helmets, way back in the ’50s. You probably didn’t know that Roy Richter, president of Bell from 1945 until 1978, was an important builder of racing cars who went on to develop the famed Cragar SuperSport wheel—you’d recognize it if you saw it, trust me. In fact, if you were at a motorsports event in the ’60s and ’70s (and if you remember being there you probably weren’t really there, har, har), you would have seen plenty of Bell helmets and those five-spoke, polished Cragar wheels. But in the intervening years, Asian and European helmets have dominated the helmet market. What happened?
What happened, probably, was the decline of American manufacturing of consumer goods. Or maybe Bell just stopped innovating enough to keep its share of customers. In any case, Bell faded away, its helmet brands sold off.
In the last 10 years, Bell has made a comeback of sorts. The new company has an advanced R&D facility in Santa Cruz, California and has been slowly but surely re-introducing its wares to American motorcyclists. I got one of the helmets to test back in 2007, and I was not impressed. The helmet looked nice, but the build quality, fit, finish, weight and features did not match its price point. In fact, I gave it to my mother-in-law. Enough said.
So when an old work colleague told me he was handling P.R. for Bell and wanted me to try out the new Star, I groaned as I read the email. How do I not hurt my friend’s feelings and retain the tattered remnants of my journalistic integrity? “Fine,” I wrote back. “But if I don’t like the helmet I reserve the right to not put the effort into reviewing it.”
Well, here I am writing a review. The Star is Bell’s top-of-the-line racing lid, priced from $550 to $700. It uses a “TriMatrix”composite shell made of carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass and weighs in at three pounds, six ounces on MD’s postage-meter scale. Not bad—Arai’s RX-Q is two ounces more. The helmet’s shape—developed over three years—is designed for minimal drag and buffeting. Venting is handled by four vents that make up the “Velocity Flow” system, which the company claims is derived from its bicycle-helmet division—better at low speeds.
My first impression of the Star is that the quality is much improved. The materials feel nicer, the paint and graphics look top notch, and there is evident attention to detail in the way the helmet is designed and put together. Thoughtful touches grabbed my attention, like the Alcantara-like material on the bottom of the cheekpads, the magnetic device that secures the loose end of the chinstrap, the well-designed quick-change and ratcheting mechanism on the facesheild, the built-in speaker pockets and the use of polished metal hardware.
The Star fit my head just like my HJC helmets do, and I found it almost instantly comfortable. The moisture-wicking liner fabric is all-day comfortable, and the magnetic retainer for the strap is sheer genius, if you ask me. The venting seems to work about the same as most other helmets, but it does seal tightly with all vents closed. It’s maybe a little noisier than usual—not surprising, as all the vents and spoilers and other doo-dads must disturb airflow, but if you’re wearing earplugs it’s not an issue. I don’t care what you say; no helmet is quiet enough to use at freeway speeds without plugs, and if you say otherwise you probably already have some hearing loss, so I don’t believe you.
I also liked the “Transitions” photochromatic visor that Bell was kind enough to include. The visor uses a special coating that quickly reacts to the ambient light level to provide almost the right amount of tinting at all times. You notice I wrote “almost”—it’s not quite dark enough when you’re looking into the setting sun (but what is, short of welder’s glass?), and it’s maybe a shade too dark at night, although it’s much better than trying to ride at night with a smoke shield. Call it an 85-percent solution. Like the standard visor, it’s treated with Bell’s “NutraFog” (heard enough trademarked terms yet?) anti-fog treatment, which is pretty effective, but again, not perfect. Overall, the Transitions visor is pricey at $120, but it really works, and is great insurance against being caught out riding after dark.
After a couple of months of using the Star, I have to admit it may be one of my favorite helmets. The design and execution are very good, although the fit and feel of some of the hardware still feels a notch below an Arai. I can’t speak to long-term quality, but I did notice a seam on one of the cheekpads coming undone. That shouldn’t be a problem, though—Bell warranties the Star for five years, or the entire service life of your helmet. At an MSRP of $550-$700 depending on graphics scheme, it’s not a bargain, but it is a decent value and a more-than-decent helmet. Well done, Bell.