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MD Product Review: Bell Star Helmet and Transitions FX Visor

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.

44 Comments

  1. corby says:

    i have a new Star and like it. Of course I bought it for $250 out the door at my local discount m/c outlet. My brother in law just bought a new Arai Vector and we have compared them extensively. it is pretty tough to tell much dif in quality between them. i like the Bell, got a great discounted price, and wont feel bad replacing in a couple years. to each their own, but I don’t care what others think about the perceived exclusivity of my lid.

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  2. Dave says:

    I already have a Shoei Qwest in my sights. Less than $300 and gets really good reviews.

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  3. Jeremy in TX says:

    If Bell has ambitions of selling $700 helmets, then the first thing they should have invested in was establishing a premium subsidiary company with a different name. I’m not saying the helmet isn’t good enough. But for a brand as damaged as Bell to compete against Shoeii, Arai and others at the highest levels, Bell either needs to deliver a $700 helmet that definitively outperforms the competition in some manner or offers the same level of performance for significantly less. Toyota didn’t start out selling Lexus cars at Mercedes prices.

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  4. GDawg says:

    I purchased a Bell STAR to replace my Shoei RF-1000 and have no regrets. On the street, the STAR is rock solid as far as aerodynamics are concerned; helmet buffeting from semi trucks while riding the slab are a thing of the past. The liner is extremely comfortable and the magnetic strap holder is pure genius! The Transitions FX visor did not play a significant part in my decision to purchase the STAR and it actually cost me less than what I paid for my RF-1000. If you’re in the market for new helmet, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not considering a STAR or even Bell’s new for 2011 RS-1.

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  5. fixer65 says:

    Rip Van Winkle. Twenty years.

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  6. William says:

    Tht made me take a second look and your right…. Best laugh I had in days!

    The last was the song “Portland is like the 90′s” from the Portlandia show!

    Cheers,

    William
    Santa Cruz

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  7. Old town hick says:

    I’d have to give my vote to Bell for the Most Optimistic Marketing Plan of the Year award. For anyone to still think of this brand as one of the top quality helmet choices he would have had to just awoken from a 30-year Rumpelstiltskin nap…and would probably now be too old to ride anyway.

    Even if it really is “just as good” as a top-of-the-line Shoei or Arai, I cannot imagine that more than a handful of buyers (and I literally mean 4 or 5) would accept this as fact. If their product is as good as the price point suggests then I wish them success, but this would be a monumental task even in a GOOD economy.

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  8. Jeff says:

    This seems like a helmet that would only be purchased by the same people that pay $65,000 for a Hyundai. Arai and Shoei can demand top dollar for their helmets because they’re beautifully made, and have a reputation for quality and safety. This is particularly important for items like helmets. You don’t know whether they work – until they’re called upon to save your life. Bell had a name and reputation – and they blew it, through years of selling junk products in Walm@rt and the like.

    Seriously – for $700, why would I buy this thing instead of an Arai?

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    • kpaul says:

      Well you can get this helmet for $549.95 at the Motorcycle Superstore. Just remember those commercials of the folks who own Mercedes, BMEs, etc test driving the latest top of the line Hyundai who are sad they spent their money on a brand name. So maybe this helmet is better than the Shoei of equivalent price and equivalent to the top of the line Shoei. However, I find that those who buy expensive helmets usually would never buy a cheap helmet and vise versa Hyundai and Kia have come along way and they market share numbers they have prove it. To me a helmet with a 5 year warranty, that has the ability to use a Transitions Face shields is pretty attractive. Of course I would never buy a cheap helmet.

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    • jesse says:

      I buy Arai. And, yes, they are pretty nicely made. The main reason I buy them is because it’s the only helmet that fits me right – the variable head sizing from model to model is fantastic.

      But, to be honest, I think they are overpriced and for the money they’re a bit slow on the development curve – they’ve been using the same horrible faceshield attachement for what, 10-15 years now? You would think they’d come up with something better by now, for a $400-600 helmet…It’s hard to use, and the covers probably contribute to most of the wind-noise.

      Every time I buy a helmet, I comparison shop other brands and models – I just haven’t found one that fits yet.

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  9. Barry says:

    I understood that Bell got out of motorcycle helmets for a number of reasons.
    One was lawsuits, some of which were ridiculous. They were sued by people that were not even wearing helmets.
    Another thing was the competition from foreign manufacturers such as HJC. They were coming on strong.
    Bell also saw an opportunity to manufacture bicycle helmets and make a very good profit. The product was easy to manufacture and easy to sell.
    They could compete with other manufacturers.
    Bicycle helmets did not have the legal hassles they were experiencing with motorsports helmets.
    Who could blame them to change direction.
    I am happy to see them return to the marketplace.
    Good luck!
    PS I wore a Bell Magnum in competition in the 70′s.

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  10. bipedal says:

    Way too expensive. I used to wear Bells in the 70′s, the full face model with the snap down shields (no lifting without unsnapping) That was the hot setup. Those were the days :)
    One could do much better with a little web shopping, I just got me a Shoei F-1000 delivered to my door from BikeBandit for $170.00!!! Two years ago I got my wife an Arai Vector delivered to my door for $225.00!!! So to pay $600.00 for a new Bell is not going to happen.

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  11. ht says:

    Nicely written review. Picked up a star recently, and it’s a great helmet. I do agree with your comments on the small touches and details. For a high end helmet, it’s expected.

    My Shoei x11 is my bad weather helmet now.

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  12. kpaul says:

    Nice review Gabe. I have been using the Shoei RF series of helmets since I started riding 10 years ago. My latest RF-1000 isn’t as good as my previous 2 RF-900 and RF 800s which were lost to crashes. So I am open to looking at the Bell. I really like the move to Transitions Face Shields. Being middle aged, I recently started wearing bifocals with Transitions lenses after a few years of using just reading glasses (miss the days when I had perfect vision. I agree with the 85% analysis. But for those of us that leave in the Pacific NW with our short winter days its a good solution. I have been caught after dark a few times with my dark blue reflective visor. Not good. The anti-fogging thing is also a good thing although I have found Pinlock set up to be the most affective anti-fogging system for visors for riding in the Seattle weather.

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    • kpaul says:

      I also don’t mind the price. To me a safe, comfortable and good fitting helmet is worth at least $500.

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      • bipedal says:

        Are you the same kpaul from MO? For your info. That idiot longride is not around anymore and the site is much better without the $#@hole

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        • kpaul says:

          What happened to him? He was terrible moderator I agree. I love the writing, staff and format of Motorcycle Daily so I probably won’t go back to MO. The comments are much better here on MD and reminds of MO in the old days when Ashley owned MO. Things are much more timely here too. i.e. you get the news and reviews quicker than at MO

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  13. Mickey says:

    Very nice looking helmet (a little pricy for my blood.. I paid just a little bit more than what they are asking for the face shield alone for my last two HJC’s full face helmets COMBINED.)

    Lets see, you reported: The Star fit my head just like my HJC helmets do, the venting seems to work about the same as most other helmets, It’s maybe a little noisier than usual—not surprising, as all the vents and spoilers and other doo-dads must disturb airflow, and …I can’t speak to long-term quality, but I did notice a seam on one of the cheekpads coming undone.

    So what does it do that my HJC doesn’t do for nearly 10 times the price?

    Rating? Dot? Snell?

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    • Gabe says:

      Sorry! It’s both DOT and Snell 2010.

      It has a lot of features (that I mentioned) my HJC doesn’t have, plus the graphics look really great…if that’s worth the extra dough is subjective, no?

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  14. jesse says:

    “…if I don’t like the helmet I reserve the right to not put the effort into reviewing it.”

    Personally, even if you didn’t like the helmet, I’d still like to read a review. There’s as much value in a negative review that keeps me from wasting my money as there is in a positive review – both help me spend my money wisely.

    The fact that your friend is Bell’s PR guy would actually lend more cred if you called them out with a negative review, and somewhat undermines the trust in a positive review…but, great review overall, and the straightforward presentation of your initial reservations is good stuff.

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    • Gabe says:

      I agree with you Jesse, but the opinion of one unscientific tester isn’t enough data to justifiably write a potentially damaging review. An organization like Consumer Reports or maybe Motorcycle Consumer News can do that, but I can’t–I think it’s unfair.

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  15. Ken Elliott says:

    I used to think my HJC helmet was fine. Then I got a top-of-the-line Shoei (forgot the model). The first time I rode it, I wondered what was wrong with my GSX-R. It felt like it was not going very fast, until I almost blew the next corner. I realized the Shoei was so much quieter that I had lost my normal sensation of speed. I would not have believed there was such a difference, but there is.

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  16. Jar says:

    Anyone have a feel for headshape this helmet is designed for?

    Please hold the “not a pointy one, like yours” type comments. Arai’s development around shape is one of the “real”, not marketing love whispers, that I really appreciate about that brand.

    Suppose the HJC comment gives me a bit of a feel, but I don’t wear one of those – and given the RX-Q was mentioned in specific, would’ve been nice to understand a measure of fit by that yardstick as well…..

    Count me in on the earplug comments – have a bag of the foamies on the shelf in the garage, and some spares in the tool kit….

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    • riley says:

      So true. The round heads of the world don’t realize what an issue that is to us oval heads. durn you round-headed b@stards!

      For a long time, if your noggin was oval, the answer was buy a bigger round helmet until it fits front to rear.. Arai saved the day. now there are a few other options. thats the first thing I try to find out about a new helmet. webbikeworld does a good job of classifying helmets in this respect

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  17. Herbert says:

    Weren’t Bell helmets featured in Talladega Nights?…if you’re not first your last….

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  18. John A. Kuzmenko says:

    Last time I bought a Bell helmet was when the Moto 4 was a new model and a very big deal.

    Where are Bells made today?

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    • Gary says:

      I would like to see this answered (where are Bells made?). I fear it will be anywhere but the USA. Time to start making things back here!

  19. Tim says:

    The Cragar wheels comment brings back memories. Every kid I knew in high school lusted after a set of those. Great looking wheels.

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    • steve says:

      I had Cragars on my 1st car… a 1968 Camaro with a 1970 350ci motor with 425 hp! Oh yeah… tooling around in that at 18 years old! The rear tires were L60 x 15′s so the Cragars were really deep! EVERYONE who was ANYONE had Cragars!

      I currently have 1 Shoei RF full face, 1 Shoei 3/4 & my favorite helmet – my Bell 1/2 helmet (flat black with red & white pinstripes – stock). I love it… much higher quality than an off the shelf H-D helmet (which are usually HJC’s). The helmet feels substantial with good padding. Was walking thru the local H-D dealer & the parts guy asked what it was, where I got, etc… he had never heard of Bell… thought it was asome custom painted helmet.. I showed him the “BELL” logo on the front of the helmet…

      I purchased the large “BELL” plastic banner for my garage… looks cool! Reminds me of the early 70′s when I ripped around on my 1st bike… 250cc Kawasaki Enduro (street/dirt)with a Hooker Expansion Chamber…. a wheelie machine!

      Between the Camaro (with headers/mufflers) & the 250 Kawasaki…. the neighbors were a bit wary of me….

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  20. Old town hick says:

    You comments about hearing loss are welcome. I wish someone had told me in my 20s about the damaging decibal levels I was being exposed to while riding. I probably road for five or six years before I began wearing earplugs, and I am certain that my current hearing and tinnitus problems are due to this.

    No matter expensive your helmet is, use earplugs!

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  21. Bmwhd says:

    I have the Transitions visor on my Akuma Phantom II. Best thing since sliced bread. Beats the flip downs like Schuberth and Nolan in coverage and works like a champ.

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  22. vince says:

    Gabe: nice to see your comedic skills! The mother-in-law reference and the ear plug comments were quite funny. Good review. The 85% rating of the visor is useful. Cheers

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  23. Jerrylee says:

    It would nice to see Bell get back into the high-end lid market. I do remember the early days and one of them was a silver (only color available) Bell Magnum open face helmet my sweetheart bought me back in the mid 70′s I think with what little cash we had. It was “the” helmet of its day!

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  24. Falcodoug says:

    I think I will stick to my cheep HJC helmets for now.

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