“If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.” That 70s-era advertising slogan for a Bell motorcycle helmet made an impression on my young mind. Despite my dad occasionally claiming there was nothing inside my head (provoked by what he termed “noncompous-mentus” behavior), I still felt it was worth way more than $10. However, with the family budget being what it was at the time, the price of a Bell helmet was beyond our reach, but I coveted it. After all, my racer idol , Kenny Roberts Sr., wore a Bell helmet while he collected race wins and championships in America and in Europe.
As time marched on, and I got into my own motorcycle career, Bell faded from the motorcycle industry, and so I wore other manufacturers’ products on my noggin. Fast forward to just a few months ago, when Dirck calls me to see if I would test a Bell helmet. Instantly, my mind flashed back to those 500cc GP seasons, when all I wanted was a Bell helmet like Kenny’s, with that dark visor to complete the cool, fast guy look. The obvious (only?) answer was yes….
A few days later, the helmet arrives, and although the current lid bears little resemblance to King Kenny’s lid, it is evident the same Bell DNA that created it is still there.
First of all, it’s light. 1613.7 grams (3.5 lbs), (Bell claims 1575 grams, which probably is accurate for their size small helmet.) In hand, it feels easily on par in terms of heft, compared to its competition. Compared to my Arai Astral X, it’s only slightly heavier (82.2 grams / .18 lbs), a negligible difference.
Looking at the interior, I see a material I’m not familiar with. Looks like suede, feels like suede, but is instead a synthetic version of suede. It feels nice against the skin, and feels a bit grippy. The interior is removable, washable, and has recesses for speakers. The retention system is secure and durable, so multiple removals will not wear out the various snaps and such, leaving the interior off-kilter.
Sliding the helmet on, the bottom opening feels snug on its way over my head. This is the neck roll causing the slight resistance. Once on, the neck roll conforms nicely to my contours, creating a supportive and noise-quieting seal. Contour cut cheek pads give a custom fit feel. The padding feels slightly more firm than other helmets, but isn’t stiff. It does break in a little, but there hasn’t been a bedding in to the degree that helmet size has changed. Extended periods between haircuts also reveals the padding to be accommodating to the thicker mop without packing down and being loose after the shearing. A removable breathe guard helps control fogging while you eyeball the beauty in the crosswalk, and a noise reducing chin curtain round out the interior niceties. Fit of the helmet is very good. I’m an ‘intermediate oval’, and this helmet seems to mimic that shape.
The shield Bell sent with this helmet is their transitions shield that adjusts for light levels. As was noted by Gabe in our review of Bell’s top-of-the-line Star model, there are times when you wish for it to darken further, like around sunset, but that is nitpicking. Unlike his observation, at night, there was no issue with it being clear enough. It’s quite an amazing shield, yet at the same time I wonder why this hasn’t been done sooner.
Not having to change shields seems like a small issue, but daily use, especially during fall / winter season, when the day’s ride starts before sunrise and easily can end after sunset, not having to carry a clear shield, or stop to change it becomes a more notable and desirable, even necessary feature. As the shield went through cycles of light to dark and clear again, I noticed the transition time seemed to shorten. By the time you’ve started your bike in the parking lot, put the helmet on and your gloves, it’s darkened fully.
The shield has an anti-fog coating, but I managed to wipe it out with a spray cleaner / polish. Now I occasionally treat the inside of the shield with an anti-fog product. So far, it has been as scratch resistant as any other shield I’ve used, but I don’t use windex and truck stop paper towels to clean the shield, either.
Removing the shield to clean and treat the inside of it is ridiculously easy, thanks to Bell’s 3 mode shield retention mechanism, which uses a left mounted lever to put it in lock mode, friction mode (open / close normally), or crack mode, which moves the shield about 1/4” off the seal to help with fogging / ventilation. Arai, please take notes here…. At $120 for this shield, it’s a pricey pill to swallow, but I must impress upon you, dear reader, it is definitely worth it.
Riding down the road, the helmet feels slippery in the wind. Cross-winds, turning the head, etc. don’t upset helmet stability at all. With the vents closed, in urban environs, it is pretty quiet, and they seal well, as does the shield against its rubber seal. Wind noise volume goes up a bit with the vents open, as expected, but it isn’t significant. The vents move quite a bit of air, which is welcome on these warmer days. On the freeways, and during extended rides, I wear earplugs, so in that scenario, all helmets are quiet. One other cool feature of this helmet is a nifty magnet at the end of the strap and on the d-ring that holds the loose end securely. No tucking the excess strap against the neck, and no fumbling to align a snap. Simple and effective.
I recently rode to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the World Superbike event at Miller Motorsports Park from SoCal. Spending in excess of 10 hours one way wearing a helmet will bring any issues to the fore. There were none. No news is good news in this case.
From an aesthetics standpoint, I chose the company’s ‘Steampunk’ design. I normally go for more mainstream graphics, but wanted something different this time, and this fills the bill. The matte finish is durable, cleans up nicely, and the design gets a lot of positive attention. I always referred to it as ‘gearhead’, and now I see that Bell has that named design in their 2012 lineup.
MSRP for this helmet (with standard clear shield) is $399.95. At this price point, taking into consideration its performance and features, it punches well above its weight class, providing a lot of bang for the buck. I have a new favorite helmet.
In regard to ‘racing improves the breed’, a number of front running racers are currently wearing Bell helmets while chasing race wins and championships. Josh Herrin, J.D. Beach, Jake Gagne, Hayden Gillim, etc., all are wearing Bell. I know there’s a kid somewhere looking to score the same helmet that one of these racers wears…..
Check out Bell’s website here: http://www.bellsports.com/