Eons ago, when BMW decided to offer a revolutionary new helmet—the modular or “flip-up”—it partnered with another German company to design and produce it. It turns out that Schuberth has been around about as long as BMW and was already well-established in the business of protecting heads from impact in motor sports and industry. BMW doesn’t sell helmets in the USA anymore, but that doesn’t matter because Schuberth does. So you can still have the design, engineering, comfort and quality associated with the BMW brand.
The first impression, of course, is what it looks like. Yes, this sleek silver helmet looks good, but it was only when I happened to set it on my desk, next to my laptop computer while writing this review, that I realized why. The C3 PRO has the same clean, elegant, uncluttered contours as my silver Apple MacBook Pro. The reason for that may have as much to do with engineering as with design, since the helmet was developed using a wind tunnel. Good aerodynamics looks good, too.
When I first lifted the C3 PRO and tugged on the chinstraps, opening the base of the helmet and sliding it down onto my head, I experienced something akin to sinking into an expensive leather sofa. The thousands of tactile sensors on my head, ears, cheeks and neck signaled approval. It was not only a good fit, the essential feature of a motorcycle helmet, it felt good, and that’s all the difference in the world. Look inside the helmet at liner design and the plush materials they’ve chosen, and it’s clear why it feels luxurious. Female riders will be glad to know that Schuberth also offers a separate series for women, with a lining adapted to the female face and special contours in the cheek pads.
The next striking impression was on the freeway as my speed climbed upwards of 75 mph: this is the quietest helmet I have come across – ever. There are lots of good helmets out there, quiet too, but not this quiet. The wind noise was least when I stood up on the pegs, bringing my head out of the windshield-induced turbulent zone into “clean” air. Best performance in a sitting position would likely be achieved by trimming 2-4 inches off my Triumph Tiger’s stock fairing to bring the turbulent zone below the bottom of the helmet.
The C3 PRO was released in January of this year and offers improvements to the prior model in several areas. A spoiler, not tacked on but molded as a part of the hard shell, has been added to reduce uplift and improve stability at higher speeds (looks cool, too), there is better ventilation with the top- and chin-bar air intakes, and an upgrade in comfort via the helmet liner system. There are lots of little touches like the molded ridges at the upper edge of the visor (to eliminate any whistling noises), and the removable insert on the chin bar’s wind cuff (winter in, summer out). The drop-down internal sunshade is continuously adjustable, a nice feature that makes it possible during a certain time of day to shade your eyes yet not look directly through the sunshade. The optical quality of both the face shield and the sun visor is excellent.
When you consider the DOT-labeled beanies, more like yarmulkes with chin straps, sometimes worn by our Harley brethren, you might think those bureaucratic stickers don’t mean beans. Actually, they do, and DOT 218 isn’t the only certification that Schuberth obtains. There’s a European one, the ECE. To obtain the latter, Schuberth has to take 150 helmets out of every 3000 produced (5 percent off the top) and subject them to destructive testing for various types of impact. This is more than meeting a standard—it’s a brutal and expensive form of quality control.
Add the Schuberth Rider Communication system and you don’t just wear your C3 PRO, you are entertained and informed by it as you listen to music or talk on your smartphone while cruising the diamond lane on your way to work. Schuberth, not a communications company, has followed the example of BMW and found a partner with that experience—Cardo systems—to manufacture the SRC system.
The guts of the SRC are contained in the helmet’s neck collar. Thus, there’s nothing to bolt on or glue in place when adding the SRC system. The speakers attach with Velcro fasteners to the expanded polystyrene (EPS) inner shell and the microphone protrudes from the right side of the neck collar, opposite where the operational buttons (five in number) are located.
But the real genius of this installation is that the SRC attaches via a small connector to an antenna, pre-installed in the helmet between the hard shell and the EPS. There are actually two antennae, a small one for Bluetooth and a long one (31 inches) for FM radio. Any ham radio operator will tell you that an antenna becomes efficient when its length increases to about half the wavelength of the radiation to be received. In the FM radio spectrum, that’s about 30 inches, and is the reason Schuberth put an antenna in the helmet and not in the neck collar. This makes an enormous difference for reception and, in fact, I now enjoy listening to FM (toggling through six preset stations) while riding. Having the Bluetooth antenna on top of the helmet rather than lower around the neck also helps, but the improvement is not as dramatic as with FM since the Bluetooth frequencies have a much shorter half-wavelength, about 2.5 inches.
Rider-to-rider communications (with a passenger or another motorcycle) and FM are “stand alone” in that only one or two SRC units are needed. But the real power of this whole technology comes in coupling the SRC to something else, namely, a smart phone. (Readers who have already been doing this for years will forgive my newbie exuberance when they learn that I got my first smart phone, an iPhone 5, only months ago.) So now I have it all, the ability to answer or initiate a phone call, accept voice guidance from a GPS, and listen to my favorite mov’n-on-down-the-road music the rest of the time. The speakers put out really high-quality sound (I used the included extra Velcro spacers to push the speakers closer to my ear for better audio coupling) that is spectacular at low speeds with low wind noise, and still remarkably good at 75 mph at maximum volume, able to punch through even my custom-molded earplugs.
Yes, it’s amazing, but it’s not trivial. Remember those five buttons? Well, you’ve got to remember which ones to push in which combinations to access one of the many possible operations. (Hint: take along the compact Quick-Start guide, or better yet, you can keep the PDF on your smartphone) Moreover, you’ve got to know which button your gloved finger is about to press. The buttons are small, about the size of the ones on your shirt, or the tip of your finger. The tactile expertise to manage this with gloves on can be acquired, but there is a definite learning curve. My only suggestion to Schuberth for improvinmg their SRC system would be to make the buttons at least dime-sized, if nickel-sized isn’t possible.
A big advantage of having Cardo produce its communications system is that the Schuberth SRC is compatible with practically any other Cardo system headset. Thus, you are not locked into buying another Schuberth SRC to talk to your passenger, but could use an existing set for that. That’s exactly what I did in order to road test the SRC. I paired it with an older, Cardo Scala Q2 headset. With that, the bike-to-bike communications worked fine as long as we had line-of-sight and the distance was (very roughly) 0.2 mile or about 1000 feet or less. In this test we were surely limited by the capability of the older Scala headset. Schuberth reports distances up to 2300 feet, but I assume that is for two equivalent SRC systems, each connected to a helmet antenna.
All this is wonderful, but is not (as you correctly surmised) exactly cheap. The MSRPs are $769 for the C3 PRO helmet and $429 for the SRC communications system. That’s $1200 plus tax and I will spare you a list of other motorcycling goodies you could also get if the price were half that. But for those who want and can afford the very best – and I hope you’re fortunate enough to be in that group – I heartily recommend this Schuberth combination.
BMW dealerships usually carry Schuberth helmets, but there are other dealers as well. Visit www.schuberthnorthamerica.com to locate the dealer nearest you and to learn more about the company and product development behind this remarkable helmet.