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MD Product Review: Shoei RF-1200 Helmet

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Maybe you remember when there were just a few names in premium helmets, and only one or the other was the choice for you, based on your head shape. For me, it was Shoei—quality fit, feel and finish with a shape that fit my head just about perfectly. Since then, there are a lot more choices in high-quality helmets, but that doesn’t mean Shoei has given up. The Ikabari, Japan-based company still makes a pretty great helmet.

Exhibit A: this RF-1200 I’ve been wearing for six months. I’ve been using other lids, and I like them, but wearing the Shoei is like getting back together with an old girlfriend—and finding out she’s smarter, sexier and makes more money than you remember. Shoei set out to make its general-purpose RF-1100 street/touring helmet lighter, more compact, quieter and better vented and the 1200 is the result.

The new helmet’s shell is a composite material, smaller and more stylish than the 1100. It comes in four shell sizes (XS/S, M, L, XL/XXL) and was wind-tunnel designed for aerodynamics and wind reduction. It’s also the lightest Snell-compliant helmet Shoei has made, no mean feat when you consider the Snell test requires significant shell rigidity. The vents are also redesigned to be easier to use with gloves and vent better without adding more noise.

Comfort and safety get improvements. The removable “3D” liner is replaceable, which means you can tune the fit by substituting larger or smaller cheekpads. I had to go with slightly thinner ones to get my lid just right. Also, the RF-1200 offers Shoei’s Emergency Quick Release System, which helps first responders carefully remove a downed rider’s helmet without risking further injury.

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Shoei is also proud of its new CWR-1 shield. A new base-plate system allows quicker shield changes, but it’s also adjustable via a small screw. That lets you ensure a wind and waterproof seal as well as smooth operation, something other quick-change systems don’t do as well. The shield also comes equipped with the outstanding Pinlock anti-fog insert, in addition to being UV resistant and boasting improved optical clarity and flex resistance.

Okay! I got all the press release stuff out of the way. But in this case, the hype exceeded my expectations. Based on my experience with prior Shoei RF-series lids, I expected a slightly heavy but comfortable and nicely made experience, but nothing too special. I was too cynical. This is a luxury item, worth the premium price and it lives up to the PR hype.

It’s light. It’s not the lightest helmet at 3 pounds, 5 ounces, but the weight is nicely balanced and it’s lighter than the RF-1100 by 5 ounces, so it’s easy on the neck, even with my favorite Bluetooth headset installed. The redesigned shield mechanism is precise, easy to use and seals very nicely. I really liked the adjustable mechanism, which keeps it working perfectly, and I forgot how much I missed having a ratcheting shield so I could crack it open for airflow at low speeds. I’d gush about the Pinlock, too, but I’ve mentioned it in other reviews and it’s not exclusive to Shoei.

It’s quiet, but I’m pretty sure there are quieter helmets on the market. I wear earplugs and ride a naked motorcycle most of the time, so all helmets pretty much sound the same to me, unless they’re really drafty. But I have gone bareback-ear for a few rides, and though I wouldn’t make a habit of it (because I have too many old motorcyclist friends whose answer to most questions is “what?”), the noise level is tolerable up to very high speeds. Opening the vents gets you a nice breeze on the forehead and lower face, even at lower speeds, but doesn’t add much to the noise level—a nice touch.

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The RF-1200 offers Shoei’s Emergency Quick Release System, which helps first responders carefully remove a downed rider’s helmet without risking further injury.

So why buy a Shoei? Why buy a BMW or Mercedes? A Honda Civic will get you from here to there as well as a Mercedes S600, but will you be cradled in exquisite luxury? No. You will be reminded of your insistence on functional frugality every time you drive it. And it’s the same with your helmet—sure, it meets DOT or Snell standards, but your head will be constantly reminded of that frugality every minute of every ride until you buy a new helmet. The price differential between the Mercedes and the Honda is $100,000, but this gem of old-school Japanese craftsmanship is just a hundred bucks (or less) more than some comparable Chinese-made lids. How’s that for affordable luxury?

My RF-1200 felt right, smelled right and fit right from the moment I pulled it out of the box. And it actually fits better now that it’s broken in—and instead of getting looser, it seems to just fit more snugly. The other helmets on my shelf are getting dusty, but that’s okay—they’ll keep.

The RF-1200 is available in 23 color schemes, from the low self-esteem plain white($486) to the wild Marquez Black Ant TC-5 ($627). Get more info at the special RF-1200 homepage.

20 Comments

  1. Lou says:

    I purchased the RF 1200 a couple of weeks ago. My RF 900 needed some rest. Instantly I noticed the turbulent noise difference and it is driving me crazy. I am so pissed off that I spend that much money on a helmet that I hate.

  2. TimC says:

    Another thing I’d be curious about specifically with the 1200 – and that I’m unhappy about with the 1100 – is that the chin ventilation really is too much – it basically shoots quite a breeze right up your nose – you can crack the adjuster open but it takes a lot of fiddling to get just right. So I’m wondering if Shoei either a) toned this down some or b) provides actual detents in between all and nothing on this vent.

    Again, not that I’m in any hurry to change out after reading review/comments, and when I do I will be investigating other brands….

  3. TimC says:

    Grrr. I have been loyal to Shoei and RF series since I started riding – due to RF-1000 being right head shape for me AND being designed for eyeglasses. So when that helmet hit 5 (ok 6 or so) years of use and needed replaced, I went with RF-1100 – I have been very perturbed that some things are better (ventilation) but at the cost of it being much noisier, even with earplugs (and far more sensitive to various whistles etc with slight changes of head angle).

    I noted the RF-1100 was very short-lived, so I was hoping that Shoei realized their error in going backwards, not that I’m terribly happy to either get a new helmet this soon…and now I guess I don’t have to – very disappointed to hear that noise issues are still present. Bring back the RF-1000 please.

    • TimC says:

      augh, I meant “either get a new helmet this soon or support Shoei further after this by rectifying the issues by getting the 1200…and now I guess I don’t have to”

  4. burntclutch says:

    Helmet noise is why I am still using my older Quantum. While I love my newer Shoei, it is just painfully turbulent while I am on the Caponord. The Arai is like a quiet pillow in comparison. I would like to get a newer Arai but I am worried the newer ones won’t be as quiet.

  5. Tom R says:

    The type of bike you ride (and where you ride it) makes a HUGE difference in the noise issue with helmets. Since I work at a dealer with many demos and used bikes that I ride home and back daily, its as if I have a different brand/style of helmet on almost everyday. Sometimes the experience is relatively quiet and serene, yet at other times it is almost intolerable, and I can’t wait to pull into my garage.

    A “test ride” is the only way to really determine if a given helmet will work right with what you ride, but this option nearly non-existent.

  6. TexinOhio says:

    Maybe it’s too many track days, but with listening to all the complaints about wind noise I must ask. Does no one use ear plugs in their lids?

    • Ed in AZ says:

      Good point, but I do use ear plugs. The helmet is still noisy. In fact, much noisier than my Scorpion EXO-750 which cost me less than half as much as the Shoei.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Always, and it is still relatively noisy.

    • Gritboy says:

      I’ve ridden with the Shoei GT Air and must say plugs REALLY aren’t needed. It’s really is that quiet and still flows a ton of air — not as much as my X-11 did, but more than enough for general “hot” use. Of course it’s not suitable for track use… but for everything else it’s perfect. I gave up on the RF line after my brief experience with an RF-1100.

  7. Ed in AZ says:

    I have an RF-1200 in the Beacon TC-3 (hi-viz yellow) color scheme. I’m generally happy with its comfort, features and quality of construction. And is it ever visible! But the helmet is noisier than I had hoped for, and while riding any of several bikes. Changing to thicker cheek pads had negligible effect. The chin curtain helps somewhat. The local Shoei rep and the retailer where I bought the helmet did their best to be helpful, but ultimately they were unable to come up with a solution. A suggestion to both: Retailers, and especially those selling a high volume of helmets, should stock liners and cheek pads in all available sizes and fit the helmet and interior parts to you before you walk out the door.

  8. skybullet says:

    Dave,

    The source of the annoying wind noise on my X-12 was the upper front vent. When it is closed the squealing noise goes away. Or, I can tilt my head down and it also goes away. I have taped on a shallow scoop that helps but it is still much noisier than my previous Shoei. My bikes are: KTM SMT, Suzuki DR650 and BMW R80ST

  9. Jeremy in TX says:

    I bought an RF-1200 recently after defecting from Arai due to quality issues with the last two Arais I have owned. The Shoei definitely seems better made with much better hardware, but only time will tell for sure.

    It fits very nicely and vents well enough, but it is a good bit louder than I expected it to be. I can shrug my shoulders and effectively cut the wind noise to almost nothing, so clearly that is where a mismatch of head/neck shape to helmet shape is for me. I’ll have to experiment with it some to see what I can do about that.

    Overall, I am very happy with it.

  10. TexinOhio says:

    Wow that’s funny! The Marquez Black Ant is considered a “Wild” graphic? Gotta tell my AGV’s to tone it down a bit then…

  11. skybullet says:

    Attending the BMW MOA Rally in Salem, OR I had the opportunity to question Don Bailey, Shoei’s National Tech Rep, about my noisy X-Twelve Helmet. He informed me that I bought the wrong helmet. I thought the Top-of-the-Line, most expensive helmet would be quieter, safer, lighter and better ventilated. The problem he said is the type of bike and angle of your head. Sport Bike=head leaning forward, Dual Sport-Motard-Cruiser=head upright. Pick the wrong helmet and the vent system will be noisy and or less effective. He was not sympathetic with my dilemma, said I should have been told by the selling dealer about this, Shoei’s multi-page brochure says nothing on the subject. Expensive mistake for me.

    • Dave says:

      I recall having a similar revelation riding a relative’s Speed triple (I ride a superhawk). On his bike with a cheap HJC convertible helmet, I enjoyed quiet. I could hear the engine clearly at 70mph. On my bike with an RF-900 I couldn’t hear the engine above 55mph because of the turbulence from the wind screen hitting met at the neck/shoulders. I’ve changed to a sport-tour wind screen and that’s a little better but I’ve come to realize that a sport bike will always be “wind loud” for someone as tall as me, just the way it is..

      FWIW, I don’t believe the Shoei rep is right. Body orientation doesn’t change helmet noise appreciably, wind management is the key. If turbulence is hitting the bottom of the helmet, nothing short of an air-tight gasket will solve it from the helmet side. You’d have to get the turbulence to hit you low enough on the chest, or well above your chin guard to get rid of the noise.

      • Kevin says:

        Wind noise absolutely changes on my Shoei RF1100 based on tilting my head up and down, just as different riding positions would put you. Try it sometime on a naked bike, or stand up on your pegs and get above your windscreen.

        • Gutterslob says:

          Really, I think manufacturers should provide more documentation with regards to wind noise with different helmets on different kinds of bike. Wind noise generated from wrong bike-helmet combinations can lead to hearing damage. On some helmets, the decibels get so strong that they just overpower you ear-plugs. I know because I’ve been stupid enough to try such combinations in the past.