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.
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.
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.