Gear: Bell Star matte carbon

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Eager to repair an image tarnished by years of low-quality products sold in discount stores, Bell Sports is pushing a totally new range of high-quality, well-designed helmets designed to compete with the biggest established players. That charge is being led by a top-tier roadracing helmet, the Bell Star, and this new-for-2012 flagship model in matte carbon. Fitted with a Transitions photochromatic visor, this is a $770 helmet. Should you pay that much for a Bell?

Photos: Sean Smith

This isn’t the first time we’ve reviewed a Bell Star. Back in 2009, we were pretty tough on the previous version for poor quality, thin padding and high weight. But, that was the old model, built to the outdated Snell M2005 standard, which was replaced by this new M2010-certified model two years ago. More than just new safety standards (which should make it slightly softer and less concussion-prone, as well as safer for people with very small heads), the Star has been thoroughly revised with a better interior shape, more padding and higher quality components.

The Star itself starts at $550 for plain colors and a tri-composite (carbon, Kevlar, fiberglass) shell. The matte carbon version you see here moves that price up to $650.

The internal shape is now a less-narrow oval designed to make it more applicable to a wider range of riders. That’s complemented by thicker padding shaped more ergonomically — the cheek pads are contoured to conform to the shape of the chin bar, rather than straight pieces bent into place. Look inside the Star and the liner will initially appear cheap, drawing unfortunate comparisons with the “rat fur” material GM used on its rental car range in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The slick material used inside high-end Arais appears much nicer. But, put the helmet on your head and you’re rewarded with immediate comfort and excellent moisture wicking ability. I’ve been wearing the Star on the way too and from the gym and, even going back on a head completely sodden with sweat, the liner remains, a month later, perfectly clean smelling and never feels sodden itself. If it does get stinky, that liner is removable and washable.

A genius touch? Like other Bells, the Star’s strap retainer is magnetic. Secure the D-rings, then just let the strap end magnet itself to big ring. Easy peasy.

Comfort is actually one of the new Star’s highlights, it’s up there with the most comfy roadracing helmets I’ve worn, including Arai’s RX-7, the Shoei RF1100 and AGV GP-Tech.

Coming home from the gym, there’s another area where the new Star really excels — ventilation. Like most other high-end helmets, there’s switchable vents on top and in the chin, but the Star complements them with a unique brow vent. Flick it open and you can see clear through four holes all the way to where your forehead will go. Open that vent while riding and you can feel the ventilation buffeting your forehead even at city speeds. The chin vent is better conceived than most too, the three-mode switch goes from fully-closed, to half-open, to full-open, more fully-tailoring ventilation than most other systems.

Air is pulled through the open/close top vents, into channels that run through the top of the helmet, then forcibly pulled out of the rear via exhausts tucked into the rear spoiler. That spoiler creates a low-pressure area where the exits are, essentially pulling air through your helmet. Secondary outlets behind the ears look large, but are, in fact, fed by only two small holes a piece — approximately half the size of those feeding the main outlets on top.

Aerodynamics are excellent outside too. From the unique flip in the chin bar that Bell developed in conjunction with Eddie Lawson in the 1980s and around to the squat rear-profile that the Star shares with another wind tunnel-developed helmet, the Nexx XR1R Carbon, overall stability at speed is essentially perfect, with no buffeting or susceptibility to crosswinds detectable. One thing it isn’t is terribly quiet, likely due to all that ventilation.

It’s in discussing other helmets like that Nexx that the Star begins to run into trouble. Built to the American Snell standard instead of the lighter, softer, less concussion-prone and arguably safer ECE 22.05 standard, the Star is relatively heavy. This carbon version weighs 1500gr for a medium, while the regular, non-carbon Star is 1550gr. The base $450, tri-composite Nexx XR1R weighs just 1300gr while the $600 carbon version is a welterweight 1200gr. Hold the two in your hands and the difference is night and day. An American company, it’s understandable how Bell arrived at the decision to go with Snell, but it would make a better helmet if, like fellow Yank Icon, they chose to build to the superior European standard, doing so wouldn’t affect legality in America while opening up markets elsewhere.

You can read more about the incredibly depressing world of helmet safety standards here.

I’ve been rotating the Star with my AGV AX-8 Dual. Not just because the ECE 22.05 AGV is lighter, but because it comes out of the box utterly fog-free in any condition, an area where the Bell has significant problems. I’ve got three different visors to go with the Star, each of which begins to mist up any time the outside temperature drops below 60 degrees. This can be partially eliminated by using the little lever on the side to crack the shield a 1/4 inch, but doesn’t totally cure the problem until you’re above about 45mph. I’m also noticing some problems with optical clarity in both the Star’s clear and Transitions visors. At night, there’s faint staring around light sources and a general lack of total clarity. Not much, but enough to cause some concern. Both shields are brand new. Typically, I’d fit a Fog City or similar visor insert, but worry about the effect it’ll have on the already imperfect optical clarity. Maybe a breath guard is in order.

Having said that, I’ll take the Bell anytime I plan to be riding in both day and night conditions. That $120 transitions visor is a game changer, offering a one-shield solution at all times. Totally clear in the dark, it darkens to a moderate, slightly rose-tinted smoke when exposed to light, varying its degree of tint to suit the lighting. Those changes in tint occur rapidly, but not instantaneously. You’ll still want to open the visor if riding into a very dark tunnel, but the darkest level of tint is effective, yet moderate, meaning that even if you wind up under an overpass or similar, you’re not going to suddenly find yourself blind in the dark. It’s liberating not having to pack a spare visor if there’s a chance I might be out after dark; running over to a friend’s house in the late afternoon just got a lot easier since it no longer involves a backpack and I don’t have to worry about plans changing mid-day, keeping me out past sunset without a clear visor in tow. It sounds like such a little thing, but try it for a few days and you’ll appreciate the convenience.

Surprisingly, due to the AX-8’s physically massive visor aperture, vision out of the Star is absolutely on-par with that AGV and much improved over my old GP-Tech, especially in a cheesy tuck, as demonsrated in these static photos.

That old Star we tested in 2009 gave up after 3,000 miles when a visor pivot snapped off, revealing a seriously weedy little metal pin — virtually a wire — was all that held it on. This new model appears to be more robust and has held up to a month’s wear without any problems. Bell’s quick change visor mechanism is up there with the best, allowing you to just press the visor into place to fit it, while pulling one little lever on each side pops the visor out. Much better than AGV’s failure-prone mechanism, much easier than Arai’s pop, twist, crack, crunch thing and as easy and convenient as Shoei, after which the design appears to be modeled.

Bell also deserves top marks for the quality and looks of the shell. That matte carbon lay is flawless, likely benefitting from parent company Easton’s expertise with the material. Yes, the same Easton that make sports equipment like hockey sticks and arrows. Snobby aesthetes, we also really appreciate the subtle grey logos on this matte carbon edition, they help make the whole thing very subtle, yet still purposeful looking. All the peaks and points and creases in the shell are highlighted in a plain color like this, the design unfortunately becomes confused when combined with graphics. The only disappointment? Plastic vents on the carbon shell feels like a cost-cutting measure too far.

One unexpected benefit? The matte finish is incredibly resistant to scratching and marking, meaning I can throw it around a locker room without fear.

So, overall, could you replace an Arai or a Shoei with this Bell? Absolutely. Those two brands are the chief proponents of the Snell safety standard, meaning their American-market helmets are also unnecessarily heavy. Bell’s quality, comfort and vision are totally equitable with both those brands and the Star outperforms any of their products in ventilation.

The problem is that those old helmet stalwarts are being left behind by other, smaller companies who’ve really been innovating in recent years. Namely: Icon, AGV and Nexx. All three of those offer helmets at a lower price and of equivalent quality. AGV and Nexx helmets are appreciably lighter. All three are widely available (well, it’s easy to find Nexx online anyways) in America and meet ECE 22.05. Bell isn’t alone in needing to up its game if it hopes to compete as awareness of all three of those brands grows.

Having said that, despite the weight disadvantage and price premium, the Star matte carbon remains a uniquely classy helmet to look at; an incredibly comfortable helmet to wear, especially when it’s hot out; and a uniquely practical helmet when fitted with that Transitions visor. Hell, that visor pretty much makes a case for a Bell all on its own. Despite my criticisms, I plan to wear this Bell pretty much daily for the foreseeable future.

  • Penguin

    That visor sounds fantastic! Almost worth the price of the lid alone, I’m sure everyone has had that “oh crap, should have bought a clear visor” moment in their times. What’s it like in overcast rainy conditions as in Britain that’s pretty much most days and can be a damn pain with a heavy tint.

    I had absolutely no idea that Easton own Bell, I bet the quality of the carbon work is top notch then, Easton carbon arrows are top notch, I swear by them.


      I have the Transitions visor on my GMax helmet. To reiterate the article, after a few minutes in bright light it works well enough that I don’t carry a second visor, but it doesn’t get nearly as dark as a regular tinted visor. I still have to squint if I’m facing the sun at dusk. Nighttime use isn’t an issue as it gets almost totally clear after several minutes out of the sun.
      GMax isn’t quite up to Bell in terms of quality, but I went with it because the Bell had a few pressure points on my head. The visor was just under $80 when I bought it, and I sorely wish they made it for more brands.

      • Penguin

        Cool, cheers dude – This sounds like the replacement I’ve been looking for to my, frankly, rank Arai (because I have to do everything Wes and HFL says, how else does one be cool?)

        Just got to keep an eye out for anywhere in the UK that actually stocks this. You US boys are making some seriously cool kit at the moment and I’d love it to jump over the pond (Icon Variant, yes please!)


          Import! Pounds ain’t gettin’ any more ‘spensive.

          • Penguin

            Tempting, actually really tempting but I’d get the wrong size. I have real problems finding a lid that fits right, I’ve tried a GP-Tech and I can’t wear them, as it seems that the fit is comparable I just wouldn’t buy a Bell* without trying one on first.

            I tell you what, there is nothing like having to try 6 – 8 helmets on to find one that fits to make you feel like a freak!

    • Gene

      If the visor is anything like my “Transitions” prescription sunglasses, I’ll keep the flip down visor in my Nolan TYVM.

      I got ripped off with the “oh look, bright Florida sunshine and they turned ever-so-slightly grey” crap.

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        I’ve had Transitions lenses in my various primary eyeglasses for a couple decades now. My latest pair turns darker/lighter much more quickly than my previous pairs — in 10-15 seconds versus 2-3 minutes.

        BUT, the turning effect is greatly affected by TEMPERATURE. When it’s cold (during Boston and NYC winters, for example), the lenses get significantly darker — too dark to see if I walk inside from being out in the sun. During the day here in LA (where I’m working this week), they’ll go no darker than mid-gray, even when I’m facing the sun.

        • Gene

          Thanks. That does explain a lot. I wonder if this visor has the same problem.

          • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

            When I’m in FL (several times a year), I oftentimes wear my prescription sunglasses instead of my Transitions eyeglasses because the Transitions don’t get dark enough in warm weather.

            But I can’t speak for the Transitions visors used in Bell helmets. If the Bell visors use the same tech as my Transitions eyeglasses, I don’t think they’d go dark enough for my tastes in warm climates.

  • evilbahumut

    I appreciate a non-biased, honest review! Good stuff Wes!

  • Trev

    Nice, now they just need to provide that helmet in pure white (and no, I am not talking about white with some graphic on it).

    • Chris

      I wanted a pure white one too, but settled on the all glossy black when i bought mine. I compromised by having some black reflective stickers made that i put on the front/back/sides of the lid. during the day they blend in, and at night when a light shines on it it’s almost like having lights on the lid. not a huge help during the day, but a definite plus for night riding.

  • Case

    Any chance you will review an Airoh GP500 helmet? Weighs in at 1250 grams and I hear good things but I’m not going to splash out on one until I can get some info on fitment and performance.

    • Wes Siler

      Is there an American importer?

      • Case

        You can order them from Superbike Supply.

        That’s the only place I know that has them. I’ve bought parts from them in the past but never a helmet. No idea if they stock them, or it’s a wait, or what.

        • Skank NYCFastest

          Theres 100′s of places that sell this helmet for a lot cheaper. Fuck supercocks supply and the little bitch that owns it.
          Yo, Wes, delete that fuckin’ spam link to that dump.

          • Case

            Can you point me to one? I looked but couldn’t find anything.

          • Gene


        • Edward

          Looks like a credible site; the helmet descriptions include the below:




          “MAXIMUM SAFETY”

          • Case

            Your ignorance is showing. If you visit the Airoh website you’ll see that they use all caps in the descriptions, and that the text from ‘supercock supply’ is lifted straight from there:

            The superbike supply guy (who may or may not be a douche, depending on whom you ask) copied that directly onto his clunky website. Should he have edited it? Probably. Does that mean the site is not credible? No.

  • Emmet

    I need a serious full face like this one. What’s the shelf life for helmets nowadays? 5 years?

    • Wes Siler

      5 years. And Bells come with a 5-year warranty.

      • Frosty_spl

        5 years from the date of manufacture, or from the day it goes on your head?

        • Wes Siler

          Date of manufacturer. It’s not a hard and fast thing, your helmet’s not going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. If you’re wearing it regularly, you’ll replace it before then anyways. It’s your fucking life, don’t be a cheapskate.

          • Emmet

            +1. Gonna check this helmet out. About time for a new helmet anyways

          • Ben Incarnate

            While I don’t disagree about not being cheap, I asked Arai at one point, because I’d picked up a closeout helmet. The date was over a year prior to my purchase. I was told the warranty is 5 years from date of purchase on their helmets. I had it for 3 years in August, but 4 since manufacture date, and ended up just getting replacement padding versus a new lid.

            Whether I keep it one more year or two, it sure fits well again.

            • Ben W

              Update on the Arai: the padding helped for a few weeks. Then, the fit was back to mediocre. I mentioned it to a local Arai dealer who commented that, with a lot of wear over the years, the EPS will compress. It sucks that I blew a chunk of change on pads, but I know better for next time.

              I have the RSD Flash RS-1 and Transitions visor on order and can’t wait. The fit, more long-oval than the Star, was fantastic.

  • DavidMG

    I really want one of those visors!

    My biggest issue where I ride (Vancouver, BC) is fogging though so that would rule it out. The RF1100 with Pinlock has been terrific and I would buy an other one in a snap.

    Honestly though, I think I’ll put up with the extra weight of one with an integrated sunscreen next time.

    • Hien

      I’m in vancity as well, my Bell Star Carbon is a top notch helmet. I have no issues with fogging compared to my Shoei X11 which is terrible without the pinlock. But the breath box for the bell helmet makes a difference and worth the $10.

      Sorry Shoei, Arai, for a $400-850 helmet, to have it fog up within 2min of leaving the garage is unacceptable.

  • Greg

    I never thought I would stray away from Shoei but after using my Bell Star for a few weeks… I’ll never go back. Super quiet, fairly light, comfortable and the Transition sheild cap it off for me.

    • Chris

      I find my star to be very noisy, interesting you find it quiet. that said, i wear ear plugs anyway, so not a huge deal.

      • Scott Pargett

        What’s funny is it feels like alot of air is rushing directly into your ears from under the helmet. This could be due to the fact that there’s huge holes over the ear where they’re assuming you’re going to tie in some elaborate bluetooth radio/phone/intercom system.

  • T Diver

    “Coming home from the gym, …”
    Please don’t write crap like that. It really hurts my brain.

    • Sean Smith

      Wes’s gotta stay tight bro. Know what I mean?

      • Edward

        GTL man. GTL.

        He’s doin it for the tattoo models.

        • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

          I thought we were all told last time that tatoo models are out.

          Working here in LA this week for the first time in almost 2 years, I’ve noticed that there are way fewer tatoos on the women who work the restaurants and bars of Hollywood, Silver Lake, and Echo Park than Williamsburg, Park Slope, Fort Greene, etc.

  • Chris

    I have a 2010 star and absolutely love it. It’s the 5th helmet I’ve purchased and by far my favorite. I had to have it replaced after the first 4 weeks because the magnet came out of the strap, but Bell service was amazing and replaced it before I shipped mine back and I’ve had no problems since. If your head is shaped right for the Bell I recommend it whole hearted ly. I will buy another when it’s time to replace this one.

  • damien

    The shape of Bell helmets really look good. I picked up their cheap modular full face awhile back as an extra and it’s great. I paid $90 bucks for it.

    Seems like lots of track day riders are giving Bell a shot now too.

  • smoke4ndmears

    I am still in love with my B*, and words do not describe the feelings I have for the transitions visor that you guys sent me. Absolutely my favorite helmet for the track as well.

  • nick2ny

    Country of origin? Heck, how about adding country of origin to each of HFL’s future product reviews? Country of origin of Shoei, Arai, Suomi, and AGV helmets? That’s pretty much what I base my buying decisions on.

  • James
  • Chris Davis

    I too have a 2010 model Bell Star and its actually the best I’ve had – better than my Shoei or Arai, but by no means flawless. All Wes’ criticisms are spot-on. A couple things worth considering: 1) I find that the main source of wind noise to be the bottom – big gaps will produce a lot of noise, 2) the contours in the EPS (or lack thereof in cheaper helmets) give you a good idea of the airflow inside the helmet. I’ve seen some household brands that had nothing but a 10mm hole through the EPS going straight to the scalp with no thought of distributing it around the head, providing next to zero airflow. Better ones employ a venturi effect by with the EPS and shell to accelerate the air flow over the head.

  • Brian

    I just got this puppy earlier this week, and your review is spot on!

    The only thing I’d add is I was a bit disappointed in the accuracy of the “V” seam going along the midline, mine seemed to be a bit more messy (significant numbers of fibers out of place) than those I’ve seen pictures of…

    Still it is a pretty impressive helmet in person, and crazy comfy!

  • Robert

    I have a ’10 Star.
    I have an “10 X-12.

    The Bell is not any where close to the quality of the Shoei.

  • stempere

    Thats one good looking helmet.
    If only the XR1R could look like that (those embossed letters at the back are just wrong)…

  • Robert

    I just wanted to put a little more on my comment on the Bell Star, I purchased the Bell to replace a Shoei X-11 that was showing it’s age. The Bell is a good helmet,it has great ventilation, can be easily set up for a Scala, or speakers, has the photocramatic shield…. but I found that I still liked my old Shoei more.
    It was impossible to retire the X-11, till I got the X-12.
    The Bell sits around waiting for me to pull my wife on back. She has a Bell Star also, and loves hers.
    Guess I’ve just got a Shoei head.

  • TuffGong

    Why Bell,Shoei,Arai et al choose to continue with SNELL is a question raised by your comments. Building helmets to the Euro Spec would allow for one helmet design and certainly cut costs. US allows Euro Specs to be sold there,so there is no mandate for SNELL here. Europe does not allow SNELL,so there is an inherent limitation for SNELL helmets.Yet these major players choose to take on the expense of dual design/standards. Laying the cause to the ease vs. difficulty of marketing a Euro standard vs the US based/familiar SNELL is a specious one at best. EU standard body armor/protection is heavily marketed in the US with no anti-EURO fears…and SNELL is hardly a household word outside the industry.Whatever the argument made in favor of ECE standard,clearly these manufacturers are less than convinced…It is my understanding that the Shoei racing program helmets are built to US specs(ie: SNELL,not ECE) You are clearly in the camp of the Euro standards,and I am not presenting any argument in favor of one over the other. Clearly Shoei follows the thinking/philosophy that high speed performance situations are better served by the SNELL standard design. I think the best argument for a softer ,lighter design lies in the urban/lower speed everyday riding situation. I believe that most testing bears out this line of thinking. For the majority of urban riders in their real world riding, a lightweight/impact absorbing bicycle style helmet would prove best…My point being that the issue is certainly debatable,and mostly opinion based.

    • aristurtle

      Snell is not a US government standard; it’s a standard promoted by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a private nonprofit organization. The minimum standard for motorcycle helmets in the few states that enforce helmet laws is the DOT FMVSS standard, which is incredibly loose, does not enforce mandatory testing of the helmets, and is basically stuck in the seventies’ technology.

      The Snell standards (unlike the ECE standards) have always been set up as a superset of the DOT standards, i.e. any Snell helmet, by default, meets DOT standards. This is not always the case for ECE helmets (but it usually is). In any case the Snell M2010 standard and the ECE 05 standard are so similar to one another that there are quite a few helmets on the market that implement both. I’ve read through both standards and I’m convinced that the only reason why you even see helmets that only have one or the other label is the expense of testing by two separate labs.

      Frankly, I’m fine with either; they are each of them so far beyond the DOT spec that the differences between the two seem trivial. Wes has made clear in the past that he’s convinced that the Snell Memorial Foundation is a front group for a cartel of established helmet makers attempting to keep new players out of the market, or something like that; personally I don’t think that fits the facts and the current “ece!!!” craze is more of a hipsterish reaction against whatever is seen as the mainstream establishment choice.

      • Wes Siler

        Eh, we just like cheaper, lighter helmets.

        Why does an Arai RX-7 cost and weigh less in Europe. Why do NO top-tier SBK or MotoGP racers opt for the Snell standard? Why does an American racer (Ben Spies), racing in an American helmet, race in an ECE version of that helmet?

        • Gene

          I thought it might be the MotoGP regs, but the 2010 rulebook from says helmets must conform to any of ECE 22-05, Snell-M 2005/2010, or JIS-T-8133 2000/2007. I couldn’t find a newer rulebook.

      • Gene

        Speakin’ of DOT spec… where’s the sticker on the back of that helmet?

        • Sean Smith

          Peeled off the second Wes lifted it out of the box.

  • Kerry

    Looks fast sitting on a table.

  • Sean (the other one)

    It’s still ugly

    • Sean Smith

      Unfortunately, not every helmet is a metal flake faux-vintage 3/4.

      • Wes Siler

        Don’t forget non-DOT for that oh-so-hip dead look that’s all the rage right now.

        • Sean (the other one)

          Haven’t worn my 3/4 non DOT (non metal flake) since sept and if I had, it wouldn’t change the fact that that bell helmet best matches shorts, a t short, and bullet proof vest.

  • Chuck

    This helmet looks great but it quite a lot of scratch. I was looking at the Bell RS-1. Do you guys have any knowledge of that helmet? Is there a huge difference in a $350 lid compared to a $600+ one?

    • Wes Siler

      I’ve heard good things about the RS1, but haven’t tried one yet.

  • karl baderschneider

    How about a direct comparison to a Schuberth full face model? Schuberth provides actual decibel levels. Get with it.

  • David

    Have you guys ever reviewed Blauer Force One helmets? I kinda like the looks but have no idea about the actual quality.

  • Archer

    No question that the Bell brand took a serious hit in the pre-Easton Sports acquisition years, an era of K-mart specials on the brand and cheap junk.

    If people knew how much Easton-Bell has invested in every phase of the modern Bells they would be gobsmacked. Honestly, one wonders if they might not have better been served by dropping the Bell name and extending the Giro line to motor sports (Bell, Giro and Riddell helmets are all owned by Easton-Bell).

  • Ben W

    Late comment: my RS-1 is arriving at Moto Liberty in the next few days and I’m trying to decide whether to go with the Transitions visor or a standard Dark Smoke. It’s a tough call.

    - Convenience. I’ve been stuck out later than expected and ridden at night with a dark smoke visor. It’s terrible.
    - “Ooooh” factor!

    - Price. It’s 3x the price of standard visor.
    - Dark smoke is supposedly darker, especially in high heat, a godsend in ridiculously sunny and hot Texas.
    - Availability. It’s sold out almost everywhere. Some guy bought all that my local shop had moments before I bought my helmet, presumably to resell at a profit.

    It’s cool and extremely convenient. Still, I have only been in a handful situations in the last few years that would show any benefit from it, while dark smoke is likely a daily benefit.


    • Ben W

      Currently trying to get Bell to accept my RS-1 as a return.