By now, you’re used to seeing us wear crazy expensive motorcycle gear. Custom leather suits, Japanese race gauntlets, fancy jackets and nice boots. That’s because, using motorcycles as our main transportation and frequently doing stupid, stupid things on them, we need the best functionality and safety out there. Especially the safety. But, what if you could find all that safety and most of those features in a helmet that costs just $160? You can in this new Icon Alliance.
The Alliance replaces the old Alliance SSR as the lowest price helmet in Icon’s range. Revised interior head shape, more features, less weight, cleaner looks, same price. Nice.
If, for some inexplicable reason, you’re not totally up on your HFL, Icon has recently made itself the most relevant brand for street riders. Starting out by making gear for riders that wouldn’t otherwise wear any — squids — the small, Portland, Oregon-based company has capitalized on its non-corporate nature to innovate at a time when most other gear makers are cutting costs and reigning in R&D. A few years ago, we wouldn’t be seen dead in the brand. The other day, I realized I was wearing it virtually head-to-toe on a canyon ride. Well, I had Alpinestars boots and gloves on.
So, onto the helmet. As you can see, it’s a clean-looking full-face with large exterior top vents. It’s obviously available in the usual lairy Icon graphics, but I initially ordered the matte black “rubatone” version to use as a pillion lid, then got this white one for myself when I saw how nice it was.
It’s worth repeating that I can (and do) have any helmet I want without spending my own cash. I say that not to boast, but hopefully to drive home the quality and desirability of this $160 helmet. I’m currently choosing it over a $770 Bell Star Matte Carbon, AGV GP-Tech, the new AGV AX-8 Dual Evo and whatever else is knocking around in my closet.
Specifically, I’m a fan of the Alliance because of the incredibly clean looks, its comfort, build quality, relatively light weight and, like all Icon helmets, the fact that it’s utterly fog-free as stock.
Icon claims 1,600g for a size medium. Holding this large Alliance next to my extra large Bell Star Matte Carbon, I can’t discern a weight difference. The Icon uses a plastic shell, the Bell a carbon one.
The $160 Icon also has the $770 Bell beat on its ability to resist fogging. Nearly as bad as a Shoei, the Bell will begin to fog, even with all the vents open, if you come to a standstill at any temp below about 65. The Icon just won’t fog, even when I sit here wearing it and breathing heavily in my air conditioned living room.
I chose that Bell for its muted, simple logos. But look at this Icon; there’s only one tiny logo above the visor that’s in the same color as the rest of the helmet. Unless you know it’s there, you won’t even see it. Thanks guys for not turning me into a rolling billboard.
One area where the Bell has the Icon beat is in ventilation. With a large central chin vent, two side chin extractors, two channels up top and a couple extractors down low at the rear, the Icon’s by no means shabby, but it doesn’t have the brow vents that characterize many more expensive lids. Above 80, you can tell the difference.
But then things swing back in the Icon’s favor on safety. Icon uses our preferred ECE 22.05 safety standard, which is lighter, softer and arguably less concussion prone than the Snell M2010 used by Bell. Icon’s helmets are certified for sale in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. Snell helmets typically don’t meet ECE requirements.
The Star uses radical, wind tunnel-shaped proportions and shapes. The Alliance feels absolutely as stable at speed, even while turning your head for lifesavers. I’ve had it up to about 140mph.
The day after the Alliance arrived, Grant, Jamie and I took off for a 12 hour day filming the Ducati Multistrada 1200 and Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. Wearing the Alliance the whole time, it proved to be quiet and comfy. I did want a little more ventilation as we went off-road at very low speeds in 80+ direct sunshine. Wasn’t terrible, I’m just spoiled by the ventilation on that Star and the AX-8 Dual.
Can you tell the Alliance is such a cheap helmet? Looking at it, you really can’t. The rubber strip around the bottom is one-piece, the paint is glossy, the vents chunky and switches solid. But, it does sacrifice that brow vent, there’s no chin curtain and there’s no switches to close the rear vent holes. Look inside and you’ll be surprised to see a plush, moisture-wicking, removable, washable interior. Seriously, it’s one of the nicest interiors I’ve seen in any helmet at any price.
My only gripe is the visor mechanism, which can be a little clunky (not as bad as Arai or AGV’s though) and the removable pods that clip onto the visor’s exterior. Those mount with simple press studs and feel like they’ll wear out after some decent use.
The Alliance is indicative of a sea change not just from Icon, but across the motorcycle helmet universe. The old stalwarts of quality — Arai and Shoei — have seemingly halted innovation, persisting with generations old products and an allegedly inferior safety standard (in the American market anyways, they sell ECE helmets to the rest of the world) at a time when AGV, Bell, Nexx and Icon are innovating strongly. The nicest helmet in the world now comes from a tiny Portuguese company you’ve never heard of and the $160 Alliance is, in my opinion, absolutely on-par with mid-range Arai and Shoeis costing hundreds of dollars more.
Figured there was no body better to tell us how and why the Alliance is so nice at such a low price point than the guy that designed it, Justin Knauer.
What helmets did you benchmark in designing the Alliance?
“We have a giant pile of helmets intended for various action sports and personal protection purchased for research and development, but ultimately we feel our biggest competitor is ourselves. Bringing features found in the pinnacle model of the helmet line, the Airframe, to the Alliance was one of the main goals of this project.”
How does it improve over the old SSR?
“As I mentioned, bringing more features to our entry level helmet was very important. The addition of the Proshield, fine tuning the venting system, and revising the fit to a ‘long oval’ head shape are big improvements.”
What technical attributes and features on it are you most proud of?
“Take a look at the ventilation on the helmet. Considerable effort goes into building special tooling to achieve oversized/angled air intakes and exhaust ports through the EPS. You can’t produce these channels using traditional ‘in mold’ methods. It’s things like this that are overlooked by companies building helmets around a board room table. Typically they choose to ignore the street rider and focus on wind tunnel test with their factory rider and bike where as we look at it more from a street tuner or gear-head methodology. ‘How can we open this thing up and let it breath to increase performance?’ ‘How can we keep a rider more comfortable and more focused?’ It’s details like this that speak to the ‘we build what we ride’ mentality found in the Icon office.”
Why does Icon persist with the hole-in-visor lock thing?
“This week we’ve had two helmets brought to us by riders that have gone down (one was the Team Icon Brammo rider Steve Atlas) and both had significant damage to the face shield. I think the photo speaks for itself. Anything to keep the shield closed while your face is inches away from the asphalt at a high rate of speed is a good thing. The Prolock is also intended to keep your shield closed during high speed head checks. We find the post and hole method at the front of the helmet to be more intuitive than locks placed on the side of the helmet near the shield attachment mechanism.”
Why ECE and not Snell?
“Icon is a global brand and ECE is a standard recognized in 50+ countries so it’s logical for us to use the ECE standard. We encourage all riders to delve into the helmet certification and standards topic. We think any intelligent individual will come to the same opinion that we have about the ECE VS Snell debate.”
How on earth were you able to bring this weight, quality and feature content to a $160 helmet?
“It has taken years of development, tinkering, and refining to pack all these features into a helmet with this price tag. The key is the materials and methods used to produce the Alliance. The Alliance is a polycarbonate blend helmet which is more efficient to produce as opposed to the hand laid fiberglass or carbon materials used for the Airframe and Variant helmets.”
Why are Icon helmets absolutely fog free as standard when Shoei, Bell etc fog immediately in any temp below 70?
“As you know we’re up here in the Northwest part of the country. Grey cold morning commutes are common about 9 months out of the year so we make sure our helmets breath and stay fog free. I’d tell you how we do it but I know the companies you mentioned are reading this.”
What differentiates the Alliance from more expensive helmets in the Icon range?
“Feature wise? Very little. It goes back to the shell materials and production methods I mentioned before. I tend to think of the Alliance as the Ford F150 of the Icon helmet collection. It may not be the Shelby Mustang but it’s going to get the job done and there is a reason it’s so popular, it works and it works well.”