For $160, all the helmet you’ll ever need

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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.”

  • ike6116

    I think Sean Smith might have had a hand in changing your mind on Icon too.

    Still this is a provably good helmet. After living life with an internal sun visor though it’s going to be hard to ever accept life without it.

    • Sean Smith

      I like to think of myself as Wes’s personal stylist.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

        Ah, so we know who to blame.

    • ike6116

      Just to follow up here, I purchased this helmet today as a helmet for my wife. $160 and ECE were really all I needed to hear. I am not like that assclown on reddit but I would be lying if I didn’t say my eyebrow wasn’t raised at the recent love affair HFL has magically developed with Icon especially when coupled with the west coast move and addition of everyone’s favorite injured squid.

      I can say that this not a “puff piece” They mean it. The build quality on this helmet is truly very impressive. No complaints from the wife, it looks good with her new vanson jacket and I feel good knowing she’ll be safe if shit goes sideways. This helmet could easily be $260. I have a Scorpion EXO-1100 and and though mine has more features this helmet feels more well built than my scorpion and I am not at all dissatisfied with my scorpion.

  • smoke4ndmears

    All you will ever need, maybe, but less than you’d want. I wear the $h!+ out of my hi-viz alliance, but only to satisfy the requirements I must meet as a military rider. They are good helmets, just the same, and at a stunning price point. That grey liner gets smarmy as hell after a few months. Let me know if you figure out how to make it look brand new again. Some further engineering would help the excessive draftiness in the face area as well… I’m very happy I do not wear contacts anymore.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      “Some further engineering would help the excessive draftiness in the face area as well.”

      Perhaps that’s why the visor is fog-free. All that moving air in front of your eyes keeps the visor from fogging.

      Same goes for my Schuberth R1. There’s a lot of air movement across my face — and my eyes will dry out unless I blink often. But my visor and my eyeglasses too don’t fog up, even on subfreezing days.

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D [EX500]

        What’s good for clear visors generally isn’t good for us contact lens wearers, I’ve found. Nothing scarier than having to hard-blink five or six times in a row to get any sort of decent vision during a long ride.

        • Matt

          The chin curtain is an available accessory.

          http://rideicon.com/product_details.jsp?category=3427&id=12640

          In the end (chin curtain or not) I found that actually my glasses fog up before the Alliance’s face shield. I ended up going with a Respro Foggy breath guard which does the job.

          http://www.respro.com/products/racing/road-racing/foggy_mask/

          Have tried contact lenses a few times. They just don’t work for me. This helmet + respro breath guard does!

          • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

            anyone know of a chin curtain for shoei helmets that work better than the piece of shit it comes with?

            • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

              Scorpion makes a nice curtain made of leather-like material that has a thin plastic-sheet “clip” that slots into the gap between shell and chin padding. It looks totally stock. I have used them in all of my Schuberth, Arai, and Shark helmets. The plastic-sheet “clip” is easy to trim to optimize fit.

              It’s not as “floppy” as the Shoei curtain, and for me, it’s just the right size so it reduces turbulence without blocking too much fresh air.

              • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

                i actually want one that blocks more air. the rf-1100 is one of the best ventilated helmets i’ve worn (when the vents are opened) but lets in way too much air from the bottom.

                • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

                  How bout the Proline Windjammer II?

                  I have one of these. It blocks lots of air AND it reduces “booming” inside the helmet from windscreen turbulence hitting the bottom of the helmet.

                • JVictor75

                  +1 I’ve also recently ran into somewhat of an embarrassing and somewhat disgusting problem with the RF-1100. With the chin vent open, the inrush of air plays havoc with my contacts and my nose hair.

                  On the bright side, I suppose the watery eyes resulting from the tickling nose hair keeps my contacts moist enough.

                  I’ll have to find my “winter” chin curtain for my RF-1100 when I get home and post the information for you.

                  (Had to take it out and reinstall the factory one when the average daytime temps started edging into triple digits here in the Valley of the MurderDeathSun.)

                • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

                  aww shucks, you guys are the best.

          • Josh

            I’m not sure if it’s normal, but I recently purchased an Alliance from Revzilla, and it came with the chin curtain, and a nice little portable visor cleaning kit.

        • Squid_Squidly

          I would like to throw in that I’ve never experienced problems with my contacts while riding in this helmet.

          I did find a hornet in my visor once though. That was definitely not cool.

          • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

            your squidly powers make you impervious to any of the imperfections of the ICON brand.

  • Gene

    Hey, I guess if you need a cheapshit helmet… there ya go!

    • Gene

      I had a big rebuttal about how it’d never match my N-104, but then I realized I was comparing Icon’s cheapest with Nolan’s best, and decided to just let it go. (breathe in, breathe out)

      You know, one of my most comfortable & quietest helmets was my first, a $90 cheapass Bieffe. The visor was permanently mounted so there was no complex mechanism, just a very thin swivel. The visor was just a thin sheet of plexiglass and it wouldn’t fog ever. It had no vents at all, so it was ultra quiet. There was no gap in the neck roll so it didn’t develop a windy hole there.

      It did give it’s all when I was asleep going to work, and I went through an S-curve at 40mph… with my kickstand down. “Man, is the asphalt EVER going to stop sliding past my eyeport??”

  • Squid_Squidly

    Hell yeah, something I already own and therefore can’t be made to desire for once!

    You forgot the helmet’s best feature; they smell like new car! …For the first month or two anyway.

    Also I switch visors from tinted to clear all the time and I do worry about the snaps wearing out. Right now they’re loose and workable though. Much better than the twenty minute wrestling match they used to be.

    Oh also, everyone who switches visors should be sure to put the side plates back every time, cuz if you don’t the wind’ll find the gaps and sound like a banshee in a screamo band.

    • Josh

      I picked up a tinted shield, but I couldn’t get the side plates off the clear shield…

  • Tim

    I am on my second Bell Star just so I can use a Transitions self-darkening shield. I won’t buy ANY helmet at ANY price that I can’t get one of these amazing shields for. even though the Bell has a simple shield change feature, this shield renders it unneccessary.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

      The Transitions shield is great until a bunch of ‘em are defective and you can’t find a good one. Then, it kind of sucks.

      • Zach

        Is that why their availability has been so spotty?

    • M

      anyone tried these out? ostensibly, they eliminate the issue of slow clearing of the tint riding into dark places:

      http://e-tintproducts.com/home-ezp-33.html

  • Kevin

    Thanks for being thorough, now I don’t need to imagine what bug guts would look like on this helmet. You guys are the best.

  • Corey

    I got really excited hoping this was the Airmada that was mentioned in the Brammo livery article.

  • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    I am the Stig.

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

    “The Alliance feels absolutely as stable at speed, even while turning your head for lifesavers.”

    Grant feeds you lifesavers when he’s riding pillion?

    I guess that’s the advantage of this helmet not having a chin curtain.

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      For some reason this made me L(augh) O(ut) L(oud)

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        Nice blog linked from your handle here! Some great photos on it.

        I especially like your panoramic Kauai photos. Years ago, my wife and I rode up the ridge road (Waimea Canyon Rd) on a rented F650GS. The motorcycle died right at the top of the ridge (almost 4000 ft ASL). So we turned the bike around and rode it like a sled all the way down. I tried not to use the brakes at all so that I’d carry enough speed to make it through the various flat and slightly-uphill sections. We actually made it all the way to the bottom, where the ridge road ends at the main island road. I had to push the F650GS across the intersection and half a block down the street into the parking lot of a coconut shrimp place, where we had lunch until the rental agency could drop us off a new bike.

        • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

          Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy it! I’m actually working on a story about riding a DR650 around Kauai, including Waimea Canyon Road, right now. Coasting down that thing must’ve been fun, if a little unnerving at times. I know the exact shrimp place you’re talking about, I had fish tacos across the street. Good stuff!

      • tomwito

        +1

        • tomwito

          On the LOL…

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

    “…at a time when AGV, Bell, Nexx and Icon are innovating strongly.”

    I’d add Shark to that list. I’m very impressed with the improvements they’ve been making to their helmets in the last 10 years (despite the many steps backwards they keep taking in regards to their ever shittier website that gets more annoying and dated as the years go by).

    • Gene

      Also Nolan. They have a new shield attachment mechanism, better chin vents, and the chinbar is no longer pushed hard against my chin.

      I don’t like the new buckle as much, and the jury’s still out on the sunvisor control.

    • Daniel

      +1 on Shark. I found a Shark RSR2 on clearance at my local dealer for under $250. One of the lightest helmets ever made. What a huge difference the weight savings makes on your neck after a day of riding a naked bike.

      That being said, their website is pretty sh*tty and the visor replacements are ungodly expensive.

    • markbvt

      Another +1 on Shark. My RSI saved my life last year, and as soon as Shark has US distribution in place again I plan to pick up one of their new models.

      As it happens, Sharks are also among the very few helmets I’ve found that really fit me well.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

      dont forget schuberth. that new S2 looks incredible.

      • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

        the S2 is also $700 smackers! Looks mean though.

  • Ankur V

    I’m about to buy either this or the Bell Vortex. Haven’t made up my mind on which one yet.

  • Phil

    I was excited until I saw it’s a polycarbonate shell. It’s debatable whether this actually makes the helmet any less safe than old-fashioned fiberglass, but most racing clubs won’t let you out on the track in a plastic lid.

    I’m a big fan of these right now:

    http://www.kaliprotectives.com/moto/nira

    The matte black is totally logo free, it’s light, breathes well, comfortable for me (I have a shoei-shaped head, size XL in both brands fits right with no pressure points), and ECE instead of snell. Noisy as hell, but thats what earplugs are for. It’s also a fiberglass shell so WERA/CCS/… will let you go out and play racer in it.

    I might still order an Alliance for the street to check it out since that price is crazy cheap, but it seems more practical for me to just get another Kali that could actually pass tech at the track.

    I am really warming up to Icon, they definitely stepped up their game. I just got a pair of black Elsinores and they are kick-ass boots. I’m not quite siler-skinny, so my normal motorcycle jeans are Iron Heart 808s. The straight-cut can just barely slide over the top of the elsinores so I don’t look goofy in the office.

    Full disclosure: No connection with Kali, just a customer. Haven’t tested the helmet yet but I trust the ECE standard. I do race, but I’m pretty damn slow.

    • Phil

      One additional downside: It fogs pretty terribly, but that’s true of every helmet I’ve used.

      If the Icon is actually fog free I’ll buy one for the road, but I’m not really convinced anything can deliver on that promise short of pinlocks.

      • Sean Smith

        Whatever Icon coats their shields with actually works better than a pinlock (no halos!), which is what I’ve used on my Arais and my Nexx. Try one on in a store, it’s pretty amazing.

        • Phil

          Sweet, I’ll go check one out. I wear glasses so I’ll always get some fogging in the worst conditions, but I can’t really put that on helmet manufacturers.

  • HammSammich

    I’m on my third Icon Alliance Helmet. I bought an Alliance SS several years back, which saved my face in a high side (slapped the chinbar down so hard the visor popped off of one side). Replaced that with the SSR; a decent improvement over the SS. Recently I had to replace the SSR because it stopped fitting properly after I lost 70lbs and I got this. With each generation, Icon’s budget friendly helmet has improved immensely, which seems to track with HFL’s icon experiences.

    I will say, that it’s not entirely fog free, but I figure it’s unreasonable to expect any helmet not to fog up at a standstill below freezing…

    • Devin

      Sounds like a great deal for Canadian weather. Like you I often ride in cold weather, especially almost any morning. 80+ does not happen for me with any consistency so the main draw-back is lessened.

      I happen to need a new lid too. Usually it’s really hard to find a helmet in white, cool that if the local shop doesn’t stock it I can at least order one.

  • TuffGong

    A good helmet for 160 bucks…ok. But comparing it to Shoei and Arai is a leap. More costs you more and does more,less costs you less and has less.The shield system is weak compared to the sturdy,easy to use Shoei and cannot compare to the thru shell venting on the Shoei’s and the Arai remains the king of fitment with it’s multiple shapes(even as it retains it’s antiquated venting and funky as hell shield system. I have sold thousands of helmets over the years.The majority in the 150-250 range.Dollars buy quiet,comfort and dependability as well as multi-shell sizing. Limited size runs in plastic is what you get for 160.00 People get what they pay for.

    • Gene

      Yeah but at least they’re not buying the chrome German WW-I style “helmets”. Plus at $160 I can afford a real helmet to keep around for passengers.

  • http://www.pedalgents.com holdingfast

    I’m still gonna ask my friend who s in NY right now to pick two up. one for me and one for herself, its simply an insane price.

  • Campisi

    I heard there’s an Icon dealer up in Seoul; after the massive import taxes, this may still be cheap enough for me to afford. It’d be a lovely replacement for the ubiquitous HJC on my shelf.

  • randry

    People need to be educated more on the whole ECE vs Snell debate. I’ve been to racing events where they will only let Snell approved helmets be used. Try explaining that at a race track.

    • Jeff

      +1

  • Devin

    I got to Royal Distributing to try one one, realized the helmet I bought for my girl two years ago is the same one. Happy to buy it, though the major downside of this helmet is that it gets scuffed very, very easily. There is like no clear-coat or something.

    Also, waiting 45 minutes because the 15 year old kids at the counter don’t know how to special order a non wacko graphics helm.

    • Devin

      This is the first non HJC helmet I’ve ever owned.

      It is super light, fog free and breathes great. Two things though:

      1) It’s much louder than I am used to. Now I get why people often wear ear plugs.

      2) The sorta motocross style of the helm is noticeable, if I tense my shoulders checking my blindspot my snout catches on my shoulder armour.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

    This is a possible replacement for the Scorpion EXO-400 that my lady smashed up while practicing on her now less-than-new CBR250R.

    Just gotta figure out how to get the front tire lined back up with the bars.

  • Tim N.

    The mechanic I go to is also a distributor. I was considering dropping a lot more money on an Arai or Shoei, but he convinced me the Alliance was the way to go. I was rather skeptical, but the prospect of saving the money really won me over. It’s only my second helmet purchase and I feel much better about it after reading this… I also feel much better about trusting my dude’s advice in the future!