What do you want out of a motorcycle helmet? All-day comfort? Good ventilation? A visor that won’t fog no matter what? Aerodynamics that keep it stable and comfy at high speeds, even when turning your head? Probably stuff like low noise levels, a light weight, good peripheral vision and the ability to control the internal environment too. What about sharp looks, a strong visor lock and an easy, reliable, strong quick release mechanism? Now what would you typically expect to pay for all that? $400? $600? $800? This new Icon Airmada does all the above as well as most high-end helmets and better than some, but starts at just $180.
The all-new Airmada is an extremely high value helmet that manages to avoid sacrificing quality and features in the pursuit of that sub-$200 price. The latest helmet in Icon’s lineup, it brings a couple innovations not seen even on their more expensive lids.
A lot of that newness is centered around the visor. Dubbed, “Icon Optics” (as opposed to the old “Pro Shield”) it adds 5 degrees of peripheral vision on each side. That’s then attached to the helmet using an all-new quick-release mechanism that should be easier and more durable than the company’s previous designs.
Wrapping the helmet’s base is a new, one-piece PVC neck roll cover. Visually reminiscent of a high-end basketball sneaker, it adds a welcome tactility and technical appearance to an area that typically becomes just frayed fabric. It also helps resolve the visual distinction between the large, tight neck roll and helmet’s shell. Oh, and that neck roll is super tight and secure, blocking out wind and holding the helmet very securely on your head. It’s not Schuberth SR1 tight, but it’s close.
The two main-intakes are triangular in shape and considerably larger than the industry-standard 10mm.
As you’d expect from a helmet with “air” in its name, the big deal here is ventilation. There’s seven switchable inlets on the front and six static extractors at the rear. The minimum size for any of those vents is 10mm, which is typically considered a large vent on other helmets. The two main, top intakes on the Airmada are triangular in shape and well in excess of 10mm in diameter as a result. The brow vents are also extremely large, you can actually feel them blowing fresh air onto your forehead at speeds above 30mph. Additional vents on each side of the chin are equipped with three-position internal switches.
Not so much brow vents as BROW VENTS.
Inside a typical high-end motorcycle helmet like, say, my AGV GP-Tech, there’s two 10mm intakes on the top, a chin vent to flow air over the inside of the visor and two 10mm extractors at the rear. And that’s $600 race replica. The Airmada exceeds both the size and number of vents, adding brow and two additional chin vents at the front and locating four 10mm extractors at the top of the rear and two additional 10mm holes behind the ears. That is a ton of ventilation and the ability to chose between a combination of top, brow, chin and side chin at the front offers you significant ability to individually tailor cooling.
Four 10mm extractors at the top rear are aided by two additional 10mm exhausts behind the ears. That’s three times the extractor area most helmets have.
Of course, all those vents do create one concern: noise. I’ve been riding in the Airmada (both High-Viz and black-on-black Stack graphics) since August. The reason this review’s taken so long is that the helmet initially presented some problems with whistling. That first helmet was pre-production unit rushed to me in time for the Brammo Empulse ride, so I gave it a pass. The second, black version is production spec. On both the smoked visor initially failed to seal completely to the gasket, leaving a gap for air to annoyingly whistle through. The problem was apparently a batch of visors with the lock holes drilled just a smidge off. A new black visor has recently totally cured that problem, but we’ve seen reports of whistling from owners of the helmet. Our advice would be to order visors from a retailer like RevZilla, which offers a no hassle return policy. If the visor doesn’t seal completely to the gasket, all the way around, when closed, send it back for one that does.
Icon employs a one-piece visor gasket that, when the visor seals to it properly, actually does an awesome job of sealing out wind and dust and other things you don’t want in your eyes. In addition to visors that, in stock form, absolutely refuse to fog, that’s some serious quality for any price level.
Finger torture devices double as visor quick swap mechanism.
What isn’t high quality is the quick-swap mechanism. It works, eventually, but with a frustrating clunkiness. This is going to sound like a wimpy thing to say, but the levers you push with your fingers to pop loose the visor hurt ever time you use them. Not a big deal for a tough guy like you of course, but still annoying. It’s really the only area on the helmet where the cost is visible.
With that visor seal issue resolved, the Airmada isn’t the quietest helmet in the world. You can actually hear the air rushing through the top vents at highway speeds. That leads to some nice cooling, but earplugs will be a necessity on long rides or any time you’re planning on sustaining highway speeds for more than a short period.
The Airmada also continues to use Icon’s Monroe-style metal stud visor lock. They argue it’s simple and strong, which it is, but it’s also unnecessarily clunky, requiring a hand to stabilize the helmet while unlocking if you don’t want to push it up your forehead. There’s got to be a more elegant solution, but possibly not at this pricepoint. Hey, it does lock the visor down very securely.
Another thing Icon’s skipped is a chin curtain. Those help seal off the helmet’s interior from the outside environment, blocking dust and debris from getting into your face an eyes and allowing you to have more say over ventilation by adjusting vents. The Airmada’s chin does dip down very far, achieving some of the same effect.
The first time I wore the Airmada was on a three day trip that began with riding an NC700X through the Santa Monica Mountains in 100 degree plus temperatures, then two days on the Brammo Empulse up in Oregon, again in temps well in excess of 100 degrees. After the initial 45 minute highway ride up to Westlake Village, a couple forehead pressure points were causing trouble, so I removed the liner and conducted a trial and error approach to compressing the Styrofoam there. Unlike many other helmets, the Airmada doesn’t locate any hard buttons or similar to connect the removable liner to the forehead area of the Styrofoam (it instead slides in between the foam and shell, a far better solution). Five minute of poking, trying it on, and poking some more resulted in a helmet that is now utterly comfortable for as long as I need to have it on.
The Airmada is a long-oval head shape. So think Arai Corsair V, Bell Star, etc.
At no point in three days of riding in such extreme heat did I at any point feel that my head was too hot nor fear putting the Airmada back on after a break. The antimicrobial, sweat-wicking lining stayed dry and cool throughout the trip. I can’t say the same about my cotton socks, undershirt or underwear, all of which went into my gearbag completely sodden at the end of each day. It’s seriously stinky in there now.
That time in Oregon was spent largely at speed on back roads, on bikes free of any windscreen or other aerodynamic aids. I’ve also since used the helmet on faster bikes, including an RSV4. Even at very high speeds, the helmet is extraordinarily stable, something that’s especially noticed while turning your head. In many helmets, doing so in excess of 100mph takes real effort and causes the helmet to move around on your head. Not so in the Airmada, which makes high speeds head checks super easy and therefore makes you more likely to do them. Being able to quickly and easily check what’s in your blind spots, free of buffeting, is crucial to safety while riding fast. I was able to keep a good eye on what that Eric Bostrom character was up to as we passed and repassed each other for repeated photo takes.
One reason it’s so good is that this is one of the smallest helmets I’ve worn in terms of external dimensions. I’m in a Large and its perceptibly smaller on my shoulders than the same size Bell or AGV or even Icon’s own Alliance. Less surface area to catch the wind brings obvious advantages and it also eliminates that Q-tip look tall, skinny guys with enormous noggins like me are subject to. Some of that is down to the use of four shell sizes across the Airmada’s total sizes. Most helmets at similar price points make do with three, frequently resulting in large helmets padded onto small heads.
Add to those dimensions sharp lines and striking features like the pressed aluminum grilles covering the vents and you have an extremely nice-looking helmet. Additionally, the “Stack” graphic ($260), is the only non-plain stock helmet graphic I’ve ever been happy enough with to actually wear. I actually like the large Icon logos on the side, but could do without the messy logo on the chin or the fussiness of the grading they’ve added throughout. It’s be stronger visually with just the lightning bolts, but it’s still a damn fine helmet. Bonus: in stock, $180 form, there’s absolutely no graphics and no contrasting logos of any kind. Just the body-color moldings on the brow vent cover and on the rear of that PVC neck roll cover. It’s probably the most stealthy helmet you can buy.
Let’s see: visor stuff, vent stuff, aerodynamic stuff, looks stuff…that leaves us with safety and weight. Like all other Icon helmets, the Airmada is made to the ECE 22.05, DOT, Japanese and Australian safety standards. This results in a light, soft helmet that’s optimized to protect you against concussions.
With a $180 price point, it shouldn’t be surprising that the shell is made of polycarbonate plastic over a lighter, fancier tri-composite weave. This has no negative impacts on safety or quality, it’s just a little heavier and a little less worth of bragging rights. RevZilla weighed a medium and reports that it’s 1,550 grams. To put it in perspective, the lightest full-face helmet around is the Nexx XR1R Carbon at 1,200 grams, the extremely light AGV AX-8 Dual weighs 1,400 grams and an Arai RX-7 V is about 1,500 grams. The Airmada is the same weight as a $550 Bell Star.
So in the Airmada we’ve got an extremely nice looking helmet that’s available with either the best graphics out there or in plain colors with virtually invisible logos. It’s made to a better safety standard than most expensive helmets on-sale in America and it exceeds pretty much any other full-face on ventilation. Its visor will not fog and it’s all day comfortable. It’s a little noisy and the visor swap mechanism hurt my poor baby fingers. You need to put in a little effort to make sure you get a tinted visor that seals properly. All that together makes the Airmada as nice as any other helmet out there at any price point and nicer than many. At $180, why would you buy anything else? Hell, I can get any helmet I want for free and I’m still choosing to wear this budget Icon. Not just one of the best deals out there, one of the best helmets out there full stop.
TL;DR: Arai and Shoei are asleep, Bell still has quality problems and Schuberths are too damn expensive. For $180, this Icon is as nice or nicer than anything those guys sell and has better ventilation. If you spend more money, you’re doing it for brand and bragging rights, not quality or functionality.
If you’re ordering online, we recommend RevZilla for its no-hassle return policy and generally awesome customer service. Helmet don’t fit? Send it back for one that does. Visor won’t seal? They’ll replace it.