Five Great Helmets to Consider in 2017
It's a new year, which is as good an excuse as any to splash out on new gear. There’s no better way to spend one’s money than on a shiny new helmet. After all, it’s the most essential motorcycle accessory you can buy.
But what constitutes a good lid? For me it’s one that will give your brain that extra fighting chance in the event of a crash. It’s also one that keeps your noggin properly cosseted - a helmet has to fit your particular shape of head not only for comfort reasons, but to make sure it does its job in the event of a crash (by the way, I heartily recommend getting your head fitted in a motorcycle shop, if you’re not sure what is a good fit).
A good lid should also be designed to cut through the air, enabling you to ride without the pressure on your face and neck that could come from unnecessary levels of turbulence, and it shouldn’t sound like the interior of a nightclub on a Friday evening’s merriment either. Last but certainly not least, as a helmet is the highest and therefore most noticeable part of your ride, it should really stand out too - this has the effect of not only making you look cool (complimenting your good-looking bike and tasty gear), but getting other people (read: car drivers) to notice you.
So without further ado, here are my five favourite helmets that tick all the above boxes. For what it’s worth, I normally take a medium and my head shape is somewhere between intermediate and long oval (which I’m told is fairly common).
Icon Airframe Pro
You want to stand out from the crowd? You want Brozak. The USA-made Icon Airframe Pro Brozak can be viewed in one of two ways: completely mental or a work of art. Whatever your take on things, it’s certainly one hell of a statement and a way to get noticed while on a bike. Personally I love it, but I feel like you need a similarly-outrageous bike to compliment it, like a Super Duke R or something.
The Airframe certainly lives up to its name - there’s a total of nine intakes and five exhaust vents. On a hot, hard ride this helmet keeps your head cool - fact. It’s also noisy, but you kind of expect that, right?
Designed with racers in mind, the Brozak works best in a leaned-over position; lay back and you start to feel the aerodynamics getting a little out of whack. Keep it pinned down and your head is rewarded with a comfortable ride, if a touch snug, with plenty of vision through that epic visor. The closing mechanism is a little elementary, but at least you can be sure that it’s shut.
The Airframe Pro has, in my opinion, the second best visor installation system here, second only to the RPHA 11 Pro because of the extra side plates you have to fiddle with. Spring levers enable you to quickly release said visor, while installing is simply a case of orienting the visor correctly and snapping it in.
Safety-wise, the Airframe Pro is probably over-specified - you get DOT, ECE, SAI and PSC (Japan). Despite its racing credentials there are no quick release cheek pads, which track day fans could object to, and it’s very heavy; the heaviest here by quite some way. It also doesn’t feel quite as well built as the other contenders. That said, I still feel that you get a decent amount of helmet for your money. And, of course, you will get noticed - every time.
Weight (M): 3.48 lbs. (1580g)
US $430, www.rideicon.com
Looking like something straight out of Mad Max - more so in this gorgeous gloss white, with red lightning bolt color scheme - the Portuguese-made Nexx XG100 Bolt is one for fans of the vintage cafe-racer style.
Ideally, you’d own some kind of scrambler or retro-styled naked to make the most of it; try and match it with a touring or sports bike and it just looks plain wrong. That said, I’d urge as many people as possible to try out this helmet simply because it’s so damn nice.
It fits my long oval head perfectly, despite its bowling ball shape; that luxurious suede lining makes the process of getting it on and off that bit easier. When it’s on, your head feels like it’s being massaged by cotton balls.
The way this helmet looks, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a pretty rudimentary lid. But, thankfully, you’d be wrong. The G100 comes with ECE, DOT and NBR-7471:2001 (a new one to me; I understand it’s Brazil-based) approval, so you know it’s passed plenty of stringent safety tests (We imagine the Brazilian test involves kicking a soccer ball at the helmet – Ed). Unusually, there’s a Double-D ring type strap;. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to take this helmet on the track - a quick-release mechanism would have been better suited.
I’ll forgive this oversight, however, because the G100 is incredibly light at just 1250g, and though it doesn’t look particularly aerodynamic, I found that the shape cut the air reasonably well at speed, even with the peak installed. And the visor seals nicely against the helmet, reducing wind noise. Shock news: you could actually wear this on longish journeys. My only gripe with the visor is that with the peak installed you can only pop it open an inch, and with a heavy dark tint it’s impractical to ride with it at night.
That said, the G100 is a versatile helmet thanks to its hybrid design, so you can easily change up its looks depending on the occasion - the included peak and goggle-style dark-tint visor attach via snap fasteners, so you can go for complete open face, open with peak, or peak and visor. Or you can wear your own goggles, or sunglasses, or ride naked if you like (don’t ride naked, please).
If you don’t like the simplicity of this color scheme, the Nexx G100 comes in a range of eye-searing styles.
Weight (M): 2.75 lbs. (1250g - without accessories)
The Skwal has been around for some time now, but as far as I know it’s the only helmet that comes with LED lights built in (front and rear), making it somewhat unique. With the added visibility, this makes it a great choice for those who do a lot of night-time riding in busy cities; so perfect for the year-round commuter.
The lights are easy to activate - a big recessed button on the left hand side is easy to locate, though with gloves on I always check my mirror to make sure they’re lit up. You can go for solid or blinking, but I prefer the former as I don’t want people thinking I’m a speedy cyclist. Set to solid, the light lasts just a few hours, but charging is easy thanks to the cable connector, which is easy to locate underneath the lining near the back of the lid.
Compared to the the other helmets here, this is essentially its standout act. Elsewhere you get a decent lid weight of 1470g, a plethora of graphic options if you don’t like the Switch Rider scheme I plumped for, and a pinlock visor comes as standard. You even get a commuter-friendly ratchet strap instead of the fiddly D type, and a drop-down sun visor which is easy to operate thanks to the large lever on the side of the helmet.
It’s quite comfortable to wear, too - about right in terms of fit for my particular head, with no hot spots anywhere, and the lining is very plush. I’ve ridden this for hundreds of miles and it feels pretty aerodynamic, whether you’re upright or sat forward.
Ventilation is basic, which is a good thing in my mind - you get a single vent on the chin and one on the forehead, which is easy to operate. The chin vent doesn’t let you blow as much air as you want, however, due to its limited opening range. So your visor/glasses can fog until you’re moving more than 30mph – especially in cold and humid conditions. A minor foible.
The visor mechanism is straightforward, enabling you to release it by gently pulling on each side. It’s simple, but feels a little less refined than I’d like and there are times I’m convinced the damn thing is going to snap in my somewhat oafish hands.
Despite the visor’s autoseal system (which allows the visor to snap into place against the lower part of the rubber seal), the Skwal isn’t especially quiet, but then again it’s no more noisy than any of the other helmets here. My biggest pet hate about this lid is actually the visor itself: it feels cheap and flimsy, and because of this it doesn’t sit quite straight when you’re lifting it up or down.
In spite of this, the Shark Skwal is one of the best helmets here when you also factor in the tremendous price tag of just $279.
Weight (M): 3.24 lbs. (1470g)
Touring and dual sport fans, please step up - this is the helmet you’re looking for. The Arai XD4 (or Tour X4, as it’s known in Europe) is the perfect lid if you’re planning to put some miles on your bike, or you just want that aggressive, Stormtrooper look to match you and your bike.
As for me, this is probably my top lid in the style stakes; at least it is when I’m riding on my Multistrada, as opposed to my other steed - a Triumph Daytona. It’s available in a bunch of colors and I probably would have chosen the blank white if I’d have been laying down my own cash – purely because it says "Get out of my way" more than anything – but the Mesh Sand Frost graphic you see here is just that bit more unique and stylish.
Upon donning the XD4, the first thing I noticed is that it’s surprisingly easy to get on, unlike some of the other helmets here. Arai has a patented FCS (Facial Contour Support) cheek pad system, which the company says is supposed to conform to the face snugly when fitted, but be malleable the rest of the time, so you don’t have to squeeze your cranium to get it in place.
I’d say it certainly works, and it must be part of what makes this lid supremely comfortable to wear. It also features 5mm peel-away pads on the cheeks and side temples, so you can easily tailor it to fit. Curiously, for me the fitment was almost perfect, but I could probably do with about 5-10mm extra on the cheek pads as it felt a tiny bit loose in this area. Since you can remove layers, I’m assuming you can add them, too.
On the interior side of things, the XD4 also comes equipped with quick release cheek pads, so in the event of an accident the EMT folks can quickly and safely remove your helmet. It’s a reassuring feature to have on those long trips, especially if you go off the beaten track.
Elsewhere, the most dramatic feature of this helmet is the visor real estate. I mean, if you thought you had a good view before, this thing will blow you away. It’s like the difference between a regular sunroof in a car and one of those ‘all-glass’ panoramic sunroofs. Wearing the XD4 I can now see everything on my dash without having to tilt my head down. It’s a revelation, people.
Sadly, It’s not all champagne and roses, because the visor is tricky to remove. Two screws either side of the lid keep the visor and peak in place, meaning you have four screws to remove and reinstall each time you want to do it. If, like me, you’re a regular commuter, this could be a deal breaker as you’ll have to perform this tedious task twice a day. In the summer, no problem as you’ll probably stick with the dark visor. In the winter - boy, that’s a problem.
All-year weather riders will appreciate the huge amount of ventilation on offer with the XD4, with dual chin vents (allowing you to adjust the airflow for cooler or warmer days), individually adjustable intake and exhaust vents on the top of the helmet, and you even get a nifty pair of visor vents - great for throwing some extra air onto your temples.
Having never ridden with a dual sport helmet before, I was worried that - having heard the sordid tales of those who ride with a peak - the buffeting would be akin to riding in a hurricane, but fear not big journey fans; the XD4 is buttery smooth in the wind, whether you have the peak installed or not. Well done Arai.
The XD4 is the heaviest lid here – which isn’t surprising for a dual sport helmet – but you don’t really seem to notice it, especially as the aerodynamics are so good. It’s not a particularly noisy helmet, but neither is it quiet. So, earplugs are a must (I always ride with them in anyway, for what it’s worth).
Visor-woes aside, the only other biggie with the XD4 is the price tag - this is one hell of an investment, but I reckon if you’re going to be touring throughout the summer you won’t do better than this.
Weight (M): 3.57 lbs. (1620g)
HJC RPHA 11
Korean helmet manufacturer HJC has worked hard to gain a reputation that the likes of Arai and Shoei have enjoyed for a long time, and its latest top dog lid - the RPHA 11 Pro - looks set to take the fight to the big players once more.
This Riberte version looks the part too, in its black/carbon/white colour scheme. I must admit, the small child in me really wanted to get hold of the recently-released Marvel or Star Wars graphic (yes, you too can look like Boba Fett or Spiderman, sort of), but they weren’t available at the time so I received the Riberte version instead. It’s one of those colours that looks dull on paper, but is much nicer in the flesh. If you already have a bright bike, this will do the trick nicely.
But enough of the way it looks, what about the other vitals? Well, first up is that construction. Made from a mix of carbon, aramid, fibreglass and organic non-woven fabric, you get a lid that is super strong - it’s both DOT and ECE approved, so it’s head-safe and track-ready - and plenty light at just 1300g.
As you’d also expect at this level, the RPHA 11 Pro comes with quick-release cheek pads, and HJC has also snuck some reflective patches into the rear of the pads, giving you extra visibility from behind when the sun goes down. Double safety win.
Airflow is pretty basic as far as helmets go, with an easily adjustable vent on the mouth area, a slightly trickier one on the forehead (aren’t they always?) and two intakes on the roof that use a smooth rubber-coated wheel system for quick opening and closing.
The RPHA 11 Pro is seriously snug on the inside, my medium-sized dome proving to be a painfully tight fit, with easy fitment or removal impeded by the super small opening. It’s not the wrong head shape or anything, it just feels a tad too small, and though I could go up to a Large (a first, for me) I’d be concerned that it would, then, be too loose. Knowing how helmet linings tend to break in, I’m going to live with it, but I’d certainly recommend others trying a bigger size first before committing to the spend.
In terms of its visor mechanism, the RPHA 11 Pro is hands-down the best example here. Just flick a spring catch on each side to release it, and then pop it in place to install it. It’s a shame, then, that other facets of the visor aren’t quite as fine and dandy. First up is HJC’s automatic shield locking system. While I can see the advantage of having a visor that automatically closes when you pick up speed (ie, when you want to go fast all of a sudden), in practice it hinders more than it helps, especially if your visor is fogging and you just want it cocked a bit higher than HJC accommodates (just 5mm, if you’re curious).
Then there’s that patented centrally-mounted shield locking system. Personally I think nobody else has tried to imitate this simply because it doesn’t work that well. Better to have it mounted on the left hand side, I say, and not have your hand obscure a big swathe of your face whilst trying to open said visor.
Thankfully, the RPHA Pro 11 scores big points when it comes to the nitty gritty. In any kind of riding position the RPHA 11 Pro cuts through the air like a missile; it really is a comfortable helmet no matter what your style.
In terms of price, you really can’t compete with HJC - at least not if you’re Arai. $450 for a racing lid of this quality and sex appeal is just ridiculous. You’d have to spend a lot more on another brand to get all this.
Weight (M): 2.86 lbs. (1300g)
Five Helmet Wrap-Up
Every helmet featured in this roundup is a top-performer, and the one that works for you best will inevitably boil down to the one that fits your needs the best, as they all have unique traits. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s no actual winner. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Arai simply because I have a touring machine dedicated to summer jaunts and it works really well in that particular scenario, but then again the Shark is a superb lid for the winter thanks to its striking LED lights and the bundled pinlock visor.
None of these helmets were particularly quiet, I might add, which brings me to the question: are helmet manufacturers going to jump on the technology bandwagon and focus their efforts on minimising sound interference, to protect the long term health of their customers? If Sena’s soon-to-be-released smart helmet is anything to go by, that could be the trend we have to look forward to - I know I’d love to junk my earplugs.
Regardless, the main takeaway here is that in 2017 there’s never been a bigger, more diverse range of helmets available to choose from, and the majority of them have also been designed to be as safe as possible (even the cheaper ones) and stylish to boot. As I mentioned in the opening statement, no matter which of these helmets catches your eye you should make sure you try it on for size; you might even find that a similar helmet not featured here works better for your needs.