Just before Christmas I purchased a new helmet. It was to replace a Vemar “Jarno” that I had bought in haste and worn for a couple of years even though I had pretty quickly found that it was a little too large. I have a particular preference for flip-front (or modular) helmets as they are known because they provide a few features that suit me and that make them preferable to “normal” helmets.
Most important of these is that, since I wear spectacles all the time, the ability to be able to take a modular helmet on and off without having to take off my glasses is extremely important. Those of you who wear glasses, or sunglasses, when riding know what a hassle it can be to find a safe place to put your glasses while you are getting your helmet off and on. It doesn’t seem to matter where you put them, they will often end up sliding off and landing on the ground. Even though prescription glasses are much cheaper than they used to be, picking your brand new glasses up off the concrete and finding that the lenses are already scratched is something that always grates.
The modular helmet’s facility of allowing you to leave your glasses on all the time is worth the cost just by itself.
But there are other advantages, too. I have never been refused service at a petrol station while wearing my modular helmet with the chin bar in the up position when I went inside to pay. When your glasses start jiggling around when you are riding, it is a lot easier to re-seat them by just flipping up the chin bar than it would be in a normal helmet.
When riding in very hot weather or tootling through lines of slow-moving traffic, flipping up the chin bar can provide some much-needed ventilation (and even more so if you end up stopped at road works in the middle of summer.)
So, for me, the modular helmet is the helmet of choice and I have had quite a few of them over the years. An HJC Symax, a couple of Vemars and a cheapo Nitro which self-destructed while I was wearing it. The best helmet I have had by far was the Nolan N102. Unsurprisingly, it was the most expensive helmet I had ever bought and it was brilliant. However, after my accident in 2010, I sold all my gear as I wasn’t planning on riding any more so it went to a new owner. Given a sensible budget, an N104 (superior in many ways to the N102) would be my choice but it wasn’t going to happen and my Vemar was getting pretty scruffy so I started looking around.
The usual suspects were there but most started at over $500 so they were all out of the question. But then browsing my local Honda dealer I came upon the Bell Revolver, a “budget” helmet by Bell’s standards which seemed to meet all my criteria AND it was the right price as well, $260.
Now, let me digress for just a moment. In my years of motorcycling I have learned a few things about helmets. The first thing is that it is utterly pointless to jump on your local forum and ask “What’s the best helmet for me to buy?” You will get a zillion answers and not one of them one will assist you in any way at all in making your decision. Why? Simple; every person on the planet has a different-shaped head and, what fits and suits your mate may not necessarily fit and suit you. As the fitment of the helmet is determined mostly by the shape of the shell (different profiles of internal lining can cover for this deficiency but only slightly) your mate who has an oval-shaped head (viewed in plan) and who finds his Shoei is perfect may be giving you imperfect advice if you have a ROUND-shaped head (again, viewed in plan – that is, from on top). You will find the Shoei totally unsuitable and would be better off with an Arai, for example, whose outer shell is more suited to your head shape.
What is the answer? Haunt the bike shops and try on every different brand that you can in your price range and find the one that is the most comfortable. Remember that an uncomfortable helmet is going to bug you, distract you when you are riding (and who needs that?) and be a constant reminder to you that you didn’t do your homework properly and consequently did your dough. You cannot afford to be a brand name snob. You must ignore your mate who says, “Oh, I bought one of those and it was awful.” Ignore the brand and buy what is comfortable.
And it is here that I come to the second piece of advice. BUY LOCALLY. Yes, I know that you can now buy and wear helmets that don’t have the stupid AS1698 sticker on them, but, just because you can do that, doesn’t mean you should. You cannot try on a helmet over the internet. Yes, you CAN try on locally and buy online, but I’ll leave it to you if your conscience can deal with that. Like clothing and shoes, helmets come in a varying range of sizes and they are not standardised. Over the years I have worn, and found comfortable, helmets ranging from Medium to Extra Large and I can assure you my head size has not changed in that time (losing some hair is irrelevant to this discussion). If the label specifies an actual size in cms, that is much more helpful, but, again, as noted above, size is not the only issue, shape also is important. There is NO substitute for buying locally when it comes to helmets. Yes, you WILL pay more, but it IS worth it for so many reasons.
It goes without saying that buying locally always puts you in a much better position if there are warranty issues as well.
Anyway, back to my Bell. I bought a “Large” (swelled head from all the media attention of late) and it is very comfortable. It comes with a chin apron which will be useful in the winter but I haven’t figured out yet how to remove it for the summer. The immediate impression was both positive and negative. The aperture is impressively large giving great vision not only on the peripheries but also in the vertical plane (very important when going up and down windy roads). Along with fit, the size of the helmet’s aperture and the consequent degree of peripheral and up and down vision it gives you is CRITICAL. While I loved my N102 Nolan, it was seriously deficient in this area and those deficiencies were corrected in the factory when Nolan released the N104. The downside of the Bell is that, being a cheaper helmet, the visor is not recessed into the shell and sits proud of it. Consequently, the helmet is noticeably noisier than my previous Vemar. You do get used to it but it is annoying (another downside of not being able to actually ROAD TEST your helmet before you buy it.).
Ventilation is provided but the tabs to operate the vents are a bit “fiddly” and I guess that I will get used to them. The internal sun visor is impressively large and wraps around a fair bit too, but it can only be raised and lowered by the lever on the left/bottom of the helmet and can’t be flipped up manually. Annoying.
It feels slightly heavier than my previous Vemar but is not tiring on a trip.
When the chin guard is in the “up” position the visibility is quite restricted in the vertical plane; it appears that the chin piece does not flip up as far as other modular helmets I have owned. Also annoying but I guess I’ll live with it.
Would I buy another one? No, as it just doesn’t suit me. My next helmet will be a Nolan N104 or whatever the next model is. But I’ll make do with this one for a while; after all, “If you’ve got a $10 head – wear a $10 helmet” as the famous Bell advertisement says.
Your helmet is your most important item of safety gear; don’t skimp on it whatever you do.
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