Thursday, October 31, 2013

Motorcycle helmets review

Below you can read our on-going evaluation of our Icon Variant helmets, or you can go straight to the Icon website by clicking on the Icon logo on the left
There is always that uneasy feeling when riding away for the first time with a brand new helmet. In the shop it looked good, better than all the models next to it, but now that you've bought it and use it for the first time, you get doubts. Is it really the right size? Maybe I should have bought the next size up. It feels tight, and while you know that it should be tight you still wonder how much of it is going to 'bed in'. I didn't have that feeling or second thoughts and neither did Mike. Vera from Motor Kleding Discount in Schiedam knows her stuff and made sure we got the right size and a helmet that fits the unfortunate shape of our heads.

Getting older means I've had quite a few helmets over the years, yet this one was radically different from any of my previous helmets. I found myself riding with a helmet designed for streetfighters… I'm 50 and I don't have a streetfighter so what am I doing in this helmet? I wondered. Slowly I began to realise that my 18 year old son had talked me into it… My son was now advising me what bike gear to wear? Hmmm

Still, I must admit, I quite like the look of the helmet. The helmet peak will keep the sun out of my face, a feature I had missed in sunny climates. And while it isn't an open helmet, there is a lot of ventilation both front and rear that seems to work well. Seems as I haven't tested it in 40 degrees plus yet. On the road the first thing I noticed is the extremely wide view angle. Back in the shop I had wondered about the rounded visor, I needn't have as it's optically perfect, no distortion or anything and it aids to the wide view. It's light and yet stable and as soon as the speed picked up I realised this was more than likely the most stable helmet I've had so far… A strong headwind didn't give me any buffeting and the strain on my neck is a lot less than with the Shark Evo-2 I had before. I was beginning to like this helmet by the minute, maybe I should listen to my son's advice more often… 

Back home we installed the UClear 200 bike comms, which was a breeze as Icon has left plenty of room for the speaker/microphone units. Next was the helmet camera and we were in business. As the helmets are made from Carbon Fibre, there is no issue with sticking a helmet camera and helmet comm to it. There is also a range of visors available in different shades and colours and as Vera had explained, spare parts are no problem with Icon as every part of the helmet is available. Vera supplied us with two sets of helmet liners free of charge as well. All in all we are very happy with both the helmets and the service.
While I'm writing this Mike made the photos you see on this page, the Icon must have triggered his artistic talents… :-) All he used for the photos are a couple of LED camping headlamps… 

Update 25th July 2014:
We've used the helmets for 5000 km now and as those were done in the UK we've had all sorts of weather. We have both replaced the screens with the tinted ones before we left, which makes sunny days a lot easier on the eyes.

We make a point of it not to ride after dark for obvious reasons, but did find ourselves riding until well after midnight on one occasion and found the tinted screens were no problem at all. The ventilation works well and they are quite stable in strong wind too. Do we still like them as much as on day one? No! We like them much, much better as they are quiet which makes long days in the saddle not tiring anymore. That alone makes them a welcome safety improvement. But there is more. The UClear units work lots better in the Variant helmets too and the wide distortionless screen means better vision. There was one thing missing on mine though… but as I had asked for a gloss white one I could simply add the famous Kangaroo, see above!  

Previous helmets:

Below you can read our preliminary report about our previous helmets; Mike's KBC, Jeanette's Nolan and my Shark Evo2. After 2 years and 50.000 km Mike's KBC was literally falling apart, which is why we started looking for a replacement and found Icon. The stickers are peeling, the paint is coming off, the padding is gone and the lining has cracked. The Shark, despite being 3 times more expensive is in an even worse state than the KBC! It's lining has cracked, the rubber seal around the visor cracked and perished, the padding is gone and it's fabric torn. The best helmet, by far quality wise, is the Nolan. All 3 helmets have had the same amount of use, over the same roads, at the same speeds and under the same conditions.

Helmets are one of those things you hope you never need. Quite a few Harley riders in the US seem to think you don't need them at all… All I can say is that when I summersaulted the little 50cc moped at the tender age of 11… the handlebars actually made a hole in the helmet I was wearing, at the temple! I would have been dead without it while the speed I was doing wouldn't have been much over 50km/hr when I came off... 

A helmet's main function is to cushion the impact by absorbing most of the forces. It won't make you indestructible but will help minimise the damage. While some won't wear one at all, others will go for the cheapest and minimal option; while another group will only look at the styling of a helmet to ensure it fits there image(!) There is also a group if motorcyclists that won't feel happy with any lid if it's under 500 dollars as they recon their head is worth more than that...
There are basically three types of helmets. Open face, full face and a combination of both.

Open face
Jeanette doesn't like a full face helmet. She feels claustrophobic in it. You may think that's silly but I disagree. If she's not happy with a full face helmet then she is more likely to get into an accident with one. In her case the open face helmet will, in general, be safer.

She opted for a Nolan that I actually quite like as well. The reason I don't have one is the unfortunate shape of my head, meaning there isn't a Nolan that will fit me. She wears an open face helmet summer and winter and loves the motocross style sun deflector on it.
It's quiet, she claims, and even after a full day riding it's still comfortable.

Full face
Mike is the other way around. He doesn't like open helmets, doesn't feel safe in one and thus has a full face one. In his case a KBC fitted him well. He likes the helmet, it is however noisy so he wears earplugs. It's comfortable even after long day riding. In hot weather it's not as 'breezie' as an open face helmet but the ventilation options work well. A big disadvantage of a full face helmet is you can't eat, drink or take photos with it on. You have to take it off every time. Another disadvantage is it gets warm in there… 

Dad, seemingly happy with his helmet...
The combination helmet
I started with a Shark helmet that's both open face and full face, the Evolution 2. In the beginning I loved it. I could ride with an open face helmet most of the time, yet when it starts to rain, becomes too cold or when we had a blistering headwind I could simply close it to a full face one. Why I want to close it in a strong headwind? Because a full face helmet has a much better streamline and thereby reduces the strain on your neck. It's a noticeable difference.
The Shark offered the best of both worlds but of course it's a compromise. Shark has made a very good helmet and the compromise is minimal. There are only 3 minor things I do not like about it. It's impossible to remove with your glasses on (which is also the reason it fits so well by the way), the visor is too short in open face setting, meaning the bugs splatter on the bottom half of your face instead of the visor, and it's noisy. As I find 99 percent of helmets too noisy and as the Shark is much better than the standard full face I had before, that is not a result of the dual function. I wear earplugs to combat the problem.
The Shark Evolution 2 seemed a good helmet. It took quite a bit of time to 'bed-in' to my head but in the end became very comfortable to wear. It has a build in sun visor, which I thought was a bit of a gimmick but actually works extremely well. Especially on long trips it makes life a lot easier for the eyes and I found myself riding with them on most of the time.

We all wear them! My hearing isn't much so I have to protect what I have left, Mike's is still very good and he thus wants to keep it that way, while Jeanette's is a lot better than mine and again wants to keep what she has. Earplugs come in many different shapes, materials and intended uses. I have tried the general foams ones but they simply wouldn't stay in my ears. I thought about custom moulded ones but being in a remote part of Australia made that option impossible. I found a solution in DIY custom mould ones. E.A.R. makes them. The instructions are crystal clear, the process simple and all I can say is that I've used them now for almost 70.000 km and I wouldn't want anything else. Follow the instructions and they fit perfectly, are comfortable all day and in any type of weather and temperature. They even come in different colours… Being silicone they can be washed and re-used over and over. In fact I haven't just used them for 70.000 km; I have used the same pair all the time! A very good product that I highly recommend to anyone.

Still, Mike reckoned he didn't need them… His helmet was quiet he said. Of course the wearer of the helmet is the only one who can assess if it's quiet or not. He changed his mind while in Canada… and of course we couldn't find the Alpine type anywhere... He tried the foam ones but his hearing canal is too big for them. The good people from Imperial Motorcycles in Vancouver (great people!) pointed us into the direction of… WallMart! They have soft silicone mouldable earplugs. They don't set to a certain shape but remain soft. They work well, are comfortable and can be re-used. Over time they loose their moulding ability somewhat but as there are 10 sets in a box they last a long time.

For Jeanette it's different again. She tried the soft mouldable ones Mike has but doesn't like them. She found she can use the standard foam ones and in fact prefers them.

I guess the thing to be learned is: what works for me might not work for you. The most important thing however is to wear earplugs. Keep looking until you find the ones that work for you; your hearing is worth it. When I started riding ear protection wasn't heard of, I'm pretty deaf as a result of riding for years without it (and believe me that's not fun). I personally think the Alpine DIY moulded ones are the best option. They are after all a perfect fit to your ears. Mike's soft silicone ones should work perfectly too, again because they are moulded to your individual ear. They take a bit of getting used to though, Mike was struggling a bit in the beginning to keep them in his ear but now has no issues whatsoever. Until they loose their pliability of course but they can be re-used often before that happens. Jeanette's are the least good I would say but she claims they work better for her.