[This Three-Quarter Motorcycle Helmets Buyers Guide was originally published in American Rider magazine]
In the world of motorcycle head protection, there are three basic types of helmets. There’s the half-helmet that covers just the top portion of the head, the full-face that covers the entire head except for the eyeport, and there’s the three-quarter. Let’s look at the latter, the three-quarter helmet. It’s a good compromise, but that doesn’t mean it has to compromise much at all.
Some of our helmets came equipped with a face shield, which gave us a real opportunity to compare riding with and without. In addition to the obvious benefit of face protection from bugs and stones, a shield can keep the rider much warmer. As for the rain, well, to paraphrase the Good Book, “Where is thy sting?” Each shield has a pivoting mechanism (and most are multi-staging and ratcheting) so it can be raised out of the way and left where you wish. Most are easily removable for cleaning and replacement.
Then there’s the sound factor. Without a shield the wind blast goes right into the earflaps of a three-quarter helmet, which can create a roar if you ride without a windshield. We found that if a helmet has a shield to close that gap, the ride was much quieter. On a few, however, we found that the shield itself created some wind roar, but it was always less than that experienced without a shield. Of course if you’ve just spent $500 for your new free-flowing exhaust system, what do you care about quiet?
While three of these helmets were priced under $100, most were in the $100 to $200 range, and three were above that. Style speaks for itself, but we’re past the days when all open-face helmets looked alike. Today, we have a variety of different shapes and styles.
Functional, controllable vents allow a little breeze to the scalp and can make a ride on a hot day more comfortable. Vent controls should be easy to find with gloves on, should seal well, and should let in a maximum amount of air. Many did not.
If there’s one disappointment factor in our helmets, it’s that the vents often don’t allow much cooling breeze to reach the scalp. The expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner is usually about an inch thick, and by the time the wind blast makes its way through the opening, down the narrow channel and through the soft comfort liner most of its force has been spent. When the vents did not seem to work well, I would double check by puckering up and blowing into them to feel if I could discern any breeze on the inside. On some of these helmets the vents work quite well; we’ll tell you which. Many of these helmets have what appear to be aerodynamic shapes, but I could not notice any difference in how they moved through the air.
Helmets work by sandwiching a layer of EPS foam between the hard outer shell and the inner comfort liner. On impact, the shell spreads the force over a wide area as the foam absorbs it by crushing at a controlled rate. Of course if the foam bottoms out, the remaining force goes to the wearer’s head. Because foam can be crushed on the inside without visible damage, any crash-involved
helmet should be inspected by a competent expert. If the foam has been crushed or the shell cracked, toss the helmet and get a new one.
Any helmet sold in this country must meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Any helmet that passes DOT is a good helmet, and all of the ones we tested do. Some of them also meet the standards of the Snell Memorial Foundation, which some experts believe to be a higher standard. Others, however, disagree. We’ll let you know if they also pass Snell.
In our test, I wore each helmet while riding a bike without a windshield. Please note that what I call a “peak” is the sunshade that some call a “visor.” I went with this terminology to avoid confusion, as some folks refer to the shield as a visor. The “face shield” is self-explanatory. Helmets were weighed with their shields.
Keep in mind these helmets are available in various colors. Check the Web sites for a full report.
Helmets Under $100
Weight: 2.32 pounds
Snell also? No
This is the lightest and least expensive helmet in our test. It has a thermoplastic alloy shell and is meant to sell to a price. It comes with the snap-on peak and ventilation. The black paint has a hint of metalflake to it, and despite its low price the finish was flawless.
The two sliding vents over the eyeport let in a minimal amount of air. I tried them numerous times, and was unable to tell the difference between riding with the vents open or closed. The T-380 comes with an extremely long strap that has no provision for securing the end, so on an unfaired bike the end flaps in the breeze unless it’s tucked under the strap.
If you’re looking for a minimal helmet that’s light in weight and wish to spend only minimal money on it, the THH is worth a look. It carries the DOT sticker and has a no-nonsense style like one of those old, classic helmets with a visor.
THH—323-586-8475 • www.thh-helmet.com
Vega Nitro NT100
$79.99 to $84.99
Weight: 2.66 pounds
Snell also? No
With its polycarbonate alloy shell, the NT100 was quite light at 2.66 pounds, and it comes with a face shield and peak. They attach to the same mechanism, so only one can be worn at a time. The mechanism allows for them to be pivoted out of the way. Because they rotate off, changing between the shield and visor is easy and takes only seconds.
The shield is a little breezier and noisier than that on most helmets. The liner is removable and washable, and it’s designed to accommodate aftermarket communications devices.
As soon as I donned the Nitro I noticed that the shield was a bit wavy, which was distracting. The intake vents have on/off controls, but move less air than other helmets with controllable exhaust vents. I also noted that the helmet was quite warm, which may not be desirable in a warm climate.
The price is reasonable, but I would have liked the helmet more if its shield were clearer, and if it were quieter.
Vega Helmet—425-656-0683 • 800-728-4898 • www.vegahelmet.com
$69.95 (Chrome Mirror shield shown $21.50 additional)
Weight: 3.38 pounds
Snell also? Yes
The first thing you notice about the JS-1 is the very cool reflective Chrome Mirror shield, which is just one of several shield options that include clear, smoke and Gold Chrome. The shield provides good coverage to below the chin, but we found that it produced a wind roar on the road.
With a composite fiberglass shell and on/off intake and exhaust vents, the helmet offers what seems to be a high-tech approach. However, we found the vent controls virtually useless, and the vents simply did not move a noticeable amount of air into the helmet.
If you can do without ventilation, but like that trick shield and its mean look, the JS-1 can be yours for under $100. That’s a good price for a three-quarter helmet with a composite shell that also meets the Snell standard. However, it’s the heaviest helmet in our test.
Zamp Sports Corp.—866-842-9267 • www.zamp-racing.com
Helmets $100 to $200
Weight: 3.26 pounds
Snell also? No
Bell describes its Mag-8 as an aggressively designed open-face helmet, and we can’t disagree. What makes it unique is its peak, which provides plenty of sun protection and also houses a retractable shield.
The shell is made of fiberglass and features a removable, washable liner. The ear pockets are large and designed to accommodate an intercom system’s headphones, which Bell also offers. The shield retracts under the peak to the point that less than an inch of it protrudes from underneath. Unlike the other helmets here, the Mag-8 does not offer ventilation, which is curious on such an otherwise high-tech item.
We liked the Mag-8’s style and comfort, as its interior is unusually plush. The emblems are nicely clear-coated and add to its quality look. Our only complaint is the lack of ventilation.
Bell Powersports—800-456-BELL • www.bellpowersports.com
$139.99 (solids), $144.99 (metallics)
Weight: 2.88 pounds
Snell also? Yes
HJC’s high-end helmets are called the AC series. The AC-3 three-quarter is a stylish helmet with its black peak and high-tech-looking lines. The shell is made of a fiberglass composite, and includes three intake along with two exhaust vents. A shield is optional, but our helmet was not so equipped. The Nylex liner is removable and washable, and the cheek pads are replaceable. The snap on the end of the strap keeps it in place.
The AC-3’s effective venting system delivers a piercing rush of air to the top of the head, more focused than widespread, but at least it works, unlike some other helmets tested here. Its interior liner was more firm and coarse rather than soft and plush. The AC-3 also passes the Snell Foundation’s standard.
The AC-3 is a clean, functional helmet that offers good ventilation performance, but could use a softer interior.
HJC America—562-407-2186 • www.hjchelmets.com
Harley-Davidson Jet II
$139 to $145
Weight: 2.90 pounds
Snell also? No
With its fiberglass shell and more modern shape, the new Jet II offers a simple, elegant design. For those who like to show off their brand preference, the helmet displays the H-D name on each ear flap, and there’s a bar-and-shield emblem above the eyeport. The shield is removable and notably short; I got caught in the rain and took it on the chin—literally.
What’s unique is that the bar-and-shield emblem is actually the vent control: push the bar and it catches in the open position, allowing a cooling rush of air to enter the top of the helmet. A small retainer on the strap keeps it from flapping in the wind.
The Jet II offers a simple, elegant style with effective venting and a clear shield that’s ripple free.
See your Harley-Davidson dealer.
KBC Tour Com
Weight: 2.64 pounds
Snell also? Yes
With radio and communications systems being all the rage now, KBC’s Tour Com has been specifically designed (and named) for touring communications. It has a redesigned fiberglass shell and newly designed visor for increased ventilation. The liner is removable and washable, and the helmet has been designed to accept JandM’s integrated headset (p/n HS-ICD174-KTC) that’s built specifically for the Tour Com. We didn’t test the sound system, but with it installed (includes upper cord only) the helmet retails for $314.99.
The upper vent controls and peak look rather busy and have more lines and angles than a sports-betting Web site. When flipped open, the flap on the peak is designed to direct the wind to a pair of sliding vents above the eyeport. Not only is the flap difficult to open while wearing gloves, but the lower vents are largely ineffective. The other vents, which are operated by the upper controls, functioned better. The helmet is also Snell approved.
The Tour Com is an attractive helmet but tries to do too much with its peak and vent controls. It’s comfortable, works well enough and also has a snap to keep the strap tethered.
KBC Helmets Inc.—818-526-7771 • www.kbchelmet.com
Weight: 3.14 pounds
Snell also? No
The Nolan N42’s Lexan polycarbonate shell has an aerodynamic shape and high-tech style. It’s equipped with the Vision Protection System (VPS), which is a tinted partial outer shield that can be pivoted down over the clear face shield and removed easily for cleaning. It blocks light and provides much of the function of a full-tinted shield. The little pod on top houses the single vent; open it by pressing on its silver center to usher in a cooling rush of wind. Close it by sliding the black button rearward. The vent works well, moving the breeze over the head.
It has a ribbed strap held by a cam-lock system. It’s quicker to get into and out of than a standard D-ring helmet, but can’t be locked to a helmet holder. The N42 is certainly worth consideration.
Cima International—866-2HELMET • www.Nolan.it
$129.95 (gloss), $134.95 (matte)
Weight: 3.20 pounds
Snell also? Yes
New this year, the EXO-200 is a three-quarter with high-tech features such as the twin sliding vents up front and the controllable exhaust vent below the rear wing. It comes with an interchangeable peak and a no-fog shield (yes, it really is no-fog). They can be interchanged easily by using the circular controls on the sides. The liner is removable and washable.
The EXO-200’s shield offers good coverage and is ripple free. Vent controls slide back to reveal tiny holes in the shell. Even with the exhaust vent controls fully open, we could not discern any cooling effect from the vents.
Here’s an attractive helmet and shield that meets Snell. If only the vents worked better….
Scorpion Sports Inc.—888-672-6774 • www.scorpionusa.com
Helmets Over $200
$357.95 (black), $367.95 to $427.95 in other colors
Weight: 3.32 pounds
Snell also? Yes
The Arai SZ/m is made of a Complex Laminate Construction shell of fiberglass mixed with other fibers for strength and lightness. Its shield is clear and free of distortion, but raising the shield leaves a bare, unfinished hole on the left side of the helmet.
The shell has four vents (two intake and two exhaust) that, when open, move a cooling breeze over the crown of the head. Eyebrow vents send even more breeze up inside the shell. Also featured are removable, replaceable cheek pads that allow the rider to replace soiled or damaged pads, or dial in a custom fit.
At 3.32 pounds, it’s relatively heavy and expensive compared to the other helmets in our test, but its function is superb in terms of comfort, ventilation and its clear shield.
Arai Helmets Ltd.—904-253-5100 • 800-766-ARAI • www.araiamericas.com
Weight: 3.22 pounds
Snell also? Yes
The J-Wing is a premium helmet with all the good stuff. Its shell is made of AIM+ and its finish is flawless. The shield really hugs the shell, making it one of the quieter helmets in our test. For a full-face helmet, the J-Wing has one of the best shield-removal systems going; raise the shield, pull down on a little lever on each side and the shield essentially springs off. Press it back on, and it’s done.
The Shoei’s ventilation system offers both intake and exhaust vents and is one of the best we tested. Our only concern is that the smooth, sliding vents may be hard to find and slide while wearing thicker gloves. The J-Wing meets the Snell M2005 standard.
We liked the J-Wing a lot, primarily for its excellent shield system and venting and for other little perks such as eyeglass cutouts and how the strap can be clipped to the D-rings so it doesn’t flap about.
Shoei Safety Helmet Corp.—714-730-0941 • www.shoei-helmets.com
Weight: 2.84 pounds
Snell also? No
Suomy is an Italian company known for making colorful, high-end racing and sporting full-face helmets. Its Nomad is new, with a shell made of what the company calls a “structurally enhanced weave construction.” All of those ripples in the back give it a very aggressive look, and it features a removable, washable liner and cheek pads.
Its venting system consists of a couple of clear swivel ducts, and a central scoop with a controllable opening. Swivel those side vents and they’ll blast in a lot of air, but what’s frustrating is they’re difficult to grasp with thicker gloves. The central vent control has less effect on ventilation than those on the sides. The shield can be left in any position, its coverage is good, and it’s relatively quiet.
If ventilation and style are important to you, the Suomy Nomad is a good choice. We just wish those vents were easier to grasp and change.
Suomy USA; Gearbox International— 800-799-9444 • www.gearboxinternational.com