By Jerry Smith
Modular helmets, or flips-ups, were once curiosities, practically a secret handshake among long-distance riders who didn’t want to stop riding long enough to eat and drink, and round-the-world adventurers whose conversations with border guards went a lot more smoothly when their faces weren’t covered by full-face helmets. Today, modulars are popular with all kinds of riders, from tourers and sport-tourers to dual-sport riders, and just about every helmet manufacturer has a modular in its lineup. The key to modular helmets’ success is their versatility. With the chinbar closed they offer the same weather protection as a full-coverage helmet (if not the same crash protection, since rubber or plastic is typically used to line the chinbar instead of EPS). With the chinbar up, they’re easier for riders who wear glasses to put on and take off, and they make conversation with others less intimidating by putting a face on the person riding the motorcycle.
A lot of riders who choose modular helmets ride a motorcycle with a windscreen of some kind, usually a tourer or sport tourer. The air flow behind some screens is wildly turbulent, while others admit only the mildest of breezes at head level. Neither scenario, in all probability, duplicates the unscreened conditions under which a helmet’s vents were designed to work. Since we used bikes with windscreens to test the helmets in our guide, standing up on the pegs is one way to compare vents, if not judge their ultimate effectiveness, and that’s what we did. How effective the vents on any of these helmets will be on your motorcycle is impossible to say.
All the modulars in this guide have an internal sunshield. Some are height-adjustable, while others drop down into one position and stay there. All of the sunshield levers can easily be operated in heavy gloves. Some modulars come with Pinlock anti-fog inserts or a Pinlock-ready face shield. There’s only one word for Pinlock inserts—magic. None of the Pinlock-equipped helmets fogged, even in cold, damp weather. The others fogged to various degrees, some annoyingly so. Note, too, that the internal sunshields add another layer of fog-prone plastic between you and the view ahead.
Noise is another subjective factor. It varies according to the bike you’re on and the shape of your head, and whether you have the vents open or closed. Some of these helmets were noticeably quieter than others, but only on the test bikes, and with our riders. Your tolerance for noise makes a difference, too. If you’re accustomed to the roar of the wind for hours on end, a slight difference between helmets won’t matter. If you ride with earplugs you probably won’t object to any of them.
Fit and sizing will, of course, vary from rider to rider and helmet to helmet depending on your head shape and your preference for a tighter or looser fit. Don’t assume you always wear a given size regardless of the brand—one brand’s XL might be another’s L, as was the case here on one occasion.
It’s impossible to overstress the importance of trying on any helmet before you buy it. It’s especially important with modulars, according to Dave Thom, who is a senior consultant at Collision and Injury Dynamics and was a research assistant for the Hurt Report. Thom recommends putting on the helmet and fastening the chinstrap, then trying to force the helmet off your head by rolling it forward. Do this with the chinbar closed and again with it open, he says, because many riders leave the chinbar up when they ride despite manufacturers’ warnings not to do so.
In general, modulars fit closer to your face than full-coverage helmets, but again that also depends on you, the shape of your head and, yes, the size of your nose. Most of the breath guards and chin curtains on the helmets tested were removable either by design or with a little persuasion, and some spent the duration of the test in the box the helmet came in. Some of the helmets can be equipped with optional Bluetooth headsets and microphones, but whether there’s room behind the chinbar for both the mic and you to coexist comfortably is something you’ll have to determine.
In the phrase “manufacturer’s suggested retail price,” the most important word is the second. A couple of helmets in this test are priced close enough to $700 to make your hair stand up. But it’s a good bet that if you shop around you’ll find both available for less than the MSRP, especially after they’ve been on the market for a while.
Saving the most important aspect for last, safety is why we wear helmets. But some riders question modular helmets’ integrity, fearing the chinbar might come off in a crash, and pointing out that there’s a rubber or plastic liner in the chinbar rather than EPS. Obviously, we didn’t crash-test any of these helmets, and can’t vouch for their performance in a get-off. All, however, are DOT-approved, which is the standard needed for them to be sold in the U.S. Some (as noted) are also CE-approved, which means that (among other things) the chinbar has been tested to the same standard as a full face helmet.
MODULAR HELMETS BUYERS GUIDE
Bell Revolver EVO
The Revolver has an adjustable chin vent and two adjustable top vents, all of which are easy to operate in heavy gloves. Airflow through them is average, and although the face shield stays more fog-free than other non-Pinlock shields thanks to an anti-fog treatment, it still clouds up unless you crack it open now and then. The spring-loaded sunshield has just one position, and is retracted by pushing a tab next to the actuator. It comes down pretty far, though—watch your nose!
The interior is removable and washable, and has integrated speaker pockets. The D-ring chinstrap has a clever magnetic keeper to retain the loose end of the strap.
The company that pioneered the full-coverage helmet put a lot of work into the modular Revolver, and it shows. The finish is excellent, and the retro paint scheme of our test helmet drew raves—you almost need a ’60s Bonneville and a leather bomber jacket to go with it. Noise was about average compared to other modulars. The Revolver’s face shield can be changed in seconds, and seals out the wind effectively when closed.
The XL-size Rally Black model shown weighs 4.1 pounds and has an MSRP of $209.95.
The 54S is bristling with adjustable vents—three on the chinbar, two on top, and two more on the back—and has an adjustable sunshield operated by a lever on top of the helmet. The lever that opens the chinbar is large and easy to operate even in heavy gloves. The liner and cheek pads are removable and washable, and there are built-in ear pockets for helmet speakers. The D-ring retention system has an exceptionally long strap to fit a wide variety of riders.
The 54S has a feature no other modular does, a red light on the back that can be switched to remain on or flash at two different speeds. GMax says this is an offshoot from its snowmobile and ATV helmets, so riders can more easily follow others in low visibility.
The 54S is a very good helmet, quiet and draft-free, let down only by one thing—its anti-fog face shield fogged badly on the test helmet. The XL-size white model shown here weighs 4.3 pounds and has an MSRP of $179.95.
HJC Symax iii
The SyMax III comes with a blanked-off port in the left side that accepts an optional Chatterbox Bluetooth module and headset. A Pinlock-ready face shield is standard, but the insert itself is an option. Vents are basic—one on the chinbar and another on the top of the helmet—and air flow through them is average. The internal sunshield has two positions, and is operated by a tab in a slot on top of the helmet. Slide the tab forward to lower the spring-loaded shield, and touch a button to retract it.
The interior crown padding and cheek pads are washable and removable. The chinbar button is easy to operate, even with thick gloves, and the chinbar clicks easily into place.
On the road the SyMax III does its job unobtrusively. The seal around the eyeport is draft-free once the face shield is closed, and the helmet is one of the quieter ones in the group. The CE-approved, XL-size SyMax III shown here weighs 4.1 pounds and has an MSRP of $299.99.
Just about everything on the new N104 has been improved or redesigned. It’s 3 ounces lighter than the N103, and new closeable front vents are much easier to use with gloved hands and flow lots of air through channels to exhaust vents. Fit is comfortable and the Nolan is among the quietest modulars here.
Sizes range from 2XS-3XL in two N104 shell sizes. Its Lexan polycarbonate shell has a built-in spoiler, and comes ready for Nolan’s Ncom B4 Bluetooth comm system. Inside there’s a removable and washable liner that is antibacterial and antifungal. It has pockets for speakers, and a separate neck roll can be removed in summer. The Microlock adjustable quick-release chinstrap is small, comfortable and easy to use.
The Nolan’s optically correct visor can be easily changed, has UV400 protection and accepts a Pinlock insert (included). We experienced no fogging with it or the scratch- and fog-resistant sunshield, which lowers into one position with a slider and retracts instantly with a button.
The N104’s chinbar closes securely and easily and was close to my chin, but the helmet rides more aerodynamically on my head because of it. The chinbar release comprises dual-action levers for security that you squeeze with both thumb and forefinger.
The size-L, CE-approved Flat Lava Gray N104 Action shown weighs 3.8 pounds and retails for $499.95; solids are $449.95.
The C3 abounds with nice details. The internal sunshield is height-adjustable, and comes with an anti-fog coating on both sides. The face shield comes with a Pinlock insert, and has a locking tab at the front that seals off the interior from drafts when closed. A vent on the chinbar and another on top of the shell channel plenty of cooling air through the helmet. Instead of D-rings the C3 uses a microlock retention system that’s quick and handy, and the chinstrap’s length is adjustable.
The C3 is one of the quietest modulars in this group. The face shield has two rows of “turbulators” designed to minimize noise, and a double neck collar that seals off the bottom of the helmet. The collar can feel claustrophobic, and the part attached to the chinbar isn’t very flexible—some riders find it digs into their neck uncomfortably. The XL-size, CE-approved C3 shown here weighs 4.0 pounds and retails for $699.
The Transformer seems to recognize that some modular owners ride with the chinbar up, and gives them the option to remove it entirely and replace it with a sun visor that turns the Transformer into an open-face helmet. The internal one-position sunshield can be used in either configuration. Three vents, in the chinbar, top of the helmet, and the rear, practically gulp air into the helmet, and the face shield is treated with an anti-fog coating on both sides.
Unique among modulars is the Transformer’s AirFit inflation system that gives you a custom fit. Pump the bulb on the left underside of the helmet, and the interior puffs out to meet you, filling up the gaps that let wind and noise in. A one-touch button deflates the system. There’s a port on the left side for a comm kit by J&M or IMC MotorComm.
The Transformer is very quiet on the road, and the face shield stays clear even when the supply of air through the vents isn’t at maximum. It wasn’t tested in its open-face mode, but expect the noise level to go up, and wear some eye protection even with the sunshield lowered. The XL-size, CE-approved Transformer weighs 4.2 pounds and has an MSRP of $269.95.
The Neotec has vents on the chinbar, the top, and the back. The back vent is hard to operate in thick gloves. A Pinlock insert is standard. The face shield is easy to remove, and once it’s locked down the interior of the helmet is draft-free. Both the face shield and the internal sunshield block 99 percent of UV rays. The sunshield is height-adjustable. The interior padding is removable and washable, and the dual-layer EPS liner has channels for incoming air through the very effective vents.
Shoei says it spent a lot of wind-tunnel time fine-tuning the shell’s shape to eliminate noise, and it seems to have been time well spent. The Neotec is very quiet, probably due in part to the thick cheek pads, which felt tight at first but eventually broke in. There are different sizes of cheek pads available, and the interior is removable and washable.
The L-size Neotec shown here weighs 4.1 pounds and has an MSRP of $648.99, and its performance backs that up. It’s quiet and well built—the EPS-lined chinbar goes up and down as smoothly and silently as the door of a luxury car—and gives the overall impression it should be stored in a display case when you’re not out riding in it.
VEGA SUMMIT 3.0
The Vega 3.0 has adjustable vents in the chinbar and on top, and three small exhaust vents on the back. The standard face shield lacks anti-fog treatment or Pinlock readiness, but there’s an optional anti-fog shield available. The sunshield doesn’t come down as far as other modulars’, which is a blessing or a curse depending on the size of your nose. In addition to the standard tint, it’s available in smoke, light smoke, and amber. The liner is removable and washable.
The Vega comes ready to accept Summit’s Bluetooth kit. Unlike other helmets, it has a Bluetooth port on either side.
On the road the Vega ranks in about the middle of the modulars in terms of noise, and its vents flow an average amount of air. But the test helmet really could have used that optional anti-fog face shield. Otherwise it was one of those pieces of riding gear that doesn’t make you think about it because it just gets on with the job. The XL-size CE-approved Summit 3.0 shown here weighs 3.9 pounds and has an MSRP of $169.99.
VEMAR JIANO EVO TC NIGHT VISION
A pleasant pale yellow in the daylight, the Night Vision paint glows once the lights go out. Vemar claims eight hours of luminescence from a good charge in the sunlight, though electric light will do in a pinch.
A single button releases the Evo TC’s chinbar; close the bar and you’ll hear a positive click as the metal latches and pins engage. Vemar builds two shell sizes from a blend of carbon, aramid and fiberglass fibers to accommodate helmet sizes XS-2XL in a mid-oval shape. If there’s a weakness in the overall design, it’s limited peripheral vision due a narrow eye port.
The Evo TC fastens with a plastic strap that ratchets into a metal catch—simple, effective and comfortable. The interior sound was tolerable at 65 mph, becoming too loud at 70.
The lining pops in and out easily for washing. Removing and replacing the scratch resistant face shield are also simple tasks, once you know the drill. A single slide control opens twin vents on top, while a similar setup regulates the chinbar vents. Both bring in the breeze, with the top one getting the nod for better flow. All the vents have fine mesh covers to screen out bugs.
The L-size, CE-approved Jiano weighs 4.3 pounds and is $450; a non-glowing Jiano will run you $375.
The Zoan Runner is a cool helmet, thanks to three adjustable vents in the chinbar and one on the top, and three rear extraction vents. The hard-coated sunshield is designed to drop down into one position, but it can be fiddled with to stop a bit higher. The removable liner is washable. The lever to raise the chinbar was balky and hard to operate on the test helmet. The face shield has no provisions for a Pinlock insert.
The Runner’s interior liner showed visible stitching and a few loose thread ends. It’s unlikely they’ll be a problem, but they give the helmet a less finished look than its competitors. The exterior is top-notch, and very eye-catching.
On the road the Runner scores at the low end of the noise scale, and despite its lack of anti-fogging provisions its face shield remained clear once underway. The sunshield could stand to be a little bit darker than it is, and the breath guard had to be removed to fit one tester. The XL-size CE-approved Runner shown weighs 4.1 pounds and has an MSRP of $169.95.