History has a funny way of repeating itself, and as long as you wait long enough, what’s old will eventually become new again. Right now, we’re seeing that trend in motorcycling, as models like the Yamaha SR400, Royal Enfield Continental GT, BMW R nineT and Ducati Scrambler all pay homage to days gone by. Then, of course, you’ve got those who simply refuse to let go of the past, buying 30-plus year-old motorcycles and making them their own. Hell, even the verbiage is making a comeback. Cafe Racer, anyone? Vintage motorcycling may be popular these days, but there’s one aspect of the past that should remain in the history books: safety gear. Helmets, specifically.
That’s where Chad Hodge comes in. A freelance industrial designer and vintage motorcycle customizer, Hodge’s search for a full face-helmet that he connected with turned up empty. So, for his senior industrial design thesis at the University of Cincinnati, he penned a helmet design of his own. He posted the design on Bubble Visor, a popular website for fans of vintage bikes and gear. There, he received plenty of comments, but nobody to help make the dream of turning his design into a road-legal reality. Then Bell stepped in and offered Hodge the opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history. That design became the Bell Bullitt.
Surprisingly, the final production version of the Bullitt hardly deviates from Hodge’s original design. Drawing heavy inspiration from the original Bell Star, the D.O.T.- and ECE-certified Bullitt can best be described as a clean, simple form. Apart from the tiny lip at the rear that serves as an exhaust vent, the form continues its curved profile from nearly every angle.
The Bullitt utilizes an ultra low-profile fiber-composite shell. Three different shells are used to accommodate the XS – 2XL range of sizing. From a fit standpoint, the Bullitt will best suit the intermediate-oval headform – slightly longer front to back than side to side. If that describes you, you’re in luck because the Bullitt’s interior is among the most luxurious I’ve sampled in any lid, retro-themed or otherwise. The anti-microbial micro-suede interior fabric and leather trim combine to give a classy look and feel. It even has that new car smell you’d find in luxury vehicles. Of course, it’s all removable and washable, too.
The double D-rings provide a secure closure, and a sturdy metal snap keeps the excess strap in place while riding. A convenient leather pull tab comes in handy when it’s time to loosen the straps. Bell does something cool by shipping the helmet with a clear bubble shield as standard. Tinted versions are also available, as are tinted or clear flat shields. Circular side pods are a classy design feature, but replacing shields requires a tool (a coin will work) to unscrew the pods. Once in, the shield ratchets to three different openings, and the clever Magnefusion closure system keeps the shield shut via a fairly strong magnet against the chinbar. Or, you can truly go old school and ditch the shield for a pair of sunglasses.
Several different color patterns are available, including solid colors, matte and flake, but this Roland Sands Design “Viva” trim is my personal favorite. With a red, white and blue stripe running across the top and around the chinbar, its pearlescent ivory base color really pops in direct sunlight.
If you’re used to wearing contemporary full-face helmets like I am, the Bullitt feels largely similar except for the chin area. The chinbar isn’t as substantial as modern designs, giving it almost a three-quarter-helmet-like feel. Considering a helmet’s chinbar area is almost twice as likely to be the primary impact zone compared to any other area of a helmet, this skinny chinbar may be cause for concern for Bullitt buyers expecting full-face protection. However, it clearly provides a step up compared to open-face designs.
The benefactor of this small chinbar is the eyeport, which is huge and provides great field of vision. Four vents line the brow of the helmet, while a singular, closable chin vent rests down below. I wish I could comment as to their effectiveness, but I didn’t notice any appreciable airflow from the top, and the lack of a chin curtain means a steady flow of air enters the helmet from underneath.
Still, even at highway speeds, the Bullitt exhibits little buffeting. According to the scale at my local grocery store produce section, the Bullitt comes in just over 3 lbs., and it feels feather light on my head while riding.
All in all, I think Bell and Hodge have nailed it when it comes to a full-face lid for those looking for old-school cool with modern protection. Bell positions the Bullitt as a premium helmet (the interior helps justify the claim), and as such pricing starts at $399.95. The RSD Viva, seen here, will set you back $449.95. Visit www.bellhelmets.com for more information, or to order one of your own.