Come on, admit it, you’ve wondered what it would be like to be a pro racer. You know, with your custom-fit leathers replaced if they develop any unseemly abrasions or the rack of helmets – all with interiors sculpted to your exact head dimensions – so that you never have to suffer the indignity of donning a sweaty lid during practice. Well, Shoei is offering the chance for average riders to bring their current generation Shoei to select events in 2016 and experience the luxury of having a helmet custom-fit to the nooks and crannies of their noggins. And…wait for this…it will be free for now. Pretty cool, eh?
All motorcycle gear, while sold in a variety of sizes, is created to “standard” dimensions within those set sizes. One thing we know about the human body is that it is not standardized. Only rare individuals, like Troy “Off-The-Rack” Siahaan, actually fit gear without any compromises. Shoei is aware of the issues with head shapes, their individual dimensions and regional tendencies. For example, the American market features predominantly long oval heads, while others, Asia especially, tend to be more rounded. Within this generalization, of course there are the outliers, of which I am one. I have an extremely long oval head. I once spent an hour at a motorcycle show with the distributor of a helmet brand that was known, at the time, for mostly round head forms. In the end, he couldn’t fit me front-to-back without excessive side-to-side wobble. All this effort was spent trying to convince me that there was no such thing as a Shoei head. Well, almost two decades have passed, and helmet manufacturers have seen the wisdom in producing lids with a variety of head shapes. Still, nothing will fit you like a custom sized helmet.
At the Long Beach IMS media day last December, I had a chance conversation with Matthias Beier, U.S. Marketing Coordinator for Shoei Safety Helmet Corp., in which he mentioned that the company was testing the Shoei Personal Fitting System at the show and would begin rolling it out at select events in 2016 to explore the possibility of formalizing the program at the dealer level. (The PFS has been implemented at all Shoei dealers in Japan, but the U.S., with its vast geography and number of dealerships, poses a larger challenge.) The PFS process, while straightforward on the outside, masks the invisible complexities of the system.
The Shoei PFS consists of the collection of four measurements on the rider’s head. Those dimensions, along with the helmet’s model and size are entered into a program that consults a database at Shoei’s headquarters and delivers a listing of the number of variously sized pads to be attached to the helmet’s removable liner to provide an optimal fit. The result will be a more comfortable, stable at higher speeds, and potentially more quiet fit of the helmet. However, PFS will not make up for a poor helmet sizing choice. If you bought a helmet that was too big, there’s nothing you can do about that. As Moichi Tsuzuki, President of Shoei Safety Helmet Corp., stresses, “This is ABSOLUTELY NOT the system to change the original helmet size. What we can do with this system is ‘fine-tuning’ of the helmet fitment, as everyone has unique head shape.”
As it turns out, I had a problem Shoei that seemed perfect for testing Shoei’s PFS. At the time of its release, the first generation of the Neotec helmet became my go-to lid. I, quite frankly, wore it out over the course of several years. Last year, when the chance to get a Neotec presented itself, I leapt at the opportunity. While my RF–1200 was my everyday helmet, I’d missed the convenience of a modular helmet in urban riding. Strangely, although the interior of the new generation Neotec was not supposed to have changed significantly, the helmet never fit me as well as the original. I could actually feel a seam in the EPS liner that immediately gave me a hot spot on my forehead and a headache shortly thereafter. Suspecting that my head was pushing up too far into the helmet, to the point that it was contacting the EPS as it curved over the top, I spent some time cutting pieces of open cell foam to insert on top of the liner. While this eliminated the pain, it also blocked the air vent channels.
As soon as Tsuzuki looked at me in the helmet, he said that, even with my spacers at the top, my head was sinking too far into the helmet. Beier measured the length and width of my head with a special Shoei-designed caliper. The height from the widest point to the top of my head was also measured. Finally, the circumference of my head at its largest point was taken. With these numbers fed into the Shoei database, a recipe of padding thicknesses and densities was created to fit the helmet to my head. Again, I had the proper sized helmet that fit me front-to-rear. However, the narrowness of my long oval meant that sizable pads were put on the sides in addition to ones we expected on the top.
Once the pads were installed in the Neotec, the fit was transformed. Instead of feeling the helmet held in place by the front and rear of my skull – as it has with the majority of helmets I’ve owned over my 26 years of riding – I felt a ring of consistent pressure. The best way I can describe the sensation is to visualize an inverted glass sitting on a table. I could feel the helmet being supported by that contact point all the way around my head. While I was aware of the increased thickness of the padding on my crown, it was not supporting the helmet as it was with my home-brew fix. The new placement of my eyes in the eye-port also gave me more forward view when in a sport riding position. Additionally, the Neotec became a little quieter at speed. The change in comfort on my 1.5-hour ride home was shocking.
The beauty of Shoei’s PFS is that it isn’t a one-shot deal. The same measurements can be applied to different model helmets. To demonstrate this, Tsuzuki applied my measurements to the RF–1200. After about 10 minutes, an fine tuned liner was placed in an RF–1200 for me to try on. The front-to-back fit is slightly tighter than the RF–1200 I’ve been wearing for the past two years, but the new helmet hasn’t been broken in yet. However, the sensations on the sides and the top of my head were similar to that in the Neotec – and the RF–1200 was a helmet I’d been completely happy with!
This experience illustrates the beauty of what Shoei is testing here in the U.S. This premium helmet brand wants to offer both a premium riding and buying experience. If the PFS goes nationwide, each dealership participating in the program will have trained personnel measure the customer’s head dimensions. These measurements must be taken in a particular way with a close attention to detail for the fit to be the best it can. By offering PFS, a dealer has something the cheap online vendors won’t be able to match. Plus, if you get a helmet fitted by the dealer, one can be preconfigured before pickup, when it’s time to buy your next helmet. Both Shoei and the dealers get repeat customers. Riders get a better riding experience and may, as a result, ride more, benefitting the motorcycle industry as a whole. Wins all around!
For 2016, Shoei is scheduled to offer the PFS at Americade and the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. Additionally, Shoei is considering the AIMExpo this fall and select Progressive International Motorcycle Shows (IMS) during the winter. Owners of currently available Shoei models with removable liners (meaning QWEST owners are out of luck) will be able to be measured and fitted. For now, the service is free-of-charge, but in the future, it could become a flat rate service, no matter how complicated the rider’s sizing needs are. For those who think this may be just a flash in the pan, consider that the Shoei X-Fourteen was designed with variable sized accessory padding for a user-customizable fit. Shoei appears to be making a play for the next frontier of helmet comfort.