Spring Helmet Bazaar

story by Motorcycle.com Staff, Created May. 14, 2005
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Spring is here, and it's time to clean off your bike, check the tire pressures and hit the road. But how is that helmet of yours? Is it the same one you've had for the last ten years? Maybe it's time for a new one: most helmet manufacturers will tell you they only recommend you use your helmet for five years before replacement, whether it bounces off the pavement or not!

Walking into the motorcycle shop, you'll notice there is now a bewildering array of manufacturers, and some of them make a darn good helmet for under $200. Some of the manufacturers offer much more pricey lids, with the top-of-the line helmets pushing or exceeding the $800 mark.

But does the extra money get you that much extra helmet?

To help you find that out, we sampled nine helmets from six different manufacturers to see what the extra money gets you. How did the cheap stuff do against the luxury brands? Read on...

We didn't intend for this to be a comprehensive shootout between all the helmet makers. Instead, we're giving you a quick sampling of some different helmets so you can see some of the helmets we've been using over the last year in one quick, easy review. Sound good? Let's get started!

 

 

 

KBC TK-77

"Tell you what... if you throw in a helmet, I'll take it home tonight."

It's an amazing value for the price, but there are better values out there.
You get a nice quality finish and Snell approval.
Those are the last words uttered by many TK-77 buyers before they take possession of both a new motorcycle and a new TK-77. It's definitely a budget helmet: MSRP for solid colors is a mere $89.95, $99.95 for the racy paint schemes, and $109.95 for the cool "Devil" scheme we tested here.

So how do they sell a DOT and Snell approved helmet for under 100 bucks? For one, the face shield is secured with baseplates and screws, like the bad old days. It only takes a couple of minutes to remove and replace, but who needs the hassle when there are easier ways to do it? Also, the liner is glued into place- I guess you throw the helmet away when it gets too nasty. The cheekpads are removable for washing or to get the fit perfect with optional sizes.

KBC also saves a bit with a single forehead vent, and the heavy polycarbonate shell also keeps the price affordable for those who just spent every penny of their credit for a new sportbike. Too bad, because they'll need an actual penny to remove the faceshield!

In use, the TK-77 isn't really a bad helmet. It's as quiet as the TK-8, and about the same weight. The venting is minimally effective, but so is the venting on many helmets, even those costing a hundred dollars more. It has the same snap on the end of the chinstrap as the other KBCs and has acceptable fit and finish, especially in this price range.

The TK-77 is a nice helmet for the price, but given the small difference in price between this helmet and other, more feature-rich models from both KBC, Scorpion and other brands, we would spend the extra $20 if it were at all possible.


KBC TK-8

KBC calls this their "mid-level" helmet on their website, but it is a very basic, simple entry-level helmet. It's one of their best selling helmets, and that should come as no surprise as soon as the wearer plops it on his head after relieving himself of $120.

How much would you pay for this helmet?
These vents work well with gloved fingers.
This helmet, like many of the entry-level helmets available today, represents a very good value. Unlike the basic helmet of yesterday, the TK-8 comes in two different solid paint schemes (the "Slick" in four different colors, or the "Fuel" in three, in addition to four solid colors), has effective, nicely-functioning vents, and a visor that is easy to remove and replace.

On the road, the TK-8 is a nice, comfortable helmet, with a "Duralux" hypo-allergenic liner to help stave off itchy-head. The liner is also removable for laundering, which is pretty much a requirement for us: what are you supposed to do with a dirty helmet you can't wash? Throw it away?

The TK-8 is also pretty quiet- Gabe could endure a few miles of freeway riding without his trusty earplugs. It's a bit heavy, but it lacks the clunky, poorly-finished feel that most budget helmets of yesteryear had. Remember those cheap-o Bieffe full-face things for $89 you would buy in the 80's? You'd take the visor off once, then you'd break the little plastic tabs trying to get it back on, so you would have to use ski goggles like a dork. You kids don't know how good you've got it!

It does have a polycarbonate shell, like most helmets in this price range, but it's not too heavy and the TK-8 is a good value: just $119.95 for solid colors or $129.95 for either the Slick graphics or the Fuel graphics scheme that we tested.

Scorpion EXO-400

This face shield is as easy to remove as it is difficult to fog.
When we think of budget helmets in the sub-$150 range we won't be thinking of the Scorpion EXO-400. That's because it should be a more expensive helmet. Our Million Mile Man Pete Brissete declared, "I will boldly state here that the EXO-400 fit me as good as a helmet three times its cost. And that's bold because I've had to compromise my comfort level to some degree with those pricey lids almost no matter which model. The Octane required nothing of me other than to wear it with complete comfort and a secure feeling."

Although the Scorpion isn't quite up to speed in the overall quality department, it's darn close. One flaw is the little breath guard that would pop out of place any time we'd reach in to scratch our nose. We also found the little clip that retains the extra amount of chin strap after you've secured it to be a little cumbersome. The use of a polycarbonate material as opposed to fiberglass, Kevlar or other composite materials used by other brands made the shell a little heavy, but don't be concerned for your safety as it is both DOT and Snell certified.

"I will boldly state here that the EXO-400 fit me as good as a helmet three times its cost."

One of the most amazing features of this hat was the fog-free shield. Despite our best efforts, we could not get it to fog, even in cold, rainy weather. The consumer usually spends an extra $20 for a Fog City anti-fog liner on more expensive helmets to accomplish the same thing. Like the TK-8, Scorpion has even included a removable sweat-wicking and washable liner.

Scorpion has also stepped up the game in budget helmets by way of its quick- release lens system. Within a few tries and a little finessing the first time the lens popped of easily with its SpeedShift™ mechanism. Pete said "It is as good as anything I've used." When you're in the market for a new can on your head go look at all the top shelf stuff then come back down to the budget-minded arena and see that the Scorpion EXO-400 is in the same league.

The Scorpion EXO-400 is available in solid colors for $129.95, or either the Warhawk or Octane graphics schemes for $139.95.

Scorpion EXO-700

It has a very low price for a quality, laminated shell helmet, but we're not sure it's that much better than the EXO-400.
These vents work well on both the 400 and the 700.
For those of you who want a lower-priced helmet with the advantages of a lighter, stronger, (but stiffer, which may not be the best thing) laminate-construction outer shell, Scorpion offers the EXO-700, which has similar features to the EXO-400, plus the "Matrix" shell, which is quiet and seems to withstand buffeting pretty well. The chin strap is padded and has a snap to keep it from flapping in the breeze. The SpeedShiftu quick-change system is really trick (similar to that on AGV helmets) and makes changing from the clear to tinted shield a snap without any tools. The shield itself is of high quality, seems to be distortion free, and resists both fogging and scratching. The ventilation system is standard fare for helmets in this price range with adjustable front and rear vents and a tunable flow-through system.

Inside is a very comfortable moisture-absorbing liner which is breathable and comfortable against the skin. The liner is completely removable and washable. The optional custom liner and cheek pad kit ensure that you can dial in a custom fit. A feature that Martin really liked was the breath deflector. This is the first helmet he used with one of these and he found "it really enhances the ability of the shield to resist fogging." He also liked the fit as much as the much smaller-skulled Pete: "The EXO is one of the better fitting helmets I've used right out of the box."

Overall the EXO-700 is pretty close to flawless for what it aspires to be. It's comfy, quiet, has easy to change shields, a high-quality finish, and it vents pretty well. It's not quite on par with either the top-shelf Arai or AGV, but it's functionally close to as good, nearly as comfortable, and costs less than half as much. The Scorpion EXO-700 comes in solid colors for $179.95, or the Fury, Geronimo, or Raider schemes for $199.95.

Page 2KBC VR-1

It takes a bad-ass MOFO to wear a helmet with this kind of styling, and we can handle it. If no one else out there, MO's has got this one covered. With "street fighter" written all over it, the graphics appear to be swiped directly off of a Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom fighter jet, so watch out for hot gases!

The VR-1 is KBC's high-end sport-touring helmet with many high-end features for a medium-end price. It starts with a laminated composite outer shell that is unfortunately as heavy as the polycarbonate shell on some of the less-expensive helmets we've tested.

Now you can paint your driveway like the deck of a tiny aircraft carrier. Have your friend put on a purple turtleneck and guide you in with a pair of ping-pong paddles for full effect.
This is suedette - We've never heard of it either.
We're actually unsure if a laminated shell is the way to go: some shells, like the Scorpion EXO-700's are so stiff that they may transmit too much shock to the EPS foam in the event of a crash. Keep reading MO for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.

Other nice features on the VR-1 include a very nice interior liner that is both removable and washable. It's made out of swanky Alcantara "suedette" materiel that wicks away moisture (aka Fonzie Sweat) to complement strategically located gauze material for maximum cooling. The venting is marginally effective, but the ducts open and close easily with gloves; there is one adjustable chin vent and two top rear open/close toggles - where the gases escape! Another nice feature is the face shield: it locks far above and away from sight in the fully up position and has clearly defined and strong ratchet points, nice stuff for the slow troll through town when it's hot.

On the road, it's not quite as quiet as the Icon Alliance helmet, but that just makes it better for hearing people exclaim how friggin' sweet your VR-1 is! The chin strap has a fiddly-to-use snap on it to secure extra strap that the Icon Alliance lacks, so you won't get neck-whipped on the freeway. Like the Alliance, it is finished with a similar rubbery finish that should resist scratches.

The VR-1 is no longer a current KBC model, but it's still available on clearance. If the price is discounted from the $229.95 MSRP for the warbird paint scheme or the $199.95 solid paint schemes, it's a pretty good deal for a solid, high-quality helmet.

Icon Alliance

Icon is becoming a very popular helmet and apparel manufacturer, and spending some time with their Alliance helmet shows us why.

It's a high-quality helmet with plenty of big-buck features for a pretty reasonable price.

This is our second favorite thing at MO coated in black rubber.
We can't feel much airflow at freeway speeds, but there's no other vent design that's easier to use-even if you're all thumbs!
The Alliance uses a polycarbonate shell that is surprisingly light. It also has one of the simplest shield-release systems we've encountered. The Icon is also a pretty quiet helmet at freeway speeds: Fonzie found it to be a little quieter than his three-year old Arai Signet.

The chinbar venting works well, but the easy-to-use push-button vent on top of the helmet doesn't seem to do much. It is easy to open and shut with your gloved thumb, unlike the smaller vent mechanisms on other helmets.

The fit and finish is also very good, with the special "Rubatone" rubberized finish making the helmet resistant to scratching and scuffing.

The Icon Alliance is available in four solid colors and three different graphics schemes, at an MSRP or $189.95 The top of the line "Damnation" features a naked cartoon tushie and sets you back $234.95. You can view all the different colors at Icon's Alliance page.

Yamaha R-Force II

The R-Force II is constructed of Shoei's Advanced Integrated Matrix for superior strength. Technical nuances include Shoei's "T-Ventilation" system (separately controlled intake and outlet vents). Shoei claims this configuration reduces face shield fogging, buffeting and noise, and increases ventilation. An aerodynamic rear lower tail fin acts as a spoiler to reduce drag, helmet lift and wind noise.

The R-Force II did prove comfortable on a variety of different bikes, weather, and road conditions. Face shield removal is easy with Shoei's Quick Release Base Plate shield system.

A trick preset lever acts as a shim to keep the shield open slightly for stop-and-go riding. Kind of a gimmick, but it was actually really convenient, providing just enough ventilation to prevent fogging while stopped. The R-Force II is covered by Shoei's limited 5-year warranty, meets DOT standards, and is Snell M2000 certified. MSRP is $365, and it's available at your local Yamaha dealer.


AGV X-R2 Helmet

With the AGV XR-2 we don't have to compromise anymore.

A really good fitting, top-quality lid in a cool color scheme is the best thing since trockenbeerenauslesen in an EZ-pour screw top bottle. For Martin, top shelf AGV's have nearly always done this right out of the box. With earlier AGV models, we've had to live with a slight weight penalty and a little more noise for an exceptional fit. With the AGV XR-2 we don't have to compromise anymore.

I think I saw this guy in "Sin City". Don't eat his sausages, even if they smell delicious.
It's fully removable, washable, breathable CoolMax™ and it can even contain Martin's huge melon.
Paint, fit and finish are exceptional. Note the levers are labeled so you can read them during out-of-body racing experiences.
The XR-2 continues AGV's successful X-Vent design and combines it with a more comfortable and aerodynamic shell shape. The carbon-Kevlar composite shell was developed using a wind tunnel and is shaped to eliminate buffeting at high speeds- and it works. The shell features new SSL carbon-Kevlar construction in two sizes for a better range of fitment, core system technology and the X-Vent System with both air intakes and extractors. The padding and liners are removable and washable with both Coolmax and Drylex bits. The shield is an XQRS flat race shield that is highly scratch resistant, filters UV, has an anti-fog treatment, two posts for tear offs and attaches with a quick release system that allows quick and easy shield changes without tools. The XR-2 meets or exceeds both SNELL M2000 and DOT standards.

The XR-2 is very light and more importantly feels light at high speeds because of its superior aerodynamics. Wind buffeting at racetrack speeds is a huge factor in rider fatigue and this helmet slips through the wind very well, especially when it's in the turbulent zone behind the windscreen that you have to duck in and out of during a race.

On the street it is completely plush but perhaps a smidgen noisier that the best Arais. Comfort is exceptional and the field of view is great. The visor locks down with a very positive "click" and all of the controls are both intuitive and easy to work with gloves.

The XR-2 comes in four standard graphics schemes of Yellow/Silver/Gunmetal, Black/Silver/Gunmetal, Blue/Silver/Gunmetal and Red/Silver/Gunmetal at the MSRP of $474.95. There are also three Rossi graphic models, the Rossi Moto GP and the Rossi 500, which carry a suggested retail of $499.95, and the Rossi Limited Edition, priced at $549.95. The Rossi 500 and the Rossi World Champion are limited editions of 500 helmets each. All of these helmets are available while supplies last at your nearest AGV dealer.

Arai Signet GTR

Sean wasn't a big star on the GSXR, so we just put a star on his helmet.Arai has a long and distinguished history as a top-quality producer of hand-made helmets. Their Signet "long-oval" helmets finally allowed those of us with ovoid noggins a comfortable lid. Nowadays, Arai makes several different headforms, from the "round" Quantum series, through the modified "semi-oval" RX 7RR and Astral series to the "long-oval" Signet. If you possess a long head from front-to-back, with comparatively narrow (but not narrow-minded) sides, you owe it to yourself to try a Signet, as you'll likely find more room for your pointy head and fewer red "pinch" marks on your forehead after a long ride.


This latest version of the Signet, the "Signet GTR" includes a removable and washable liner, complex laminate construction, Arai's improved FFS venting system, retractable under-chin spoiler, and eleven color/pattern variations. All Arai helmets include a five-year warranty. One thing you won't find on the spec sheet, is that Arais enjoy the best reputation in the business and their overall quality is self-evident when you examine them side-by-side with other helmet brands. Think that's just hype? Arai has been ranked highest in the JD Power & Associates Customer Satisfaction Survey for the last six years running. (Shoei is 2nd and Nolan is 3rd).

If fits Sean's funny-shaped head like a glove, needing a minimum of pad juggling and thumb-molding before he claimed it was "perfect".

It looks expensive and feels expensive when you wear it. That's why it's expensive. The Signet GTR you see here is the "Springer Replica" design and its paint finish is flawless. If fits Sean's funny-shaped head like a glove, needing a minimum of pad juggling and thumb-molding before he claimed it was "perfect". Sean praised the helmet's effective venting and noted a significant change in head temperature with the vents open. However, that extra airflow does create extra noise, so if you ride long distances in cool or cold climates, you might want to consider a quieter lid.

Shield changing is quick and easy with trained hands, but beginners will find themselves frustrated with the creaking and popping noises that are sure to accompany their first shield removal. Overall, Sean awards the new Signet GTR with 4 1/2 stars, stating that it would be perfect, if it was just a bit quieter.

The Signet GTR is available in 11 different color schemes, from "Mr. Safety" white to Sean's super slick "Springer Replica No. Two". Prices range from $496.95 for plain vanilla to $614.95 for the Racer Replicas.



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