For some people, of course, an open face helmet is a fashion statement. Wearing one is about looking cool, and how it fits is a matter of secondary importance.
Well, if that’s your view so be it, but we take a slightly different position. A poor fitting helmet can become darned uncomfortable and, in extremis, downright dangerous, so we like to get it right.
When somebody comes into our Guildford shop, and asks for an open-face, our starting point is nearly always a Bell. Bell is the most famous name on the market and, as their open-face is not expensive, it’s the brand most people would rather have.
It’s actually a great lid, with the most classic and iconic of styling. It’s got a good quality composite shell, and for a really low profile fit it comes in no less than five shell sizes. Many open face helmets come in just one shell size, so if your head is on the smaller side, such helmets can look huge when they’re being worn.
Now, the issue with a Bell is the fit. In order to further reinforce the low profile, we reckon Bell has skimped just a little on the soft padding. It also has to be said that their Custom 500 been designed for a rounder face, and so if you have a more European oval head, you can have a problem.
If the Bell fits you, we reckon it’s the best helmet you can buy, but we have found that, sometimes, if it fits around the skull, it can be loose on the cheeks, and if it’s nice and snug on the cheeks it can be tight on the forehead.
Sadly, if this proves to be the case, a Bell might not be the helmet for you. A shame, because the colours and designs blow everything else into the weeds.
When we’re testing for fit, we get the customer to turn his head from right to left whilst we hold the helmet tight in the dead ahead position. If the head can turn from side to side without forcing the helmet to move, it’s too loose. By contrast, a tightish fit where moving the head forces the helmet to turn is good. But if it's so tight that it's causing you to bite your tongue, it’s too tight. Always remember of course that, over time, the padding is going to give; another reason for going tighter rather than looser.
We then get the customer to put his or her hands behind the helmet, and pull it forward towards the eyebrows. When this is done, we like to be able to get a finger in the gap that is created. If we can get a fist up there, it’s too big. If we could only squeeze in a cigarette paper, it’s probably too small.
Then there’s the issue of goggles. When goggles don’t work, it's often because the brow of the helmet is too low, forcing the goggles down the nose. It doesn’t look good, and it’s not comfortable. A simple, thin, sink sponge concealed in the roof doesn’t compromise the safety of a helmet, but it can give you the extra ¼” you need to make goggles work. It’s an old racer's trick!
If we can’t make a Bell Custom 500 fit comfortably, we’ve found that a Premier Jet Vintage often will. It’s a more European fit, and as it comes in only one shell size it tends to be more softly padded, and therefore more comfortable.
There’s a good range of colourways; it’s pretty light, especially in carbon. And the prices are reasonable. It also comes with a drop down visor, which some people prefer; although some don’t. If we find somebody has a problem with both a Bell and a Premier, we’ve learned that the new Shoei J.O is a supremely comfortable lid that can be made to fit just about anybody.
It’s a brilliant bit of kit. It comes in four shell sizes for a close-to-the-skull fit. It has a lovely sloping profile, so it doesn’t give you that match stick-head look. It’s amazingly light, as it uses Shoei’s top-of-the-line AIM composite shell. And it also has the best drop-down visor we’ve come across. It’s the only one we’ve seen that’s adjustable, and in its lowest position it provides great levels of protection from the elements.
For a superb fit, the cheek pads are easily removed, and can be exchanged for ones that are either thinner or thicker. Frankly, if you can’t get the J.O to fit, then it may be that an openface is not for you!
There’s only one issue, and it's the price. A plain colour Bell costs £129.99. A plain Premier is £149.99. The plain Shoei is £259.99; that’s twice the price of the Bell. So it’s not for everybody, but some things in life are worth paying for, we feel. And if you've got a funny-shaped head, then the J.O might just be one of those things.
Of course, we’ve got loads of other open lids from the likes of Momo, Harrison, Arai, Nolan, Shark, Schuberth and so on, so there are many options to look at.
If you want to be fitted properly, you can always come and see us. You know where we are.