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Originally published: June 2018
THE SHOEI J.O HELMET REVIEW THE PERFECT OPEN-FACE HELMET
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The Shoei JO has been on the market for a few years now.
We sell open-face helmets from a number of manufacturers, and have tested dozens more, but we have come to the conclusion that there’s not a jet helmet out there that can hold a candle to the Shoei.
It seems to us that, for most helmet manufacturers, an open-face is a bit of an afterthought, not worthy of great input or effort.
All the R&D, the efforts to increase safety, comfort, noise levels and so on, go into full-face helmets. Open-face helmets, by their nature, are less about safety and more about style, and so we suspect that it’s the design and graphics people who own the project to create a new open-face helmet rather than the technical guys in white coats.
Many open-face helmets still come in one size only, meaning that the fit is never great, even though, with the amount of foam that has to be used, they can be quite comfortable.
By far the majority of open-faces come out of factories in places like China and Vietnam, where they are churned out like plastic bottle tops, in accordance with the brand owners’ particular requirements.
You might be surprised to learn that even some of the biggest, most famous and longest established helmet brands work in this way. It explains why most open-face helmets are quite samey, and in truth, rather poorly finished.
It’s rather rare, for example, for an open-face helmet to be offered with different cheek pads and head linings, in the way that the Shoei is.
Bell’s Custom 500 is, of course, the most famous open-face helmet on the market. It was Bell that invented the open-face in 1954. The modern version looks just like it. It has the best badge, and the graphics are pretty cool too. But it has a very poor fit. The shape is very round. Perhaps that reflects the typical, American head shape, but here in the shop in Guildford, we reckon that less than 50% of people who try it on fit it to our satisfaction.
Now that might just be us being fussy; I suspect it is because we see lots of people here in the shop who have bought their Bell Custom 500s elsewhere, and who seem perfectly happy with them, even though we reckon they look totally wrong.
Typically, if the Bell fits nicely around the skull, it exhibits large spaces around the side of the face. Great for glasses perhaps, but not so much for noise. If the Bell fits flushly on the cheeks, it is very often overly tight on the forehead.
All this could perhaps be mitigated if the Bell could be fitted with different internal fittings, but it can’t. So obsessed was Bell with creating a helmet with a super low profile that comfort and fit went out of the window, it seems to us.
It’s not a hugely different story with many of the other manufacturers. There’s no option to change cheek pads on the Blauer, the Premier or Arai open-face helmets. Ditto the Nexx. The new AGV X70 will, in theory, take differently-sized cheek pads, but they’re still six months away, we’re told. Who knows if we’ll ever see them?
As far as headlinings go, we cannot recall ever coming across any open-face helmet where there’s an option to fit different liners.
The one helmet that has changeable cheek pads and headlinings is the Shoei JO. In fact, it has five different sizes of cheekpad and three different headlining thicknesses.
Frankly, if we can’t get a Shoei to fit you, you might as well give up, buy a cardboard box, put some eyeholes in it, and strap it onto your head with gaffer tape. It’s the only thing that’s going to work!
Comfort and fit are not everything, but they are probably among the most important factors, and whenever someone here in Guildford tries on a JO after sampling another brand, we witness that exhalation of relief that we all feel when we take off a wet pair of heavy, work boots, and exchange them for slippers. “Aaaah, that’s nice”, is the usual reaction.
The JO has Shoei’s famed AIM shell; a construction it employs in all its top-of-the-line sports helmets. It’s made from a mix of organic and composite fibres, and the result is a medium density helmet that absorbs impacts well, but that retains its strength in the event of a secondary impact.
As is the case with most premium, full-face helmets, but certainly not all open-faces, the JO has a multi-density eps that allows impacts to be adsorbed gradually, and in accordance with the severity of the impact.
The JO has three shell sizes. That’s more than most open-face helmets, but less than the Bell, which has four. It explains why the Bell, in some sizes, will display a lower profile but, as we have suggested, we think Bell’s pursuit of a close-fitting look has come at the expense of fit and comfort.
Fastening, by the way, is via a D-loop. It’s a retro thing, apparently.
Some open-faces have drop-down visors, others require you to use a clip-on visor or goggles to protect your eyes. The Shoei has a drop-down visor, although you can still wear goggles if you prefer and, to this end, the JO comes with a goggle strap at the rear.
Because it has no studs on the forehead, you can’t clip on a visor. For us that’s not a big deal because clip-on visors don’t tend to work, being prone to misting up as soon as you stop moving. But we do think that Shoei has missed a trick by not having studs, because it means you can never fit a peak. And personally we really like a peak. We think they really go well with goggles.
What is nearly perfect, though, is the drop-down visor. It’s pretty trick. It has three different positions, so it’s rare that it doesn’t work on somebody. Just occasionally, if the helmet sits too low, it will touch the nose even in the highest position. If this happens we can usually alleviate the problem by putting a foam pad in the roof of the helmet to raise it a little.
The standard visor, by the way, is clear. But it also comes in yellow or smoke. It’s really easy to change.
We have the highest regard for Shoei. They just do things right. They don’t cut corners. But they’re quite conservative, and if you were looking for a weak point with the JO helmet it would be the colour palette they use. All the colours are a bit understated. In this regard, they’re no Bell or DMD. And a company like Seventies Helmets blows them into the weeds. But a helmet has got to be about more than its graphics. On any kind of form vs function continuum, the Shoei sits firmly at the function end. That’s not a problem for us, because the helmet is so good in other respects. If paintwork, however, is your main criteria, then the JO might not be for you.
Not really much else we can add, but by now you’re probably getting the impression that we like the JO. And the fact is that we do. We have examined just about every single open-face on the market. We do this for a living, and it’s our job to try and find gear that works. The bottom line is that, to date, we’ve not found any open-face that works anywhere near as well as the JO. It is simply the best. It’s not the cheapest. In fact, in overall terms it’s pretty much twice the price of the Bell. But is it twice the helmet? We certainly think so!
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