Dec. 26, 2016 | Rahoul Ghose
Known for its feather weight and high tensile strength, carbon fiber is fast becoming the optimal choice in motorcycle helmet construction, a welcome change from fiberglass and lower end polycarbonate options.
But the added safety benefits, longevity and comfort offered through stylistic carbon fiber models currently available through the likes of NEXX, Les Ateliers Ruby and Bell come at a premium, with prices ranging from $500 to well over 2K for the luxury of being ahead of the crowd.
LA Motorcyclist decided to pit three top-end, retro-styled helmets in a head-to-head comparison to see if you really can put a price on the protection of your precious noggin; at odds, the newly released NEXX X.Garage Carbon, the Bell Bullitt Carbon, and, at the peak of the cost chart, Les Ateliers Ruby’s Castel.
Out of the box all three helmets will turn heads with stunning graphics and an array of visor/goggle and peak options, some included with your initial purchase. All are ultralight reducing neck fatigue when riding, and all exceed US and European safety standards.
But there are other options to consider: bang for the buck, exclusivity (if that’s your aim), styling, comfort, noise levels when riding, and even availability.
THE OVERACHIEVER: NEXX X.Garage Carbon: link | 2-year warranty
Starting with the moto market’s newest entry, NEXX’s X.Garage Carbon – which hit retail outlets this December after a couple months on the pre-order list – we see premium finishes, cutting edge technology and distinct styling for a lower-than-anticipated price.
Designed and manufactured in Portugal and retailing for $499.99, the X.Garage Carbon features graphics which show off the distinct carbon fiber pattern (gloss coated) combined with two subtle silver race lines running from back to front along a black stripe. Aesthetically the Carbon is more muted in its looks than some of its non-carbon fiber X.G100 brethren, which feature flat tracker-inspired graphics courtesy of Maria Riding Company. But the look is sleek and elegant.
Arriving in a soft black cloth bag, the helmet boasts a slim but wide-viewing eye port, a beefy chin bar with a single vertical steel mesh vent, and a standard double D-ring buckle. The ECE 22.05 and DOT-approved lid uses NEXX’s X.MART DRY fabrics, making the interior soft padding anti-sweat, anti-allergic, removable and fully washable.
And included in the price are a scratch resistant PC Lexan Shield 60% smoked visor and black peak, both snap-on. An optional chin wind stopper, additional shields (six tint variations) and peaks (3 colors) are sold separately. An aftermarket option – the Leo Maska – is also available through LA-based The Equilibrialist for $145.
The X.Garage Carbon – available in S through XL – fits comfortably but initially is quite snug. Some may even recommend choosing a helmet size one up from your normal fit. But remember the inner padding will punch out over time and use, making the fit perfect. Alternatively, the kit comes with an Ergo padding system to adapt the helmet to the rider's exact head shape. Noise wise the NEXX entry is better than most, especially if you install the optional chin deflector.
The PC Lexan Shield, attached via stretchy straps and snap ons, seals well to the helmet, though you may want to leave a crack open at times – during cold or hot weather – to avoid fogging up. And for those who wear glasses or who opt to choose sunglasses instead of the stock shield, you’ll be happy to know the inner padding separates to allow your specs’ arms to slide in nicely. Also a bonus for those who wear glasses is the snap system which makes it much easier to remove and attach the shield compared to goggle options with full stretchable straps that go around the helmet.
Another design accent, taken from the race side, is the curved bottom of the helmet which adds to both the unique look and ergonomics.
YOUR RICH COUSIN: Les Ateliers Ruby CASTEL: Paris store | Chinese factory
Introduced for the fifth anniversary of Les Ateliers Ruby back in 2012, the Castel was the Parisian company’s first full face model, certified for the US (DOT) and Europe (ECE 22.05).
But make no mistake, at $1200 to $2100 depending on the graphics option chosen, the Castel fit squarely in the luxury category. Manufactured to order at an exclusive facility in China, the Castel was made in dozens of design variations from XS to XXL.
The outer shell, notable for the raised, sultry spine down the middle, is composed of carbon fiber, Kevlar® and fiberglass layers, while all fixing elements are titanium or aluminum. This includes the signature array of 12 vent holes on the helmet’s chin, and the double D-ring on the chin strap. Chrome, black leather and rubber trim, a reminder of old luxury cars, outlines the helmet.
The double density inner shell optimizes safety and shock absorbency with built-in ventilation ducts. The interior features Bordeaux red or black calfskin leather and anti-bacterial lambskin. Three densities of foam padding create outstanding noise isolation characteristics while special notches in the interior allow plenty of room for the ears (and sunglasses).
Completing the experience, the helmet arrived in a Bordeaux red Ruby dust bag in a large padded red Ruby box. Turnaround time for helmet orders was about three weeks unless the helmet was in stock.
Snap on peaks and a high end $300 loupe visor – trimmed with leather and attached to a rubber strap – were available separately. An aftermarket option – the Félix Maska – is currently available through LA-based The Equilibrialist for half the price.
The exclusivity and expense of a Castel definitely do not put it in the category of ‘everyday helmet’. Looking at the Munich BMW 90 München model sitting on the desk, it truly is a piece of art … a fully functional, ultralight, safe marvel of technology. Fit is incredible, noise dampening unparalleled. Those who shelled out will cherish these conversation pieces. But cheaper options are available if you’d rather spend your budget on some serious moto upgrades.
Then there's the ongoing trademark battle raging on between current 'Ruby' French and worldwide brand name owner, Paradise Motorcycles, and Studio Pilote Xiamen Technology, which manufactured the coveted helmets in China on behalf of Ruby's original owner Studio Pilote. Paradise Motorcycles purchased the 'Ruby' name as a legal asset of Studio Pilote which was in legal liquidation at the end of 2014.
As of December 2016, Ruby's original Paris-based flagship store still sells helmets instore and online, which they guarantee with a warranty.
Studio Pilote Xiamen Technology has resumed manufacturing helmets to order under the 'Ruby' name selling them through their own website.
A recent incident at this year's EICMA Show in Milan, Italy, Nov. 10-13, saw Paradise Motorcycles, with the help of Italian Customs, closing down a Studio Pilote Xiamen Technology display booth at the show and seizing all stock. With ownership of the Ruby name still obviously an ongoing concern, buyers should definitely be careful about any Ruby helmet purchase right now.
CLASSIC VINTAGE STYLE: Bell Bullitt Carbon: link | 5-year warranty
Designed by college student Chad Hodge – a freelance industrial and product designer with a predilection for tinkering on café-style vintage bikes – the Bell Bullitt evolved from a prototype created with a 3D printer and a hand-stitched leather interior and became part of Hodge’s senior thesis at the University of Cincinnati.
A Bell rep saw the design online in 2012 and put it into production for first release two years later in the spring of 2014. This year’s model sees four carbon fiber design options, all retailing for $599.99, with a flip up visor in flat and bubble variations. Roland Sands lends his name to two, the RSD Bagger and Mojo. Previous year’s Bullitt offerings can still be found online for up to $200 cheaper.
Inspired by the very first Bell Star helmet, the DOT ECE approved Bullitt – available in XS to XXL – is a modern take on the original dating back to the early ‘70s.
Style-wise our ‘test’ Ace Café black jack helmet oozes cool with a two-tone grey union jack graphic laid over matt carbon fiber. The full face visor affords a great viewing panorama, and flips up and down smoothly, attached by a small magnetic strap in the down position. It is also removable … once the brushed aluminum shield pivot discs (with rubber O-rings) are replaced the helmet looks complete, even without the shield. This model came with three visor choices … clear and dark tinted flat shields and a clear bubble variation, as well as a cool hand carry bag.
Manufactured in the US with a low-profile carbon fiber composite shell and multi-density EPS liner, the Bullitt -- named after the brash detective played by iconic actor and motorsport enthusiast Steve McQueen in the cult classic Bullitt -- meets modern DOT regulations yet comes as close as possible to the look and feel of the original Star. Other style elements include: a removable/washable anti-bacterial micro suede interior with leather trim, an Ergo padding system, metal mesh circular intake vents with a rear exhaust vent, 3D cut cheek pads with speaker pockets, a padded chin strap with D-ring closure, and a horizontal chin vent. A huge variety of shields, both flat and bubble, are available for purchase in different tints and mirrored options.
Now to the rub: in all honesty while the Bullitt looks unmistakably cool, and its finishings are top notch, both its fit and its noise dampening fall far below expectations. In the helmet's defense, Bell does state the “Bullitt has a very round internal shape. It is ideal for people who need more ear and temple room but conversely it is less suitable for people who need more room in the forehead area.”
For us the interior and overall fit was moderately comfortable at best, and road noise while riding was the highest and most noticeable of the three helmets. It is, like its Star inspiration, a little scant in the overall comfort category.
FINAL WORDS: AND A WINNER?
A helmet can be a very personal choice, with preference based somewhat on head shape (rounded or more oval), and what the rider prioritizes: cost, styling, comfort and noise levels when riding.
In addition to their safety and lightweight kudos, we give props to each of the carbon fiber helmets in this comparison, some more than others. The Bell Bullitt Carbon gets high praise for its vintage looks and styling, but falls down a bit on the comfort and road noise side.
The Ruby Castel is stellar in the looks and functionality categories, but is a highly expensive choice not suited to everyday riding unless money is no concern; it is a collector's item. As well, any new purchases are clouded by ongoing litigations between the brand owner and factory.
The NEXX X.Garage Carbon, the most reasonable helmet in the trio, really offers the most for the price combining unique styling with a comfort level and noise dampening more associated with higher priced helmets.
Given a choice, the X.Garage Carbon is a clear winner when budget is a concern. For those 'pie in the sky' buyers who want something few have ... the Ruby Castel is, and always will be, something to drool over.
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Glad to see Ruby back in business! Gotta look into getting one!!!!Detrick Paul Flores