Photography by James Brown...
Photography by James Brown (email: Kingosoul@aol.com)
Somewhere between the open-face helmet and the full-face helmet is the modular motorcycle helmet -- also called a flip-up helmet, flip-face helmet, system helmet and other names. This style helmet permits the wearer to raise the facial section out of the way, allowing him to eat, drink, smoke or simply remove a barrier to conversation without going through the rigmarole of unfastening and removing his helmet and then replacing it and reattaching the strap. We know some eyeglass wearers who feel these motorcycle helmets are their only option for full facial coverage, although our experience indicates this isn't true. Modular motorcycle helmets are perceived as providing the benefits of an open-face helmet with the protection of a full-face helmet.
But do they? We rounded up seven modular motorcycle helmets to find out how well they fulfill this proposition. We found current models from Arrow, HJC, Lazer, Nolan, Schuberth, Shoei and Zeus.
We wanted to know how they feel on your head, how they work on your motorcycle at speed, and what sort of protection they offer. All our staffers road-tested them, and then we took them to the Head Protection Research Laboratory in Paramount, California, to see what would happen when we smashed them.
This is the Nolan that went...
This is the Nolan that went through our complete battery of lab tests. While others showed the scars of their experiences there, the Nolan shell only had this small scratch. This shows how well its unique finish holds up if you drop or scuff the helmet, but it's also a reminder why a helmet should be inspected if you do fall in it. The liner no longer offers the protection it was born with.
Modular helmets fall between open-face and full-coverage motorcycle helmets in some areas and below them both in others. For example, you might expect that the additional complication of the mechanisms that permit the facial section to pivot up and latch in place would make them more expensive and heavier than full-face helmets. But while they are heavier than most full-coverage helmets, they mostly fall toward the low or middle end of full-face-helmet pricing. (At the top end, the Shoei Syncrotec carries a list price of $415, with the Zeus ZS-508 Liftech available for less than $90 at some outlets.)
Our wearers began the test by attempting to roll the helmets off their heads. They pulled hard up and forward on the back lower edge of the helmet with the face section latched closed. The results show why it's so important to perform this test on your own head. On one tester, all but the Schuberth failed. However, we should note that the medium Nolan, though technically his regular size, was actually too big for him, so that result is uncertain. At the other end of the spectrum, another rider could not get any of the seven to roll off his head, though he observed that with the face piece open, the Zeus probably could roll off after breaking his nose. That is one reason you aren't supposed to ride a motorcycle with the face sections of these helmets open. Other reasons for this prohibition include lack of protection, disastrous aerodynamics and the possibility that the extended section could create unwanted leverage in a crash.
Lazer's pinch-together latch...
Lazer's pinch-together latch control is easy to use one-handed but isn't likely to open in a crash.
The latching mechanisms vary in location and action. Although users preferred single-button systems for one-handed ease of operation, we were concerned that some of the one-button designs, notably the HJC's, could possibly be deployed in a crash. Our testing reinforced that concern. A related issue was whether a would-be rescuer who needed to remove the helmet would be able to recognize and operate the latches as easily as the helmet buckle, especially since many of these helmets are reluctant to come off with the face section closed and latched.
None of these seven motorcycle helmets was as quiet, in terms of ambient wind noise on the highway, as a good full-coverage helmet.
Overall, they are slightly less comfortable than the full-face motorcycle helmets we normally use; of course this depends on your head. For example, one rider was uncomfortable in the Nolan after just a short ride, while others rated it among the most comfortable. We noted similar disparities in the Lazer's comfort and the Arrow's noise level. We will repeat the advice we have offered before: Always try a helmet on before buying it, and don't just slip it on and take it back off. Put it on, fasten it snugly and wear it for a while. Better still, go ride in it if you can.
Ease of shield changes vary....
Ease of shield changes vary. The Shoei uses the same excellent system as its other helmets, which permits you to change shields immediately with no tools. We can even do it while wearing it.
After spending time riding in all of these, our testers' reactions ranged from enthusiastic ("I think they provide the best of both worlds. While I feel vulnerable in an open-face, the flip-face gives me the flexibility to breathe more freely at gas stops, drink a beverage or converse.") to indifferent ("I can't see trading the quietness of a full-face or the confidence in its integrity so I can momentarily feel as if I'm not wearing a helmet."). Our suggestion, as always, is to shop carefully. After your motorcycle itself, there is nothing that can contribute to or detract from the pleasure of a ride like the helmet you choose.
Our research into the protective qualities of modular helmets started at the Department of Transportation's website, where the results of testing for compliance with the DOT motorcycle helmet standard (officially known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218) are posted. This site has results going back to 1994, and it is an easy way for any helmet user to check how his helmet has performed in this solid evaluation of protection.
All seven helmets went to...
All seven helmets went to the Head Protection Research Laboratory to see how well they withstand impacts. We performed drop tests (on the rig seen here), roll-off tests, and chinbar-deflection tests.
The DOT office concerned with FMVSS 218 buys motorcycle helmets and pays independent labs to examine them to see if they comply with such things as labeling requirements. The labs also test them to ensure they meet the DOT impact and other performance standards (such as chinstraps). The results are then listed on the site in the form of Pass or Fail and a notation as to whether it was for labeling (perhaps the required "DOT" sticker was placed too far up on the helmet) or performance. There are quite a few labeling failures, but they don't really concern us. Some failures are considered "inconsequential," but the DOT site does not tell if the failure was trivial or major or what caused it.
We found test results for five of our modular helmets. There were no results for the Lazer Century, and just one Zeus was listed (as failing for labeling) with no indication as to the model. The 2002 results showed that the Arrow Mono Convertible, the Nolan N100e, the Shoei Syncrotec and the Schuberth Concept all passed. The HJC Symax failed for performance in 2001.
For our performance testing we started with a new and critical test, a roll-off simulation. This lab test uses a standard headform and a standard force (created by dropping a specified weight from a predetermined height) to try to roll the helmet off the head. Since we see riders riding with the front of these helmets open (against manufacturers' instructions), we also decided to perform this test with the face sections unlatched and open. All except the Symax passed with some movement in both configurations. However, the HJC's inside-the-chinbar faceplate latch contacted the headform's rigid neck, allowing the face piece to open, which permitted the helmet to rotate over and off the headform with some resistance. With the front open, it rolled right off.
As the first victim is strapped...
As the first victim is strapped to the torture device, the rest watch and helplessly await their own fates. (Note the reflective material on the Schuberth.)
To determine how strong the chinbars are, we also performed a chinbar-deflection test, similar to a Snell test for shell rigidity. We wondered whether the chinbars had the integrity to pass this test without being an integral part of the helmet shell. It turns out that they do. None approached the allowed 60mm deflection. The most deflection we measured was 47mm on the Arrow, with the Schuberth close behind at 43mm. The HJC, Lazer and Shoei deflected the least, all at 28mm. We also tested the chinbars for impact absorption by removing them from the helmets, placing them on the headform and subjecting them to a six-foot drop. There is no applicable U.S. standard for motorcycle helmets that any of them claim to meet here, but the Zeus transferred notably more energy, which isn't surprising because it has no padding in its chinbar. The headform felt 660gs, compared to 200 for the best-performing Shoei and 201 for the Lazer, both of which have substantial padding in the impact area. The second worst was the HJC (409gs), but it has an excuse because we impacted the exact center of the chinbars, where the HJC has its latching mechanism. Its chinbar has substantial padding on either side of the latch and would have almost certainly performed well if we had attacked it there.
Though there is no chinbar-performance...
Though there is no chinbar-performance standard that applies to these helmets, we used used this rig to test chinbar deflection in a crash.
Sensors inside the headform...
Sensors inside the headform tell the computer how much energy was transferred to it, both in terms of force and duration. Early helmet tests were conducted by swinging a pendulum (at much lower force levels) against the heads of test subjects and asking, "How did that feel."