Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bell Star: the comeback

Two Wheel Reviews
My helmets have now come full circle.

Back when I was a wee tot at the age of 4, I wore a yellow Bell helmet while riding my little pull-start minibike. We were always taught to wear a helmet by our father, who was constantly running one of his three sons to the emergency room for one reason or another. Once we started riding motorbikes he didn’t want any head injuries added to the usual ordeals.
I can still hear him, “Dammit, I don’t have time to stop everything and take one of you to the hospital just because you’re doing something stupid."

That early Bell helmet was built by a company started back in 1923 as Bell Auto Parts in Bell, California. In 1945, a car racer by the name of Rogy Richter purchased the Bell Auto Parts company. Richter was getting tired of watching his friends die with their thinly padded leather “helmets” so in 1954 he invented the first Bell Helmet, called the 500. Through the years, the company has branched out to make helmets for just about every kind of sport you can think of.
Since those early days, the company has seen its ups and downs as far as the motorcycle helmet market. A major down began in 1991 with major changes to their production and the quality of their motorcycle helmets suffered (at least their motorcycle helmets). But they came back with a vengeance in 2008 offering new engineering and are producing top quality helmets again.
Helmets used to be made by the few companies that specialized in only making helmets. Bell, Arai, Shoei, and Simpson were just a few of the bigger names over here in the States, but lately it seems that everybody has a line of helmets. The market has gotten very competitive and gives the normal consumer endless styles, color, and prices. Bell Helmets knew this when they planned the new Bell Star and knew they had to do something special and do it right the first time out of the box. One glaring mistake and it would have been lost in the multitude of late comers to the game.

Cerwinske version of the Bell Star
We received our Bell Star in the Cerwinske livery. Bell has used their TriMatrix blend of composite for the shell on the Star and it lives up to all of the latest safety tests. This same design also comes in a Cerwinske Carbon, which will lighten your wallet another $50 or so.  One of the first things you notice when you open the box is that it comes in a real helmet bag. I’m not just talking about a sock to keep dust off your new lid. It’s a padded, top quality bag with extra visor storage, a zippered pocket on the side, along with a couple netted pockets for any extra accessories. The bag itself is something that I could see paying $40 - $50 for to keep an expensive helmet safe. It also comes with a small, stick on spoiler for the back of the helmet, which I haven’t tried, a couple of Q-tips for cleaning the vents, silicone oil for lubing the shield mechanism and a very comprehensive owners manual.
On to the actual helmet.
Finish- The build quality of the new Star is outstanding. It truly looks like somebody put this together by hand. Looking over the outside of the helmet you are treated to a flawless paint job with tight fitting vents and a smart shield changing system. It does have quite a different shape to it and we wondered how it would do in the wind. The color choice we chose covers this busy shape somewhat. 
Top view of the Star
Comfort- I ordered a large and have an oval head that fits most helmets pretty well. The fit and size of the Star was as expected and fit snug from front to back and top to bottom. The cheekpads of the Star come down pretty far, but don’t intrude. Bell has used a liner that is made to work with the venting of the shell. At first glance, it appears thinner than most that I am used to, but the comfort never suffered and I couldn’t tell once it was on my head. Bell sells different size padding to custom tailor the fit if you don’t like what you get off the rack. The Star has a nice chin curtain that finishes in covering up most of the gaps around the bottom of the helmet. At speed, the helmet feels well balanced, with no buffeting even when turning your head from side to side and remains stable, even at elevated speeds. The large size weighs in at 1628 grams. This puts it around the middle of the lighter helmets. For comparison, one of my favorites, the Shark RSI comes in almost 100 grams lighter in a Large and one of Rex’s favorites, the Arai Quantam II comes in at 1624 in the XL.
The retaining strap uses the regular D-ring style with another ingenious idea for the loose end of the strap. The end and a spot on the D-ring are magnetized. All you do is thread it through the D-ring and flop the end up and the magnet grabs it and holds it. This is normally not a big deal, until you start wearing multiple helmets (as we do) and trying to remember if it’s a snap, a loop, where it is, etc. Nice touch.
Venting- To put it simple. This is the best venting helmet I have worn to date. The Star gives you three venting systems. Up front, a two-position vent in the chinbar directs air upwards to the visor for defogging and/or venting through the chinbar around your face.  A brow vent that delivers air right above your forehead and two more vents on the top of the shell that deliver air across the top of your head. This was one of the first helmets that I have tried that I could actually feel a lot of fresh air as soon as a vent was open. I’ve worn too many helmets that I couldn’t tell if the vent was open or closed, without reaching up and feeling it with my hand. This is a nice system that many of the other manufacturers should take notice. With all this airflow through the helmet, it’s amazing that it’s such a quiet helmet. I got a small amount of noise with the two top vents open, but barely discernible. We wear earplugs when we ride, so your results may vary.
Easy to use 
Faceshield- The faceshield is of very good quality and has another ingenious attachment system from Bell. It gives you the option of approx. 3/4” open, then 15 more small detents above that, ending in the full open position.  It also gives you a sturdy aluminum lever on the left side to slightly crack the shield for defogging or to lock it down.

The shield opens and closes without distorting and seems to have an excellent optical quality. To remove the shield, you line it up with a mark on the helmet, and pull a small lever.  To replace the shield, you line up with that same mark and click it in to place. Simple, and one of the better ones on the market right now. The great looking aluminum hardware holding all this together is a nice touch. The one note here is in this color of helmet, the surround and breath guard is white. I haven’t ever noticed a breath guard or surround in my field of vision before, but this white one reflects back onto of the inside of the visor in daylight (at least with the clear shield installed). A black one is being sought and should solve that problem. Our Smoke shield is also on the way and might nix that problem also.

Different shape, but it works
Overall, the helmet performed outstanding. The full retail price comes in at $599.95 for this Cerwinske version and will vary another $50 more or less depending on color choice, so it isn’t a cheap helmet. The good part is that it feels and performs like a $600 helmet with the backing of Bell. A cheaper helmet will most likely perform just as well in a crash, but until you get to that point, this is one nice place to keep your head while riding.

Go find a Bell dealer in your area, tell them the guys from Two Wheel Oklahoma sent you in and try one on.
Bell Sports official helmet site.

Two Wheel Oklahoma


Jason said...

I must be getting OLD. 600$ for a helmet seems a bit steep to me. Of course I also think anything more than 5k for a bike is nuts too! J.Booker-Wichita, KS

David said...

I must be getting old also. My first bike cost me less than that. Saying that, my first helmet was a Bell and it did save my life!

Anonymous said...

I know I am getting old, I could have bought a pair of my first new motorcycles for what this new bell costs.
However my first helmet was a Bell also. As I remember it was comfortable and hot. Not that I have found one after forty five years of riding that is not hot.

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