A 100% premium helmet for two-thirds the price
In the Sixties and Seventies, the best helmet in the world was the Bell Star. A number of factors conspired to dethrone this American product as the global leader in motorsports head protection, including offshore (read “less expensive”) competition and a devastating fire that destroyed the Rantoul, Illinois production facility. After that, Bell farmed out its license to make motorcycle helmets and concentrated on the booming bicycle headgear market. Unfortunately, the subcontracted product never lived up to the legacy of the original, world-conquering Star line and the brand faded from the motorcycling public’s radar. For quite some time now, those looking for the high end in motorcycle helmets have bought either a Shoei or an Arai.
Tarnished or not, an icon is a valuable thing to possess these days; especially if you get serious about restoring its former glory. Just look at what’s been done with the Mustang, Mini Cooper and Challenger brand names lately. Bell reasoned, “Why not do the same with the Star, motorcycling’s most iconic helmet?” This would be a tall order, considering the technical excellence shown in today’s premium helmet market.
Three years in the making and introduced in 2008, the Star features superb engineering. While designed right here in the USA, it is built outside our borders, as is virtually any motorcycle helmet you can buy these days. If you’re claiming to make a top of the line product without compromises, it had damn well better be perfect. At this level, there are no excuses. When riders shell out as much as $899.95 for an Aria Corsair V or $809.95 for a Shoei X-Twelve, they expect comfort and functionality that is second to none. So does the Bell Star, priced at $599.95, measure up to these flagship helmets from Japan?
TrackdayMag.com has spent an entire season testing the Bell Star and we couldn’t be more impressed. For our money, functionality is the most important aspect of a helmet’s performance and here, the Star shines. In testing under any condition short of snow, we couldn’t find a single thing to complain about. If your head is too hot or too cold, that’s your own fault, since the Star’s ventilation system is completely adjustable and seals tight when fully closed. It is possible to fog the shield in very cold, very wet conditions but only if you set the vents wrong. Our worst ever experience with the Star occurred when we went out in a driving rainstorm at about 40 degrees with the lid sealed up tight. In a 20 minute session, we’d developed a fairly dense area of fog and moisture on the lower half of the shield but could still see clearly enough through the top half that we didn’t need to reduce our pace. For the next session, we opened the chin vent slightly, which completely eliminated the problem.
The visor on the Bell Star is a wonder. The shield is optically correct to the point where its visual clarity is startling. You can actually see better after you put this helmet on! We assume that this has a lot to do with its 99% block UV coating, which mimics the performance of really high-end sunglasses. In addition, there is virtually no distortion created by the shield’s contour. In anything short of direct sunlight, you can see comfortably through the clear shield. For really bright days, the light smoke shield is adequate, even for those who are glare-sensitive. If you ride in the desert or are a vampire working days as a motorcycle courier, the dark smoke shield is practically sufficient to act as a welding mask. Options abound, including mirrored effects, iridium tints and colored lenses. There is even an electrically heated visor available for those brave enough to expand our test conditions and actually ride when it’s snowing.
Changing the visor is child’s play. Our first fumbling attempt took about a minute. After that, it was a thirty second job every time. We’re not exaggerating when we say that it takes longer to get your spare visor out of the helmet bag than it does to install it. If you swap shields in the presence of those who don’t own a Star, be prepared for a five minute conversation regarding the impossible ease of the task. “Um, can I have my helmet back? It’s third call…”
Sorry, we aren’t done talking about the shield yet. This thing is adjustable to provide a 100% windproof seal; which is absolutely vital if you wear contacts. The ratcheting mechanism allows the shield to remain open a crack if you so choose and will stay that way to almost 100mph. Best of all, there is a visor lock. Click that baby down and the shield isn’t coming open, even if you glance back at the competition down a sixth-gear straight. Three paragraphs later, our point is that we’ve never tested a better visor system.
Weighing in at a mere 1550 grams, this helmet is light but still has a substantial enough feel to give you confidence in its ability to protect. Bell’s “TriMatrix” shell construction, a mix of Kevlar, carbon fiber and fiberglass, is strong and aerodynamic. We can best describe the lid’s performance at speed by stating that we never gave it a thought. The helmet simply did what it was supposed to do at whatever speed and in whatever wind conditions we encountered.
The inside of a Bell Star is one very nice place to put your head. Its removable, washable, antibacterial/antimicrobial interior comfort liner is soft on your skin, wicks away moisture as you ride and still wasn’t stinky after a whole summer’s use. A feature that we simply love is the Star’s chin strap. Its D-rings are big and the strap is chunky enough that you can actually thread it with gloves on. Best of all, the flapping end is secured with a magnet. Why didn’t someone think of that before? No fussing around looking for a clip; just get the end of the strap in the general vicinity of where it belongs and CLIK! The magnet snaps it into place, where it stays regardless of the speed or type of bike you’re riding.
High end helmets must be very pretty. If you’re laying down that kind of money, you want sufficient bling factor to let those around you know that you’re wearing something special! All we can say here is that photographs don’t begin to do the Bell Star lineup justice. You really need to see one for yourself. Light plays off this helmet as if it was a diamond and it looks simply stunning in motion. Our test lid wears the Livin’ Large graphic, which features deep hues of solid color spiced with tasteful swaths of metallic here and there. While it wouldn’t match our personal color scheme, we feel that this same graphic in green and gold over white may be the most beautiful helmet we’ve ever seen. This would be the ultimate crown for a Kawasaki owner! In fact, every lid in the Star line is a stunner. If “Look at ME” flash isn’t your style, the understated design of the Rally model looks especially crisp.
When you buy a Bell Star, you get a clear visor, a tinted visor and a helmet bag in the bargain. This bag practically rates a review of its own. It is of extremely high build quality, featuring durable, luggage-quality Cordura fabric on the outside and soft, velvety velour within. The thing is plush, well thought out, protects the lid when in storage or transit and has a fitted internal sleeve for the spare visor. There are several pockets, including one for gloves. Here, we’ve finally found a negative to report! If you wear heavy duty gloves with lots of armor, this glove pocket isn’t big enough to hold them. That aside, the helmet bag is nice enough that it sells quite successfully as a stand-alone product.
After living with one for a season, we feel that the Bell Star is as good a helmet as money can buy. Best of all, it can be had for about two thirds the price of its direct competition. While we’ve yet to subject this lid to the ultimate test, its excellent construction, attention to detail, five year warranty and Snell M2010 / DOT certification give us total confidence in the helmet’s protective ability. Were this Star to give its life to save ours, the question wouldn’t be “Should we get another one” but rather, “Which graphic do we choose this time?”
(The entire Bell Helmet line can be viewed at http://www.bellpowersports.com/main.html Remember folks, a helmet is the easiest motorcycle-related gift item to pitch to your loved ones this holiday season. “But HONEY, it protects my HEAD!)