A $189 standout performer
LS2 representative Steve Doig could not have been a more welcome sight. He'd arrived at Autobahn
Country Club, in Joliet, Illinois, on a day when the sun was blazing and the temps hovered near a hundred degrees, with wind gust of 20 to 30mph that just made conditions even more miserable. Steve was bearing several LS2 helmets which he'd brought for folks to try. Each was clad in shimmering metallic white; the ultimate comfort color for a day hot enough to roast a rider's brains inside his skull. When he asked us to try those gleaming lids, we couldn't put our dark-colored crash hats aside fast enough!
The helmet that we tested was the LS2 FF385 CR1. Wow! That's a lot of letters and numbers in a row. For simplicity's sake, we'll call this lid the CR1. You need to know right up front that when made from fiberglass, the CR1 costs $179 in solid colors and $189 in graphics. A ca rbon fiber version is also available, which costs $319. Why are we reversing our usual routine and telling you about the cost before describing the product and its performance? Because we didn't know up front what that price was and in our minds, we were testing a much more expensive piece. It's important that you have "sub-$200 helmet" in mind as we describe the LS2 experience, so that you'll realize just how remarkable this product is.
The three riders trying this LS2 helmet all work as Sportbike Track Time coaches and each is a current or former racer. One owns a motorcycle shop and another is the Senior Editor at TrackdayMag.com, so we had a trio of testers whose heads have been in many helmets. As stated earlier, our experience occurred on a very hot day. The first and most positive opinion expressed by all three riders was that the CR1 flows a massive amount of air. All agreed that this was possibly the coolest helmet they'd ever tried. At higher speeds, it felt as if several air cannons were aimed directly at the rider's scalp. On a day when just being outside was an exercise in misery, riding in the CR1 was so refreshing that we didn't want to stop. Imagine our shock then, when LS2's Steve Doig informed us that a running production change to the internal vent passages will see future CR1 helmets flowing even more air than those which we tested!
The next thing that we really liked about the CR1 was its pump-up cheek pads. Yes, just like athletic shoes of old, you can customize the fit of this lid with air pressure. At first, we weren't 100% sure about this setup, since at least one rider found the pump button and release valve bumping against his chin. As it turned out, two things were in play here. First, the tester had yet to find his helmet's ideal bladder pressure, which when increased moved the chin bar up and away from the rider's face. Second, although the controls did still brush his skin, this became a non-issue at speed. The benefit to this pressurized fit system is that once properly adjusted, the CR1 simply does not move on the rider's head. As mentioned, there were strong gusts on the day we conducted this test and though the effect on our bikes was quite noticeable, the CR1 helmet's air pressure fit adjustment kept the helmet from moving around at all on our rider's heads. Equally impressive was that even on Autobahn's longest straight, the CR1 did not exhibit any tendency toward lift or buffeting at speed. Our largest tester commented that the cut of the CR1 allowed him to tilt his head further back than with other helmets, which let him tuck down lower on the motorcycle. All in all, the fit and aerodynamics of this helmet are excellent.
Inside the CR1, you'll find an anti-bacterial, anti-odor liner that is quite plush and feels good against your head. The internal padding is stiff enough to keep the helmet right where you put it, but not until you get the cheek pads properly inflated. If you try to use this helmet without some actual squeezing of the pads against your cheeks, you'll be disappointed. Get it right and you'll be highly impressed.
Although it fit tightly and worked smoothly, we had two small complaints with the CR1's visor. The quick release system involves a pair of quarter-turn knobs, two plastic washers (which are supposed to stay clipped to the shield but can fall off under rough treatment) and the shield itself. Add the visor that you're swapping and its pair of washers into the mix and that's a lot of parts on the table mid-change, especially if you're in a hurry to make the green flag. It's not that this system doesn't work well, it's just a bit complicated compared to other designs that we've tried. Also, we noticed that the very edge of the shield sports a bevel which distorts images when in a full tuck. Not all of our testers commented on this and from what we were told, LS2 has plans to address this in its next batch of visors. Isn't it cool when a company is willing to tweak its design based on the input of its customers?
We weren't overly thrilled by the CR2's chin strap. It's not as chunky as others and can take some fiddling to get it unfastened after a ride. Likewise, the snap that holds the extra length of strap from flapping is tucked pretty far up into the cheek pad area, which makes finding and fastening it a bit of a chore. Again, these parts work well. It's just that we've seen setups which were more convenient.
Our final complaint would be aimed at LS2's graphics choices. While interesting, we don't feel that any of the available choices do this fine helmet justice. We've seen merely adequate helmets sell like crazy, just because they had some really outrageous graphics. LS2, on the other hand, is an excellent lid with graphics that are a bit subdued by comparison and we fear that this might hurt its appeal. The CR1 which we tested has a collage of the company's name, repeated a multitude of times over brilliant metallic paint and while not initially our favorite; we must admit that it's grown on us. If nothing else, the way the sun shimmers off the thing just makes you want to pick it up and put it on. Still, this is a $189 helmet that performs like it costs twice as much. If the CR1 is going to act like a $400 helmet, it needs to look the part as well. It's time to recruit a few tattoo artists to the design department. Were LS2 to wrap these lids with wicked images of Oriental warriors, tigers, dragons and beautiful Asian women, they'd literally FLY off the shelves.
"Made in China." There was a time when that label immediately made you think the item which wore it was inferior. These days, with numerous major international companies sourcing much of their production from there, it's understood that Chinese goods can rival the best found anywhere in the world. In the case of this LS2 FF385 CR1, riders will find a nicely engineered and manufactured product that performs well beyond its price point. This helmet is impressive, especially once you get moving in it. If you haven't ridden in a CR1, you can't truly appreciate how nice it is. Considering LS2's penchant for constant improvement, we predict that the company's products will find a following here in the USA. We can't wait to see what they come up with next!