Gear review: Simpson M50 helmet

I liked my Bell Moto3 helmet a lot last year. So when I was looking around for a new retro-style dirt bike helmet, I decided to try another similar lid, the Simpson M50. I figured it would match up just fine with my old-school 1990 Suzuki DR350S.

Simpson isn’t a big name in motorcycle helmets these days; it’s more well-known in car circles, particularly drag racing, as Simpson was one of the first companies to make proper fireproof suits and similar kit. Perhaps the most famous customer is the Stig, of the BBC’s Top Gear, who typically wears a white Simpson Bandit helmet.

When motocross took off in popularity in North America in the 1970s, Simpson was there, too, with the M50 helmet. It’s a retro lid that hasn’t changed much since, and that means it’s seeing a resurgence in popularity among hipster motorcyclists: they want to wear a helmet that looks old, but hasn’t degraded to the point where it’s unsafe.

The M50 has those retro MX lines because it’s a retro MX helmet. Throw in some DeCoster boots, and you could also look like a background player in one of the original Mad Max films.

However, when I received my test unit, I immediately noticed a big difference between the M50 and the competing helmet I’d had the year before. I had a lot of confidence in my Moto3, particularly after it survived a medium-speed crash relatively unscathed. I retired the helmet because of the road rash on the side, but from what I saw, its ECE safety rating was well-earned. It kept me safe when I needed it to, and I have every confidence that if I bought another one, it would have similarly solid construction.

The Simpson M50 isn’t ECE-rated, at least not the one I have. It only carries a DOT rating, and as soon as I picked it up and started playing with it, I could see there was considerable flex in the protective chin bar at the front of the helmet. It would easily flex if you pushed it with your hands, and had less protective coverage than the Bell did. Would the M50 protect my face in a minor off-road crash? Probably, although the reduced coverage on the front of the helmet might mean some facial scraping. Would it hold up in a high speed crash? Holding it and watching it flex, I wasn’t so sure.

I’m not the only rider who feels this way. An acquaintance who used to work in a hipster-oriented motorcycle shop out west told me he used to dissuade customers from buying these helmets by twisting them in front of the potential buyers, to show their lack of frontal rigidity.

Take the visor off, and you have a safer alternative to the three-quarters vintage helmet.

Some other niggly things I wasn’t impressed with: I had to use hand tools to physically hammer the snap-on visor onto the helmet, which seemed a bit silly (although I had a similar struggle with the Moto3 helmet last year). I felt as if the amount of force required was nearing the point where I was going to start breaking things if I forced it much more — not a terribly comforting feeling.

Also, while the Moto3 has its graphics applied under the helmet’s clearcoat paint, the M50 has the DOT sticker applied under the clearcoat, but the Simpson logo at the front of the helmet is a chintzy removable sticker. Maybe some riders like it this way, so they can remove it, but the decal on my helmet is looking kind of grungy and beat-up now. Not a big deal, but it’s the small details like this that really sell a high-end helmet.

Reality check: The Simpson M50 is really only of value to the Instagram-posing rider, like Zac in this snap.

And at $450 (MSRP) across Canadian suppliers, that’s what retailers are effectively saying the Simpson M50 is — a high-end helmet.

I disagree. It’s comfortable, it flows air more or less well, and it’s available in a wide range of groovy colours. But it’s considerably more expensive than the Bell Moto3 in Canada, for what I think is a lesser helmet.

I think it’s a better choice than an open-face helmet, so if you’re a vintage scrambler/chopper/bobber/cafe rider who wants a vintage look with a bit of added facial protection, then by all means, buy the M50 before you go with some three-quarter helmet.

But for someone who actually cares about quality and crashability, look elsewhere. Bell isn’t the only competitor here; there are other manufacturers making similar lids (Nexx, Shoei, AJS), and some of them have even better features. Shop around, and you might be happier.

3 thoughts on “Gear review: Simpson M50 helmet”

  1. I still have a white Simpson helmet sitting on a shelf in my bike cave. I believe I bought it in 1985 and it says Carbon Fiber on the back, which probably makes it one of the first carbon fiber helmets made. Too bad we can’t post photos here.

  2. I had one of these back in the mid 80’s and at the time it was a high end helmet. The fit and finish were top notch and I don’t recall the chin bar flex issue.

    $450 for it is ridiculous. Fashionable (a word that has/will never be associated with me personally) stuff is nice, but for protective gear it’s a secondary consideration. My current series Shoei off-road helmet only cost $45 more on sale and is a much better helmet.

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