I go through helmets at an alarming rate, not because I keep crashing in them but because I subject them to an abnormally high amount of “normal use”, averaging between 40,000 and 50,000 km a year, so understandably, I am a little fussy about them.
Over the years I’ve become increasingly fond of the flip-up design and the Shoei Multitec in particular. My last three helmets have been Multitecs so I was excited to try Shoei’s latest iteration, the Neotec.
Shoei claim that the Neotec was built to address the increasing popularity of Adventure Touring and Sport Touring. With this in mind I selected it for test during a 21,000 km five-week adventure ride from Toronto to the American mid-west by way of Alaska, which included 5,000 km or so of off-road use.
On the trip I would experience everything from cold torrential rain to scorching desert heat, temperature extremes from below zero to 35 degrees above Celsius, 85 mph highways to first gear single-track trails.
Wearing a helmet day in and day out for 5 weeks really emphasizes is strengths and weaknesses – minor irritations become full-blown problems and positive attributes feel like absolute luxury.
WHY A FLIP UP?
Before we get into the review itself, I’ll point out some of the benefits and disadvantages of flip-up helmets since many of these will be discussed during the review.
For starters there’s a massive convenience with being able to flip up the front section at a moments notice. When stopped it’s a quick way to cool off or to prevent fogging in the rain. It also makes for quick eat/drink stops and is less intimidating when going into a gas station or at a border crossing (when open of course).
There are also a number of minor conveniences facilitated by the flip up design – it’s easier to put on sun-glasses, blow your nose, put on chap stick, fix contact lenses, have a conversation, adjust your balaclava in cold conditions, etc. Simply put, I have become a flip up helmet kind of guy.
Of course flip-up helmets have some disadvantages as well: the number one being that they are theoretically less safe because the jaw piece is not as strong. They are also typically noisier and heavier than conventional full-face designs, though that is changing – check out Zac’s review of the Schuberth C3 Pro, which proved to be both quiet and light.
Recently introduced, the Neotec has a number of claimed enhancements over the long running Multitec:
- A more aerodynamic shape reducing lift, drag and buffeting.
- A taller, wider eye-port improving visibility.
- Standard anti-fog pinlock visor.
- A flip down sun-visor.
- Improved venting (cooler operation with less fogging).
- Redesigned and removable interior padding (for increased comfort, reduced noise levels and easy cleaning).
- A larger more easily accessible latch release for the flip up chin bar.
THE 30,000KM TEST
The shell is comprised of a mix of fiberglass and organic fibers that Shoei claims offer incredible strength with light weight.
My traditional full-face helmet weighs in at 1565 grams, my dual-sport full face with visor and peak weighed 1682g, my Multitec weighed 1855g and the Neotec 1905g. At only 50 grams more than the Multitec, the Neotec’s increased weight is not really noticeable to the wearer, though the 20 per cent increase over my basic full-face helmet is immediately apparent.
Since most of my riding is on adventure bikes (which are notoriously bad for wind noise and buffeting), I’m happy to report that the Neotec does a good job of dealing with turbulent air with high speed buffeting — that can be bad enough to blur vision with some helmets — being hardly noticeable. It’s also quieter than the Multitec. In fact the Neotec is eerily quiet even when compared to a conventional full-face helmet.
The venting on this helmet looks fairly simple with large inlets on top, in the chin bar and an exhaust vent at the back. The exhaust and chin vents are either open or closed but the top vent can be set to open, half open or closed. Working in concert with these vents are channels molded into the liner and interior padding system for efficient movement of air.
So how well does it work? Well, it is by far the best venting I have experienced in a helmet, though in some ways, it’s almost too good! For example, the large chin vent, which is easily operated even with bulky cold weather gloves, flows such a high volume of air that the resultant draft can dry the eyes. Careful manipulation of the vent can leave it only part-way open so you can fine tune this, but a mid-position detent would make this a quicker, simpler operation.
Similarly, the vent on top flows so well in the full open position that it can actually make your head cold, and when riding off-road it allowed a significant amount of dust to travel throughout the helmet making quite a mess inside. After wrestling the bike through deep sand at low speeds one day I was sweating so profusely it actually turned the dust inside the helmet to mud!
When the vents are all closed there was no water entry whatsoever, no matter how hard it was raining.
The Neotec is equipped with a fully removable and washable interior system and provides an extremely comfortable fit while remaining snug enough to reduce movement. Multi-layer cheek pads are available in different sizes to allow a customized fit. There are pockets in the padding surrounding the ears to reduce noise and recesses in the liner behind, presumably to facilitate the installation of speakers.
Wearing this helmet every day for five weeks I found it to be extremely comfortable holding firmly to my head without feeling constricting and was comfortable against the skin.
The shield is significantly larger than those on most full-face helmets I’ve used. It’s also very easy to remove and replace for cleaning, and comes standard with the Pinlock anti-fog system.
To begin with on my trip I was being careful to keep the helmet clean and the face shield free from scratches. Once I arrived in Alaska and started riding dirt roads with my buddies the gritty mud spray from the guys ahead had so coated the face shield that I couldn’t see at all.
With no other choice I started wiping the shield clean every few minutes with the back of my hand. After what seemed an eternity, the road dried and I was able to stop and wash the helmet in a trailside stream. Surprisingly the face shield received only very minor scratching.
The ratchet on my helmet was particularly notchy, even when oiled with the silicone lubricant supplied with the helmet and the first detent position results in too large of an opening, creating quite a draft.
In these respects, the Multitec was markedly superior. Not only was the detent action smoother and took lower effort, the first detent only cracked the shield open very slightly, allowing just enough air in to defog without creating a draft. The upside to the Neotec’s aggressive detents is that once set in any given position the wind will rarely be strong enough to move it.
Of course Shoei will tell you that you should ride with the screen fully closed at all times and in this respect the Pinlock anti-fog system is brilliant. With the Pinlock installed I rode in the pouring Alaskan rain at +2C with no fogging whatsoever. So impressed was I that when I stopped for gas I intentionally left the visor closed and there was still no sign of fogging.
There are a couple of downsides to the Pinlock system however. First you are looking through another layer of plastic so there is some reduction in quality of vision especially at night when the glare of headlights creates weird effects. Pinlock recommend removing the insert at night but what happens if you need anti-fog capability?
The second issue is that Pinlock say not to ride with the visor open (or the chin-bar up) because air flowing over the insert can unseat it, reducing its effectiveness and allowing dust or moisture to accumulate between the layers.
The sun visor works flawlessly – it’s easily raised and lowered with gloves on. When it’s down it does not contact any part of the face but blocks glare effectively; when it’s up it retracts completely into the shell, out of the way and does not contact the helmet, so even if its covered with dust or mud no scratching of the visor occurs during operation.
The only downside is that it creates yet another layer of plastic between you and the outside world so vision is hampered slightly when you are looking through the sun visor the Pinlock and the face shield.
Operation of the chin bar was perhaps the area I liked least about the Neotec when compared to the Multitec. Although just as easy to raise, with a large easy-to-reach latch, it was frustratingly difficult to close.
Shoei calls its stainless steel latching mechanism its 360° Pivot Locking System and I have no doubt that it is as strong and safe a mechanism as the limitations of a flip up helmet design allow, but it was difficult to make it latch. Many times I went to open the face shield only to find the chin bar lifting as well because it wasn’t properly latched. I eventually developed the habit of giving the chin bar a sharp hit with my fist as I closed it to ensure it was latched.
Another annoying thing about the chin bar compared to the Multitec’s is the fact the bar and visor rotate on the same pivot. On the Neotec if the visor is open fully and you open the chin bar it moves up into the visor, then as you close the chin bar the visor moves down with it ending up in the closed position. With the Multitec, the chin bar and visor operated on separate pivots so raising and lowering the chin bar had no effect on visor positioning.
So did the Neotec live up to my expectations? Yes it performed admirably for the entire trip being particularly impressive in the rain with zero leaks and zero fogging. As long as the speeds were reasonable, it was as cool in hot conditions as any full face I’ve used, except the wide-open dual sport designs. Noise level was extremely low.
Things to improve? It would be nice if it were a little lighter and if the visor ratchet wasn’t so stiff. I would also prefer a “just cracked open” detent for the face shield and a more cooperative latch on the chin bar.
If I were doing the trip again would I select this helmet? Probably, although for the dirt only sections I would prefer a proper off-road or dual-sport helmet with goggles.
And what about all that dried in mud? When I got home I took out the removable liner and threw it in the washing machine, and while it was out, turned the garden hose on the helmet inside and out. When everything was dry and reassembled you couldn’t tell the helmet from new except for a few scratches in the face shield!
And how does it compare to the Multitec? Noticeably better in many areas although I preferred the Multitec’s face shield and chin bar latch.
The Neotec retails for close to $700 in Canada so it is definitely at the upper end of the market. Fortunately, even after 30,000 km of hard use, there were no signs of deterioration so the Neotec should provide excellent value over the long term, great news for long distance riders like me – did I mention I go through helmets at an alarming rate?
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.