Gear review: HJC RPHA helmet

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Background

HJC’s RPHA helmet was introduced back in 2011 at Indianapolis Dealer Expo as their top-of-the-line modular lid, with plenty of fanfare about its low weight. It seems HJC wants to create a new upscale line of helmets, as this lid isn’t even visibly branded as an HJC – it only bears their R-series logo.

The question is, can HJC make a modular that offers all-day touring comfort and safety? Here’s how it worked out for me over the course of this summer.

The Claim

The RPHA incorporates all the features you expect on a top-line modular lid. Metal locking pins secure the front of the helmet when it’s closed and there’s a Pinlock insert in the visor to fight fogging. Want a retractable sun visor? The RPHA has it too.

HJC used carbon fibre and fibreglass in the lid’s manufacture in three shell sizes to allow engineers to keep weight down – my size large came in at 1619 grams, which is pretty light. It’s also claimed to keep wind noise down to 84 db @ 100 km/h.

The RPHA has been on the market for a few years now, and it's HJC's top modular helmet.
The RPHA has been on the market for a few years now, and it’s HJC’s top modular helmet.

The removable lining is supposed to wick away sweat, and it’s coated with chemicals to avoid it getting all grotty-smelling thanks to bacteria. You can remove it and wash it too, as with most modern helmets.

The shield has and anti scratch coating and uses HJC’s RapidFire II shield replacement system, to allow you to clear your visor quickly, or swap between shaded and clear shields in a hurry.

How does it work?

After a summer of use, including a bunch of dual sport riding, I can tell you this is a pretty good helmet – it’s just not as good as some of the pricier competition (like my Schuberth C3 Pro), but that’s understandable.

The retractable sunshade worked well for me; lots of people view this as a huge advantage of this design, but I didn’t use it that often. I had read some reports that the sunshade would get stuck half-way when you wanted it to retract, but while the spring-loaded system feels a tad cheap, it hasn’t failed on me to date.

The advantages of a modular helmet are especially obvious on touring jaunts; it's convenuent not having to remove your helmet every time you stop and want to chat with your riding mates.
The advantages of a modular helmet are especially obvious on touring jaunts; it’s convenuent not having to remove your helmet every time you stop and want to chat with your riding mates.

That budget feel extends to the whole flip-front assembly. It’s a bit squeaky upon opening and closing, and the plastic had a chintzy feel that surprised me for a line that HJC are promoting as higher end. My last HJC helmet was a Von Breaker; that was a few years ago, but I don’t recall it feeling like this.

However, although the plastics didn’t feel high-dollar, everything worked well. The flip front remained tight over the course of the summer, never giving the feeling it was wearing out. I never had a problem with the closure latches not working, the visor was extremely easy to change out and the Pinlock does a good job of beating the fog. The venting is very good (much better than my C3 Pro), even in the slow speed/high heat of a dual sport ride.

Since HJC doesn’t presume themselves to be more intelligent than the helmet user, it doesn’t have a “safety visor” that automatically closes itself when the speed rises. Schuberth incorporates this on the C3, and while it sounds convenient, it’s quickly annoying if you want to open the visor a crack for some fresh air.

The slider for the drop-down sunshade felt a little cheap.
The slider for the drop-down sunshade felt a little cheap.

The D-ring closure system is definitely an inferior arrangement to the speed buckles found on the C3, but most helmets stick with this system, so you can’t fault HJC for that.

It’s rated as one of the quietest lids on the market, but I still opted to wear ear plugs – as I do with any helmet I own. It’s certainly light enough, lighter than cheap modulars, and it never gave me any neck strain; however, it doesn’t stand out over other modulars in this price range in this regard.

I also installed a UCLEAR communication system, which proved to be a bit problematic. While the helmet has built-in speaker pockets for a comm system’s speakers, they weren’t directly over my ears, which meant I had to move the speakers into a position where they pressed against my ears while riding.

Over a day’s touring, that became extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps other riders with heads of slightly differing dimensions wouldn’t find this a problem, but for a touring helmet in this range, I was somewhat surprised that the ear pockets weren’t positioned a little closer to my actual auditory canal. The helmet itself fits very tightly (which I like), which may be part of the reason why the ear pockets aren’t in an ideal situation.

Summary

I liked the helmet's Pearl White finish; it was easy to clean, and kept cool in the sun.
I liked the helmet’s Pearl White finish; it was easy to clean, and kept cool in the sun.

The RPHA gets the job done, and aside from my beef over the placement of the ear speaker pockets, I didn’t have any discomfort; it’s fairly quiet, and I didn’t overheat while wearing it. What more can you ask for?

Well, I’d like to see the quality come up a bit – even if it’s it just the way the sunshade and flip front feel and operate. HJC are touting this as top of the line, with a sticker price of over $400, so it’s certainly not expensive when compared to the made-in-Europe competition; however, it is more expensive than similar helmets made in Asia, including other lids from HJC’s own lineup.

But overall, I do think most users will be happy with this lid, as long as it holds up for the long haul. It does work well, and if you don’t have unrealistic expectations about it outperforming its price point, you’re getting decent value for your cash.

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