Most riders favour a specific brand of helmet, and I’ll admit, I favour Shoei.
When other helmets fall apart, a Shoei just wears down or fades. When other helmets start pressing into my forehead or the tips of my ears after a couple of hours of riding, a Shoei feels as it did in the first five minutes. And when other helmets have ill-fitting visors or fiddly straps or ineffective ventilation, a Shoei just gets the job done.
The only real drawback to a Shoei is the price. Plenty of helmets are much less expensive and few are more costly, and the new Shoei Neotec II is no different. It retails for around $930, putting it right up there with AGV, Schuberth and Arai. These are the Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche of motorcycle helmets – very high quality at a premium price.
The Neotec II is a successor to the popular Neotec modular helmet, which means it’s a full-face that has a flip-up chinbar and visor. It’s not as clever as the Shark Evoline Series 3 that I tested last year (which flips its chinbar right over the top so it can be used as a three-quarter helmet), but it feels more solid. You can use just one hand to raise or lower and lock the chinbar into place, while the Shark needs two hands.
Like pretty much every modular helmet except the Shark, the flip-up chinbar is not really supposed to be raised when you’re riding – the wind catches it, and all the aerodynamics are shot. It does have P/J approval though, which means it is legally certified as safe to be used while riding in either position, unlike the old Neotec. With the chinbar up, it makes conversation easier and it’s not so necessary to remove the helmet for a quick stop at a store or gas station. You can eat and drink easily when the chinbar is up, and even have a smoke. Because of this, modular helmets tend to be popular with touring riders who spend hours at a time in the saddle.
The Neotec II also includes an internal sun shield, which is becoming standard these days and makes riding into the sun a lot more bearable. It means you don’t need a tinted main visor, which becomes a hazard after dark if you’ve not packed a clear visor. Sure, a tinted visor looks cool, like a rock star wearing shades in a dark club, but it’s downright dangerous when you can’t see where you’re going. The internal visor acts like sunglasses on a sunny day, and if it’s really bright, just wear sunglasses as well.
The clever bits
What does the Neotec II have that other helmets don’t?
You can go onto Shoei’s dedicated web site for the Neotec II to find out all the details – there’s a lot there. The inside padding is removable, washable, replaceable and customizable. That’s a lot of –ables. It also fits snugly to your face without unpleasant pressure, and is malleable enough to slide the arms of glasses and sunglasses easily through to your ears. I wear glasses with thin wire arms under most helmets, but the Shoei allows glasses with solid plastic arms to be worn quite comfortably.
I’m also a big fan of Shoei’s ratchet chinstrap fastener. You can’t really go wrong with a standard D-ring, but it takes some threading and you must usually remove your gloves to fix it in place. The stainless steel ratchet fastener works just like a seatbelt: push the clip into the retainer, which is already set to your appropriate length and tightness, and that’s it. It’s not coming off until you lift the clasp, like the belt on an airplane, and you can keep your gloves on throughout.
The visor is large and clear and suitably deep, so the chinguard is not obtrusive. It slots into one of five open positions and is easily adjusted with only your left hand. Apparently, the visor “protects from 99 per cent of the sun’s damaging UV rays,” just like the internal sun shield, and both are made from a 3D injection process, so there’s no optical distortion through either.
The shell of the helmet – the most important part – is hand-made from fibreglass and various other organic fibres. There are actually four different shell sizes that combine with six different overall sizes, from XS to XXL. Less expensive helmets will have no more than two shell sizes, if that, meaning you could get stuck with a shell that is more heavy or bulky than it needs to be. It goes without saying that a Shoei helmet is crash-tested far beyond any minimum standards, and that a modular helmet will be no less safe than a one-piece full-face. However, it’s only been certified to DOT standard, not Europe’s Snell or ECE standards.
It will be a little heavier though, thanks to the extra mechanisms in there to pivot and lock the chinbar. The Neotec II weighs a claimed 1,885 grams, which is a fair bit heavier than the lightweight 1,715 g of the Shark Evoline Series 3 Pro Carbon, for example. The Shoei feels more solid and much less flexible, however. And while wearing it, the weight is not an issue, perhaps because of all the wind tunnel development to make sure it slips easily through the slipstream.
That aerodynamic design also helps the Neotec II to be quieter, with a small lip on the chinbar (Shoei calls it a “vortex generator”) and a gentle lip at the rear. The cheek padding helps isolate noise, and the face shield actually sucks into the helmet’s opening when it’s closed, pushing against the rubber seal to prevent any draft. The ventilation system works well to cool the interior (with the vent open on the top) and to clear the visor and provide fresh air (with the vent open on the chin bar). Often, I can’t tell on a helmet if the vents are open or closed, but not so with the Neotec II. There’s a separate Pinlock visor included, helps keep visibility fog-free.
All that said, I didn’t notice the helmet to be significantly quieter than others I use. It’s not noisy, nor is it especially muffled. It’s a regular amount of noise inside the helmet at speed, and riders who wear earplugs (as everyone should) will still want to do so. This means that listening to music at highway speed can be a challenge, depending on what system you use.
The integrated sound system
Which introduces the Neotec II’s truly exclusive pièce de résistance: the helmet was designed in collaboration with Sena, and allows for the optional SRL Bluetooth communication system to be fitted. It’s so discreet you’ll forget it’s there.
Again, the SRL is not cheap – it lists for $410, though you’ll probably find it for $40 or $50 less. Compare this to the Sena 20S communication system, which shares the same technology but lists for $300. The difference is that the SRL system is pretty much invisible and completely unobtrusive, while the 20S bolts to the side. Just snap off a couple of integrated plastic covers and the SRL installs in their place; there’s even a groove cut into the foam of the interior padding for the microphone boom.
You can still use any other communications system you choose, but the Neotec II is designed to fully and seamless integrate with the Sena SRL. Trust me – if you buy the helmet, you’re going to want to buy the SRL system, too. I found it works just as well as the 20S system I reviewed here.
So is it all worth it?
I’ve been wearing the Neotec II since last summer, and although there are a half-dozen other helmets on the shelf in my garage, it’s the one I always reach for first. I can ride all day – all day! – in it without needing to remove it to alleviate pressure, or scratch. I can’t say that about any of my other helmets.
A helmet is supposed to last about five years. It normally wears out through exposure to the sun, which fades the paint, and by being dropped and knocked around; the interior loosens up with use and no longer fits so snugly as it should. Many of the helmets I test, I end up giving away after a season or two at most, because there’s something about them that annoys me or just isn’t quite right.
However, every Shoei I’ve owned has lasted a decade or so, which makes their capital outlay a lot more reasonable. I’m looking forward to the Neotec II lasting just as long. And after all – this is your head we’re talking about here.