The interesting thing about riding dual sport bikes is that you sometimes just don’t know which helmet to bring on your ride.
When I’m going trail riding, I grab a motocross helmet and a set of tinted safety glasses (or if it’s going to be really muddy, a set of goggles). Motocross helmets are ventilated to breathe well at slower speeds, the peak can help protect from another rider’s roost (mud and dirt thrown from a rear tire) as well as block the sun in certain conditions.
However, when I’m setting out on a long highway ride, I grab a full-face street helmet. Due to all that airflow at higher speeds, motorcross helmets are not the quietest things on the highway. On a hot day the open design isn’t the worst thing, until you get a bee stuck between your cheek and the helmet at 80mph, then you’ll wish you had a full-face helmet with a visor. Finally, street helmets are designed to give better airflow over the helmet from different directions at high speeds, so you have less wind buffeting, especially in cross winds.
So that brings us back to the conundrum if we are going on a dual sport ride. We might be on the highway doing 80mph to reach the trailhead, and then on a technical trail with friends, exploring and traveling at much lower speeds, and then back on the highway for the trip home. So do we choose the motocross helmet or the street helmet?
Enter the third choice, a dedicated dual sport helmet. Just like the bikes, a dual sport helmet is kind of a hybrid of street and motocross. Lots of companies make dual sport specific helmets now, and there are quite a few styles. Some are more street-oriented, and some are more dirt-oriented. For my recent trip from AZ to BC I decided to test the Icon Variant, one of the more street-oriented options. Mine was the Construct model, which leaves the fiberglass construction of the helmet exposed, with a clear-coat sprayed on top.
First off, this is a nice looking lid. Exposed fiberglass weave sounds like it could be ugly, but it actually looks cool; textured, with an industrial feel to it. It came with a clear visor, with an optional dark tinted visor available The helmet fits tight on the sides, and my usual sunglasses were uncomfortable inside, so I swapped in the tinted visor. It was easy to do: pop two side panels off, and remove two screws. A flat screw driver or even a penny will do in a pinch, but Icon includes a keychain tool that makes it a snap. The helmet’s look is distinctive, especially with the tinted visor, and I received more than a few “cool helmet dude” comments when I used it, from all sorts of riders.
The overall fit was tighter around the front than I am used to with a dual sport helmet; it fit more like a full-face, but with the narrow, elongated snout shape I found the padding pressed against my cheek-bones more than I liked for the first thousand miles of use (about 2 days of constant riding). After that the foam compressed enough so that it was comfortable, yet still nice and snug. Others I have spoken to really like the fit right out of the box, so it is partly a case of “the right lid for your head-shape”.
The ventilation was less than I hoped. Even with all 5 vents open I still found it a bit stuffy, and in heavy rain I had issues with the visor fogging. Cracking the bottom of the visor open one notch allowed better airflow and de-fogged the visor quickly, but at higher speeds a fair amount of rain-spray accumulated on the inside of the visor, enough to be a safety issue.
At highway speeds it was interesting to play with the airflow dynamics. If you take the time to dial-in your windshield (if you are on a bike with an adjustable windshield) so the airflow hits the helmet just right, the flow over and through the peak is very smooth, with no buffeting and not much noise. It does a good job of keeping your head cool, especially the sides and back where some lids suffer. However, if you are on a bike with no windshield or if you are not properly positioned in the windshield bubble the helmet is quite noisy at speeds above 70mph.
Crossing Nevada I spent a whole day dealing with the state’s notorious crosswinds, (as a friend once said, “I remember riding sideways across Nevada”).
The Variant does not excel in heavy cross winds. The peak seems to catch the wind and buffet your head around, causing a lot of neck fatigue. Granted I was riding 70-80mph with 40mph cross winds, and any peaked-helmet will struggle in those conditions.
The lining comes across as well-made with nice stitching and good attention to detail. The color options for the lining are striking. It does a good job of wicking moisture away and the smooth-finish doesn’t get itchy when you do start to sweat. It is removable and washable, which is good for long days in the saddle. The only time it started to feel clammy was after a 14 hour day riding in 90 degree heat.
To sum it up: It’s in the middle of the pack price-wise, but the construction quality and attention to detail feels like a much more expensive lid. Noise levels in town and on the back roads is not bad. It only really gets noisy on the interstate. Ventilation could be better, but unless it’s a super hot day on a slow trail, or it’s raining really hard, it’s not a show stopper. Style-wise, I think it’s the nicest looking option available. And the range of colors, visors, and finishes allow you to really personalize it. It’s not the lid I would choose to ride around the world, but it’s a great helmet for riding around town, or into the hills for a day on moderate trails and canyon twisties.
The Variant Construct model is $370. Other Variant options are available in a variety of colors, priced from $350 to $400.
More info available at www.rideicon.com