Friday, May 1, 2015

Bell Custom Fit Star Carbon Review

Image borrowed from Bell Powersports
It is common knowledge that a motorcycle helmet is the most important piece of gear any rider owns.  It's also the hardest part to get to fit correctly, at least it was.  Recently, Bell launched their Custom Fit program, a first for the consumer motorcycle helmet industry.  The Custom Fit helmets are made to match a 3D scan of the rider's head.  I've made no secret of my love for the Star Carbon in my previous crash test and review: Crash and Burn Part 2.

I had my head scanned last year at the MotoGP races in Indianapolis, and Bell keeps them on file.  I had planned on my next helmet being a custom, but I decided to go ahead and order one sooner rather than later.  Suann ordered a custom for her first helmet while we were in Indy, and has been really happy with hers.  Seeing that custom fit badge on the back of her lid did make mine feel a tiny bit ordinary!

Making a Good Thing Better

Family Photo: the Custom Fit is on the left, not that there's any difference in this shot.

From behind, the difference is clear, with the very conspicuous custom badge and different DOT sticker.
As much as I love my off the shelf Star Carbon, putting it on the racetrack exposed an issue with the way it fits me.  The issue is the way it sits on my head.  I never noticed it on the street, but on the track with my head down, the helmet was cutting into my visibility a little bit.  It wasn't enough to make it unsafe, but it was enough to be a little bit of a distraction.  One of the options on the Custom Fit helmets is a "race" fitment that rotates the helmet back on your head about five degrees to raise the eye port in relation to the rider's eyes.  Knowing this was an option was all the push I needed to go ahead and order a custom for the track.  I'm going to keep using my other one on the road since it fits great for that, and it's wired up with my SENA communications system. 

As I mentioned in my last post, Bell continues to impress on the customer service front as well as the technical side of things.  Not only did they turn around my helmet extra quickly, but they were great to work with as always.  The process was smooth, and after I got it, I got a call from the engineer who handled my helmet to make sure everything fit perfectly.  I was happy to report that it was perfect.

To sweeten the deal even further, the Custom Fit Star Carbon comes with a Transitions shield (my favorite feature) and a huge assortment of interior padding to adjust fit if needed, and adjust for break in over time.  

Comparing Two Stars

The two helmets are very similar.  Outwardly, they are identical aside from a different certification sticker and the custom badge on the back. 

Look inside, and there are obvious differences!  In the interior pictures above,the custom is on the left, and the standard is on the right.  When I first opened the box, I was surprised at how little padding there was!  The padding doesn't even quite cover all of the EPS (expanded polystyrene) liner, and it is a lot thinner than the padding in the standard helmet.  There's also an exposed portion of the EPS liner at the back of the helmet that's covered by fabric on the standard one.  Despite the lack of padding, the custom helmet is more comfortable!  The custom Star also has better ventilation, which I assume is a product of both the thinner padding and the deeper channels in the thicker EPS liner.  The helmet feels lighter too, since the weight is perfectly distributed across my head.  After a full day at NCBIKE wearing my new helmet, I couldn't have been happier.  I never had to fiddle with anything.  I just put it on and forgot about it until it was time to take it off.  That's all I can ask for.

Interior name, size, and date sticker.  Look at how much uncovered EPS liner there is!

Due to the more even contact with my head, I'm sure the custom fitment will also protect me better in a crash too.  I'm hoping not to write that review for you!

Just in case the fit isn't perfect, the helmet breaks in a little, or your head shrinks, Bell has you covered with all of the extra pads they include.  2mm increments in thickness!  I think they're serious about these things fitting perfectly.


In short, Bell's Custom Fit program does exactly what it sets out to do.  It provides a helmet that fits both the rider and their riding style perfectly.  The astonishing thing to me is that it does that for a completely reasonable premium over the standard Star Carbon.  An extra $300 or so is no small sum, but factor out $120 for the included Transitions shield, and you're left with a real cost of about $180 for the custom fit option.  That's about a 25% upcharge for a bespoke helmet.  Try getting a tailored suit for 25% more than off the rack.  They'll think you're joking!

Right now, the biggest downside to the Custom Fit line is that you're limited to just the Matte Carbon look.  I love it, but not everyone does.  I think some are going to say "doesn't a custom helmet deserve a custom look?"  Luckily, you can pretty easily add a personal touch to these lids.  I already did my standard one, and will be doing my custom soon.  I'll take photos of the process, and put together a how-to post when I do.

Stay tuned for a future how-to post on polishing custom patterns into the matte clearcoat.

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