23 Dec 2012

Icon Variant Construct helmet

Photo: Icon Variant Construct • Source: Icon
The time arrived to replace my ageing Arai Condor helmet, which served me well for the past 4 years. It was a reasonably quiet helmet with good aerodynamics at higher speeds, although I had fogging issues in wet and/or cold days.

I tried everything from Autoglym anti-fog visor cleaner to various furniture polishes to carnauba wax-based car polish and nothing helped for more than 30 minutes. Neither did combinations of opening and closing vents. The only solution was to keep the visor cracked a millimetre but this resulted in raindrops ending up on the inside of the visor.

On a ride from Fryslân to London last June—nearly 8 hours in a constant downpour—this proved tiresome and stressful.

I spent time debating what to replace it with. Flip-fronts (convenient for a quick drink at rest stops or paying at petrol stations) were a consideration but I really wanted something with peak to stop myself being blinded during the cooler months when the sun sits low.

I had my eye on the Fox Racing Helmet V1 at a more-than-reasonable £100—however, being a motocross helmet, it requires separate goggles which are too much of a faff for day-to-day, me being the forgetful Freddy I am.

I also had a look at the decidedly smart BMW Enduro Helmet—a particularly versatile dual-sport/crossover helmet with removable visor and peak. You do pay for it though—£330–350 (depending on colour) for the standard version and an eye-watering £875 for the carbon fibre version.

The similarly versatile Arai Tour-X 4 helmet comes in at an even loftier £500 (for comparison, there seems to be no carbon version) and is loaded with features but, like the BMW helmet, seems to carry the brand premium in the price tag. [Off topic note: Some may note that I splurged for the BMW Rallye 3 jacket but the pricing of this was in line with other premium jackets and I believe it has been worth every penny.]

Photo: Icon Variant Construct
with Sena SMH5 headset
I recently rediscovered Icon, a Portland Oregon-based company that makes motorbike gear, including a range of dual sport products. Many of their products seem to take influence from the snowboarding industry, known for straightforward and practical design—jackets with hoods, trousers with extra pockets, relaxed fit etc—and an industry close to my heart, having snowboarded since 1992.

Icon have recently entered the world of dual sport riding with a pair of fantastic Triumph Tiger 800XCs—I've absolutely fallen in love with their brand new Patrol Raiden range and fairly new Variant helmet range, introduced (from what I can find via Google) in 2010.

Reading up on the details/features, the Variant helmet was exactly what I was looking for, and has the option of a 'breathbox' which redirects exhalations from the nose/mouth out the bottom of the helmet (one could argue that this should be included in the box—such is the world of commercialisation). All for a somewhat reasonable £220-280 (depending on colour) for the standard version, and an admittedly very reasonable £390 for the carbon fibre version.

I had my eye on the Variant Battlescar, a naked version with hand-dyed/washed fibres at £280, but decided on the less flashy Variant Construct (also pictured above), naked without the added colour at £250.

Icon only have 3 official dealers in the UK, Gorgeous Bikes in London that specialises in their 'fashion gear' and therefore don't carry Variant helmets, Topgear Superstore in Bexhill On Sea and Ultimate Bike Gear in Papworth Everard (closest at around 60 miles north of London).

Photo: Detail of helmet surface
I took a leap of faith that Ultimate Bike Gear would be open the Sunday before Christmas and left London at 10am with ominous clouds looming overhead, optimistic in the Met Office's claim of a 20% chance of rain. Yes, I could have rang ahead but I didn't feel like waiting until 11am when they opened.

Traffic was typically light as expected on a Sunday morning and I made good time cutting through the city and arriving at the shop in about 90 minutes—keeping in mind, of course, that the average speed in London on a motorbike, even on a quiet Sunday morning, is 19mph (compared to about 7mph for a car). The A1(M) motorway had fairly strong crosswinds as usual.

Ultimate Bike Gear was indeed open, and I had a chance to try on the Variant Construct—it fit my head/face/nose as well as I could have hoped, and actually felt much less claustrophobic than my Arai. The field of vision is the best I've experienced in a full-face helmet with nearly the same peripheral vision as an open-face helmet.

I was helped by Mike who kindly moved over my Sena Bluetooth headset/intercom to the Variant, and even supplied the mounting bits at no cost. Incidentally, the standard clamp mount for the headset doesn't work with the Variant—due to the way the padding and shell come together, there isn't enough of a gap to wedge the clamp in between.

Photo: Icon Variant Construct worn—
plenty of room for my big nose
and excellent peripheral vision
Ultimate Bike Gear was a good experience—within 2 minutes of arriving I had a fresh coffee in hand and the use of a supremely clean toilet (it's all about the everyday things!), plus the aforementioned good service. I prefer to support small, independent businesses where possible because of these little things.

Of course I wore the helmet home. First impressions? It's about as quiet, and about the same weight as the Arai. As noted above, the field of vision is superior. Even tight and brand new it was comfortable without any undue pressure points. The ventilation is the best I've experienced in any helmet—including the open-face helmet I use around town.

The most notable difference is at motorway speeds (60–70mph)—it does catch the wind much more than the aerodynamically efficient Arai. It's not a problem as such, simply a characteristic of peaked helmets which might put off people who are not expecting this. The helmet is light enough that I don't find it a problem.

The helmet came with a second dark tinted visor (illegal in the UK but tolerated on the continent), a ubiquitous 'free advertising' sticker, a little spray bottle to fill with visor cleaner of your choice, obligatory microfibre visor cleaning cloth, a reasonably well-made carrying bag, a key for changing the visor (although a flathead screwdriver also works), a poster and an accessories list.

All in all, I'm really pleased with it so far (based on a 90-minute ride). We'll see how it fares in the longterm after a couple holidays... and the next time I'm stuck in a downpour for 8 hours.