Thursday, August 22, 2013

Icon Variant helmet review

Few helmet options seem to be available for people whose melons are longer front-to-back, rather than the mythical spheroid shape that 5 year-olds try to draw. My Nolan 102 was aimed at the latter head shape and never really fit me right. Besides creating an uncomfortable pressure point on my forehead, it attracted the mocking of my dear children who likened me to a Playmobil figurine.

Since the Nolan was more than five years old, it was also time to replace it for safety's sake.

None of the convertible options I looked into (including the latest Nolan and Schuberth) fit me very well. Besides, a DS-oriented helmet suggested better ventilation and lower weight at the expense of convertible convenience. Attactive DS options from Arai (XD4) and Shoei (Hornet DS) fit my Nordic head shape rather well. However, they were out of my price range. Also, given the typically low speeds at which I travel and my industry knowledge of helmet testing, I couldn't see a good justification for the additional cost besides style--assuming equal fit for alternatives. 

Then I was recommended to try the Icon Variant by the folks at Ottawa Goodtime Centre. Apparently Icon is the last helmet manufacturer to cater to my head shape. This seems odd given how well the Hornet and XD4 fit my noggin. Whatever; the Variant didn't present any obvious pressure points after wearing it in the store for a while, although the cheek pads were unusually tight and putting it on and taking it off does a number on your ears because of the tight fit. Seemed OK so I ordered one. 

Materials, fit, and finish are excellent. The shell is a fiberglass/Dyneema/carbon fibre composite with dual-density foam lining. The comfort liner is covered in HydraDry material which wicks away sweat towards the ventilation holes. Online reviews suggest it works very well, and indeed I found it comfortable. And there's lots of ventilation! More on that later.  

Colour options for the Variant are pretty interesting and oriented to the Master Chief riding demographic. A gold visor can be ordered to complete the effect. (Camo helmet? Really?) I opted for boring gloss white to improve visibility. It's actually pretty sharp looking in its simplicity and should be cooler to wear at slow speeds.

Tonight's first ride with the Variant revealed some obvious differences versus the Nolan. First is the wind noise. It's not exactly quiet, but the frequency is more of a low roar of wind passing by the helmet rather than through it, which in the case of the Nolan resulted in more high-frequency noise. I find the low-frequency noise more tolerable when not wearing ear plugs, and it allows me to hear the engine and my surroundings better. 

Second is the force imparted by the visor. I'd expected some lift and torque when looking sideways, but not this much. While my WR250R doesn't have a windshield, I was surprised to find how little buffeting the bike presented compared to my KLR with the stock windscreen. I guess the WR angles the wind right up to where the Variant visor is, causing the helmet to torque back slightly. I'll have to experiment with seating position. The lift isn't uncomfortable at 100 km/hr but may become a nuisance at higher speeds, and I found myself adjusting the helmet forward while riding. 

Third, the shield has an impressive anti-fog coating. I rode right after a big evening storm, so the roads were wet and steaming and fog was forming in the little valleys. Perfect conditions for condensation, yet the shield remained clear. I did notice that after a while, headlights and other bright objects acquired a strange halo around them. Especially bright lights created a dangerous washout haze of light that obscured vision. I'm not sure why this occured - maybe some residue on the inside of the shield was the culprit. Inspection later showed an even residue on the inside of the shield, so I washed the visor (dish soap and water only is recommended) and polished it with a soft cloth. Hopefully this was just an out-of-the-box phenomenon and not a regular occurrence. 

Fourth, ventilation performance was really impressive and far exceeded that of the Nolan. Side-checks led to air coming right up to my eyes with the shield fully closed. No dead air space in this helmet! Later I realized that only half the vents were open. More playing around is needed to figure out the right venting combo for different conditions. There also wasn't a chin shield installed. Not sure if one's still in the box, but this will be essential in cold weather riding. 

Initial impressions are positive overall and I'm looking forward to seeing how the Variant performs on a longer ride. At least it doesn't look as dorky as the Nolan: one of my spawn noticed the helmet and even said something like "cool". 

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