We look at two helmets on the opposite ends of the price spectrum - the Shoei RF 1200 and the Bilt Cyclone.
Every new rider is faced with a simple choice when buying gear: spend a lot of money, or keep things on the cheap. There’s plenty of arguments that can be made for both. In this ongoing series, I’ll' be looking at two similar pieces of riding gear – one high end, one that’s not – to see which gives the buyer the most value for his or her money. Let’s start from the top – the helmet.
SHOEI RF -1200 ($589.99) VS BILT CYCLONE($89.99)
“Ah,” you say. “This should be a no-brainer. Assuming that both helmets do what they’re designed to do – that is, keep me from ending up like Gary Busey should I go down while riding – the Bilt’s gotta have the edge.”
Of course, there’s much more to a helmet than protecting your melon; fit, ventilation, weight, and even general craftsmanship are some of things that need to be considered. But yes – price is also a big part of the helmet buying equation, and the Shoei costs about five times as much as the Bilt. Is it worth it?
READ MORE: 5 Helmets You Need To Consider
A word about this comparo: I didn’t take the helmets on a high-speed joyride down an empty highway. I thought about conditions that most new riders are most likely to experience – both were worn on dry days, surface streets, with occasional hops onto a freeway, speeds topping out at just under 75 mph.
COMFORT AND FIT
Both the Shoei website and the Bilt website offer fitting charts, which you’d be well-advised to check out if you’re thinking about ordering either helmet online (which, c’mon, you really shouldn’t do). Like a lot of you, my head size falls somewhere between what manufacturers say it should be. I received both helmets in the box, shipped directly to me – so I didn’t have the chance to try different sizes of each. I got larges for both. The Shoei fit me like a glove, snug without making my head feel like it was in a vice. There were no pressure points, and it’s a helmet that I can easily wear for hours on end. The Bilt was just slightly less comfortable, with a bit of unwanted pressure on my forehead. It’s fine for shorter rides – and for new riders, that’s probably good enough. But the question should be asked – if you buy the Bilt Cyclone, are you going to be OK with replacing it once you have a mind to do some touring? The Bilt’s chinstrap also gave me a few fits; it feels thin and flimsy, and the strap’s padding is far less substantive than that of the Shoei. Again, this is where riders will want to take a long view of both helmets, and decide if that bit of extra comfort is worth an extra $500. As for soundproofing, neither helmet does a stellar job at reducing noise; for riding at higher speeds I’d definitely recommend ear plugs with both. Neither the Shoei nor the Bilt came with a listed weight, but if there is much difference between the two, I didn’t notice it while wearing either helmet. And that’s a plus in Bilt’s column.
VENTILATION AND VISIBILITY
As far as ventilation goes, there’s no contest here - the Shoei simply crushes the Bilt. With chin, top and brow vents, the Shoei offers plenty of intake points, and those vents all open and close with authority; no waggling plastic here. I can’t say the same for the Bilt, especially the chin vent. While the ventilation was adequate – nothing amazing, but perfectly fine for shorter rides - the vents felt loose, as if they might simply slide shut.
The visor is where it gets interesting. The Shoei shipped with a Pinlock insert, so fogging wasn’t a problem – but even if it hadn’t, I’m still not sure that the Pinlock is needed, thanks to that chin vent and the Shoei’s excellent overall ventilation. The visor has a tight seal and locks well; I had no problems riding with it partially or completely open. The Bilt Cyclone, however, comes with an internal sun shield, a feature that I quite liked (and appreciated during bright daylight rides).
The Cyclone's built-in sunshield is a nice feature.
Craftmanship is a funny thing; it can be hard to spot truly great quality, as it’s often most present in the most miniscule of details, but crappy work almost always smacks you in the face. The Bilt helmet looks like it costs less than $100; the finish seems thin, and I half suspect that the wind noise might be due to imprecise construction. The Shoei, on the other hand, is a model of precision engineering and assembly, from the graphics to the liner and padding. And it should be noted that the Shoei is both DOT and Snell certified; the Bilt does not have Snell certification.
Fits great, looks great, is great: here's your winner.
On paper, it’s not a contest: there’s a reason why the Shoei RF-1200 costs five times as much as the Bilt Cyclone. It’s a fantastic helmet, and should be my go-to lid for years to come.
But in the real world, that shouldn’t dissuade a new or even casual experienced rider from considering the Cyclone. The Bilt WILL protect your head if you go down, and is comfortable enough to wear on a daily basis. And buying one over the Shoei will free up an extra $500 for other gear – something that is a major consideration for new riders who’ll need to start from scratch when assembling their riding wardrobe. And the good thing about buying a cheap helmet is that it won’t sting too much when – or even if - you decide to upgrade.
READ MORE: The Best Street Helmets Under $300
The Shoei RF-1200 can be found here.
The Bilt Cyclone can be found here.