The Bell Bullitt helmet was the brain child of a college design student that made its way into production and won over bikers across the nation.
Looks often come at the sacrifice of functionality. Design proceeds use, function isn’t stylish, and cool isn’t about following the rules, rather it makes a mockery of them. The new Bell Bullitt helmet hit the market to break the rules, by being beautiful, legal, functional, and most importantly cool. It’s hard to find one area that this helmet sacrifices for another. Its retro styling resembles all of those killer antique helmets we wish we could wear, but this one is safe and legal with all the latest tech, passing DOT and European road certification. The only drag about the helmet is the price, $399.00 retail, it’s pricey for bobber or café racer helmet, but fortunately, you get what you pay for.
Modeled after the Bell Star helmet that dominated motorsports since its 1973 introduction, this one is far more convenient for riding. It’s technically a full face, but once you try it one, you’ll experience just how open this helmet feels. Able to see from side to side and your speedometer at the same time, the full face’s visor is removable. Remove the visor and screw the metal/rubber rings back in place for no visible signs of the visor.
If you’re a retro rider more interested in a CB750 or hard tail Ironhead, then you’re familiar with helmets like the Biltwell Gringo, which retails for $159.00. You might also know the Ruby ¾ and full face, which is ridiculously expensive and reserved for only the hipster of the hip at over $1,000. The Bell Bullitt is the right porridge in between.
Apples to apples, the Gringo helmet lacks a standard shield like the Bullitt. The Gringo, like many other helmets in that range is made from Polycarbonate material that weighs a lot more than our Bell, which is made from fiberglass composite. For myself, the Gringo looks bulky on my head, while the Bell really does have an “ultra-low” fit—that’s not just something they put in their press release. For the record, we like the Gringo helmet as it is a killer helmet, but what really makes the leap in price for the Bell Bullitt is the comfort and functionality.
Evolution of the Design
Bell didn’t design this helmet; a college student by the name of Chad Hodge designed it as a part of his senior thesis at University of Cincinnati. A hip-young guy who now lives in New York City doing freelance industrial and product design while tinkering on café-style vintage bikes. Chad says while shopping for helmets he didn’t find anything he liked so he asked friends and built his own. Using 3D printing, he created a prototype and hand stitched the interior leather.
“I really value functionality, and I like letting that drive the form. I don’t like things that don’t belong,” says Chad in an up-close interview about his inspiration for the helmet (watch below). That is clear to see in this helmet as even the retro features are limited to only functional things such as the real metal vents in the top and side rings that operate the visor. Amazingly the prototype is almost identical to the current production model. Chad built it right and posted it on a forum where a Bell representative saw it and asked if Chad wanted to make it a reality. The rest is history.
Like sitting in a Ferrari, the brown, stitch leather inside is high class—a little too nice for some of the motorcycles the staff rides (I’m referring to mine). The inside features perforated micro-suede interior fabric mixed with stitched leather trim, very similar to the hand-laid prototype. The chin strap is comfortable with padding and a stainless steel D-Ring closure with leather pull tab.
The helmet body contours around your checks and chin making for a fit that doesn’t let it shift on your head. Large recesses for your ears makes for added comfort no matter your head size or shape, currently the helmet is offered in XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL and according to others the helmet fits great in any size. Personally, a large feels tight sliding on, but contours for a comfortable fit once strapped.
Inside the deep ear recesses are mesh fabric pockets that are perfect for small speakers or a listening device. You’re unable to reach inside the helmet from the bottom when trying to adjust a set of ear plugs, but a pair of tiny speakers would work nicely.
The check pads as well as the head piece are both removable for any necessary cleaning and extremely easy to get in and out, along with being washable and anti-bacterial. The top piece features extra padding where it counts, mixed with leather and mesh material so it breathes. The neck ring around the base of the helmet, top and sides of the visor are finished off nicely with hard brown leather. Inside the helmet is a beautiful fit and finish.
One thing you won’t notice with the fit is that Bell offers different sized interiors and face shields to match the wide variety of sizing. This can sometimes be a problem with cheaper helmets that offer fewer options for interior padding and visors.
Form and Function
Bell Bullitt has the retro look with modern bells and whistles. The first thing that grabbed our attention was the size of the opening and visibility. One of the prime examples of clashing old-school look with new-school tech is the leather strap that holds down the visor. Bell calls it its Magnefusion shield closure system, which is a fancy way of saying it uses a specially designed magnet to stay in place. No more clunky or pain-in-the-butt latch where you must force the visor open. Merely close the visor and let go of the strap and the magnet snaps in place. Remove the visor and there’s no trace of it ever being there. At the top of the visor is a small piece of felt that keeps slight tension on the visor, creating a tight seal without sacrificing the look. Ultimately, it’s quiet and the noise level is mid to low with or without the visor in place.
It might just be the design, but aerodynamically the helmet feels great in the wind. The top grill-covered, chrome vents are functional and move air across the top of your head out the back of the rear vent that is blended into the back of the helmet. The air travels through passageways embedded inside the helmet that run across the top mesh liner. The chin grill is recessed into the helmet with a hidden open/closed plastic switch. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to try it in cold weather, here in sunny California, but we plan on using this helmet as our primary one for a longer test. We have few doubts that the helmet will cause any issues as Bell has a give 5-year warranty. We’ve been careful with the blue metal flake and don’t see any chance of wear or chipping without a serious drop.
Outside Bell offers a handful of options for visors with talks of more to come soon. So far they have flat face and bubble in different tints, such as yellow and black. We opted for the straight face shield. If you order one and change your mind, you can buy one at revzilla.com for $39.95 (http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/bell-bullitt-bubble-face-shield)
The helmet was so light we thought the box was empty when it first arrived. The Large hits the scales right at 3 pounds, lighter weight than most of the cheaper, polycarbonate material helmets.
The helmet’s style isn’t for everyone, but for us, we love it. The price is the only major drawback as it’s comfortable, breathes, doesn’t hurt in the wind, and safe. We hope to keep it for a long-term helmet test to see how the metal-flake paint and chrome trim hold up to the sun and being thrown around the garage.
Let us know what you think: Do you like the look of the helmet? Would you buy one?