Retro style and an extremely affordable price. Can the new Biltwell Gringo really work as a real motorcycle helmet?
You (ok well some of you) asked for it and, in an uncommon move for most companies, Biltwell responded and built it. The all-new Gringo Helmet is Biltwell's first attempt in the full face market and was designed after they received a ton of feedback from people re-purposing or reupholstering old, similarly styled helmets so they could have a little more protection while stil keeping the aesthetics they had worked so hard to achieve on their cafe racers and bobbers. Is this just another trophy for the shelf, or will people actually be able to wear this thing and find any added performance?
As previously mentioned, the Gringo is the first full face offering from Biltwell; a company who has created a name for itself through their 3/4 DOT and novelty helmets and aggressive participation in motorcycle culture (the head of PR included a note in his last email about being unavailable for a bit because he was leaving for the El Diablo Run where they ride to the bottom of Baja and back on bobbers). This helmet fills a completely empty sector of the helmet market, with its only real competition being thrift store and swap meet finds from the '70s that you'd have to get re-upholstered and which are...questionably safe.
Now, we are obviously going to have to make some concessions in our review of this helmet and should try and judge it based on the job it set out to do (as we would with any helmet). It's not fair to judge this against the same standard as we would my Bell RS-1 the same way we wouldn't judge an entry level full face Scorpion trying to make a decent product at an entry level price against Wes's Schuberth S2.
The Gringo will never seal up tight like a $900 Arai, nor will it have all the Swiss army knife features of a modular flip-up. When someone asks me where the vents are, I usually say 'It's got a real fucking big one right in the front.' We, and our typical customer ride motorcycles that make no sense. Often hard tails, owner-built and sometimes older than our fathers, these machines have a charm unmatched by modern machines. Note that I didn't say they were faster, more reliable or efficient than contemporary motorcycles. Most of today's motorcycle helmets look out of place on these types of bikes, just like our DOT-approved open-face Bonanza would look out of place on an R1. The peripheral vision and wind-in-the-face feeling of a 3/4 helmet can't be denied, but as anyone who's ridden in a full face knows, adding a chin bar and some eye protection can improve not only safety, but can also make long rides a bit less taxing. But, so can windshields and stereos, both of which we hate. So, the easy solution is a stylish, de-contented full face that has the right economy of line, no superfluous anything, but built to a high standard. Like a tastefully chopped shovelhead, it does exactly what the owner asks in a timeless way, without joining the swollen ranks of the over-featured, over-teched, modern world. It won't be the perfect helmet for every rider, but that was never the point. — BILTWELL
As someone who began his motorcycle career on cafe racers and wearing Biltwell's 3/4 helmets, I understand where they are coming from and really appreciate the effort. As someone who sold his Bonneville after spending so much time on modern bikes (I love brakes) and who now wears high quality gear while working for the worlds best motorcycle site, I understand the temptation to blow off this helmet as another bullshit way to try and avoid just wearing the right gear even if it doesn't perfectly fit the desired aesthetic. With that said, I'm going to do my best to write this review with you cafe and bobber guys and gals in mind and then just not read the commments.
Fit and Comfort
I'm a fan of Biltwell as a company. I'm a fan of what they do in cafe/bobber culture. I'm a fan of their wide selection of paint and graphic offerings. I'm a really big fan of their novelty helmets (yes, I was THAT guy). I, however, am not a fan of their 3/4 helmets. I think they are very nice looking and I have a couple on a shelf at home, but I think they fit terribly. The interiors are stiff and dont conform to my head at all which creates a bit of a parachute effect when travelling over 40mph or so, with the helmet trying to lift my head off of my body. I have had multiple conversations with people, a few of which they fit really well, and have come to the conclusion that with such a rigid interior, they simply just fit some people and not others. Either way, they're uncomfortable, hurt pretty much everywhere, and make me look like I have an egghead.
The reason I say all of this is that I was 98% expecting for the Gringo to be the same. I'd wear it once or twice, shoot a few photos in it, use it for a side modeling gig or two, but accept that I'd much prefer it sat displayed nicely on my shelf than wear it on my head. I was very surprised when I opened the box and ran my hand along the inside and felt soft, supple padding and fabrics much nicer in quality than my old 3/4 helmets from them. I appreciated the attempt to improve the comfort, but was still positive it would have the same kind of egghead look as the 3/4, but when I tried the helmet on it actually looked really cool and seemed to fit more like my novelty helmet than 3/4 DOT helmets.
Ok, so the thing definitely passed the "wearing it around the house for a few minutes" test. I was still fairly sure it would be awful to wear, so I avoided wearing it for my 55 mile round trip commute to work for a few days until I had a nice little errand to run, a perfect 10 miles from home, which included a very brief stint on the freeway. That way, I could try the helmet at various speeds and, when it lifted at moderate to high speeds like my 3/4 helmet, I wouldn't have to put up with it for long. As I'm sure is becoming obvious by my tone, the helmet was actually very nice to wear, even at speeds into the mid 80s. I'm not a fan of bubble shields, so I was wearing the Gringo with the pair of Biltwell Goggles they were kind enough to send, and had no issues with the helmet's performance at all.
I do need to mention that the feeling of wearing the Gringo is different from any other full face I have worn. They made no attempt to increase the padding at the bottom of the helmet so the bottom is very wide and open which means it lets in a good deal of air. The padding is very supple and is sewn in a cool looking criss cross pattern which feels like tiny pillow fingers pressing against your head instead of the normal, more uniform fit of most full faces. With the strap of the helmet pulled tight and secure, it doesn't effect the performance or stability of the helmet, it just feels different.
The strap is really the only area that feels cheap on the helmet. I could feel it cutting into my neck a little bit and I don't feel like it would be comfortable for very long. I have worn mine for up to about an hour or so and been ok, but I definitely thought once or twice about ways I could wrap the neck strap in someting to make it a little bit softer or less abrasive.
The fit is fairly true to size. I'm somewhere between a medium and a large. The large they sent me fits pretty good, but with how much my last Biltwell broke in, they are going to send me a medium when they are available to see if that is better. They currently have Large/Extra Large/Double Extra Large available (it's all one shell size) and they should have Extra small/Small/Medium available shortly (all one shell size).
Visibility and Noise
The Gringo has a small to average sized eye port. It was big enough to wear goggles with, but I had to shove the goggles in a little bit because the opening was so tight. Wearing just glasses does open up your field of vision a bit, but not a ton, as does using a flat or bubble shield. The visability from this helmet is going to be less than pretty much everything else available right now, but with that said I can attest to the fact that it wasn't a problem. I feel fine wearing dirt helmets with goggles pretty much anywhere assuming I'm not trying to do anything too athletic and the Gringo provides the same if not slightly better visibility (when you pair it with glasses or a flat shield).
I always wear ear plugs when I ride and found the Gringo to be about the same as an open face helmet in the noise department. I don't really have an issue with noisy helmets unless they induce weird booms or whistles, which this does neither. I probably wouldn't be able to hook my Sena SMH-10 up to it and listen to audiobooks like I did with the Bell RS-1 on my way to Seattle, but that's not really the point of this helmet.
The bottom is completely open, the interior padding is well grooved with the "finger pillows" and "it's got a real fucking big one right in the front."
Weight and Balance
I wouldn't even know what to compare this helmet with as a baseline. It is heavier than a 3/4 helmet, but lighter than a lot of full face helmets because there is just a lot less to it. It doesnt feel heavy on your head and, in my time wearing it, I didn't feel any pain or stifness in my neck and back from having to compensate from poor weight balance in the helmet. Think 3/4 helmet....with a chin bar.
Graphics and Finish Quality
This is one area that I think Biltwell has always excelled and they went beyond my expectations with the Gringo. The Gloss White helmet they sent me has a beautiful paint job and the interior really blew me away. I thought their 3/4 helmets were nice, but the Gringo exceeds that in pretty much every way in this department.
Value and Desireability
Priced at just $149.95, I think this helmet is well priced for the job it is trying to accomplish. It is cheap enough that people who just want it for the occasional bike rally or to sit on their shelf can splurge for it, but you also get a lot for the extra money you spend to get it over their 3/4 Bonanza, which is priced at $99.95. As this is the first DOT full face helmet to keep within the cafe or bobber aesthetic, and even just as a really cool vintage design, the fit and finish of the Gringo make it incredibly desireable to anyone who likes the look and wants something a little different or cool looking.
I absolutely love the looks of this thing. The paint on it is fantastic and I love showing people the interior. When I was wearing a 3/4 helmet on a daily basis, I spent a good deal of time looking for a vintage helmet I could reupholster so I could have something with a little more protection while keeping the cafe aesthetic and I think Biltwell nailed it with the Gringo.
It's not my Bell or my Shoei or even my Icon full face. It doesn't have a face shield that adapts with the sunlight, it doesn't have vents I can open or close to customize the temperature, and it isn't wind tunnel tested for noise and wind performance. Oh, and the neck strap sucks.
Biltwell has come a long way; from a company who I liked, but who's products (DOT) I hated wearing, to a company who is involved in their community, who listens, and who responds by creating a great product. With zero competition, I can only assume that the people who are drawn to this helmet (assuming they like the look and know what they're getting into feature wise) will be asking themselves the same question I did originally. Will it suck to wear and will it end up just sitting on my shelf or did they make something I can actually use? It's to you I say: go place you orders.
• Injection-molded ABS outer shell with hand-painted finish
• Expanded polystyrene inner shell
• Hand-sewn brushed Lycra liner w/ contrasting diamond-stitched quilted open-cell foam padding
• Meets DOT safety standards
• Internal BioFoam chin pad with hand-sewn contrast stitching
• Rugged plated steel D-ring neck strap with adjustment strap end retainer
• Rubber edging on shell and eye port
• Washable, removable interior liner and brushed Lycra ear pads
• Extra Small through Double-XL sizes available
• Hand-finished paint schemes include Gloss Antique White, Gloss Orange, Gloss Black, Flat Black, Matte Titanium