Carbon fibre helmets are seriously cool. I don't think anyone can dispute that - the material just looks so super high-tech, the weave catches the light nicely and, well they are just cool. The trouble is, they're also hideously expensive. There have been some cheaper ones on the market but they, to be honest, have just been plain hideous.
But that's just changed.
HJC are the new up and coming brand in the helmet world. Of course, they aren't really new at all, having been around in the USA since 1971. That's a whole heap of experience. For a while, they didn't do much over here. In act the only HJC helmet I remember seeing was owned by one of our former staff members who had bought it in Canada. It was quiet but a bit garish - rather like him - and visors were tricky to get. But that was ten years ago. Crikey.
Anyway. This is the carbon fibre version of HJC's top of the range helmet, the RPHA10+, appropriately called the RPHA10+ Carbon. I'd love to tell you what the acronym stands for, but I can't. I'm reliably informed that it's pronounced "Arfur" as in Arthur Daley, but I may be being toyed with. While I'm here, by the way, it's probably as good a time as any to mention that, apart from any comments about the material, anything I say about this lid also applies to the non carbon RPHA10+ helmets which are available for similar money in a variety of funky paint schemes. But they#re not made of carbon fibre, of course...
Enough of this none sense, let's get down to business. The helmet arrives in a solid box - well made and with a sensibly positioned slab of foam inside to provide that extra bit of protection. As well as the helmet, you get a rather nice plush helmet bag, which is what you'd expect on a top end helmet of course. What you might not expect is the genuine pinlock visor insert, the detachable chin curtain, the spare visor mounting screws...and a spare road legal tinted visor. Now that's not something you get very often especially as they're not exactly cheap at around £40 a time. Opening the box gives that lovely fresh helmet smell and the initial experience is very reminiscent of unpacking other premium brand lids. I know it sounds silly, but until you've unpacked a really top quality helmet you won't understand. Trust me - I'm a professional.
Moving on, then, to the helmet itself.
The RPHA10+ Carbon is made of a gorgeous hexagon-weave carbon fibre material with a lovely smooth high-gloss clearcoat finish. The interior is an extremely plush blue velour edged in the very low-key blue-black material which seems to find its way into every top-end helmet on the market. There are rear air extractor vents and there are three inlets - two on the top and one on the front - operated by thumbwheels and a slider respectively. There are no side pods, the mechanism remaining visible behind the clear visor ends, which is an interesting styling point but definitely contributes to slippery aerodynamics.The front vents are covered in an aluminium mesh which should stop all but the most determined insect from coming through. Or at least ensure that anything which does come through comes through in bite-size pieces. It sounds nasty, but to be honest I haven't had a mouthful of moth (they're the worst) for the best part of twenty years now, so perhaps the aerodynamics help.
The visor, actually, bears closer examination. It has a sturdy looking aluminium coloured catch in the middle of the bottom edge which engages in the chinpiece and very thoroughly locks it down. That is a distinctly good thing, as it certainly doesn't pop open when you look back over your shoulder at speed. But better than that, in the event of an unplanned crash test dummy impersonation it at least gives the distinct impression that your visor would stay locked down, protecting your face from bits of flying motorbike, hedge, gravel trap etc. Which is nice.
The visor is also possibly the easiest thing in the world to remove and replace. And that is a real bonus - there's no way you could be left sitting there wondering if you've broken it, just how to get this thing to lock in place, where the little lever has disappeared to or indeed how to refit that side pod. All of which have happened to me at some point in the past. No, just open the visor, release two levers (which can't disappear because they have nowhere to go...and are under the visor edges anyway) and pop the visor off. The new one just snaps in place - the levers automatically reset when it's fitted. Another bonus, then.
Shall we put it on after all this messing around?
There's no special technique to it, nothing to tuck out of the way or retract. The straps are standard Double D with a neat and easily found press-stud retainer to stop the loose end flaying the skin off your neck. The padding is just about perfect and the plush lining is plush indeed. Better than that, it's treated with silver and something called Ginko to make it anti-bacterial and resistant to smelling like a sumo's jockstrap after a few hot days use. It works, too - it's still as fresh as a daisy after a few weeks of actually pretty good summer weather.
The aperture, which looks quite large anyway, turns out to be cavernous, offering excellent peripheral vision, while the front comes out far enough to cut down on glare, even with a clear visor. All the controls are easy to work with a gloved hand and once you remember how it works the visor release and close system is dead simple. It's just not what I'm used to, but from an engineering perspective it's a better solution.
Get out on the road and the remarkably light weight, wide aperture and quality feel all conspire to make the RPHA10+ a very nice place to have your head. And once the speed picks up a bit it is spectacularly resistant to buffet and, despite the vents, it's actually pretty quiet. Talking of the vents, by the way, they work. Really, really well. There was no sign of any visor misting (the Pinlock insert is still in the bag) at any time, even early on fairly chilly autumn mornings, and even the warmest days had enough air flowing through to keep my head comfortable.
Now while I'm dedicated to the point of stupidity (really - ask my accountant) I didn't crash test this helmet. Despite a number of people giving me the opportunity to. But other people have - particularly I find myself thinking of Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies, both of whom spend what would for ordinary folk be an inordinate amount of time bouncing down the road on their heads. Both appear still to be articulate and happily devoid of head injury, so obviously the helmet works as advertised. It's also got a five star SHARP rating, would these things bother you, as well as having the highest ACU labelling.
But after all this the RPHA10+ Carbon has one more card up it's sleeve. And it's an ace. In fact I think it might be a full house, aces and kings. It is, of course, the price. You'd expect to pay rather a lot of money for a flagship helmet, and one made of carbon fibre is going to be eye-wateringly expensive, surely? Um, no. Not in this case. Less than £400 for a carbon fibre helmet of this quality with these features is outstanding value. Add the best part of £100 in extra bits - the visor and pinlock alone comes to £70 - and the package is, frankly, an absolute steal.
So to sum up, the RPHA10+ Carbon is a nice looking, comfortable and well appointed helmet; it's well made from quality materials; it's quiet and everything works and it's almost unbelievably cheap. I think you could call me a convert...