If someone mentions Bell crash helmets, what do you think? Would you rate them up there with AGV, Arai and Shoei? Or is it something you think your dad might have had?
It’s fair to say Bell went through a quiet period, but now they’re back. Once again they’re right at the leading edge of style and safety – and definitely worth a closer look.
An Unrivaled History
Did you know Bell introduced the first modern crash helmet? Back in the 1950s, most lids were either treated leather or compressed cardboard. Really. You might as well have had an egg box on your head. In 1957 Bell’s founder, Roy Richter, started making crash helmets out of fibreglass. It’s no surprise they caught on fast – first with racers, then police forces, then ordinary riders.
In 1968 Bell did it again with the first full-face helmet, the Bell Star. Popular? By the 1970s Bell had the largest helmet factory in the world.
And in case you’re wondering where the Bell name come from, it’s the small town of Bell, California, where it all started.
Good, Bad and Ugly
Bell helmets have always offered exceptional protection for that fragile oval thing on top of your shoulders. But there have also been down sides. In the 80s and 90s they were ridiculously expensive. Like twice the price of an equivalent AGV.
They were also heavy. That big, thick, fiberglass shell was immensely strong, but they weighed a ton – way more than the then-new polycarbonate models. They were also dull. You could buy an open-face Bell, or a full-face Bell. And they came in black, or white. That was about it.
Some people bought them, but not you or your mates. Maybe your dad. Nice and safe.
The European Influence
Over more than half a century, Bell went through a lot of changes. Eventually they started having helmets made under license in Europe. Design influences from over here soon came to dominate. Much like BMW – who for years only made touring bikes, and then transformed themselves with beasts like the S1000RR – Bell started to shake off the boring image.
They have always been innovative in terms of technology and safety. Now they’ve got style to go with it. Not only that, but they’re also more sensible about pricing. Bell are never going to be a cheap crash helmet, but they’re competitive now, right across the range.
So Is Bell Up There With The Best?
The weight problem has gone. Most of the range is a combination of Aramid, fibreglass and carbon – strong but light. Full-race models are TeXtreme carbon – super light. Liners are comfortable, washable, anti-bacterial. Visors are superb – and easy to change.
The D-ring chin strap design may not have changed much in fifty years, but it works, and the magnetic clasp that stops the end flapping about is a great touch. So is the difference in viewing angle between the street-influenced Star and the race-influenced Pro Star. Then there’s the ‘Flex’ technology, designed to dissipate energy in the event of an impact.
There are Bell crash helmets to suit everyone. A version of the original Bell open-face – the Custom 500 – blends classic looks with modern safety. The Bullitt re-interprets the first full-face. The Moto-9 is a top-class off-road model. I could go on…
Should you buy a Bell instead of an AGV, Arai, Shoei, etc? I can’t say categorically yes, there are too many variables. You should always buy the one that fits you best.
What I can say is that Bell are back, absolutely. With technically advanced, superbly built, comfortable and stylish models that are the equal of anything out there. Worth thinking about next time you’re looking for a new crash helmet.
Our friends over at GetGeared recently had their ‘Bell Helmet Launch‘ which we attended at their Leeds store. If you are looking for a Bell lid, we’d certainly recommend that you take a look at the enormous range that they offer. In store you can expect friendly faces, knowledgeable staff, and a fantastic brew! Online, you get free delivery, free returns, and points in their loyalty scheme often providing instant voucher rebates.