“How big is your head?” Scott asked me. Smart arse. I waited for the punch line. “No, seriously. What size helmet do you take?” Oh, right. “I’ve got an Icon helmet," he said, "they’ve given it to us to review. It’s a large. You want to do it?” I was stoked. We’ve done reviews before on Pipeburn, but mostly of our own gear – which is a double-edged sword as you get plenty of time to really know a piece of kit, but then you wouldn’t have purchased it if you didn’t think it was the best option.
But this was different; a brand new helmet that I had no intention of purchasing was now in my hot little hands awaiting a full and detailed dissection. And that’s exactly what this is. I’ve got five month’s worth of detailed notes and a laptop with a fully charged battery - let's do this.
Meeting an Icon
Now would probably be a good time to raise my hand as a card-carrying member of the Arai Helmet Owner’s Club. I have a 2009 Vector/Chaser and am pretty impressed with it, so now you know where my head’s at (thanks - I’m here all week). For this review I’m going to put the two helmets up against each other, mainly because it’s what I’d be doing whether or not I come right out and say it. If I owned half a dozen different helmets I might be able to take some neutral stance, but the fact remains all of my recent on-bike time has been spent inside the Arai.
Scott dropped the helmet off and I was quick to jump into the box and take a peak. Of course at this point in time I had no idea what “Construct” referred to – to be honest I was expecting a plain white helmet. But no, the helmet is thusly named because it’s finished (or rather not finished) in a clear coat over the top of the fibreglass weave that forms the main structural component of the helmet. Stupid me was a little perplexed for a moment or two, initially thinking that Icon had me reviewing some kind of prototype. Doofus. While the transparent look probably wouldn’t be the finish I’d choose myself, I’ll give Icon full marks for trying something a little different. I’d just hope that it’s able to retain that whiteness and not begin to yellow after a few summers of Australian UV radiation.
The helmet impresses on first viewing and is very nicely finished with its monochrome exterior and bold red lining. Fit and finish was bang on and it came with heaps of accessories – something that the Arai was sadly lacking. They even include a second (tinted) visor, which is something that Arai will happily charge you $50 for. Styling is a lot more out there than the Arai with the front and rear vents joined by two sporty curves of plastic across the top of the helmet that also seem to perform a spoiler function. Add that to the adjustable angular vents on the jowls of the helmet and the skeletal look of the front vent and I think you get a helmet that comes across as pretty badass. Though that can't be said for all of Icon's helmets.
Upside your head
Being exactly the same size as the Arai, I expected the thing to feel pretty much the same once on, but that wasn’t the case at all. Obviously the Arai has had a few years to mould itself to the monstrous lump that is my head, but from the get-go the Icon seemed to be a much more snug fitting helmet than the size charts would have you believe. I found myself taking time to ensure the Icon didn’t squish my ears out of place, which is something I never remember doing in the Arai. This also makes headphones inside the helmet a more challenging proposition. None of this is bad, mind you. Just different. And I guess preferable if we are to believe the suggestions that the more snug a helmet is the safer your head will be in an off.
The chinstrap is a standard issue twin rings set-up with a plastic press-stud to keep the excess strappage under control. I did get the feeling with the Icon that it was happiest when sitting a little further back on your chin. Again, this is probably better in terms of safety and trying to keep the thing on your head if the worst should happen. It also seems like the sort of experience that would vary wildly from one person (and chin) to another.
On the road
Two things become pretty obvious about the Icon once you get some speed up. The Icon is well ventilated, but a touch noisy. I’m no helmet designer, but I’m guessing the two come hand-in-hand; I’d also take a stab in the dark and say that the “airframe” part of the name refers to the aerodynamics and ventilation designed into the helmet. Icon claims their Airframe series are wind tunnel tested, which seems like a pretty obvious thing to do to a motorbike helmet. I find a good helmet aero-type test is to note what happens when you’re at highway speeds and you turn your head to check for traffic when changing lanes. Here the Icon has one up on the Arai as there seems to be no feelings of forcing the helmet into a position that it doesn’t really like; it obviously prefers to face straight into the blast but it doesn’t roar and buffet when it’s not. It's also interesting to note that the Icon was much better at deflecting wind while riding with the visor open than the Arai, allowing you to cruise at urban speeds without having your eyes desiccated by wind blast.
I guessed the Icon would weigh in pretty much the same as the Arai and I was right. According to my el-cheapo kitchen scales the Icon was an inconsequential 50gms/1.7oz heavier than the Arai’s 1.6 kgs/56.4 ounces. Not too heavy and not overly light, then.
I did a few full-day rides while wearing the helmet and I’ll be honest and say that I expected the snug fit to translate to increasing discomfort over the day – but it didn’t. As long as I took the time to get my ears sitting “naturally” inside the helmet it was good to go for an eight or ten hour day on two wheels.
A view to an ill
I’d like nothing better than to be able to sit here and tell you that Icon have cracked the tough nut of a dependable, simple-to-operate, long-wearing visor design that once and for all ended the frustrations of replacement, but alas they haven’t. The basic operation seems to work in a similar fashion to the Shoei design but with a locking ring doohickie. At first glance it seemed to me that it may prove superior to Arai’s “shove the visor ends into these dark slots and apply lots of force until the thing clicks into place or you break shit” system, but that was before I actually tried it out.
In the end I still had sore fingers, a dirty mouth and a red face when replacing the Icon’s visor. Somehow it just didn’t want to lock into place and I even had a situation where I jumped on the bike and rode off only having to pull over again when the visor detached itself on one side while moving. Adding injury to insult, the mechanism now looks as if it is loosing small pieces of plastic (see below). Sick of the rat race? Want to make a few million and retire to Tahiti? Design a visor mechanism for a motorbike helmet that just works. “The biker Steve Jobs,” they'll call you.
And just for the extra kick in the nuts, after I battled with the visor and finally reigned triumphant I found that the visor had a tendency to catch against the rubber seal surrounding the visor cut out when opening. Not a biggie I know, but long term I’m guessing that the seal would probably fail and allow air and wind noise into the helmet.
But fear not – it’s not all bad news. The visor’s down position lock was a simple “pole and hole” affair (that’s what she said) that soundly beats Arai’s superbly annoying demist sliding lock jobby. It looked rather primitive at first, but there’s no denying its simplicity and effectiveness. The visor itself has a “Fog-free Prolock” coating on the inside that worked pretty well, where as the Arai just fogs like a mother trucker. Still, it’s the visor that seems to really let the Icon side down here.
I started off by dissing the Arai in this part of the review because I had previously read that it only got three out of five stars in the UK’s SHARP safety rating system. As it turns out, the SHARP system is more than a little controversial. Also, it seems that Icon haven’t put their helmets through the SHARP tests yet, and just advertise them as meeting Europe’s ECE 22-05 standard. Judging apples and apples may not be as easy as I first thought…
So I guess the most compelling question you could ask is which one would I prefer to have on my head if I (gulp) came off at speed? I honestly couldn’t choose on safety standards alone but I’d probably just default to age and pick the Icon as it’s not as old as the Arai in both physical age and design. If they were both 2011 models I’d be happy (or not happy, as the case may be) to eat road dirt in either one.
The surprising conclusion
I went into this process thinking that a contest against an Arai and an Icon would be a total mismatch, but I’ve got to say that sitting here now I’m happy to be typing a sentence that proclaims the Icon’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with the older Arai and not look like a second-rate option. Sure the visor mechanism didn’t really float my boat but I’m positive the snagged seal could be fixed as it seems like a “now and then” type of issue rather than a constant one, and the visor replacement is a frustrating affair but as far as I know there simply isn’t a system out there that provides an alternative to the annoyances that all motorbike helmets seem to have in this department.
So now I find myself with two helmets that I’d be equally happy to ride in rather than an Arai Vector and the Icon Airframe Construct “plan B” that I originally, and naïvely, assumed I would have. The Icon is a great helmet that has proven to me it has the moves to take on helmets almost twice it’s price and still come out looking great. Pipeburn Recommended.
The fine print: In an effort to keep things as legit as possible, I feel it’s probably best to mention that Icon Motorsports supports Pipeburn through advertising on our site and that safety and hygiene dictates that helmet reviewers get to keep the helmet afterwards; a borked second-hand helmet full of head stink is of no real use to anyone. Rest assured that if this helmet wasn’t up to scratch I’d have no problems in saying just that, and that we will always endeavour to give you guys the best reviews possible without fear or favour; sponsors bearing gifts included.