The GT Air Expanse TC4
My much-loved old Shoei helmet is 9 years old. Funny how time gets away on you without noticing! It's been so comfortable that it's one of those things you tend not to think about, particularly as it looks pristine. Still, looks aren't everything and it's about twice as old as normal recommendations for the life of a helmet - rather embarrassing!
What actually triggered thoughts of a replacement was the recent purchase of some custom-moulded silicone ear plugs. They don't deform like foam ones and there was pressure on them from my Sena comms speakers which was quite distracting. I need comms for my IAM mentoring and it's pretty handy on social rides too. Once the trigger was pulled to look for a replacement, speaker cutout space became the main consideration. Another factor was dazzle from the sun. I've gone down the route of carrying two visors for weather changes and riding in the dark and it can be a pain for various reasons. Also, a really dark visor causes problems when you're entering shaded areas having been out in bright light. Iridium-coated visors offered a partial solution and so did my last visor with a graded tint but boy, I've spent some money on visors over the years - I've just counted 10 good ones in the cupboard!
My good mate and fellow IAM Observer and blogger Rob Van Proemeren has just bought a Shoei GT Air and the first thing I asked was about space for speakers and he said that they seemed quite deep. The other feature is an internal flip-up smoked visor which seemed a sensible alternative to a cupboard full of visors! I should mention that I then floated the idea of a new helmet to my Chief Financial Officer on safety grounds and bless her heart, she thought my head was worth preserving. Discussing the myriad of colour schemes shown on the web, I preferred a blue and white livery and she preferred the one with green highlights. See the photo above - you know what's coming, don't you?? Anyway, armed with comms and new earplugs when visiting my favourite dealer a couple of days later, the GT Air was indeed the bees knees (or the dogs bollocks, depending on where you come from in the world). Shoei helmets are perfect for my head shape. Arai's and some others aren't. But what about the chosen colour, I hear you ask? My more cynical friends would say that I caved in to Jennie. However, hand on heart, the green highlighting and gold pinstripes looks far nicer in natural daylight than blue. That's my story and I'm sticking to it..
So far, I've done an almost continuous 500 km ride which is a good test of comfort. So what are the things I've noticed? Let's start with a small negative... I wear spectacles and in the still air confines of the house before I jump on the bike, a bit of huffing and puffing can mist up my specs, even with the visor open. I think this is because of the detachable breath guard. It's designed to deflect breath away from the visor but in doing so, I think it deflects it back onto my specs. I could fix the problem by removing the guard but it's not a really serious matter so will leave it in place for the time being. It doesn't happen in the open air.
Right, onto the positives....
It's supremely comfortable. The speaker cutouts are indeed deep enough to accommodate the Sena speakers and new ear plugs without interference. Soft infills come with the helmet if you don't have speakers. It's a perfect fit all round and I didn't experience any irritating pressure points during the ride.
Deep cutouts for speakers
At 1.6 kg, it's a little lighter than my old Shoei thanks to composite construction and thanks to the good fit and decent aerodynamics, it feels very stable at normal road speeds. This reduces fatigue as does the other notable feature - it's very quiet compared with the old Shoei. Listening to the coms is just like having the person stand next to you. As well as the good fit, there's been attention to detail to reduce noise levels in terms of a chin guard, vent design and even the flip-up tag on the visor has been aerodynamically shaped. Also, due to the visor closing mechanism design, it's pulled back hard against the rubber seal, eliminating air whistle. The other benefit is that it seems unlikely that water will dribble down the inside of the visor. It certainly didn't during a short downpour on my ride. Another feature which I hope never to use is quick release side pads so that the helmet can be easily removed in the case of an accident. Incidentally, the whole helmet lining is removable for washing. Only the cheek pads were removable on the old helmet so I'm sure that various life forms had set up residence in there over the years.
Visor mechanism - all sorts of springs and cams and stuff - leave well alone!
No misting. The pinlock insert which is supplied with the helmet takes care of misting but the vents also seem quite efficient - you can feel the air movement inside the helmet. Very reassuring in adverse conditions. The helmet is also a little longer fore and aft than the older one, meaning that my face is a little further away from the front. Also handy as it gives a bit more clearance for the Sena microphone.
And finally...... the internal visor! Diving in and out of the shade on the coast road, not to mention sun-strike off the sea, it worked a treat. Looks like it might finally offer a near-perfect solution. The slider shown just below the visor in the photo above is mechanically linked to the internal visor and extremely easy to use with gloved hands. Looks pretty cool in town too with the clear visor raised **cue Jennie rolling her eyes and sighing**
At NZ$899 (US620 or GBP479), it's not a budget helmet but the price is surprisingly comparable with overseas sources. However, it's well made, comfortable and totally meets my needs. I'm a happy camper!
Finally, a plug for a product I've only been using for a few month but does exactly what it says on the tin! The bane of any motorcyclist's life is good vision in wet weather. To bead moisture off visors quickly, I've used all sorts of products with varying degrees of success. Rain-X which has a silicon base has been pretty good but seems a little less effective than it used to be. I recently started using Plexus (not to be confused with health products of the same names as they'd smear the visor), which was developed for the aviation industry - helicopter bubbles and the like. Shifts moisture really well and splattered bugs are easy to remove. Not cheap, but economical to apply. Prices seem to vary wildly with an on-line NZ motorcycle accessory shop being the most expensive and an on-line aviation accessory business being the cheapest.
Plexus - doesn't disappoint
July 2018 update
I've now been using the GT Air for about 14 months. Still absolutely delighted with with it. It still fits well and is pretty quiet although custom ear plugs actually improve the audio quality of my Sena speakers. I use the Plexus shown above on both the external visor and the shell as a water repellent and ease of cleaning off road grime and bugs. I just clean the internal visor with water and a microfibre cloth. The internal visor is a godsend. My travel home involves 50km of road right by the sea, predominantly into the sun. In the winter, the low sun causing glare off the sea has always been a problem and the tinted visor makes it much safer.
Are there any drawbacks? Just one which is weather dependent. I wear spectacles and on cool days when first putting them on, they tend to mist from my breath. They clear almost instantly when you get rolling or if there is wind about. Once they match the ambient temperature, no further problem. Removing the breath guard helps but it still occurs with it removed on cold days. Maybe I'm just a heavy breather! In any event, it's not sufficiently annoying to cancel out all the positive aspects of this helmet.