Gear reviews are tricky things. From the perspective of a moto-blog like The Motorcycle Obsession, it can be tricky to actually get hold of the gear, then tricky to come up with an intelligent and worthwhile review – quietly concerned that if you savage something you may not get another chance to test that company’s products*.
From the perspective of the buyer of gear, it’s tricky because there’s a risk that the above situations will limit your access to reliable information. Personally, I’ve never tempered a review to stay in the good graces of a company. If I have biases (such as my fondness for Indian Motorcycle) I’m open about them and still try to deliver as fair an assessment as I can. Not everyone does this, though, and when it’s an issue of not knowing who’s being honest with you, who’s trying to stay sweet with a manufacturer, and who’s just regurgitating a manufacturer press release, it can be anger-inducing to try to research gear before throwing down money for it.
In recent years I’ve found that a handful of forward-thinking gear sellers like Revzilla or Motolegends are sometimes able to offer good observations because of their unique position in the industry: they have access to all the brands but are not beholden to any of them. True, these sellers are hoping you’ll buy a product, but they aren’t afraid to identify weak points. They won’t get their wrists slapped by a manufacturer for doing so; brands need gear sellers a little more than gear sellers need any given brand.
Step forward Fortamoto, a gear seller based in the Netherlands that ships all over Europe and, in fact, all over the world. The company sells some pretty kick-ass brands and has been eager to develop a way to provide customers with reliable assessments of its products. Feeling that a voice other than its own might be the most valuable to customers it’s been working to set up a network of gear testers/reviewers.
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When Fortamoto got in touch to ask if I wanted to be one of the aforementioned tester-reviewers I was pretty quick to get on board. I really like the idea because it means there’s an additional step between me and a brand – there’s less potential for a cosy relationship. I’ve always been honest in reviews, but here you know I have less incentive to be otherwise.
About That Helmet, Tho
All of which finally leads to the HJC RPHA 70 helmet (also known as the RPHA 70 ST) that arrived at the palatial TMO estate recently. Because I’ve got the time, I thought I’d do two reviews for the lid: this, a “first impressions” take, and a much more in-depth look at some point further down the road. If you’re one of the surprisingly large number of people who enjoy watching people unbox things on the internet, you can see me doing that in the video above.
(Side note: If anyone knows of a good lavaliere microphone that works with a Google Pixel please let me know, as it’s clear that I need to work on the sound quality of my videos.)
The RPHA 70 is made in South Korea (No. 21 on the Democracy Index – four spaces higher than the United States) and aimed more or less at the touring/sport-touring/commuting set – designed to be worn while riding in a relatively upright position. It competes in the same field as the Shoei GT-Air II and Schuberth S2 Sport but costs noticeably less. Using Fortamoto as a guide, the most affordable (black) GT-Air II will cost you £400; the most affordable (matt black) S2 Sport will cost you £384; whereas the most affordable (dipol pink) RPHA 70 costs £300.
I’ll admit that if I were shopping those three I’d have a slight Shoei bias. I use my Neotec II modular helmet every day in commuting, so I know it to be robust, comfortable (albeit a tad heavy), and reliable in all weathers. But I have worn helmets from HJC’s RPHA line in the past and the fact that I am still here, able to string words together, is indication that they will protect you in a 60mph crash.
Straight out of the box, the RPHA 70 certainly looks sturdy and well made, and it is aesthetically gorgeous – especially in the “grandal red” paint scheme of the helmet I have. I love the lines of the helmet, as well. Though, I can’t help feeling that some things are more for show than practicality. With the exception of the three-setting vent at the top of the helmet most of its vents strike me as too small to be of any use, with switches that are hard to find/operate while wearing gloves.
There are two vents on the chin. One directs air at the visor, the other at your face. To use that second one you have to toggle a tiny switch inside the helmet, which means you must remove the lid to do so. I can’t guess what the designers were thinking in making it this way. There are also two tiny exhaust-port-style vents at the back of the helmet with switches that open about 1 millimeter; I cannot imagine their being useful in any way. I won’t know about the quality of ventilation for a while, however. It’s February in Wales; we won’t see the sun for a few more months.
I ordered a medium, the size HJC says I should be wearing. It is very tight when putting on – I mean, really tight. I think people trying it on in a shop might make the mistake of buying a size larger because the opening is so small. However, things improve once it’s crammed onto your head. The crown is comfortable. The cheek pads still press, but no more than I’d expect from a new helmet. I anticipate comfort will improve as miles are added.
RELATED: HJC RPHA 11 – Helmet Review
The helmet secures via traditional double D-ring fastener. Visibility is good, though I sense the visor will become the source of most of my complaints. Ostensibly it can be set at different heights, but won’t actually stay open if the road surface is any bumpier than a billiard table. This means getting air in slow-moving situations like filtering will probably be tricky.
There’s a little mechanism to secure the visor shut. This is definitely an improvement over the sometimes-won’t-close nature of my Neotec II, and I like the fact it’s at the center of the visor – and therefore easy to get at with either hand – but within the mechanism is a teensy, thumbnail-sized switch that locks the visor shut. I know from previous HJC adventures it is possible to accidentally set this lock, but difficult to deliberately do so while wearing gloves. This means you can find yourself rolling to a stoplight, unable to flip up the visor for fresh air. I am considering breaking the mechanism to prevent such a scenario.
KEEP READING: What You Need to Know About Motorcycle Helmets
HJC has its own anti-fog insert called Skipfog. I am always dubious of inserts that aren’t Pinlock, so I’ll be interested to see how this one holds up. Meanwhile, the helmet also has a sun visor, which I generally prefer over tinted visors because light conditions can change rapidly.
Unlike the Shoei and Schuberth mentioned above, there is not a dedicated Bluetooth system for the RPHA 70, but installing a universal one is pretty easy, thanks in part to Velcro patches at the ears that are obviously designed to accommodate speakers. I was able to install my Sena 10C with little effort and no instructions (the unit had been on my old BMW System 6 helmet and I threw away the instructions a few years ago). If you can’t be bothered to install a unit yourself, if you buy a helmet and communication system from Fortamoto they’ll assemble it all for free.
More to come…
All of the above information is garnered from looking at the helmet and wearing it on one 40-minute ride. In other words, there’s a lot I don’t yet know – stuff that will be determined over the coming weeks/months. If you have any specific questions, let me know. Personally, my focus will be on comfort and durability. Although the RPHA 70 costs less than some of its competitors it still isn’t cheap. If I were shelling out the dough for one I’d want to have a sense that it’s going to hold up for a few years. I’d also want to know that after the initial break-in period it will be comfortable for long hauls.
Stick with TMO to find out.
*Related to this: No one straight pays for reviews. Haters in internet forums and comments sections will frequently accuse a blogger/journo of having been paid to say nice things about a given company. This is a myth created by people who can’t accept the wild possibility that someone out there legitimately likes a thing they don’t like. But the truth is, payola never happens in the moto industry; it’s certainly never happened to me, and I’ve never heard of it happening elsewhere. That said, it’s not unheard of for manufacturers to get pissy over poor coverage. At RideApart I earned a lifetime advertising ban from Kenda because I referred to its tires as “piss poor;” Jensen Beeler, of Asphalt & Rubber, reportedly got himself banned from a certain Japanese manufacturer’s US press rides because he was unimpressed by one of its models.