Thursday, 13 June 2013

Biltwell Gringo: The Road Test

Back in mid-May we introduced Biltwell’s new-for-2013 Gringo full-face helmet, saying that we hoped to bring you a full test sometime in the near future. Well thanks to the guys from Biltwell in California, we’ve been able to put a Gringo through its paces and give it a few appropriate prods, pokes and sniffs to see just how well built it is (see what I did there?).

I don’t think I’ve ever been so impatient for the postman to deliver a helmet-sized parcel. When it finally landed on my desk here at Chateau Thruxton, I was like a kid on Christmas day, hastily opening the box to see what was inside. As I unboxed the helmet, I was struck by how light the package seemed to be; indeed at one point I wondered if the lads from Murrieta had mistakenly shipped out an empty box! But indeed there was a Gringo in there, much to my delight and relief. I have yet to actually weigh it, but it is much lighter than my X-Lite X801-RR, despite not having a carbon fibre shell.

Another thing that surprised me pleasantly was the colour. In the photographs I had seen, the flat titanium colour looked a bit dull and boring, but the photos don’t do it justice because in the flesh it is really fantastic. Combined with the total lack of branding, it gives the helmet an air of sophisticated, sleek minimalism. And just like the metal it’s named for, the paintwork seems to change hue slightly depending on how the light falls on it. In a word, classy.

Hola, Gringo!

Moving along to the inside of the crash hat, we find a black brushed Lycra lining with orange stitching and two orange mesh inserts on the crown. The lining is also where Biltwell have chosen to place their branding with a neat looking tag sewn onto the rearward part of the liner. There again, everything is spot on, giving the Gringo the look and feel of a helmet twice its price from one of the “big name” brands. The only criticism I can make is that the lining isn’t detachable so that you can hand- or machine-wash it. The cheek pads are detachable, but that’s more to be able to renew them when they get old and worn. Perhaps this is a point that Biltwell could take into consideration for next-gen Gringos. One interesting touch is the quilted padding on the inside of the chin bar, also done in black brushed Lycra with orange stitching. It’s a totally gratuitous but nonetheless very pleasant touch.

Anyway, that’s enough greasy fingerprints on the helmet, let’s put the damn thing on and go burn some rubber! For the dynamic test, I tried it out in various configurations: without a visor and wearing sunglasses, with a bubble visor, with goggles and finally with the tinted visor from my trusty Airborn open-face lid.[...]

Worn as is, with just a pair of shades, is the way that most people will probably use the Gringo. In this configuration you get the best of both worlds: the safety of a full-face helmet with the snout-in-the-breeze pleasure that you get from a jet helmet, without too much wind noise from the large eyeport. This makes it ideal for urban bar-hopping and relaxed road riding (even over quite long distances), but becomes somewhat unpleasant at sustained speeds above 120 kph (75 mph).

If you are going to be riding at motorway speeds (or above - tut, tut!) you’re best off wearing the Gringo with a pair of goggles or with Biltwell’s bubble visor. For the purposes of the test I used a pair of Halcyon Mk9 Rider goggles; I have used these before with open-face helmets at speeds up to 200 kph (124 mph) and they don’t budge an inch - and they behaved themselves perfectly with the Gringo. Moreover, they give the helmet a real “Mad Max” look that turns heads wherever you go (probably helped by the fact that yours truly is  - to the best of his knowledge - rocking the only Gringo in Spain. Andale!). In due course I’ll be treating myself to a pair of Biltwell’s motocross-style goggles, mainly because I find that they look pretty damn cool.

Even Biggles wears a Gringo these days

As for the bubble visor, while it certainly looks the dog’s danglies (it makes me think of those 1950s artist’s illustrations of what spacemen would wear in the 22nd century to go down the pub on Mars or something), it has quite a few drawbacks, all linked to the fact that you can’t flip it up. On a warm day when riding at very low speeds (in town, for instance) the helmet quickly turns into an oven. And if you wear prescription glasses, putting the helmet on can be quite tricky, not to mention that if they start riding down your nose you’ll eventually be forced to pull over and sort it out. Oh and just hope that you don’t sneeze with the bubble visor in place... Other than that, for all-day motorway riding the bubble visor makes the Gringo a great place to be, since you have a very wide field of vision and the visor has natural ventilation, drawing air up and along the inside of it, giving you a pleasingly light and cooling breeze as you ride along.

In a bid to find an alternative visor solution and after having looked at photos of a friend’s Ruby Castel equipped with its bespoke “Loup” visor, I had one of those lightbulb moments. I took the visor from my Airborn jet helmet and offered it up to the Gringo. The very dark tint certainly looked good against the titanium paint job! Not one to waste time (and always on the lookout for an excuse to go for a ride), I grabbed the keys of my bike and roared off. For a spur-of-the-moment bodge job it actually worked pretty well, dynamically as well as visually. The nasal cut-out offers a bit of ventilation (although at motorway speeds, wearing a pair of clear glasses is a good idea to protect your eyes from stray draughts and from any bugs that might eventually get past the cut-out) and the visor sits almost flush with the shell. Plus the fact that it’s mounted on a strap means that you can flip it up pretty easily to adjust glasses, scratch the tip of your nose, or have a good sneeze without repainting the inside of the visor... I’d love it if Biltwell took note and brought out something similar; I’d certainly fork out my foldable for it (in fact I’d even be ready to be their beta tester for it if they want!).

An open...
...and shut case.

My global opinion of the Biltwell Gringo is really positive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became my go-to helmet. It’s a good-looking lid that will definitely appeal to the chopper/bobber/cafĂ© racer crowd, but also to urban scooter riders and even motorcycle couriers. The eyeport is large and well-shaped, recalling those on the full-face helmets of the late 70s and early 80s, which gives a wide field of vision. The helmet is relatively quiet for a full-face, particularly one that doesn’t have a visor. This is no doubt due to the total lack of air vents on the shell, which also contributes to the smooth and uncluttered look of the helmet. The absence of external branding and complex graphics means that this is the ideal lid for custom paint jobs, too. My only gripes are the rather fragile paint which is prone to marking and scratching, the absence of a fully removable liner and the fact that Biltwell’s sizing chart is a bit out, which meant that I found myself with a helmet that was perhaps a shade too large for me, but not by too much, which meant that this was a just a minor problem. I do advise buyers, though, to consider taking one size less than what the sizing chart suggests. At the moment the Biltwell Gringo is only available with the American DOT approval although I have heard rumours that Biltwell are looking into obtaining the European ECE-R22.05 approval for it.

Once again, I’d like to thank Otto, Erik and all the Biltwell crew in Murrieta, CA for making this test possible: you guys rule!

Closed course, professional rider... yeah, right!

Photography credits: Biltwell, Marc Michon/The Thruxtonian

UPDATE (21/06/13): We have just learned that - contrary to what we mentioned in the review - the inner lining of the Gringo is indeed removable (and therefore washable) by carefully pulling on the plastic edges between the outer shell and the EPS liner. Here at The Thruxtonian we prodded and poked (and sniffed - we have our weird and kinky side too), but we didn't think about pulling - the E-in-C has a tendency to break things when he does that! Our thanks to Harold "McGoo" McGruther, Biltwell's self-professed product nerd, for the heads-up on that!


  1. Correction: The interior liner IS removable, by carefully pulling the plastic edges fore and aft that hide between the outer shell and the inner EPS liner. A small thing, but worth mentioning given your comments. Thanks for the great writeup! Harold, product nerd at Biltwell

  2. Pretty sweet airborne visor, I took a look for it online and couldn't find anything similar, can you provide info on how to purchase something similar?

  3. How do I get ahold of a face shield like the one you used in the test?

  4. Great looking goggles, where can I find something similar?

  5. Great review. I'm totally sold on the Gringo; I have a biltwell Bonanza, and I love it, but the full face version seems like a big win. Now I'm also trying to figure out where I can lay hands on that Airborn visor, cause it's awesome.