Thursday, 12 May 2016

LS2 Metro: Modular helmets can look good, too.

For many motorcyclists, modular helmets conjure up images of motorcycle coppers or of serious, mature motorcyclists in no-nonsense Cordura gear with splashes of hi-vis and riding touring bikes of mostly Bavarian origin and who favour function over form.

That’s a pity, really, because “flip-front” lids are actually quite a clever idea: you effectively have two helmets in one and they’re very useful when you’re at tollbooths on Continental motorways, or when you’re asking a local for direction, or even when you’re stopping at a petrol station. They do unfortunately have a fair few drawbacks - they’re heavy, massive, fairly noisy and, of course, they’re not overly stylish, which is probably why only motorcycle cops and the Bavarian touring bike appreciation society wear them: style tends not to rate very highly on their agendas. I myself bought one a few years back, but I never really managed to get on with it.

Enter the LS2 FF324 “Metro” helmet, which is a new-for-2016 model. The first time I saw the Metro, it was with the chin bar closed; at first glance I took it to be a straight full-face lid. It was only on closer inspection that I understood that it was a modular helmet. The first thing I noticed was the look of the helmet: instead of your usual bulbous shape, the Chinese firm have given the helmet a taut, aggressive and, dare I say it, sporty look. The chin bar is slightly pointed and the central air vent is flanked by four mesh-covered side vents (these can be blanked off by four smoked plastic covers that simply clip into place), clearly inspired by ADV helmets.

The main shell of the helmet, which is made out of what LS2 call “KPA” (a combination of polycarbonate and Kevlar), is sleek and rounded, with two air intakes, tapering off into a slightly downward-slanted spoiler that also houses the exhaust vents. At the aft base of the helmet, there is a pronounced winglet, which houses a further two exhaust vents and also provides a stable base when the helmet is sat on a flat surface. Overall, this gives the helmet a very dynamic look that wouldn’t look out of place when worn on a sports roadster or a muscle bike. The face shield has an aerodynamic incurved lip on its upper edge, and - surprisingly for a modular lid - is equipped with an efficient quick-release system and is also prepared to be fitted with LS2’s proprietary “Fog Fighter System” anti-fog insert. (Ours came with this insert included in the box - there were also reflective stickers for French-market lids, a small but effective chin curtain, the covers for the chin bar’s side vents and a very nice helmet pouch) The helmet has a lever-operated sun shield.

Moving on to the “guts” of the helmet (as Revzilla’s Anthony Bucci would say), we find a chinstrap with a micrometric buckle, a very plush neck roll with a reflective insert, comfy cheek pads and a 3D inner liner. All of these elements can be removed and are washable, including the comfort liner elements on both parts of the chinstrap (that’s a neat idea); however the inner mesh that I initially thought was part of the helmet liner turned out to be a separate element that is fixed to the inner EPS shell, which I find is a bit of a let-down on an otherwise comfortable and well thought out interior.

With the comfort liner fully removed, I carefully pushed the red mesh liner to one side and could see a the large cut-outs for the ventilation’s intake and exhaust vents, connected to some decent-looking air channels. I also noted that there are cut-outs on the side of the EPS shell to house speakers if the helmet is fitted with an intercom unit. These holes are blanked with pieces of foam similar to that on flexible body armour inserts. Speaking of intercoms, this lid can be fitted with a model-specific unit designed for LS2 and the controls for which are placed on the chinstrap.

So, what’s it like to wear? I must admit that I was expecting the usual fare of bulk, loud wind noise with shrieks and whistles from the chin bar’s shut lines, along with aerodynamic buffeting beyond 80 kph with the chin bar open. Bet here again, LS2 have taken the rulebook for flip-fronts and chucked ‘em in the bin.

Instead of bulk, I found that I was wearing a pleasantly light helmet. The manufacturer claims a weight of 1,650 g, which places the Metro within the average for most middle-of-the-range full-face helmets. The fit is snug and comfortable straight out of the box, with now immediately noticeable pressure “hotspots” on the forehead, cheeks or at the base of the skull. I was also pleasantly surprised by the relatively low amount of wind noise generated by the helmet. No shrieks and whistles; indeed I could say that the wind noise was “low-frequency” and not too obtrusive, even on a bike without a windscreen. On the Triumph Explorer XRT that we were road-testing recently, life inside the helmet was even quieter. Aerodynamic buffeting is also reduced to a strict minimum, even at motorway speeds (and, erm, slightly above…) with the chin bar flipped up. Combined with a well-designed sunshield that provides excellent cover for the eyes, this really is a modular helmet designed to be used open as much as closed. (LS2 have obtained double type approval - full-face and open-face - for the Metro) While we’re on the subject of airflow, I was pleasantly surprised by the ventilation system: the main chin vent does its job without scooping up insects, small birds or light aircraft; the top vents are ace, too - I have a thick head of hair but for once I could actually feel air flowing over my scalp and even down the back of my neck. The diminutive chin curtain and the neck roll combine to ensure that no air gets in from underneath the helmet.

The chin bar mechanism is slick and easy to use, with no clunky noises when you lock it shut. Its only weak point is the locking tab that blocks it in its open position: it is difficult to disengage and I can’t understand why LS2 have placed on the right-hand pivot - surely having it on the left-hand pivot would make more sense, allowing the wearer to operate it while riding. The face shield gives a wide field of vision and its mechanism has five positions with a nice, positive action to them.

In all, this is a very well-designed, comfortable and light helmet to wear, and it looks good too; it definitely reconciled me with the modular helmet concept, and has already become my new “go-to” lid. I'm pretty sure that this could become the modular helmet of choice for riders of maxi-scooters, sports roadsters and muscle bikes. LS2 include it in their range of “urban” helmets, but it does cut the mustard over long distances on the open road. It is available in a wide range of sizes from XXS to XXXL, with three different shell sizes, and comes in a variety of solid colours and graphic designs, including the Firefly version (the one we tried), which features glow-in-the-dark graphics on a flat, slightly rubberised, black background. This latter version is very striking - when the graphics are glowing brightly it looks like something out of Tron - and will make you just that little bit more visible to other road users at night. The retail price for the "Firefly" version of the FF324 Metro is £179.99 in the UK and around 239 € in Spain and the rest of Europe. Other versions of the Metro will retail around the 200 € (£158) mark.

What we liked
Aggressive, sporty and dynamic design
Comfortable to wear straight out of the box
Low weight
Low noise level
Slick chin bar mechanism
Efficient ventilation system
Eye-catching glow-in-the-dark graphics

What we liked less
Part of the comfort liner is fixed to the EPS shell
The pivot locking tab is difficult to use
Micrometric chinstrap: it’s OK, but we still prefer “double-D ring” buckles

Our thanks to David Foschi at LS2

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