My Schuberth C3 Helmet: A Year and 10,000 Miles Later
My last helmet squeezed my jawbone, giving me a headache after about an hour. The previous one pressed on my left temple. Another rattled, another fell forward over my eyebrows, and yet another let a constant stream of air up the back of my neck. Helmets have made me itchy and sweaty, the visors have popped off, and the air flow controls have never quite worked properly. I've worn half-helmets, full helmets, modular helmets, dual-sport helmets, other people’s helmets, cheap helmets, medium-priced helmets, and expensive helmets. But in Spring of 2012 I started wearing a Schuberth C3, and since then I have stopped to look at a view, to ask directions, to fill up my gas tank, to buy snacks at a convenience store, to make phone calls and to take photos, all with my helmet still strapped on.
I’ve always liked the idea of a modular helmet. I travel a lot and interact with people on the road, and it’s nice to be able to slide up the chin bar so people can see my face when I’m talking with them, especially when attempting a foreign language. But helmets have always been so uncomfortable that I've removed them every opportunity, sighing "aaahhhh" in relief from pressure-points, itching, and sweating. The Schuberth C3 is the first helmet I've owned that I don’t rip off my head as soon as the wheels stop turning, and that’s saying something, because I have been riding since I was a teenager.
Soft for Women, a Little Tougher for You Guys
As soon as I plopped the C3 for Women on my head I knew it was made for me. The C3W is equipped with specially-designed cheek pads to fit women’s generally smaller facial features, and a cushy, plushy COOLMAX microfiber lining that feels good against our smooth skin. (Sorry guys, your version of this helmet gets a tougher interior that can handle the stubble, but I hear it’s nice, too.) COOLMAX is a breathable fabric made for athletes that wicks moisture away from the skin so it can evaporate quickly. (Some of your favorite running or yoga clothes may be made with COOLMAX.)
A Year Later...
In a little over a year I’ve traveled over 10,000 miles in the C3W. I'm astounded that the interior fabric has not made my sensitive skin itch or break out. In fact, helmet discomfort has been completely eliminated from my list of woes after a too-long day of riding, even the day spent sprinting across the Nevada desert in 112-degree heat. I’ve been rained on in Utah, sand-blasted in the Anza-Borrego Desert, hit by a mini-twister in Arizona, and even snowed on for 80 miles over Tioga Pass. I pretty much didn’t even think about my head through any of these conditions, which is, after all, the point of good gear. Better to concentrate on the road, the scenery, and that tourist in the Cruise America RV who's about to turn out of the scenic turnout without looking.
Admittedly, I’m hard on my gear, and the C3 looks a little worse for wear. Certainly, I tour a lot, camp, and have been going on more advanced dual-sport rides, so it's been exposed to sand, mud, water crossings, and other thrills and even some minor spills. So the matte-black finish has a few scratches, as does the visor. I was surprised that the finish is thin enough that the white undercoating shows through. I guess I had expected the color to be injected which, when you look at how it's made, in layers (more on that later), doesn't make sense. And hey, why shouldn't my gear have as many scratches and scars as I do... it's all part of the adventure personality, right?
The interior has held up better than expected. I’ve popped the lining in and out countless times to install and test a SENA communications system. (I'm installing Schuberth’s SRC integrated system now). I attached my Contour video camera to the side of the helmet. Yes, it looks a bit awkward, but it works. (I thought it might skew the helmet to weigh harder on my left side, because it's so light, but really it's had no discernible effect.)
I’ve washed the interior a dozen times, by hand, as recommended, though I'm tempted to toss it in the washing machine. The fabric is still soft and cushy, but it looks a bit grimy, stained by a combination of my black leather gloves, dirt, and sun screen. I am surprised that, with all my futzing with the liner, that the interior snaps and surrounding plastic bits are still strong and sturdy, and that the fabric stitching has held up.
I only finally cleaned the air-flow vent on top when it seemed to be blocked after riding through a swarm of insects. (Sorry, I wiped them off before thinking I should take a photo.) Popping the top vent off is easy and I've cleaned it more regularly since then. I think it's a nice feature, and now I wonder what the heck must be inside the scoop of my other helmets. Ick.
Comfort and Convenience Features
I didn't experience any break-in period, though I hear that some riders have suffered for a week or two before it's conformed to their faces. I immediately loved features like the flip-up chin bar, which is released with a simple push of a button, the European-style micro-ratchet chin strap (instead of the D-ring system) that can be fastened and unfastened with gloved hands, and the slide-down integrated sun visor that saves me from bringing, and losing, yet another pair of sunglasses. Flip it up, flip it down, flip it up, flip it down. The slider at the front left edge of the chin is easy to find, easy to slide.
The anti-fog pinlock system that attaches to the interior of the visor does indeed absolutely and completely eliminate fogging, no matter how many hot and cold, dry and wet zones I pass through in a day. And at the California coast, I experience many microclimates in one day riding over bridges, through hot, dry valleys, and up into cool, wooded mountains.
A small vent at the top of the helmet lets a surprising amount of air in and directs it all the way over the top and down to the back of your head, completely eliminating the need for a separate rear vent. The vent at the chin lets in even more air, which is not only cooling, but apparently eliminates carbon dioxide buildup from re-breathing my own air inside a closed helmet when you’re swathed in a turtleneck and scarf on cold days. Who knew!
Crafting and Technology
I loved the C3 before I was aware of all the crafting and technology behind it now I not only feel good about its ability to protect my head, but it also validates the price tag. (More on that, later.)
Have you ever gotten a headache while riding? It may just be from looking through your helmet visor. Schuberth creates their visors and sun shields in a curve, instead of molding them flat and then bending them to fit the helmet, as other vendors commonly do. The resulting optical-quality shield provides a distortion-free, headache-free ride, so that you can really enjoy what you’re seeing through the wider-than-average viewing area. I went back and looked through the visors of my other helmets to compare and indeed, there is obvious distortion. So pressure points may not have been the sole cause of my headaches, after all.
The visor has a few stop points on its way up and down your face, which is nice when you're riding in slow traffic and want to let in more air. Mine was difficult to latch down solidly for the first couple of months, requiring the use of both hands to press evenly on each side, which is of course impossible to do safely while you’re riding. (Others I know have not had the same experience.) But after while I found I could simply place my palm on the front of the visor to push it down with even and firm pressure to click it closed. Unlatched, it can fly up at higher speeds, especially on an unfaired bike, so I always make sure that I hear it click down into place.
Quiet and Stability
At the end of a particularly blustery ride, my companions complained that the wind was lifting their helmets off. Indeed, my motorcycle was getting pushed around by the wind, but my helmet wasn't. Apparently, Schuberth has their own wind tunnel, and their engineers tinker endlessly with the dynamics. For example, the embossed triangles at the top of the visor are not merely decorative, but direct the flow of air over the gap to keep it from leaking in noisily.
Surprisingly, the helmet is comfortable in a completely closed position even in desert heat. The combination of the COOLMAX wicking liner, the acoustic collar, along with chin and neck curtains, were designed to prevent wind buffeting and noise. All this protection simply swaths the rider in isolation from the elements. At 84 decibels, it was the quietest modular on the market until Schuberth released the C3 Pro at two decibels quieter. That sounded trivial to me until I understood that decibels are measured logarithmically, like the Richter Scale. Again, when I compared it with my other helmets, I found that, anecdotally, it really was quieter and more stable than all of them, though I still wear earplugs.
Schuberth also patented an Anti-Roll-Off-System (AROS) that employs a strap around the back of the neck to create stability, with prevents wind (and noise) from getting in, and also preventing the helmet from sliding forward over my eyes, and from the possibility of hitting my chest in a crash. (I didn't know that was something that could happen, until I read the literature.) I can say for certain that the helmet really doesn’t budge no matter how I turn or tilt my head. It doesn’t matter if I’m riding a naked bike or faired bike, the thing is unnaturally stable.
Lightweight and Durable
Finally, the C3 is made from an extremely durable glass fiber weave that absorbs resin evenly, creating a thinner, lighter, stronger helmet. Lots and lots of engineering has gone on here, as you might expect from Schuberth's staff of mad German scientists who started making motorcycle helmets in the fifties. (Well okay, those guys are no longer working there, for sure, but it seems they've replaced them with similarly obsessed engineers.) Schuberth also makes helmets for police, firefighters, and the military, so all that engineering gets tossed in as well.
The Next Generation: The C3 Pro
This year Schuberth released a “Pro” version of the C3 helmet. The shape is different, with more room from front to back because riders with longer-oval faces experience pressure on the forehead. The new C3 is also built with a spoiler to be more aerodynamic at over 100 mph, for your racier types. It’s even more plush and cush than before, with softer, more flexible padding. Their women's shell is offered in many colors, including pink, and all of the C3 Pros for Women come with a lovely ruby-colored interior padding.
Among other improvements, the new Pro version is two decibels quieter and the chin strap is set a bit more forward so that it doesn’t press on your Adams apple, a problem some men experienced with the C3. But I think what must make it $150 more expensive than the previous C3 is the integrated antenna for higher-quality intercom and FM reception.
Worth the Money?
The MSRP for the C3 is $699, but you can get it for $629, the C3 Pro, $769. The optional SRC communications system for the C3 is $399, for the Pro, $429.
If you’re shocked at the price tag, as I was at first, here are some considerations. First, I noted that I won't need sunglasses, which, depending on your buying habits, can cost up and over $200 a pair. Or, if you're like me, you might spend that amount on a dozen cheap pairs over the life of the helmet. And if you’re in an accident within three years of purchase, Schuberth will replace the helmet for a third of the retail price. But the safety, comfort, and convenience features I like most are priceless:
Safety First: The helmet exceeds both DOT and ECE standards. I don’t skimp on gear. I’ve taken my share of spills and high-quality gear is the reason I’m still relatively unscathed to continue riding today.
Comfort: When I tour, I can spend literally all my daylight hours on the bike. A lightweight, stable, and quiet helmet with no pressure points and a visor with stellar optical clarity allows me to enjoy my journey.
Convenience. The glove-friendly micro-ratchet chin strap. The slide-down sun visor. Washable COOLMAX interior. Stability. Quiet. These and other features in the C3 have set the standard for any helmet I'll ever wear again.
Most long-distance touring riders wear the highest-quality gear possible, because we want to keep riding, even after that inevitable spill. The bonus of great gear is that you can just forget about it and enjoy your ride. Once it's strapped on and I'm riding, I completely forget about the Schuberth C3, and that, in my opinion, is the highest praise I can give a motorcycle helmet, or indeed, any gear at all.
For More Info & Where to Buy
Schuberth is likely sold in your favorite online retail store in the USA and Europe. (In Europe, the C3 for Women is the C3 Lady). I hope you can try before you buy at a well-stocked motorcycle shop in your area. I'll plug my favorite San Francisco retailers: Scuderia West has an awesome selection of gear for men and women and their sales staff takes the time to help you choose among many different brands and styles. BMW Motorcycles of San Francisco has them, too, among other brands. In fact, Schuberth has close ties with BMW - their BMW Motorrad-branded helmets are made by Schuberth. If you're not close to a dealership, try to find an online retailer that allows free returns/exchanges without making you pay for shipping, like Revzilla.
Schuberth North America is active online with a blog, plus Twitter @SchuberthHelmet and Facebook, and can be found at motorcycle shows around the country, including Overland Expo and the BMW MOA Rally. They have great outreach to the still rapidly-growing women's market, enthusiastically led by longtime motorcycle industry pro Sarah Shilke, who you can see on video demonstrating the C3W and C3W Pro at the Schuberth North America-sponsored Women on Wheels (WOW) International Ride-In. (Schuberth also supports NASCAR racer Danica Patrick.)
I'm trying out a couple of communications systems, dual-sport boots, mesh jacket and pants and, this winter, my first heated geat! So stay tuned for more news and reviews. If you're not on my mailing list, here's the link, or fill out the form below.
Have attended your seminars (and read you Ural book) at a couple of HU events and Overland (home). We bought C3 Pro's from Randy at this year's Expo with the SRC systems. Everything you said in your review is correct. We just returned from AK on our third trip up there, wearing the NEW helmets. Never would I venture on a long trip with anything too new, but they fit perfectly and worked flawlessly. The helmets are so quiet we didn't wear earplugs much of the trip, as the decibel level is 82. Amazing sound system BTW. Often had to reduce volume on the intercom, and while I rarely listened to FM, it worked perfectly. One delight was the pinlock shield, and though I have heard of them forever, have never used. Forget anything else, pinlock never fogs and the helmet never leaks.
I would also say that the helmet seals almost too well. I felt I needed to open the sheild at times to get fresh oxygen in the Helmet. LOL.
I am a long time Arai man, and have owned two Schuberths in the long past. This is the greatest helmet! I totally support your report.