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The Bell Bullitt is a retro imagining of Bell’s popular old Star helmets; and from a company who’ve been in the game for 60 years (and who are our current No.1 top brand for helmet safety!) it deserves to be taken seriously. The Quadrophenia-like style will not be to everyone’s taste, but those keen to let the secret mod (or retro-rocker) in them out for a ride could be on a winner. So if you’re thinking about buying one, here’s the real story about how well the Bell Bullitt performs.
- SHARP 3 star rated
- Comfortable suede interior with expensive feel
- Double-d ring fastener
- Wide view angle
- Excellent ventilation
- Limited chin coverage
- Stylish plain design in five colours
- Prices range from £260-£350
As of Sept 16, the Bell Bullitt was safety tested by the UK government’s SHARP safety rating unit and scored a creditable three stars (out of a maximum 5) which is a very respectable performance considering it’s a retro lid.
In America, it’s certified under the DOT (Department of Transport) standard and it’s also secured an EU ECE standard, the Economic Commission for Europe safety test accepted in 47 countries, including the UK. Each standard involves dropping the helmet from a fixed height onto a spherical and flat surfaced anvil, which is probably not what you’ll be doing with it but it saves on crash test dummies.
Given Bell’s outstanding track record for producing very safe helmets (almost every SHARP-tested Bell helmet to date has scored a maximum 5/5 stars) we’d expect the Bullitt to perform pretty well. There was definitely a question mark over its expected crash performance given its massive nod to retro-chic. But with a three star rating, that’s mostly been put to bed.
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One issue that has been noted with the helmet is its noise when the visor is fully open. A loud whistle has been reported even at low speeds, which reduces when the visor is partially closed and eliminated when it’s fully closed. This suggests a flaw in the design though it should be pointed out that not every owner of the helmet has reported the same problem. At higher speeds it is not a quiet helmet, most likely due to the very wide aperture, so what you may lose in aural defences you gain in vision.
The Bullitt comes in three shell sizes and six fitting sizes, from Extra Small to 2XL. Reports suggest it may be worth trying a size larger than you may be used to – a normal sized head may fit better into a large Bell Bullitt than a medium, for example. It’s interesting that Bell have produced the helmet in 3 shell sizes. Given that producing 3 shell sizes is usually reserved for more serious and high quality helmets, it shows Bell have a commitment to this helmet and see it as much more than a mere novelty.
There have been some complaints that the space between the face and the visor is limited so if you need a bit of breathing room you may be advised to either look elsewhere or ensure you go for the bubble-style visor.
Praise has been near-universal for the Bell Bullitt’s ventilation. In the stifling heat of Summer 2014 it performed well, its five metal mesh intake vents allowing for the smooth passing over air over the top of the head. The vent at the back of the helmet is the key to its talents in this area as the lip at the top of the rear vent helps guide air along the top of the head and adds to the generally aerodynamic feel of the helmet. The front chin vent is also closeable from behind. Very little turbulence or buffeting is reported.
The Bell Bullitt’s aperture is wide, with an excellent viewing range with minimal head-turning. It almost feels like an open-face helmet, it’s that wide.
Some people may have an issue with the visor having only three positions – up, down or halfway between the two. It lacks a ‘slightly open’ position, which may lead to issues in the winter when colder temperatures could lead to fogging with the shield closed – though we strongly recommend using an anti-fog treatment or shield to prevent this (the Bullitt doesn’t come with one).
The visor comes in two styles, flat and bubble, each with various pros and cons. The flat visor eliminates the slight visual distortion of the bubble visor, but the bubble allows for better ventilation and looks more retro, which is presumably the goal if you’re getting this helmet in the first place. The visor is closed using what Bell are calling a ‘Magnefusion Shield Closure System’. Magnets, in other words. There’s a small tab attached to the bottom of the visor that you can use to open and close it, and it’s held flush to the helmet by a magnet. It may take a bit of getting used at first but it’s a pretty cool addition to the helmet.
The visor is not quick release, and needs a bit of working with a coin to get it off the helmet. Top work there Bell – now that’s what I call proper retro!
This seems to be where the Bell Bullitt falls down for some people. It’s a full-face helmet so you’re expecting there to be a large degree of chin protection, but the Bullitt’s design has reduced the chin guard to a minimum for visual effect and to maximise the height of the helmet’s front aperture. I guess we’ll see how well it performs when SHARP test it. The chin bar includes a small vent that’s open/closable from inside; though it’s arguable there’s much point to it given the masses of ventilation below and around the chin. If you’re not a fan of breeze coming into through the bottom of your helmet this could be a problem for you. Buy more scarves (don’t worry, you’ll look even more retro!).
The suede lining is designed for maximum comfort – and to look the part; and for most people it seems to do the trick. The Bullitt’s cheek pads don’t feel like they impose on the space within the helmet. The EPS foam used by Bell is designed to be lightweight and for maximum comfort – and it seems to work well. The only real issue reported with comfort is where the size chosen is too small, though one online reviewer did comment that it’s perfect for a round-headed person ‘so oval heads need not apply’. Are you an ‘oval head’? See a doctor.
Looks & Graphics
There’s a sodding great circle on the side of the cream and red version of it; that’s the first thing you, or anyone you happen to whizz by, will notice about this helmet. It’s a bit distressing that they’ve called this helmet the ‘Bullitt’, given they’ve painted a target on the side. We often feel like we’re targeted enough (u-turning cars, plod etc. etc.) and folks really don’t need the help of an actual, real live red target on the side of our bonces to pick us off! But overall the colours are bang on.
There’s a solid or matt black version for when you want to be moody – and there’s the TT (cream with red target) and blue flake for if you want to look classically retro. And the bubble visor option is a stroke of genius. It even comes in a smoked option. Not sure how many of us will have the guts to wear one, but it looks great in the flesh. Bell have got their styling bang on.
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The Bell Bullitt comes with a double-d ring fastener and has internal speaker pockets in the lining. Other than the fact that the Bullitt comes with a five-year warranty (nice!) there’s not much else to report. So here’s a video with the designer of the helmet. He’s not quite Lawrence Olivier in front of the camera, poor lad, and you might find yourself drifting off a bit, but it’s quite interesting to have a word from the designer.
A retro helmet needs to have more than just the classic look about it to ensure it’s value for money, particularly when it’s going to set you back a few hundred notes. In terms of ventilation the Bell Bullitt can do no wrong, and it’s not lacking in terms of comfort for most people though that minimal gap between face and visor may be off-putting. It’s best described as a good retro helmet for the price, but there are better non-retro helmets out there for the money. At the end of the day, it all depends on how much you want to ride about with a target on your head.
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