Davida Ninety 2 vs Bell Cus­tom 500

Motorcycle Monthly - - Head To Head: Open-Face Helmets -

Open-face hel­mets – some think they’re just for scooter rid­ers or pi­lots of clas­sic ma­chin­ery, but they are a valid choice, no mat­ter what you ride. Lighter and with a wider field of vi­sion than a full-face, if you are a glasses wearer like me they’re eas­ier to slip on and off.

Bell and Davida are per­fect ex­am­ples of com­pa­nies grow­ing out of need. Roy Richter formed Bell in 1954 when, un­able to find what he wanted, he made his first fi­bre­glass hel­met in his garage in Bell, Cal­i­for­nia.

Davida started in the Wir­ral in 1974 en­gi­neer­ing be­spoke mo­tor­cy­cle parts, but be­gan hel­met man­u­fac­ture at the start of the Eight­ies when founder David ‘Fid the Lid’ Fid­daman was sim­i­larly frus­trated and de­signed his own. Bell re­main staunchly Amer­i­can, while Davida are rightly proud of be­ing the sole UK man­u­fac­turer of open-face hel­mets, with the en­tire pro­duc­tion process hand-made in the UK.

Both com­pa­nies cater for the higher end of the mar­ket, so we took the op­por­tu­nity to com­pare a hel­met from each. Davida sup­plied their Ninety 2 (RRP £289 in plain colours and up to £400 for pat­terns), while Bell sent a Cus­tom 500 (RRP £149.99 up to £189.99. There is a car­bon range at around £350/380). Davida also sent along a cou­ple of vi­sors (the ‘Punk’ five-stud and three-stud ‘Bub­ble’), while the Bell came with a three-stud Bub­ble item.

If you’re look­ing to ride in Europe, the Ninety 2 isn’t for you (it has a BS6658 Type B li­cence – Davida’s ‘Jet’ hel­met has the ECE 22.05), while the Cus­tom 500 has Euro and US li­cences (NB. There are Bell hel­mets that only carry the US DOT li­cence, not im­ported to the UK. Be­ware if you buy from the US). The Bell comes with vi­sor and syn­thetic leather bowl­ing bag as stan­dard. The Davida sup­plies a con­ven­tional cloth carry bag and vi­sors/gog­gles etc at ex­tra cost. The key cri­te­ria with open-face hel­mets are: Fit – they need to fit snugly to pre­vent lift­ing. Sound­proof­ing – open-face, so in the­ory louder. Ef­fec­tive­ness of eye­ware (gog­gles/vi­sors) – their job, es­pe­cially on longer rides, is to pro­tect your face from the el­e­ments, plus be sta­ble and se­cure. Fin­ish and com­fort – we’re look­ing at the high-qual­ity end of the mar­ket, so you can ex­pect these el­e­ments to be top-notch. Both hel­mets ooze qual­ity. The Davida’s paint­work is a deep, rich sheen. The fin­ish on the Bell be­lies the price dif­fer­ence – if you told some­one it was a more ex­pen­sive hel­met, they’d be­lieve it from the looks. Both com­pa­nies can pro­duce be­spoke paint jobs (see Davida Jet re­view) if re­quired, for an ad­di­tional cost. The Davida has a nar­row pro­file, the Bell is rounder (per­haps due to the var­i­ous Euro re­quire­ments), but both fit snugly. Slip­ping on a Davida is an art form, but once you have the knack it is in­stantly com­fort­able with the plush padded leather in­te­rior feel­ing great. It fas­tens via a D-ring, with the same avi­a­tion-grade leather used to cre­ate the straps used on the in­side. The Bell took a lit­tle more get­ting used to. The pro­file is dif­fer­ent, with the cir­cum­fer­ence around the fore­head/tem­ple area feel­ing nar­rower (I could feel it press­ing gen­tly, not un­com­fort­ably, but when I took it off af­ter a longish ride I had a criss-cross pat­tern from the lin­ing on my brow). Open-face hel­mets need a snug

fit, so I rec­om­mend you try be­fore you buy. The Bell also fas­tens via D-ring, with a soft, com­fort­able chin­strap. Those of you who think an open-face hel­met will be noisy, please try a Davida. Slip it on and the world be­comes a much qui­eter place. At lower speeds there is no need for earplugs. Rid­ing in the Ninety 2 at mo­tor­way pace with plugs in and us­ing their bub­ble vi­sor, it is one of the qui­etest hel­mets I’ve ever worn. Okay, you get the wind com­ing in un­der the vi­sor, but the sound­proof­ing is ex­em­plary… it is so quiet I found my­self over-revving the bike, as I couldn’t hear the en­gine! The Bell is also quiet – I strug­gled to hear some­one speak­ing to me. It’s peace­ful in there up to mo­tor­way speeds, when wind­blast had an ef­fect, but the ad­di­tion of earplugs sorted that out. And they’re so light. The Ninety 2 is 1300g, with the Bell a svelte 1175! They’re both nicely bal­anced, if you’re spend­ing hours in the sad­dle your neck will thank you af­ter­wards.

Both hel­mets were so sta­ble. The con­cern as the pace picks up is the hel­met lift­ing, but they were rock solid at mo­tor­way pace.

The vi­sors sup­plied by Davida per­formed dif­fer­ently. I ini­tially went for the Punk as it does up with five studs, so I thought it would be more sta­ble (and it at­tached eas­ier). It is a shorter, squarer cut. Up to 40mph it was lovely, but as I picked up pace I was re­minded of the line in the Hawk­wind song ‘Freefall’: “The wind will take your fright­ened face and force your mouth to smile.” I hadn’t re­alised how much of the time I ride with my mouth open, un­til at 6070mph the air went into my mouth and my lips flapped! If you’re rid­ing for longer at higher speeds, the bub­ble vi­sor works much bet­ter as it sits lower and has a lip at the base to flip air over the top.

The Bell bub­ble vi­sor is some­where in be­tween. It was more ef­fec­tive than the Punk, de­flect­ing air more ef­fi­ciently, but Davida’s bub­ble vi­sor gave a bet­ter re­sult as the pace picked up. I did worry that the alu­minium edg­ing would be ob­tru­sive, but you don’t see it once it is on and if like me you are a clumsy klutz and drop it when fit­ting, it took the ini­tial im­pact and pre­vented crack­ing (two small chips were not in my eye­line).

Both hel­mets are a very valid buy. Great fin­ish, sta­ble even at mo­tor­way pace, qui­eter than you’d ex­pect and to be hon­est qui­eter than pretty much any­thing else I’ve worn, but I pre­fer the Davida – the lin­ing felt more com­fort­able and it was a bet­ter fit (I think this is an­other Arai/Shoei head thing, my head shape is bet­ter suited to a Davida). But if the fit is right, the Bell is a strong choice, es­pe­cially at the price (com­ing with a vi­sor and at­trac­tive but im­prac­ti­cal carry bag), com­ing in £140-odd less than the Davida plus vi­sor.



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