Davida Ninety 2 vs Bell Custom 500
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.