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HJC is not a brand that many cyclists will recognise, but in the world of motorcycling, it is a giant, producing over one million helmets per annum. Now the company has turned its attention to cycling, launching four helmets at Eurobike last year. In this review, former Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at two of the new helmets, the Ibex and the Furion.
HJC is a Korean company that has been manufacturing motorcycle helmets since 1971. With that kind of experience, it’s fair to say that the company understands helmets, which has been underscored by heavy investment in research and development. Part of that commitment included the construction of a wind-tunnel at the company’s Korean headquarters along with an extensive array of testing equipment for every safety standard.
The company also knows how to sell its wares, distributing millions of helmets worldwide with products to satisfy a variety of categories. According to HJC, it has been the top-selling brand in the U.S.A. since 1992 and it now holds 20% of the European market. Sponsorship of high-profile competitors and events has also helped raise the profile of the company, which remains a family-run business.
There are some pretty obvious parallels between motorcycling and bicycling, so it’s not really surprising to see that HJC has turned its attention to our sport. In fact, some may ask why it has taken the company so long. Interestingly, the company has chosen to focus on road cycling and the high-performance end of the market in particular, which includes sponsoring Lotto Soudal for three seasons.
All three of the road helmets in HJC’s current catalogue feature the same in-mould construction with an internal skeleton to keep the shell from breaking apart upon impact. Weights are also low, and air-channels are used to help with cooling and comfort, but the balance between ventilation and aerodynamic performance varies with each model: at one end of the spectrum, there is the breezy H-Sonic that has 24 vents; at the other end, there is the sleeker Furion with 15 vents; and in between, there is the Goldilocks-blend, dubbed the Ibex, that has 16 vents.
Of those three helmets, it is the Furion and the Ibex that Lotto Soudal have been using this season, which also happen to be the candidates supplied for this review, thanks to HJC’s Australian distributor, Vivelo Sports.
The Furion: a helmet optimised by wind-tunnel testing
With a wind-tunnel testing facility on hand, HJC is quick to point out how important it was to the design of its new helmets, especially the Furion. Airflow over the helmet was optimised to reduce drag, and according to HJC’s data, the Furion bests three unnamed aero competitors by 4-7% at 45km/h, and 6-7% at 60km/h. At face value, that makes for an attractive marginal gain, but it must be remembered that won’t translate directly to the rider, because the head is just part of the total drag.
HJC’s engineers also paid attention to the flow of air through the helmet, exploiting the Venturi effect to accelerate airflow through the helmet so as to maximise the cooling efficiency of the front vents. As a result, the exhaust vents are purposefully small, and according to HJC’s data, the Furion offers more exhaust ventilation than its competitors, though it’s unclear how that translates to the comfort of the rider.
The rest of the features of the Furion are familiar by contemporary standards: adjustable occipital cradle, adjustable strap splitters at the ears, and padding infused with anti-microbial silver salts.
The Ibex: more air for your hair
While the Ibex boasts just one more vent than the Furion, those vents are much more conspicuous and stretch from the front to the rear of the helmet. According to HJC’s marketing material, wind-tunnel testing also figured in the development of the Ibex, but I couldn’t get any information on how the drag of the Ibex compares to the Furion.
The Ibex clearly promises better ventilation than the Furion. Once again, HJC points to the importance of the Venturi effect and internal air channels to the ventilation of the helmet, however, the company makes no specific claims.
Like the Furion, the Ibex features an adjustable occipital cradle and strap splitters, however, neither are as sophisticated as those found on the Furion. There are just three positions for the occipital cradle while the strap splitters depend on friction to stay in place. As for the helmet’s padding, it also features silver for its anti-microbial properties.
Two helmets, two different fits
HJC made use of 3D laser scanning for shaping the fit of its helmets. Over 200 people were scanned — comprising men and women from a variety of ethnic groups — to create what the company describes as “the ultimate fit.” The result is a choice of three sizes for the Furion and the Ibex: XS/S (54-56cm), M/L (57-59cm), and XL/XXL (60-62cm).
Surprisingly, the fit of the Ibex and Furion proved to be quite different. With a head circumference of 58cm, I expected the M/L to fit me, and while that was true for the Ibex, the Furion was too small. Moving up to a XL/XXL, I was able to get my head into the Furion, but it was too wide for my head. Adjusting the occipital cradle did little to improve the fit, so I was left with a helmet that could wobble on my head.
By contrast, the M/L Ibex did not wobble on my head, though I’ve experienced a much better with other brands such as Giro and Bell, which suit my oval head. From what I can tell, HJC’s helmets offer a little less length relative to the width of the helmet, making for a rounder fit. In the case of the Ibex, a little extra length would have been welcome.
Weight, prices, colours, and accessories
The M/L Ibex sent for review weighed 247g; a Furion in the same size weighed 215g while the next size up (XL/XXL) — which actually fitted me — weighed 243g.
HJC helmets are currently available in Europe, the U.K., and throughout Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand. The Furion sells for AUD$290/€199/£149 with a choice of up to ten colours; the Ibex costs a little more at AUD$310/€249/£179 with up to eight colours on offer.
Each helmet is supplied with a cloth carry bag and, praise be, a replacement set of pads. The latter is typically overlooked by other brands, which is close to unforgivable for any helmet with a triple-figure asking price. After all, replacement pads are inexpensive and will breathe life into a used helmet, but they are often difficult to find via any kind of retailer.
Out in the world
Most of the utility and appeal of any helmet rests with the quality of its fit, and in this case, HJC’s helmets failed to win me over. As I’ve mentioned above, the Ibex and Furion appear to be better suited to round heads, and judging from other reviews for each helmet, both can be very comfortable for some individuals.
Both helmets are light on the head and reasonably well-equipped with user-friendly features, though I was a little surprised how rudimentary the occipital cradle was for the Ibex. There are just three coarse settings for adjusting the height of the cradle compared to 20 for the Furion. The Ibex does offer finer adjustment for the width of the occipital band, although some might find the tiny knob a little fussy to use. As for the strap splitters, I found it easier to adjust the locking clasps on the Furion than the friction buckles on the Ibex.
Leaving the quality of the fit aside, few would be surprised to read that the Ibex offered better ventilation than the Furion. I was testing these helmets during a mild Australian winter, so ventilation wasn’t critical for my comfort, however, I still gravitated towards the Ibex. I could wear it on a daily basis without any areas of heat build-up, but I wouldn’t describe it as a breezy helmet.
Side-by-side testing with a Bell Falcon was enough to prove this point. By contrast, airflow through the Furion was much more difficult to detect. I found that heat would build up at the front of the helmet and over my scalp. Meanwhile, the sides of my head remained quite cool and comfortable, though that might have been helped by the loose fit of the helmet.
For the cooler months of the years, the Furion might be tolerable, but in warm-hot conditions, I would never be tempted to reach for it. Or the Ibex, for that matter, and HJC seems to acknowledge this, because it has the H-Sonic with more vents and larger openings in its catalogue.
With a simple brow pad, neither helmet promises much in terms of sweat management. I wasn’t able to challenge either helmet during the review period due to the mild weather conditions, so strictly speaking, this remains untested. However, having experienced just how effective Bell’s new “Sweat Guide” is at keeping the brow dry, anything less is starting to look outdated.
Finally, as far as sunglasses are concerned, I was able to wear a set of Oakley Radars without any interference from either helmet. Stowage was a different matter since it wasn’t possible to slide the Radars into front vents of either helmet, so the only option was to wear them on the back of my head. My Radars fitted easily under the rear of the Ibex and the Furion and they did not interfere with either helmet.
Bicycle helmets have become increasingly sophisticated and there is no sign that innovation in this sector is slowing down (witness Giro’s novel approach to diffusing rotational forces with the design of the Aether. As a newcomer, HJC has a lot of ground to make up before it can be considered an innovator, but at this early stage, the Ibex and Furion are sound offerings that address the major needs of the market.
One obvious weakness is safety. Now that Virginia Tech/IIHS has started publishing the results of its independent testing, I expect that a four-star rating will add considerably to the value and appeal of any helmet. HJC’s helmets have yet to be assessed by Virginia Tech, so it is too soon to say, but the company has eschewed additional safety features such as MIPS that are likely to help this rating.
One other might be price. Without any innovative features (aside from a set of replacement pads), added safety measures, tangible performance benefits, or a proven track record, HJC’s helmets seem expensive. That statement probably overlooks the effort required to produce not one, but two, sub-250g helmets that meet all of the various safety standards. Nevertheless, shoppers are currently spoilt for choice with what the established brands have to offer, so it is easy to see how HJC will get overlooked until it is able to offer more value, either by adding more features or revising its prices.