Getting old, you either fight it or embrace it. So we’re told. Recently I tried a double pronged assault on a receding hairline, aching joints, memory loss and a receding hairline. Combining attackwith defence I made a series of rash eBay purchases in a bid to feel truly youthful once again.
First up was a BMX, then came a Yamaha QT50 (the connoisseurs field bike) and now I’m contemplating an Atari Lynx. It hasn’t worked. The BMX hurts my seized back, the Yamaha makes me look like a senile weirdo, probably with a houseful of cats and back issues of Reader’s Digest. And having watched a Youtube of California Games I now know that the Atari will be a hundred poorly appropriated pounds.
Many moons ago my eBay watchlist used to be full of vintage motocross helmets, mostly the early 80s Bell Moto 3. That was until I went sliding down the road wearing a plastic Bieffe open facer. Protection levels were probably akin to Donald Trump’s hairspray soaked syrup and I was lucky to hobble away unscathed. 10 years later and the retro helmet market has become a crowded one with manufacturers jumping aboard the rose-tinted bandwagon.
Some have chosen to simply remove nearly all advances in crash helmet safety and wrap the whole lot up as some new wave champion of style, while others have reinvigorated old models. Bell is one of the world’s leading helmet manufacturers and back in 1963 they brought the first full face lid to the world of motor racing. Two decades later the Moto 3 was a favoured helmet protecting the dirt biking elite. The everyman followed suit, not because this was some classically cool looking product, it was actually the height of technology.
Bell have been under huge pressure to bring back the Moto 3 but for some reason they’ve been particularly slow on the uptake, perhaps concentrating on manufacturing their runaway sales success that is the Bullitt has sapped all resources. Other dirt inspired retro lids have graced the shelves at the Bike Shed but orders haven't exactly been rip roaring.
I’ve got a feeling that is about to change.
Bell didn't need to do a thing with regards to the shape and looks of the original Moto 3, just dig out the old moulds and fill them with a more up to date concoction of clever space age materials and voila, pointy graphs on the sales chart.
Seeing as it’s a helmet inspired by dirt racers from yesteryear I took one for a test at the closest thing we have to a nostalgic AMA event, the DTRA half mile flattrack race at Amman Valley, Wales. OK so it’s not motocross but Shopkeep was most insistent that the new lid be tested properly rather than posed in for a few snaps outside our café.
I was slightly dubious as I’d never ridden a long track, this type of surface and was trialling new suspension. It was imperative that the Bell would be comfortable and completely distraction free. Having tried it on in the office I was slightly concerned about the proximity of the chinguard to my face. As it transpires it’s apparently my fault and my face’s proximity to the chinguard. A big hooter and sticky-out facial hair taking up valuable real estate is to blame. Bell have honoured the original helmet’s silhouette and not spoiled it by extending areas to achieve modern standards of practicality. Which is fine, nobody is going to wear one of these for a 35 minute moto at Canada Heights.
At the track a pair of 100% Barstow goggles with half a dozen tear-offs easily fitted into the aperture, with plenty of room for them to seal onto my face. There’s not a lot more ungainly than a supposed cool helmet with goggles wedged into a narrow opening, hovering an inch from the rider’s schnoz.
My dome is an Arai shape and even when I was young enough to be rolling, in mah five-point-oh rocking a Vanilla Ice hair piece this was always the fit of choice, whereas Bell road lids have always felt alien. The Moto 3 though was perfect, super comfortable all round. My favourite part is the towelling liner. It looks just like that crappy polyester stuff from three decades ago but is now made from far more hardwearing and sweat-wicking materials. If you’re used to cheek-scrunching MX lids worn by James Stewart and his pals then you’ll feel a little naked as the pads grip the sideburn area and not much forward or downward from there. Normal sideburns, not the Guy Martin 48oz bison steak variety.
The double d-ring is the correct, sturdy type and the strap is of the quality you’d expect from Bell. The length is just right too. How other helmets have made it into production with a yard of scratchy webbing hanging off one side is beyond me.
The peak is a five popper setup, just like Bob Hannah used to sport at the Motocross des Nations. My race bike doesn't have a speedo so whatever valve bouncing in 3rd, running 15/46 gearing on a 2004 YZ450F is - that’s as fast as the Moto 3 went that day, although in my head I had one hand on the fork leg, tucked, nudging 140mph at the Indy Mile. The stubby peak didn't lift, buffet or rattle one bit and the poppers seemed more than sturdy enough for the job. Not always the case in this new wave of retro cool.
It’s super light too, partly down to the compact shell size (it comes in four different shell sizes depending on the girth of your noggin) but also thanks to the high tech composite fibre construction. This low weight combined with plenty of internal padding (removable and washable) make this is a lid that’ll be comfy all day, every day.
As for paint schemes, pow! The colouring-in department at Bell’s Illinois factory was let loose and they've come up with a wonderful range. The finish on the lurid fluro orange that I tried was excellent and if the Bullitt is anything to go by the fancier finishes on the horizon will be spot on.
Across-the-ponders already have the DOT certified Moto 3 ready to go but us sophisticated types in Europe have been made to hang on for a little longer. Apparently our heads require different tests and therefore they have taken a little longer to hit the shelves. Word on the shopfloor is they are landing next week... Watch this space and we will shout loud when they arrive, they may not hang around for long...
Images by Ian Osbourne