We Test Out Shoei's Top Street Bike Helmet

Back in my road racing days I was, without a doubt, an “Arai guy.” The Arai RX-7 series was my helmet of choice and I owned many, most custom painted by Motorcycle-USA’s graphics guru Brian Chamberlain. I had two reasons for choosing Arai: safety and comfort.

Arai had and still has a well-deserved reputation as one of the safest helmets available. I wanted nothing less than the best when racing so I scrimped and saved in order to purchase one expensive helmet after another. And I’m glad I did because some of the crashes I had during those days were violent enough to make me wonder about what might have been.

The other factor had more to do with my head shape. I’m one of those people with a football (rather than a basketball) shaped head. I always knew Shoei was an excellent alternative to Arai in the top-end helmet market. But back then the Arai RX-7 was the only helmet that didn’t give me a massive headache because of the pressure exerted on my forehead. I tried a few different Shoei helmets but always came to the same conclusion: cool-looking quality helmet but the shape just didn’t fit my head.

Fast forward to 2002 when Arai decided to stop distributing their helmets to retail e-commerce and mail order companies. Now I had a dilemma; under the terms of Arai’s new distribution rules, we were no longer allowed to sell Arai helmets. So I decided to stop wearing Arai helmets and gave the Shoei brand another try. And boy, am I glad I did.

The X-11 is Shoei’s top street bike helmet designed primarily for road racing and sport riding. The helmet comes in eight solid colors and five racer replica designs.

As you’d expect in a premium helmet, it includes features like tool-less shield replacement, many air intake and exhaust vents, a defogging vent, chin curtain and breath guard, and an aero edge spoiler near the back. The heart of the X-11 is the DOT and Snell approved Advanced Integrated Matrix Plus (AIM+) shell. Combining a variety of fibers creates a lightweight, rigid and resilient shell which is (according to Shoei) the safest and most comfortable helmet available.

While we can’t attest to the safety capabilities of the Shoei X-11, because we don’t pretend to be helmet testing experts and haven’t crashed wearing one yet, we can tell you this is one comfortable helmet. When I first tried the Shoei brand I was impressed at how well the X-11 fit but, because of my previous experience, I worried that it could become less comfortable with time. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. I don’t know what Shoei changed to make their helmets fit my head but whatever it was they certainly rival Arai for fit, finish, and wearability.

The thing I noticed most about the X-11 was the weight, or lack thereof. At just 3.2 pounds this is a seriously lightweight helmet. Nothing fatigues a rider more than holding up a heavy helmet while riding a bike for hours on end but thanks to the AIM+ shell, you won’t have such problems.

The other main factor that makes the X-11 so comfortable is the plush interior. Around here, we’ve worn a variety of helmets and how the interior makes contact with your head and face makes a huge difference. The X-11’s interior is soft to the touch and really seems to coddle your noggin in comfort. The liner itself can be removed and washed which helps control the sweat-head stench build-up. You can also swap out the cheek pads between four different thicknesses for a custom fit.

Since a lot of our streetbike testing gets done in the summer, it’s important to keep your head as cool as possible. Not only do we need to think about our riding but we also have to remember how the bike feels so we can report our findings to you. Having your head cook like an egg makes the thought process deteriorate considerably. The X-11 has five air intake vents along with three exhaust vents and you can even crack the shield for added ventilation using the pre-set shield opening lever. All the vents can be opened or closed as the weather dictates and they aren’t just for show, they actually flow air around your head! Pretty amazing considering some of the faux vents we’ve encountered over the years.

Changing a shield in the olden days used to be a major pain in the eye socket. Most of the time it felt like you were going to break the shield in half just trying to pry it from the pivot point. Well, thanks to Shoei’s Quick-Change Tool-Less Shield Replacement System, even ham-fisted Internet journalists can swap shields with ease. Simply move the shield to the full-open position to reveal the release lever. Pull down the lever on both sides and the shield pops right off. To put the shield back on, simply place the shield in the same approximate position and press down until you hear the click. It’s so easy that we now pull the shields off just to clean them between track riding sessions or during a gas stop on the road.

The one thing we did notice was the shield’s tendency to fog during cooler riding sessions. Using no-fog cloths does little to help and even the defogging vent proves ineffective when the climate turns against you. The solution was to apply a Fog City Pro Shield which works for almost any street helmet.

It’s obvious that Shoei paid a lot of attention to keeping the wind noise down to a minimum especially with the improvements to airflow and ease of shield replacement. While most of our riders wear earplugs, it’s still obvious that the X-11 is a quiet helmet. You hear the wind but it’s like white noise, evident but not bothersome. Even when turning your head or opening a combination of vents, there’s no hint of the dreaded wind whistle. The ear pockets are comfy and seem to allow the rider to hear necessary sounds while subduing the annoyances.

The X-11 incorporates a combination of hand-painted colors and clear-coated graphics to create one sweet looking helmet. The base coat on the solid and race replica helmets are sprayed by an actual human being before moving on to the next step. The graphics are water decals and are laid on by hand before multiple coats of clear coat are applied by hand. The result is a helmet with a smooth, blemish free finish. You will notice rises at the edge of the graphics but they are subtle and the finish really does rival a custom paint job at a smidgen of the cost.

So where does the Shoei X-11 rank for our street testing crew? Right at the top baby. Even our died-in-the-wool Arai guys (you can tell them by the Motorcycle-USA sticker pasted over the Arai decal) have started making the switch. Thumb through our recent streetbike tests and you’ll notice the majority of our test crew wearing Shoei X-11 helmets. And when the guys who get helmets for free start moving to one brand or the other, you know there’s a good reason.