Make a safe helmet even safer

Seeing where you’re going, well, that’s a fairly important thing when riding a motorcycle. A fogging faceshield is, at best, a nagging distraction. And we can attest that many a morning commute to MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ has been hampered by a fogged up visor. That was before we started using the Shoei CW-1 Pinlock Visor.

Derek Arnold developed the Pinlock concept three decades ago in the Netherlands. It is a simple yet effective anti-fog system. It comprises two pins bored into the opposing ends of the interior of a motorcycle helmet faceshield. These two pins anchor a fog-free Pinlock lens insert, one side of which is encircled by a small bead of silicone. Two grooves at the ends of the lens hook into the pins, and tension presses the silicone against the inside of the faceshield. The sealed air trapped in the middle act as an insulating barrier, eliminating condensation. It’s the same principle at work in a modern dual-pane window, only inside a rider’s helmet.

Regardless of how it works, there’s no doubting that it does work. And while the motorcycle helmet was the first application, Pinlock has since marketed the technology for a broad range of applications – like fog-free shields for the military and emergency services. A more prominent technology in its domestic European motorcycle market, Pinlock systems have since migrated across the pond in past decade and are becoming more common stateside.

Having long considered testing a Pinlock visor, I was deterred by the inconvenience of manual installation. Initial Pinlock kits were DIY projects, requiring consumers to carefully measure and drill holes into stock shields. Thankfully, for the installation-impaired, a number of helmet brands offer accessory visors with pre-installed Pinlock mounts – like the Shoei CW-1 Pinlock. (Some of the latest generation high-end touring lids in the U.S., like the new Shoei Neotech, feature Pinlock visors as standard kit.)

The Shoei CW-1 Pinlock shield is interchangeable on the Japanese brand’s latest-generation full-face lids, and I utilized it on both my RF-1100 and Qwest helmets. Installation of the interior lens insert is quite simple; just press the faceshield down flat enough to wedge the edges under the pinlocks. Let go and the flex of the hard shield squeezes the lens into place. Pop the shield back in the helmet and you’re good to go.

Test a Pinlock system and it’s immediately obvious why they are becoming more prominent – they are completely effective at eliminating fog. My entire riding season was fog-free. And this includes oodles of cold, damp rides courtesy of MotoUSA’s Pacific Northwest climate. As long as the seal between the shield and lens is secure, the faceshield will not fog.

On one isolated instance, I did note a sliver of condensation in one corner on the periphery of my sightline. I suspect there may have been a slight gap in the seal from jostling the inner lens somehow or not hooking it securely underneath the Pinlocks. Closer examination revealed nothing amiss, and once re-installed I couldn’t replicate the fog leak again.

The Pinlock system isn’t without some drawbacks. Doubling up the lenses raises valid concern about optical clarity. While visual distortions aren’t bad, at certain times of day, usually in lower light, I would catch an image reflection off the inner lens – usually the faint visage of my glorious schnoz (I noted the same effect on a competitor Pinlock shield too). It’s not a major annoyance, and certainly less distracting than the fogging it eliminates.

I found the biggest issue with the extra visor is keeping things clean. If not careful, grime can get stuck inside the layers after swapping out lenses – particularly during dusty conditions. Also, it should come as no surprise that the Pinlock also doesn’t magically keep the outer shield free of the usual muck and debris found on the road. For example, riding up and down the Pacific Coast my visor still “fogged” as the exterior of the shield got coated with salt spray.

I toggled between two lens tints, Clear and Dark Smoke (Amber, Light Smoke and Yellow are also available). Running the Dark Smoke lens transforms the shield into a fully tinted visor – and at first glance it looks like a tinted visor from the exterior too. I found utilizing the Pinlock visor with two lens inserts far more convenient than running separate clear and tinted faceshields. On short rides I’d attach either the tinted or clear lens, depending on conditions. For longer journeys I’d tuck the spare lens in a backpack or tankbag, where it’s less cumbersome to stow away – as it’s flexible and can lay flat. The lens surface isn’t as scratch-resistant as a regular shield, however, so it requires more care in storage. Swapping out the lenses, by the way, adds only a marginal amount of time compared to the regular shield change (thankfully pretty quick on the Shoei).

The Shoei CW-1 Pinlock Visor requires precise fit to work correctly, as a small gap in the gasket-like seal will spoil its fog-stopping capabilities. Yet my test unit proved quite durable, and regrettably was crash tested as well. I suffered a mean get-off this past summer, which scratched up my Pinlock shield pretty bad (not to mention busted up my collarbone and plenty of ribs). It wasn’t until closer examination of my destroyed Shoei RF-1100 that I appreciated the severity of my crash. Out of curiosity I popped off the CW-1 Pinlock visor and slapped it on my unmarred Shoei Qwest to see if it still functioned. The shield kept the fog out on a short brisk ride, though the scratches made it unusable.

So although my visor has now been retired to the crashed gear heap (sigh…), I’d rate the CW-1 Pinlock Visor a sound investment. The clear visor itself retails for $52.99, with the CW-1 Pinlock lenses ringing in at $34.99 apiece. While it’s not a cheap upgrade, it’s a wise investment – particularly for a high-end lid like a Shoei. Not only does it work, the Pinlock shield corrects the one complaint I logged in my RF-1100 and Qwest helmet reviews – their propensity to easily fog up. In fact, right now, I’d rate my Shoei Qwest with CW-1 Pinlock Visor my absolute favorite riding helmet (though I got plenty helmets to test in 2012, not the least of which being the Pinlock-standard Shoei Neotech modular helmet).

Bottom line, the Shoei CW-1 Pinlock Visor delivers as advertised. It nullifies a dangerous distraction, thus making a top-shelf helmet even safer. It’s worth the extra cash for the consumer, particularly for those folks who ride in colder climes.