Review: HJC RPHA-MAX Modular Helmet

Call me loyal, but every helmet I’ve worn has been made by HJC. I’m not saying they’re the highest quality brand available, but I am saying they are probably the best value helmet brand you can buy.

My first helmet was an HJC SyMax, purchased at a local motorcycle dealership a day before my MSF Basic Rider’s Course back in September, 2006. It was affordable, comfortable, and had a basic set of features that suited my riding needs.

After a few years, I upgraded to the HJC SyMax II, the updated model of the SyMax. It had increased features and was even more comfortable. That helmet has been with me for over 30,000 miles and has served me well.

Many people feel that once a helmet has been worn for three years, it’s time to replace them. This is because the padding inside compresses and apparently moisture and exposure to the elements weakens the helmet’s ability to protect your noggin in an involuntary get-off.

The logical replacement choice was the SyMax III. But there was another option available, and after reading a lot of reviews and analyzing the available features, I decided to get the HJC RPHA-Max.

It is a higher-end modular helmet, costing almost $150 more than the SyMax III, but it had a feature set and level of quality that I was looking for. I ride 10,000 miles a year, in all kinds of conditions, and I wanted a helmet that could meet my needs.

The RPHA-Max has a slightly more neutral shape and is sized a bit smaller than the SyMax series, so I ordered a medium instead of a small. That was a good call — it fits my head well with no hot spots. The fit is a little different, however. The bottom of the helmet seems to be closer to my shoulders and this makes it slightly more difficult to swivel my head around. I still have a full turning radius, but it takes a bit more effort at the extremes. The chin bar also sits slightly closer to my mouth. What’s weird about this helmet is that it has the same smell inside as a new car.

The chin skirt is a mixed blessing. It blocks noise and airflow, which is good on cold rides, but it blocks airflow, which is bad on warm rides. Once I seat the chin bar down into its locked position, I sometimes need to reach up with my finger tip and pull the chin skirt down off my chin into it’s intended underneath position.

When riding a bike with a windscreen, the helmet is quiet and stable. On my V-Strom 650, I now have the quietest ride of any helmet I’ve worn. When riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750, however, things change. I noticed my head position drastically changes the noise level in the helmet. If I’m facing directly forward, it’s quiet. If my head is titled down at all — like I’m trying to touch my chin to my chest — it gets very noisy around the face shield. If you ride an unfaired bike that has a neutral seating position, no worries. The RPHA-MAX is quiet and rock stable. If you tilt your head down at all, the aerodynamics change at a very specific angle and it gets noisy. Considering this, I wouldn’t recommend this helmet for those riding race-replica sport bikes (most folks that ride these type of bikes don’t wear modular helmets to begin with, so this issue may be moot).

The visor has excellent horizontal peripheral visibility, but slightly reduces the bottom portion of the vertical peripheral field of view. This means when I’m riding, I now have to tip my head down slightly to get a full view of my V-Strom’s speedometer. I never had to do that with my SyMax or SyMax II. The upper quadrant of my vertical field of view is about the same; no restriction of view.

The visor has outstanding clarity, but when I bring the built-in sun shade down, some distortion occurs. The main visor now has a central grab point (and lock!) instead of offset to the left. This means I can raise my visor with either hand. I was able to grab the visor lift point okay while wearing my Cortech Scarab winter gloves. Although I suspect the visor has several detents, in actual use it seems I can place the visor in any position I want and it will stay there.

Top ventilation on the RPHA-Max is outstanding. A simple flick of the switch on the top of the helmet brings immediate and noticeable airflow across the top of my head. I can notice it even when wearing a bandana or other head covering inside the helmet (which I usually do to absorb sweat). This will be a very handy feature during summer rides.

The helmet is lightweight, making my previous helmet, the SyMax II, feel heavy by comparison. It feels more snug around my cheeks and neck, and despite having a slightly different internal shape, it still fits my head comfortably. I’d say the RPHA-MAX has a neutral shape. The noise level is pleasant (I wear earplugs). Overall, the helmet feels like more of a precision instrument than its predecessors.

The visor is relatively easy to remove and put back on. Since it’s a Pinlock type and I have the anti-fog Pinlock insert, I don’t need to take it off to apply shaving cream — the poor-man’s anti-fog solution. This is my first use of a Pinlock visor and I absolutely love it. I’ve since ordered a Pinlock visor for my HJC CS-R2 helmet, worn when riding my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750.

One of my complaints of the SyMax series was the visor didn’t form a tight seal against the brow of the helmet, and this allowed rain to run down the inside of the visor. The RPHA-Max appears to form a tight seal all the way around, and so far it has kept the rain out.

UPDATE 1-02-2014

I’ve worn this helmet for over 5,000 miles in all sorts of weather conditions and I would say it has continued to exceed my expectations. It is versatile and comfortable and has held up without any issues. It has done a good job of keeping water out when riding in the rain, and the Pinlock insert has been wonderful at preventing fogging on the inside of the visor. As I have stated before, this helmet is an excellent value and if I needed to get a new helmet, I’d buy another HJC RPHA-MAX without hesitation to replace it.

UPDATE 4-17-2013

Removing the chin skirt is an easy process (just follow the simple directions). Doing so is good when you’re riding in warm weather but perhaps not so good when riding in cold weather. On my commute in this morning, it was 34 degrees. Minus the chin skirt, a fair amount of cold air circulated across my face and made my eyes water for several minutes until they got used to it. I placed my glove under my chin to replicate the chin skirt I had removed the night before and the airflow stopped immediately.

I also added the included anti-fog Pinlock insert. It was easy to put into place (as you might imagine), didn’t reduce clarity at all, and eliminated fogging entirely during my cold morning commute. Yay! No more rubbing shaving cream on the inside of my face shield!

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