by Chris B. for webBikeWorld.com
UPDATE: HJC Sy-Max III review and information on the upgraded visor locking mechanism.
I normally wear a full-face helmet when I'm riding a motorcycle unless I'm evaluating a flip-up for a webBikeWorld review.
My feeling is that the advantages of a flip-up helmet usually do not outweigh the disadvantages.
I also find flip-up helmets to be generally heavier, louder, less comfortable and with poorer ventilation than a good full-face helmet.
But what concerns me most is the protective capabilities of a flip-up helmet compared to a full-face design.
Recently, Chris B., one of our contributors, experienced a failure of the critical latching mechanism on his HJC Sy-Max II.
I thought our readers would be interested in learning more.
Note that this report is not meant to be a diatribe against HJC. In fact, if you read our published HJC helmet reviews, you will see that the evaluators have a high regard for HJC products.
And based on what I've seen of other flip-up helmet designs with similar types of latching mechanisms, the problem described here may not be isolated to the HJC Sy-Max II; indeed, many other flip-up helmets use the same basic design.
As a rule, I normally do not publish comments about customer or product disagreements with retailers or manufacturers, because it's usually too difficult to determine what really happened.
And there are always two sides to the story.
However, I felt that Chris' problem was important enough to cover because the HJC Sy-Max II and other flip-up helmets using the same type of latching design are very popular with motorcyclists.
One other thought: It's really a shame that DOT and/or Snell have not developed a helmet safety standard or "best practices" build requirements specific to flip-up helmets.
There is no technical reason why the rotating visor on a flip-up helmet couldn't be as strong or stronger than the chin bar on a full-face helmet.
I can easily imagine some type of aluminum skeleton bracing system behind the chin bar and in the forward parts of the flip-up helmet shell that would lock solid when closed and provide excellent security.
Note also that no one will ever know whether the helmet described below, even with its broken latch mechanism, would or wouldn't protect the rider during a crash.
But looking at the wimpy screws holding the helmet together in the photos below does not give me a lot of confidence in the chin bar. Indeed, it rather confirms my skepticism of flip-up safety in general.
The moral of this story is "Do you know what's holding your flip-up helmet together?"
I can tell you this: from now on, we will be taking a much closer look at the construction of the rotating visor on flip-up helmets during our helmet reviews.
Hopefully, attention to this issue will encourage helmet manufacturers to improve their designs.
More: See the HJC Sy-Max III review with updated visor locking system.
When I returned to riding after a 20+ break for kids and career, I started wearing a full-face helmet.
I didnít know that such a beast as a "Flip-up" helmet existed.
It was only after a couple of years of riding that I began to notice this helmet type and I thought owning one could be an advantage for the same reasons that many others do.
Those reasons can be summed up in two words: Eyeglasses and allergies.
Have you ever tried to blow your nose or put a piece of gum in your mouth (or taking a drink of water) while wearing a full-face helmet? It's not easy.
There are other advantages to wearing a flip-up helmet; for example, it's nice having the ability to flip the chin bar up to answer a question from a curious passer-by (or when asking for directions) seems far more polite than shouting through a helmet eye port.
So even though the helmet I was wearing at the time wasnít yet ready for replacement, I bought a flip-up -- the original HJC Sy-Max (not the newer Sy-Max II), one of the most popular flip-ups ever made.
That helmet is now 8 years old and I use it as a spare helmet. It is still functional, although it's due for replacement. Itís also the only helmet I have that is rigged for an intercom system for my touring bike.
I then decided that I wanted another helmet without the cumbersome intercom system installed to wear when I ride solo, so about two years ago I purchased an HJC Sy-Max II (review), which is (was) HJC's replacement for the original Sy-Max.
I tried wearing another brand of flip-up helmet, but I returned to the HJC because of my experience with the original Sy-Max flip-up, which fits nicely on my noggin and has a very nice internal sun visor.
Fast forward to 2011. Recently, while on a 1,300 mile trip to and from my brotherís home in Vermont, I discovered a problem with releasing the chin bar (rotating visor) on the Sy-Max II.
The rotating mechanism would only work intermittently -- it would stick shut and after a couple of tries it would eventually release, but there was a problem and it was a bit disconcerting.
I guessed that the stuck visor was probably being caused by something like a stretched release cable or similar, so I made a mental note to look into it as soon as I got home.
A few days later, I took the helmet into my basement work area, spread out a towel and began an inquiry as to the cause of the rotating visor problems.
Having been an Automotive Technician for the past 40 years I have a natural inquisitiveness as to why something is broken or not operating properly -- and whether or not it can be repaired.
My wife is convinced I can fix anything, although I donít quite share her opinion!
Anyway, having disassembled literally hundreds -- or should I say thousands -- of cars both inside and out, figuring out how to access the chin bar mechanism on the HJC was a no-brainer.
The only thing holding the plastic cover over the latches on the inside of the chin bar are two screws, one on each side, hidden by a piece of black tape.
The chin bar plastic cover is a friction fit along the top where it meets the eye port opening.
When I pulled back the tape on both sides, I was greeted with loose screws. Hmmm...interesting. Whatís this about?
Now you may be aware that when the rotating visor on a flip-up helmet is closed, it is supposed to "lock" in place.
The locking mechanism usually consists of a metal or plastic latch on either side. The latches in the rotating visor clamp on to a post on either side of the helmet shell to secure the visor.
The designs may vary, depending on the brand of helmet, but they're generally the same.
Some have a much more secure feel than others, but normally the owner doesn't see how the latching system works and instead takes it for granted that the design is strong enough to last for the life of the helmet and will provide the required protection in case of a crash.
But in every design, the attachment points for the latches (which are usually made of metal in newer flip-up helmets) are critical to keeping the visor closed and locked.
So after removing the plastic cover on the back of the chin bar of the Sy-Max II, I was stunned at what I found. The only thing holding each latch to the chin bar are two small plastic molded posts measuring about 5 mm in diameter on each side (four in all).
These posts are molded as part of the rotating visor when the visor is molded.
Into each of these posts, a 3 mm by 7 mm long screw is self threaded. The screws hold the latch assembly on to the rotating visor.
On this helmet, both lower posts had broken at the very same point on both sides!
On closer examination, cracking could be seen along the length and around the circumference of each post that was still attached to the screw. In addition to this, the top screw on the left side was loose and the one on the right was stripped out.
I am convinced that during a crash, there is NO way the chin bar would have remained closed with what little was remaining to keep the latches secure.
Iím sure some readers will nod their heads and mumble something like "thatís the risk you run wearing a modular helmet instead of a full face".
Immediately after my discovery, I contacted HJC via e-mail with my findings, concerns and a request for a repair or replacement helmet. I also included pictures of the latches, broken retainer posts and the sales receipt.
Here is the reply I received:
"Since we do not sell directly nor distribute directly we do not carry extra inventory of helmets here therefore we do not handle the warranty repairs directly. You will need to provide this info and receipt directly to the dealer where it was bought from (whether store or online), they will contact their rep who will need to inspect the helmet to determine warranty repair."
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed in this response, but I proceeded to the next point of contact at the retailer where I purchased the helmet.
I have to point out that HJC provides a one year warranty on this helmet against manufacturing defects, and as I mentioned, the helmet is about 2 years old.
But with something as critical as the latching mechanism, I thought it should be repaired or replaced.
At first the person I talked to at the retailer felt optimistic about assistance from HJC, but after contacting the HJC Sales Representative, the reply was "Sorry, itís out of warranty". End of the matter.
"Besides", they said, "The Sy-Max II is now out of production" and they would be "unable to find a replacement".
I have no intentions of slandering HJC and I understand the out of warranty issue, although I must point out that some other brands of helmets have a longer warranty.
I also know there have been many hundreds of helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld, including many HJC helmets and there is usually high regard for HJC products.
As I said, my older original Sy-Max is still in service with no problems, but I felt the issue with the broken posts was important enough to alert other Sy-Max II owners of a possible weakness in the latching mechanism.
I highly recommend that anyone who currently owns an HJC Sy-Max II to take the time and inspect these screws on their helmet.
Even if the helmet is out of warranty, I wonder how many owners would consider a broken latching mechanism to be acceptable after only two years of use.
Inspecting the screws requires no disassembly of the helmet other than to open the chin-bar, pull back the tape on either side of the plastic cover on the inside of the chin-bar and check if the screws are loose.
If they are, thereís a good chance the posts have broken on your helmet. At that point, youíll have to decide whether to continue using the helmet or not.
If theyíre tight, everything should be in place, leave well enough alone. Thatís it!
So, now I have a helmet thatís only about half-way through its expected life and is no longer safe to wear due to a component failure.
Quite frankly, I feel that HJC is dodging its responsibility to a customer (me) in this case.
If this is, as I hope, an isolated case, HJC should have considered retaining a loyal customer by at least locating a replacement or offering an alternative choice.
Iím not one that jumps from brand to brand. Iíve been driving the same brand of vehicle for nearly 20 years and will buy another when itís time, but I fear HJC has most likely lost me as a customer.
Editor's Commentary: I don't know if Chris' helmet has a one-off problem or if this issue is endemic to all HJC Sy-Max II helmets. I also don't know if there is a "MTBF" (Mean Time Between Failure) rate for a flip-up.
How many visor rotations is a flip-up designed to withstand? Not many, apparently.
In my opinion, this is where DOT and/or the Snell Foundation should be taking a leading role in setting standards and testing flip-up helmets -- an issue we've been puzzled about for over 10 years now with no resolution in sight.
In the meantime, I'd sure like to hear from the helmet manufacturers with some explanations on why their latching mechanism is better and/or safer than the rest.
More: See the HJC Sy-Max III review with updated visor locking system.
Publication Date: July 2011
From "M.A." (September 2012): "The latch on my Sy-Max II has started failing. The symptoms are it only latches securely on one side (right) and when pushing the release tab the left side latch mechanism does not move.
I received the helmet as a gift in December 2009 but the sticker in the helmet seems to indicate a manufacturer date of October 2008 in Korea.
After reading this article I'm anxious to open up my helmet to see if I also have broken screw posts. I am now thinking long and hard about whether I want to get another modular helmet or just go back to a regular full face helmet."
From "N.T." (February 2012): "I stumbled across this article tonight while surfing your site and it left me with my mouth hanging open.
I have been riding since I was 18 (currently 57) and the first of December, 2011, I decided I needed to start wearing a flip-up modular for what I believed to be safety reasons. So I purchased a HJC Sy-Max II.
About two weeks ago (mid-January 2012) I took the helmet off after a ride and a white plastic piece feel out. I looked inside the latch housing and found the latch assembly was loose due to the broken plastic piece which I now know to be the screw boss.
I took the helmet back to (the dealer) and they called the HJC distributor who advised them to ship the helmet to the HJC service center and they would either repair it or issue a store credit.
Thanks to this article I now know my experience was not an isolated one and frankly I hope they do not repair the helmet but instead issue a credit so that I might purchase a different helmet. Thank you for the information."
From "O.R." (December 2011): "My Nolan N90 (review) com flip-up has a 5 year warranty. Just saying..."
From "D.P. " (September 2011): "I too had "latch failure". I might have 200 miles in this helmet over 2 seasons. Coming back from a recent trip, when I couldn't stop and take a good look at it...it failed.
When I got home and could take a better look at my situation...3 screws fell out! Upon further examination....all three screw/contact points with the chin bar outer shell sheared off (I have pictures and sent them to HJC).
I love wearing a helmet and wear a helmet always. This makes me so mad in that...this is a safety device! And it surely would not have stayed down in an accident. Contact with HJC just points to the fact..."I'm out of warranty".
I feel this is a manufacturing defect...brittle plastic, bad mold, or screws too tight or too large for the "peg" This is my second (and last) HJC helmet."
From "P.A.S." (August 2011): "Very interesting story... I purchased a Sy-Max II from Cycle Gear in Sacramento, California on July 16, 2011 (approximately one month ago). The helmet was on sale (closeout?) for a good price and was/is a very comfortable helmet for my head.
From the start, the latch on one side of the chin bar would occasionally be a bit reluctant (sticky) to open. Just today (August 19, 2011), one side of the chin bar refuses to unlatch and I am no longer able to open the chin bar.
While very tempted, I did not disassemble the helmet as I will be returning it to Cycle Gear for warranty repair. I would be I have the same issue as the author of the story.
I have always been wary of modular helmets and prefer helmets with a Snell rating, but I decided to go with the Sy-Max II due to its great fit and excellent price. After reading this article I am not sure I want to wear this helmet even after it is repaired."
From "T.J." (August 2011): "I was surprised to read the article and comments and not find any mention of the [UK SHARP helmet testing scheme (report)]. By their testing very few, read 2 or 3 of the field of flip ups are testing and staying locked. Some of the most expensive helmets are failing 50% of the time. Latch failure is apparently common across the field of manufacturers."
From "B.P." (August 2011): "I just read your article, very informative and helpful, although my failure was different.
My chin bar release button was getting looser and looser and the chin bar was getting harder and harder to unlock. After reading your article I opened up the chin bar and out fell a broken screw, but not one of the ones mentioned on your article but the centre one that holds the button/lever in place.
I guess I'll be drilling a hole and putting a nut and bolt in to fix it. Thanks for the useful info."
From "R.G." (July 2011): "I just purchased a U.S. spec Schuberth C3 (review). I studied the latching mechanisms of about 9 flip-up helmets over the past year and I noticed that the screw bosses in many of the sub-$400 helmets had rather weak looking screw bosses.
One thing that I see that contributes to these flips coming open in crashes is the flexibility of the lower sides of the main helmet where they attach. This is what kept me from buying one.
It was only when I saw that the DOT version of the C3 had a DOT mandated extra layer of material applied to the outer shell did I pull the trigger and buy one. But only after I was able to use a friendís English bought C3 and a new US C3 and conducted my simple test of grabbing the chin strap area and pushed and pulled against the helmet to gauge flexion. The DOT helmet moved much less than the English version.
Personally, I would like to see a different type of latch. I would like to see a twin metal bar system that goes around the chin bar that has metal catchments where the bar fits into a larger bar as in male female connection in the main helmet area. I think you would see many fewer accidental openings and would increase the overall protection of the helmet."
Editor's Reply: I'm not sure what the DOT standard says about the rotating visor security of flip-up helmets, if anything. If there was a "mandated extra layer of material", then it should also be on all the other DOT flip-ups, like the HJC Sy-Max II?
I'm also not sure what flexibility across the helmet really tells. We evaluate flexing on all the helmets we evaluate and most of the time this is illustrated in the videos accompanying the reviews.
But some helmets that are rated very highly in SHARP or Snell tests have what seems like a lot of flex and some don't. There's an argument that some flexibility is good, to help absorb energy on impact. Bottom line is, it's still hard to know what's best unfortunately.
From "G.U." (July 2011): "A couple of months ago I quit using my Sy-Max II and went back to my old HJC CL-15. I wanted to like the Sy-Max, but in the end I couldn't put up with it's cheapness and flimsy construction. This helmet was made in China, unlike all my other HJC helmets. Considering the short time this helmet was on the market before being discontinued, I have a feeling that HJC had a failure of outsourcing."
From "L" (July 2011): "The article written by your reader is a good one in that it shows the helmet has a weak link and what the manufacturer is willing to do about correcting the problem and satisfying the customer. If it were me I would throw the helmet away and buy one from someone else.
Beyond that I think if you are looking for a flip up to compare with a solid chin bar helmet or for one that would not pop open in a crash you may be on the wrong track. Years ago when I bought my first flip up helmet I wondered how secure the latching mechanism might be. It stands to reason, if you think about it, that it is not as secure as a solid chin bar.
The SHARP testing web site seems to prove that a flip up helmet could pop open with an impact. The price of the helmet seems not to be the determining factor. It is apparent however that there is a big difference in the latching mechanism between helmets as some brands never pop open while others open more than 50% of the time.
The more important conclusion that can be drawn from the SHARP test data is they are not too concerned with the fact the helmet opens on impact but on how well it protects your brain.
Some of their test helmets that opened occasionally still received their highest rating. I suppose this makes sense since even if your helmet opens the consequences might be a broken jaw, the loss of some teeth or maybe a ground off nose, all repairable. If your brain is damaged it is probably game over."
From "J.T." (July 2011): "In April 2010, my Sy-Max II latch came lose while prepping for the Iron Butt 5000 Rally. I ended up repairing the helmet and it served me well for a few more months till I managed a replacement. (Here are some photos):
From "S" (July 2011): "I also prefer flip-up helmets and in the last year, a few comments like that on different helmet make me changing my mind.
Remember in the first year of the C3 (Schuberth) that some owners reported pivot screw going through the plastic. I just found some pictures (of it). (Don't know for the picture rights).
Then we saw on the UK S.H.A.R.P test how very little amounts of helmet pass the test without having the jaw integrity still intact. But the most interesting was an article I read (here in German) (and in English here in Google translate) in the German Motorrad magazine website with the guy for the legislation of helmet in Germany telling that they are considering the interdiction of flip up helmets.
From him, 75% of the approved helmets can't pass the same (ECE approval) tests 2 years after. Personally, flip-up is still my favorite but I think they should create a norm test specially for them and guarantee that all those for sale on the market are safe and wont dismantle apart in a crash."
Editor's Note: Apparently, Germany will no longer allow flip-up helmets unless they are re-tested every two years? Here's an English translation of the Motorrad Magazine interview with Horst M. Pasulke of the German Federal Highway Research Institute:
"Motorrad: What are the current problems with flip-up helmets and how you became aware of the issue?
Pasulke: We, as legislators from the Federal Highway Research Institute initiated a duty to observe the market and had some samples to determine that the folding mechanism of many helmets the actually available for an above-average useful life-cycle no longer meets the ECE requirements.
Motorrad:: If it is safety-related defects? What conclusions should be drawn from your findings?
Pasulke: Not necessarily. For us it's all about the compatibility of the standard deduction available to ECE. That's where we need to see verifiable.
Motorrad:: What will be the review exactly?
Pasulke: We will instruct the testing organizations to review every two years due to the vehicle-HU also the flip-up helmet. In the medium unaudited flip-up helmets will no longer be allowed."
From "J.W." (July 2011): "One would think that HJC would be interested enough to determine the cause of failure to get the helmet so they can check it out and compensate the customer with a new helmet instead of just stonewalling.
This is how successful products liability suits start. Someone down the road gets injured because the latch failed and in court they show that HJC was aware of the defect and did nothing.
I don't have to tell you how the story ends except that after HJC gets hammered by a jury everyone in the industry then blames the lawyers for filing suits that drive the cost of products liability insurance and hence the cost of the product up."
From "B.M." (July 2011): "In 2006, I was involved in an accident where I was rear-ended on I-75 in Chattanooga (Tennessee). At the time I was wearing a Sy-Max helmet that failed to provide the protection that I expected from it.
The chin bar released and opened up at some point during the accident and I found out at that time that this helmet failed this roll-off test with the chin bar open. It did not fail my roll-off test at the time of purchase, of course I performed that test with the chin bar latched closed.
I suffered a fractured skull and a minor brain injury that took a year to get over and still have short term memory problems. I contacted HJC and they were sorry to hear of my accident and sent me a helmet to replace the damaged one. That was the extent of their reply to address my concerns about a potential design problem. I did not ask for or want another HJC modular helmet.
I have a friend that is a MSF instructor, after my accident he was having his students bring their helmets in to the classroom to perform roll-off test with modular helmets in an open position, the Symax helmet failed frequently and failed the test more than any other helmet.
Most everything I do concerning motorcycling is based on risk management; little did I know what a risk I was taking with this helmet. It also has plastic hinges that I have seen fail simply from a helmet falling from the seat of a parked motorcycle. Barring anymore unforeseen problems by the time this year is over I will have ridden my 500,000th lifetime motorcycle mile."
From "L.E." (July 2011): "Interesting article today on the Sy-Max II failure. I noticed on the Sharp testing website (more) that the HJC modular (system) helmets don't fare particularly well in the area of "Percentage of impacts where the faceguard remained fully locked". They seem to run in the 40-47% range. I wonder if this unlocking is in any way related to the failure your contributor identified.
Until today's article, I'd not considered that the latch mechanism may have actually failed. I had presumed that they simply released due to the parts flexing or popping open due to impact. Unfortunately, Sharp does not share that detail information.
From the photos, the plastic boss seems to lack sufficient radius at the base - this stress riser will make it more prone to cracking under stress. A more close-up photo of one of the unbroken screw bosses would be helpful.
Besides this design detail, strength is much affected by the molding process. Process consistency, moisture content of the plastic, use of regrind material, etc., greatly affect part-to-part strength and likelihood of failure.
Most of my own products are produced from polycarbonate...we use millions of pounds of PC per year. If improperly processed, it can be surprisingly weak and brittle.
Modular vs. Full Face - Hoop Strength:
A full face helmet has a continuous circle of material view from the bottom of the helmet. This gives it something called "hoop strength". The hoop strength also permits substantial flexing without breaking.
A modular helmet interrupts this hoop by having 2 semicircular shapes which must be fastened together. With the 2 joined semi-circles, a modular design cannot approach the strength and rigidity of a simple hoop unless the designer adds significant structure and weight. These adders are, of course, undesirable in a helmet.
Imagine a car or truck or motorcycle wheel made this way, in 2 segments bolted together at the 180 degree points. You get the idea. It can be done but it's going to be heavy and not as reliable as a 1 piece.
Anyhow, thanks for the report. Useful and important stuff. I hope my Shoei Multitec fairs better.
P.S. - I got a bit of similar runaround from HJC as noted by one of the respondents, when I tried to get my FS-15 properly fit with thicker cheek cushions. They told me it was not possible to fit thicker cushions, but that I should exchange it at the dealer for a smaller size shell, since they (HJC) don't carry parts.
Naturally a dealer will not exchange a helmet once it has been worn. HJC seems to push responsibility for customer service to their dealers. I have had only positive experiences with Shoei and SparX (yes, SparX), but will not buy another HJC based on their service policy."
From "S.C." (July 2011): "Pull back the cloth liner and find the manufacturing sticker. . .this will not only give you the date of manufacture, but also the distributor of the helmet -- HH for Helmet House, SB for Sullivan's (Editor's Note: For some HJC helmets sold in the U.S.A. only).
Don't waste your time with the retailer of the local sales rep; contact the distributor directly, they will replace the helmet. If for some reason they decide to drag their feet replacing the helmet all you need to do is explain that you are prepared to contact their product liability carrier. And don't buy the crap that the helmet is no longer being manufactured, they both still plenty of inventory."
From "W.W." (July 2011): "I read your review on the HJC Sy-Max II and thought that i would share just a smidgen of my personal preference for wearing a flip front helmet.
I own and use a Lazer Modular Revolution day in and day out. Now here is the reason for my shift in preferance from a full face solid chin bar, to a flip front.
Not so long ago I took a motorcycle specific first aid course that taught you how to perform the basics in keeping someone alive with severed bits n bobs, this was an eye opening experience to say the least.
But, the main thing that struck me was the way a safety helmet has to be removed in the case of someone that has stopped breathing or has no pulse, This task has no special cutting equipment, and no special removal gear, all it boils down to is the medic on scene and his/her helper, basically it involves one person to support the head and neck and the other to remove the chin strap and flex the helmet enough to slide it off the patient without breaking there neck or causing further damage.
The way I do it is the same way any ambulance crew will do it unless your lid is fitted with a lift bag (that is a different kettle of fish that I wont go into). Take a couple of mins to grab your full face lid and pop it on; now grab it by the sides and let yourself feel how much force it takes to remove it...has it got you thinking??
With my chin bar down my lid will flex as much as a full face but with it up I can pry the sides wider and so make it ever so much more easy to remove, this to me outweighs the noise and weight of the helmet and like you mentioned, having a drink and a chat are a lot easier. Cheers and thank you for taking the time to have a butchers at why I use a flip front."
From "M.M." (July 2011): "I read your latest article with great interest since I have a Sy-Max II that I've worn almost daily since Feb. 2009. I peeled back the tape on the chin bar and my screws seem to be tight and solid. Just passing this along as a data point. Thanks for the article. It has me rethinking whether to get another flip-up when I buy my next helmet."