Also: wBW 2014 AFX FX-120 Review Redux
The new AFX FX-120 must be the world's least expensive motorcycle helmet that includes an inflatable bladder system.
The system includes inflatable cheek pads and the liner around the top of the head also inflates with an air pump in the rear of the helmet.
A special EPS liner system is also included in the helmet.
The helmet is comfortable and it has a strong face shield rotating mechanism, along with an internal sun visor.
The helmet is a relatively good bargain but there's no turning water into wine here; i.e., you won't be getting Arai/Shoei/Schuberth quality for its $135.00 street price.
UPDATE: See the 2014 AFX FX-120 Review Redux
Several AFX helmet reviews have been published on webBikeWorld in the last couple of years.
The brand is distributed solely through Parts Unlimited in the U.S.A. and many AFX helmets are also available in Europe, meeting the ECE 22.05 standard.
The European expansion of AFX started a couple of years ago and has improved the quality of AFX helmets. But the brand is still constrained by the strict price range placed on it by Parts Unlimited.
AFX helmets have a list price of around $50.00 to $150.00 and no more. Parts Unlimited apparently has a hierarchy of "house" brands and doesn't want AFX to crib sales from its siblings.
As a result, some of the AFX helmets we've tried seem just a bit lacking in one aspect or another, and it would be very interesting indeed to see what the company could do with, say, a $225.00 or $250.00 limit at the upper end.
Let's face it: corners will definitely be cut to the bone when trying to make a profit on a motorcycle helmet that lists for $150.00 and has a street price of $134.99. One can only do so much.
But surely AFX has wrung every last bit of value out of their product lineup and in fact, it is possible that having to work within such tight financial restrictions actually results in more innovation than might be the case with a fatter budget.
Take the new FX-120, for example. You get a not-bad-looking helmet in a variety of colors, including a couple of high-viz renditions and a palette of graphics.
You also get an air pump bladder system that inflates the removable cheek pads and a a band around the upper part of the removable liner.
Also included is a "ConeHead" EPS liner, Euro-style "microlock" chin strap, a tight-fitting face shield, internal sun visor and fairly solid-feeling vent switchgear.
Only problem is, you're not getting gold for the price of lead. Let's take a closer look...
A tip of the hat to AFX for offering each of their helmets in a wider variety of colors and graphics than most other helmet manufacturers.
If AFX can do it with hundred-buck helmets, why can't someone like Schuberth do it at 6 times the price?
The FX-120 comes in gloss black, matte black, wine, red, white, silver and both a high-viz yellow and safety orange.
In addition -- and for an extra $9.00 -- you can get it in the "Multi" pattern in safety orange, red, blue, silver, white, green and even fuchsia.
Note that there is no "AFX" logo on the front of the FX-120 and the branding has been deliberately minimized, which should please some owners.
The silver version shown here looks stylish and the paint is very nicely applied with a thicker-than-expected clear coat surface. And the shell feels sturdy and strong and not like a "cheap" helmet. So no complaints here, especially at this price.
The vents and the vent sliders are also have better quality on the FX-120 than most of the other AFX helmets we've reviewed.
The vent assemblies fit tightly on to the helmet shell and the switchgear has a solid feel, although we're not talking Arai or Shoei levels here. The slider for the internal sun visor also works well and has a tight feel.
The face shield has a very firm feel, with strong detents -- strong enough that we wish the lift tab had been located in the center, rather than way out on the left-hand side.
But the face shield on ours does not meet the full-surround eye port gasket unfortunately, resulting in a cascade of water that pours in across the top. Too bad, because the vents actually provide a good seal against the elements.
The liner feels comfortable, although the padding is slightly thin. And the cheek pads on ours don't fit correctly into the bottom of the helmet and need a frequent push to keep them seated; you can see this in the photo of the liner below.
And while we're picking nits, the black gasket around the bottom of the helmet could use some improvement in both looks and function; apparently a result of the low price constraint.
Another artifact of the pricing issue is the absence of a chin curtain.
The FX120 could use one, because a lot of air flows in from under the chin bar when riding.
The helmet also includes an internal sun visor, although both the sun visor and the clear face shield have noticeably more distortion than many other helmets.
By coincidence, we took advantage of some breaks in this winter's bad weather to ride with the Shoei GT-Air and the AFX FX-120, both of which just happened to arrive at the same time.
Bad news for the AFX, because comparing it with the Shoei is rather like comparing a Timex to a Breitling.
Overall though, the AFX FX-120 offers better quality than expected for its $149.95 list price, but AFX didn't create magic here, so don't expect a $300.00 helmet for the $135.00 street price and you should be OK.
The kicker is that "if only" Parts Unlimited let AFX spend a few more quid, they'd have a real contender with the FX-120.
Score: The FX-120 gets an "Excellent" rating for paint and styling and the overall quality is good for the price. A couple of the features, like the fit of the face shield and cheek pads, are a bit troubling however. See the Summary Table at the bottom of the page for a description of our rating system.
The big surprise with the FX-120 is the inclusion of the Docmeter air bladder system.
Now the big question is, of course, whether you really need an air pump and inflatable cheek pads and liner in a motorcycle helmet?
We don't think so, but we'll leave that one up to you to decide.
Nevertheless, its inclusion in a sub-$150 helmet has to be a first in the industry. The system works well; an oval-shaped rubber pump is located at the back of the helmet on the underside in the liner behind the rider's head.
Repeated pressing of the pump inflates the cheek pads and a narrow band around the head in the liner at the forehead/temple area.
It's difficult to feel the pressure on top but the cheek pads inflate through about a 5 mm range or so and the additional pressure and firmness can be felt.
We have mixed feelings on inflatable cheek pads in general. Is the added complexity and weight worth it? Do you really need to adjust your cheek pads very often? If they fit, they fit, right?
Truth be told, if we had the choice between improved overall helmet quality or an air bladder system, we'd take the former every day of the week.
The FX-120 also uses the "ConeHead" EPS liner, which is a dual-density type system with "cones" molded to the inner part of the EPS (illustrated above).
Whether this system improves crash performance or not is undetermined; the helmet meets DOT and ECE safety standards but there's no way to compare actual performance or the amount or time duration of transmitted energy.
There is no data on the ConeHead or AFX websites to back up the claims, however.
The ConeHead system is a two-layer EPS liner with a series of "cones" molded into the inner half, which are apparently designed to improve crash performance from forces outside the shell into the helmet and from the head compressing the EPS on the inside.
Without independent lab testing and data, it is difficult to know whether the system is an improvement over standard EPS liner types.
But AFX definitely gets points for trying something new and squeezing every last drop of value out of the low price point for this helmet.
Our FX-120 is a size large but fits slightly big and it feels more like an XL than and L. The internal shape feels "Neutral" to "Slightly Narrow" in the webBikeWorld helmet internal shape classification.
The shape and the liner fabric and padding are very comfortable, although the padding is slightly thin. The helmet should fit very nicely on most head shapes other than "Round".
The overall comfort is much better than expected for a helmet in this price range.
We swapped the helmet back and forth over a few rides recently when we could between bouts of bad weather; following are two opinions on the fit and internal shape:
Burn: The helmet fits me nearly perfectly and feels roomier than I expected for a size large; I thought it was an XL until I looked at the label. I have a "Slightly Narrow" head shape and usually take a size large. Most Shoei helmets are a good match for my head shape. I can fit my eyeglasses inside the helmet and the ear pockets are adequate.
Rick: I have a "Round" head shape with a wide, flat forehead. My head is widest at the temples. The FX-120 fits comfortably, but it's a bit tight at the sides for me and I found that I can't fit my eyeglasses inside.
There just isn't enough room between the slightly narrower sides and my big, wide head.
This is a surprise, as this is the only helmet so far in which I have not been able to fit the straight temples of the Randolph Engineering Aviator sunglasses (review).
Overall, we rate the FX-120 as very comfortable, although "Round" head shapes may have more difficulty finding a correct fit.
More information on helmet fit can be found in the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet FAQ page, along with the chart that lists the helmet weights of webBikeWorld reviewed helmets and also by shape on the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet Shapes page.
Score: The AFX FX-120 gets an "Excellent" rating for comfort and liner materials and padding and a comfortable fit.
The face shield on the FX-120 feels tight and it has strong detents as it's lifted through its range. The lift tab is in the left-hand corner and it's difficult to overcome the spring tension, so a centrally located lift tab probably would have been better.
But the system has a strong quality feel, which is a plus.
The face shield lifts through 5 firm detents on the way up but there's no small first position for defogging and it's difficult to get the face shield into the first position due to the strong tension.
The face shield removal mechanism works very well and looks, feels and operates better than expected on a helmet at this price point and, in fact, it's a better system than some helmets costing a lot more.
The face shield on our helmet does not seal against the full surround eye port gasket and water leaks immediately down into the eye port.
Outward visibility from the FX-120 is very good; slightly better than average in the horizontal plane and about average in the vertical. The face shield optical quality is lacking, however; something we have noted on other AFX helmets.
This is one of those areas we'd rather see the money being spent on. A high-quality face shield is a must and has more of an overall benefit than an inflatable cheek pad system in our opinion.
The face shield almost seems like it has some sort of coating that has created a few distortions.
The internal sun visor works well, although it's an on-off system with no intermediate setting. It has excellent coverage, although the large cutout for the nose can be distracting and the sun visor slants up on either side.
The optical quality of the sun visor isn't perfect either and the combination of the lowered face shield and lowered sun visor increase the amount of distortion visible to the rider.
Score: The AFX FX-120 gets an "Excellent" rating for the overall quality and operation of the face shield; a "Very Good" for the outward visibility but a "Poor" for the seal between the face shield and eye port gasket.
Venting assemblies and moving parts are usually where the greatest differences occur in "cheap" helmets compared to expensive brands.
But the vents on the FX-120 look stylish and business-like and they operate smoothly and with a better feel than we have found on other AFX helmets.
In fact, we think the quality and appearance of the vents on the FX-120 are both better than many helmets costing a lot more.
Unfortunately, that doesn't translate to good ventilation.
For example, it's difficult to notice any difference in air flow, whether the top vent of the FX-120 is open or closed. But, curiously enough, the rear exhaust vents do seem to pull air through the helmet and the effect is noticeable.
Efficiency of rear exhaust vents is rarely noticed by the rider, but in this case, the system works.
Part of the reason, no doubt, are the large and direct air passages through the liner and EPS at the rear of the helmet inside, which form an unimpeded channel to direct air out the back of the helmet.
This is not the case with the top vent holes, which are large in size but don't form a direct channel from the vent down through the EPS and liner on to the rider's head.
The large chin bar has plenty of room and it's lined, but has no direct air vents through it. A lot of air flows up under the big chin bar and on to the rider's face, whether you want it or not.
Opening the rocker on the chin vent flows air on to the back of the face shield and this can be felt, but is somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of air flowing in from underneath.
This helmet could really use a large chin curtain -- another feature we'd take over the inflatable bladder system if it came down to a choice.
Score: The FX-120 ventilation system gets a "Neutral" rating but the vent hardware gets an "Excellent".
The FX-120 seems to transmit more overall noise than average, with a lot of general wind noise that isn't dampened by the shape, liner or padding.
The slightly thin padding and average-sized cheek pad/neck roll area probably doesn't help, as much of the wind noise seems to come from the lower portion of the helmet.
There is also a split between the rear of the cheek pads and the liner and this allows noise to enter the helmet.
A recess where the air pump is located in the rear of the helmet may be causing some turbulence, also generating noise which enters the helmet. Pumping up the cheek pads to tighten the seal doesn't help.
The gap in the seal between the face shield and the eye port gasket also contributes to the higher noise levels, as does the open area under the chin bar, which allows air and noise to enter the bottom of the helmet.
Overall we rate the FX-120 as louder than average for transmitted noise levels.
Note that our helmet evaluations are normally a combined effort of several riders over time, on different types of motorcycles with and without windscreens.
Evaluators wear correctly fitted, high quality ear plugs (even when evaluating motorcycle intercom systems).
Always protect your hearing when riding a motorcycle. See the wBW Earplug Reviews for more information on choosing and wearing earplugs.
Note also that perceived noise levels will vary, depending on the individual.
Noise can be caused by many factors, including helmet fit; the type of motorcycle and windscreen; wind speed and direction and even the type of clothing that is being worn. For more information on helmet noise, visit the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Noise page.
Score: The AFX FX-120 gets a "Poor" rating for noise control.
The FX-120 in size large weighs 1697 grams (3 lbs., 11-7/8 oz.), which is slightly heavier than expected but not bad at all, considering the air pump system and internal sun visor. The weight is evenly distributed and isn't really noticed when riding.
Other helmets in this weight range include the Bell Star 2010 (review) in size XL at 1696 grams; the Icon Variant (review) in size large at 1697 grams; the HJC CL-16 (review) in size XL at 1702 grams and the HJC CL-14 in size XL at 1704 grams.
The FX-120 seems to have good aerodynamics and we haven't noticed buffeting or other issues when riding or in cross-winds.
Note also that all of the helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld have been weighed and the weights are available on the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Weights page, along with a chart that lists the helmets by weight and shape on the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Shapes page.
Score: The AFX FX-120 gets a "Very Good" rating for its weight and its good balance.
The FX-120 has the European-style quick release chin strap system, and this one works well but the padding straps underneath are too short, so the buckle rubs against the neck.
AFX provides a 5-year warranty on their helmets, which is excellent at this price point.
The FX-120 is labeled as meeting both DOT and the ECE 22.05 safety standard (more). AFX said that they "keep parts for every model we have ever sold for 10 years. After our distributor stops stocking parts in the 5th year, the replacement parts are offered at no charge for dealers and consumers".
The company also offers a "no questions asked accident replacement policy, if you have an accident with any AFX helmet and return the helmet to our office, you may choose any current AFX helmet as a no charge replacement."
They use the survivor helmets at shows and schools to educate the benefits of helmet safety.
UPDATE: See the 2014 AFX FX-120 Review Redux
The new AFX FX-120 squeezes about as much value as could be expected for the street price of $134.95 (solids).
We're not convinced the addition of an air pump system is worthwhile, however.
Given a choice (a moot point), we'd prefer to have the investment in the air pump system instead used for improving the face shield optical quality and fit, adding a chin curtain that blocked air and noise and improving the fit of the cheek pads and liner.
Who knows -- AFX could have then had a low-priced helmet that really would be a viable alternative to something costing twice as much or more...
We'll admit to being spoiled, and the FX-120 had the unfortunate coincidence of arriving with the Schuberth SR1 DOT (review) and Shoei GT-Air (review in process), which is such a dramatic difference that it makes the FX-120's foibles stand out that much more.
We are not implying in any way that there is a comparison to be made between the FX-120 and those helmets.
But the quality, quietness, ventilation and other properties of the much more expensive helmets demonstrates that there is indeed a huge difference in motorcycle helmets.
The FX-120 provides good but not outstanding value, in our opinion.
To be honest, we prefer the AFX FX-95 (review), the top-of-the-line AFX helmet for 2011 (now a steal at $89.95!), or even the AFX FX-90 (review) at an incredible $69.95, both of which provide value and features beyond their price points.
The FX-120 is a "diamond in the rough".
The basics are nicely done and if only another $50.00 or so could be spent on upgrading the face shield and liner fit, AFX and Parts Unlimited would have a real category-buster.
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