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AFX FX-11 Helmet Review

AFX Helmets - AFX FX-11 Lightforce
(Above) AFX FX-11 helmet.
AFX FX-11 Lightforce - LED light switched on
(Above) LED light on.
Fan and light switches on AFX FX-11 helmet
(Above) Fan and light switches.
AFX FX-11 helmet liner
(Above) Liner.
Crooked chin vent cover will not close
(Above) Chin vent doesn't close.
Gap in side plate causes air noise
(Above) Gap in side plate causes noise.

AFX FX-11 "Lightforce" Helmet

by Lori B. for webBikeWorld.com

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Summary

The AFX FX-11 has two very unique features: a built-in, battery powered ventilating fan system and an LED light.

The LED light is similar to the one included on the Shoei Syncrotec Police Motor Officer motorcycle helmet we reviewed recently.

The fan and the light are powered by the same Switchblade power system found on the Shoei Police helmet.

The batteries are rechargeable, and the FX-11 is supplied with a recharger, which plugs into a small lead that is hidden in the liner of the helmet.

The goal of the powered ventilation system is to provide forced-air circulation in hot weather.

The LED light can provide illumination at night for roadside repairs, packing gear or reading a map.

While the concept sounds logical, after using the helmet I have mixed feelings on the merit of both.

Helmet Weight

The combination of the battery pack, fans, LED and associated wiring makes the FX-11 one of the heaviest helmets we've reviewed.

The helmet shown here is a size XS, as in "Extra Small". It weighs a whopping 1771 grams, or 3 lbs., 3 oz., and it feels every bit of it.

Think about that for a second -- this size XS helmet weighs more than all but 3 of the 44 helmets we've reviewed, and the majority of those are size XL.

Here's another way to look at it: the extra-small FX-11 helmet weighs almost as much as the size XL Schuberth S1, which was so heavy that it gave the reviewer neck and back pains.

For comparison purposes, see the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Weights page for a chart illustrating the weights of the various helmets we've reviewed.

Powered Ventilation and LED Light

The distinguishing characteristic of the AFX FX-11 Lightforce helmet is it's battery-operated ventilation fans and LED light.

AFX claims that the FX-11 is the "world’s first, and only, motorcycle, off-road, and snowmobile helmet equipped with a fully integrated and rechargeable power system".

We have no doubt about the claim, and the LED light might be useful to someone riding in the dark, but does the powered ventilation system really work, or is it just a gimmick? 

The fans and the light are powered by a 7.4 VDC, 600mAh Lithium Ion battery.

The helmet comes with a charger that is plugged into a lead that is hidden in between the liner and shell on the lower left-hand side.

AFX claims that the battery pack will power the system for up to 20 hours. The system recharges in about one hour.

The waterproof rocker switches for the fans and the LED light are located inside the chin bar.

The photo on the left illustrates the switch locations; it was difficult to capture them in a photograph, so we outlined them with white circles.

The central rocker switch turns the LED light on or off. The light is located on the left-hand side of the eye port in the liner. The light should only be used with the visor open to prevent glare at night.

The fan switches are located on either side of the inside of the chin bar.

The left-hand switch turns on a fan that draws air in through the chin vent and blows it on to the rider's face.

The right-hand switch turns on a fan that exhausts air out of the helmet, through the lower external vents on either side of the helmet, located down near the rider's jaw.

A small folding instruction sheet that came with the helmet advises against using both fans simultaneously.

The noise level increases when either fan is switched on, although the fan noise fades into the background when riding.

My feeling is that the fans do not add anything extra to a normal helmet ventilation system. Let's face it -- once you get moving on a motorcycle, the air pressure is normally high enough to flow enough air into a helmet.

Although I didn't try it, I suppose that the fans could offer good ventilation if riding behind a big fairing on a touring bike. But I'm not sure that the weight penalty and the added complication is worth it.

Paint, Graphics and Overall Quality

I've looked at a few AFX helmets in motorcycle shops a few times in the past couple of years and I have not been overwhelmed by the quality.

First impressions count for a lot in motorcycle helmets.

A helmet will have a certain feel to it when it's first picked up off the shelf. The feel of the paint, the weight, the visor and other details transmits a strong signal to the potential owner.

I like the graphics of the AFX FX-11 Lightforce, although on close inspection, the graphics are simple decals applied over the matte paint. This might not be obvious or visible in these photos.

The outline of the decals can clearly be seen when I look at the helmet up close, and they have kind of a thin look. It's possible that if the helmet had a shiny gloss clearcoat that my feelings would be different, but I do think that the low price of this helmet has forced many compromises, although as we've demonstrated many times, low price doesn't necessarily have to mean low quality.

I can say that I'm not impressed at all by the quality of the moving parts, like the vents and the visor. Right out of the box, I could not get the sliding chin vent cover to close or the brow vents to open. After several weeks of use, I've given up on trying to close the chin vent; the plastic-like door just won't slide into position.

I was able to force the sliding brow vent cover to the open position, and the only way it will close again is if I force it with a tool. It doesn't seem to matter though; the helmet liner is not perforated on top, so little air flows in over the rider's head anyway. And the fans in the chin bar also seem to prevent air from flowing in through the chin vent.

The visor has about half-a-dozen indents to hold it up in various positions as it is raised. The rotating mechanism on the sides of the helmet are covered with plates, and a screwdriver must be used to change the visor.

One of the things that I find most annoying is the large gap between the side plates and the helmet, illustrated in the photo above. This is both a quality faux pas and also catches a lot of air when riding, which makes the helmet rather noisy.

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Helmet Fit

The helmet fits my size XS head perfectly. I'd say that the FX-11 has somewhat of an oval/square head shape inside. For more information on helmet fit and head shapes and in choosing and fitting a motorcycle helmet, see the wBW Motorcycle Helmet FAQ page.

The liner seems very thin but is comfortable enough for me, although it's not as plush as some other helmets I've worn. Squeeze the liner in certain places and it doesn't compress very far until the hard shell can be felt. This is actually kind of strange; the shell feels very hard, not like the foam liners I can feel behind the liner on other helmets.

Helmet Noise

The fans can be noisy when they are on at low speeds, but the noise fades into the background at higher speeds, overwhelmed by the noise from the air flowing through the gaps in the side plates. It's not the noisiest helmet I've worn, but it comes close.

The liner is thick enough at the neck area to block some of the noise created by the turbulence coming off a windscreen. AFX added a small section of padding at the back of the helmet at the lower neck, which seems to help in this regard.

Chin Strap

The AFX FX-11 helmet uses a standard D-ring attachment system. There is little padding under the chin straps. The loose end of the helmet strap also does not include a keeper, which is a definite oversight, in my opinion. I mean, after all, how much would it cost to add a plastic snap to the end of the strap?  Without it, the strap flies in the breeze, which is very annoying. To make matters worse, the strap seems longer than most, so there's more of it flying around.

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Conclusion

After riding with this helmet for several weeks, I asked myself two questions: 1) Does the powered ventilation system work better than normal vents?  2) Would I buy the helmet even if it didn't have the fan and LED light?

My answer to both was no. Although the powered fan and light seem like an interesting approach to the problem of helmet ventilation, my opinion is that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The system adds too much weight; the fan mechanism seems to block non-powered air from entering the helmet; and the fans don't seem to do much above 20 MPH or so anyway.

Addressing question number 2 brings me to the quality problem. From what I've seen, AFX still has a way to go to match, for example, HJC quality in my opinion. The FX-11 retails for $149.95, which is only a few dollars less than the HJC CL-SP we reviewed recently, which has so impressed the webBikeWorld staff. Although I haven't worn the CL-SP (it's a size XL, way too big for my petite head), just handling it brings forth a world of differences in quality levels.

I'll take a pass on the FX-11 and wait to see what new helmets might be in store for 2006.

wBW Review: AFX FX-11 Lightforce Helmet
Manufacturer: AFX Helmets List Price (2006): $149.95
Colors: Various. Made In: Taiwan
Sizes: S to XXL Review Date: February 2006
Ratings Scale: For reference, our ratings scale is subjective and ranges from Unacceptable to Poor, Neutral, Very Good, Excellent and Outstanding.

Note: For informational use only. All material and photographs are Copyright © webWorld International, LLC since 2000. All rights reserved. See the webBikeWorld© Site Info page. Product specifications, features and details may change or differ from our descriptions. Always check before purchasing. Read the Terms and Conditions!

Your Comments and Feedback

Please send comments to
Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details).  Comments may be edited for clarity prior to publication.

From "S.D." (10/08): "First...the good stuff:

I purchased this helmet before seeing your reviews on it. The fans are great under 2 opposite circumstances.

(a) When in slow traffic or stopped at traffic lights during the hotter months. If you are not moving fast enough, then the fan helps make up for the missed air flow. I have tried this helmet on both a cruiser and a GL1800 Wing and agree that once moving fast enough, the air flow from the wind will overpower the fans. But, when not moving fast enough, the fans are a nice option to have.

(b) I ride during the winter months as well. One of the annoyances that I've had with FF helmets is fogging of the shield when stopped. Even with anti-fogging coatings such as Rain-X applied, the shield still tends to fog from your breath.

Before, I simply cracked open the shield to prevent this, but this was always a hassle to do at every stop, and leaving the shield open in stop and go traffic defeated the other purpose of a shield in that it kept the cold air off my face. The exhaust fan really helped eliminate this fogging w/o having to open the shield.

My helmet vents operate fine and it has a strap keeper on it...unlike the one you reviewed. A very nice one at that. The noise is about average for helmets that offer pockets for the headset speakers.

They do this by removing the foam in the pocket area to accommodate the speakers and in turn reduce the sound insulation from the outside of the helmet shell. The quietest helmet I own does not have the recesses for the speakers in it, so I guess the noise is a given if you wear headsets.

Now...the bad stuff:

The finish is poor to say the least, but it's about what I expected. I got the Matte Silver version because I don't care much for graphics on a helmet. I prefer the smooth clean look (personal tastes), I guess, but also prefer a gloss finish. I had planned to clearcoat the helmet if I liked everything else about it.

The fit is way too narrow for us big headed folks. I bought the largest size they offer and it is still too narrow for comfort. I normally wear an XL, but had to swap it for an XXL just to get it past my ears (I don't have big ears...BTW).

My son normally wears a L and he complained that it also fit tight over the ears when putting it on. Also, the headset speakers still press against my ears even though the ear pockets are recessed to accommodate them. I guess the folks over in Taiwan have smaller heads than in the US.

The other complaint is that the cheek pads pressed to much on my cheeks and became very annoying after only about 30 minutes. I remedied this by having the upholstery shop sew a line down through the middle of each pad to help pull it away from my cheek bones.

The helmet fits my son better than me so I gave it to him. In general, FF (full-face) type helmets tend to be too narrow for me. I have yet to find one under $300 that is not. The bottom line is that I'll stick with my current style (open face with flip shield) since my wife prefers this type also since they are lighter and she tends to feel a little claustrophobic in a FF helmet."


From "LBike":  "I read Lori B's review of the AFX FX-11 Lightforce Helmet and I'd like to give her something else to consider. She disliked the weight and questioned the usefulness of the fan. The weight is the about the same as any other helmet on the list she suggested, which averaged at about 3 1/2 lbs.

BUT THE MAIN appeal of the helmet is the fan. It appeals to us fat guys that hate to stop at lights in the Arizona heat!!  I always wear a helmet, even in Arizona, and it is miserable -- especially at intersections that take way too long for the lights to change!  Yeah, at 80mph the ventilation is great. But at 20mph in traffic, or at a stop, us chubby dudes suffer inside a helmet.

I'd pay an extra $500 for a bike helmet that had a good fan it it. If someone thinks that is too much money, they don't suffer like us fat boys!  I've lived in Seattle as well, and the traffic + lights are equally as abominable.

Just something for her to consider.... :)"

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