The Bell Vortex is a beautifully made helmet with outstanding ventilation and a best-in-class face shield system.
It meets the DOT standard and it's Snell 2010 approved and comes with a five-year warranty.
It is slightly heavy and a bit noisy, but it would be difficult to find a better helmet at this price.
[UPDATE: Read the wBW Bell Vortex "Archangel" Quick Look.]
If you haven't tried any of the "new" Bell motorcycle helmets recently, you're really missing out.
Every one of the Bell motorcycle helmets we've reviewed in the last decade or so -- the era of the "new" Bell Helmets -- has been superb.
The Bell Vortex is new for 2010 and since we're now about to tip into December, I can say with near certainty that this is the absolute Helmet Deal of the Year.
I had no idea how much the Vortex cost when the Editor handed it to me, but my familiarity with the excellent Bell Star (review) and its (ouch!) nearly $600 price tag led me to believe the Vortex was probably at least its $450 kid brother.
I was shocked -- literally and figuratively -- when I saw the list price of the Vortex: it's $179.99. I actually went back to check two or three times at the webBikeWorld affiliate, RevZilla, to make sure I was reading this correctly.
Do yourself a favor: there's a sale going on right now on the Bell Vortex in the "Torn" gold-colored graphic you see here. They're giving this helmet away at $134.00.
That, my friends, is an absolute certified steal! But you better act fast -- some of the sizes are already gone...
I'm jumping right to the conclusion here, but I can tell you that the Vortex is a better, higher quality helmet than most of the top-line offerings of the most famous brands in the world at any price.
The Vortex even comes with a five-year warranty and it meets the Snell 2010 standard in addition to DOT. I have no idea why Bell priced the Vortex so low, but the time to cash in on their decision is now!
Just to temper my enthusiasm a bit, things aren't completely rosy, as you'll see.
The Vortex isn't without fault. But overall, the Vortex is definitely in the running for this year's webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet of the Year award (published on New Year's Day each year).
What makes the Vortex such a deal? Let's take a look...
We wanted to try something a little different from all the red, silver and white helmets that usually come through the photo studio.
So we chose the gold "Torn" graphic Vortex shown here, which looked about as far out there as you could get from basic black.
Actually, I thought the color was going to be closer to yellow, but gold it is.
The Torn graphic also comes in red and silver, and the red looks pretty nice too, but the gold and white definitely shows up on a rider's head so it gets extra points for visibility with style.
The graphics and clear coat and overall feel of the Vortex are all outstanding and, based on this example, as good as you'll find on any helmet from any manufacturer...at any price.
Bell has developed a reputation for what I'd call "user friendly" motorcycle helmet features, and the overall feel of the moving parts on the Vortex is also outstanding, with solid-feel vents and the fantastic Bell micro-click face shield system, used on the Star and the Vortex.
I'll get into the face shield system in a minute, but everything else on this helmet belies its low price. The removable liner is well-padded and comfortable and the fit and finish around the bottom of the helmet is also among the best I've seen.
Score: No question, the Bell Vortex gets an "Outstanding" rating for graphics and overall quality. See the Summary Table at the end of this page for a description of our rating system.
The Vortex has an internal shape that is very similar to the Bell Star I reviewed in March 2010.
It's a neutral fit, shaded to slightly narrow, so it's probably not the best shape for those of very round head but it should work fine for the majority of head shapes.
The helmet does feel like it has fewer "ridges" inside, which I think are caused by the baseball-glove style stitching in the liner. I think Bell should look at methods of sewing flat stiches in the liner or redesigning the liners to make them one piece.
The thick stitching at the upper part of the liner on the top of the head in both the Star and the Vortex can be felt as soon as the helmets are put on.
But it's not a big deal and overall I rate the liner comfort, padding and material comfort as excellent.
The liner is fully removable and it has several seamed openings and areas of mesh to allow the large volumes of air to pass through from the vents.
The size large shown here fits just about as expected, but the front-to-back distance may be just a hair shorter than average. There's plenty of padding in the liner so it should break in slightly over time.
My chin doesn't touch the inside of the chin bar, but it's close.
The ear pockets are deep and extend out to the EPS in the shell. They are covered with a thin pocket of mesh that makes it very easy to slip in a pair of thin speakers, like those found on the Sena SMH10 (review) or the Interphone F4 (review).
I am able to fit my sunglasses in the Vortex but the helmet does not have any special eyeglass configuration, as far as I can tell.
One other feature of note is the special magnetic keeper on the chin strap, which works well and is a novel approach.
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: I'll give the Bell Vortex another "Outstanding" rating for comfort and liner materials and padding.
The Vortex uses the same face shield system found on the much more expensive Bell Star. I described this in detail in my Bell Star review and I'll repeat most of it here.
The bottom line is that the Bell face shield is one of the best systems available today on any helmet.
And there's another bonus in that the Bell anti-fog coating really seems to work, as I proved to myself once more in our recent 40-50 degree damp and rainy weather.
I said this in my Bell Star review about the face shield system: "... we all agree that the face shield system on the 2010 version is about the best in the business.
The genius of the design is that it seems so simple when you look at it, which makes one wonder how so many other companies can get it so wrong."
That's true for the Vortex too. "The face shield has the standard lifting tab on the lower left-hand side. But the rotating mechanism works very smoothly and precisely and there is no twist or torque on the face shield as it is moved up and down.
It has a precision feel that only needs a light touch -- yet the shield snaps into place up and down and can be locked when closed."
"Lifting the tab clicks the face shield into the first open position that can be used for ventilation or heavy defogging. After that, the shield goes through 15 total micro-clicks as it's rotated upwards to the top of its travel, where it then snaps into place in the fully opened position."
"The beauty of it all is that this doesn't take some exotic and complicated or fragile mechanism; in fact, the mechanism appears to be so simple that it's astounding.
The rotating mechanism has way fewer moving parts and molded bits than just about any other motorcycle helmet I can think of, yet this one works like a charm, even when it comes time to remove the shield, which is as easy as it gets, as you can see illustrated in the video (below)."
Bell saved a few pennies on the Vortex by using plastic, rather than aluminum, on the face shield release mechanism parts. You'll never know the difference and the face shield comes off and on just as easy as can be.
The other difference is that the face shield on the Vortex doesn't lock, so the little button on the lower left is non-functional when the face shield is used on the Vortex (it is the same shield used on the Star).
I also wrote "The face shield is also marked as meeting VESC-8 safety standards.
It has excellent optical qualities and Bell says it is coated with something called 'NutrFog II', along with an anti-scratch and UV coating.
The anti-fog coating seems to work; although Spring has finally arrived, on cool mornings the shield does not fog anywhere near some of the other helmets in the webBikeWorld inventory."
One more piece of information regarding the Bell Star and Vortex face shield: Bell just announced that the Transitions SolFX photochromic face shield is now available for both helmets (see video).
For more information, see the webBikeWorld Transistions SolFX photochromic visor review.
The Transitions brand is developer of the original photochromic eyeglass process and the quality of these is much higher than any of the no-name brand photochromic visors available.
Regarding the eye port, the Vortex has better than average visibility and much better than average out the bottom.
Score: I'll give the Bell Vortex yet another "Outstanding" rating for the overall quality and operation of the face shield and eye port.
The large top vents and chin vent are a dominating stylistic feature of the Bell Vortex and in this case, size matters.
The top vents are independently operated and the solid-feeling switchgear opens the large scoop, which shovels a lot of air through equally large holes in the EPS liner and down on to the rider's head at about the 10 and 2 position on top.
The chin vent is also big and when opened, splitters direct the air through the vertical openings on either side of the chin bar. Not all helmets have vent openings directly through the chin bar and when they do, it's a plus.
Bell was clever in the design of these because they don't interfere with an intercom microphone. If a vent hole is directly in the center of the chin bar, the air coming through can trigger the intercom VOX and also cause background noise.
In the Vortex, you get the benefit of the air flow but still have protection in front of your mouth and no wind blowing over the microphone.
The equally huge rear exhaust vents help pull the air through the top of the helmet.
So the top vent/chin vent system works very nicely -- and if Bell stopped there, they'd still probably have one of the most efficient ventilation systems around.
But they added a brow vent, which flows air on to the rider's forehead through channels in the EPS liner.
This all adds up to one of the most efficient motorcycle helmet ventilation systems available when compared to all of the other helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld.
The system puts so much air through the helmet that you'll probably have to tamp down the delivery on cooler days. I can't remember the last time I had to worry about too much ventilation in a motorcycle helmet!
The Bell system proves that 1) You don't need rocket science to get air into and out of a helmet and 2) A helmet doesn't have to be expensive to do it. That they added a brow vent on to a sub-$200 helmet is a huge plus.
Score: I rate the ventilation of the Bell Vortex as outstanding; certainly one of the best we've ever experienced.
You knew it was coming, right? All of that wonderful ventilation comes at a price, and that price is noise. The Vortex probably isn't the loudest helmet we've ever evaluated, but it's definitely on the noisy side.
The air around the bottom of the helmet seems fairly well controlled, so the Vortex isn't really prone to the low-frequency "booming" noise generated by windscreens. And the noise doesn't seem to be coming from the vents either.
The helmet just seems generally loud, with wind rushing noise coming from all points. Placing my hand in various locations around the helmet when riding doesn't seem to have much of an effect, so I'm not really sure what's causing it.
Also, the shape of the helmet gives it more lift and sideways pressure than others; it's not much, but I can feel the difference compared to other helmets.
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: I'll give the Bell Vortex a "Neutral" rating for average noise control.
There's one other issue with the Vortex: it's heavy. Meeting both DOT and Snell standards with a polycarbonate helmet shell has apparently meant that the Vortex picked up some weight.
The size large weighs 1784 grams (3 lbs., 14-7/8 oz.).
This puts it in the upper 1/3 of the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet Weights table, with neighbors like the Shoei X-12 (review) (size XL) at 1766 grams and the Caberg Sintesi 2 (review) flip-up in size large at 1772 grams.
I'd like to say that the weight of the Vortex is evenly distributed, but the helmet does feel slightly top heavy, probably due in part to the large vents. But, if the helmet shell was made from a composite, you'd have a Bell Star at 500 bucks, so that's the compromise.
For an interesting comparison of DOT vs. ECE helmet safety standards and polycarbonate helmet shells, be sure to read the recent webBikeWorld stories "Making a Nolan Motorcycle Helmet".
That includes a tour and video of the Nolan factory and "DOT vs. ECE Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards", complete with a video showing the testing labs at Nolan helmets.
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: I'll give the Bell Vortex a "Poor" rating for its weight.
The Vortex has a five-year warranty, also outstanding for a sub-$200 helmet. The helmet meets both DOT and Snell 2010 safety standards.
The Bell Vortex is a high-quality helmet with a surprisingly low price.
It's built way better than anything else I can think of in this price range; it has one of the best ventilation and face shield systems available at any price. Surely it will steal some sales from the Bell Star.
OK, so it's a bit heavy and a bit noisy. But for less than 200 bucks, who cares? Get one while you can. This is a $450.00 helmet with a $179.99 (and less) price tag!
More: The wBW Bell Vortex "Archangel" Quick Look
wBW Review: Bell Vortex
|Available From: Bell Powersports||List Price (2010): $179.99|
|Colors: Solids and graphics.||Made In: China|
|Sizes: XS-2XL Shell Sizes: 3||Review Date: November 2010|
Rating Scale is subjective: Unacceptable, Poor, Neutral, Very Good, Excellent, Outstanding.
Note: Item provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
From "R.W." (April 2012): "I just got one of these in the Grind graphic for the almost unbelievable price of $99. I also got one of the Transitions shields. I haven't put many miles on it but I did take it for a spin.
I really like the shield. I pretty much bought the helmet so I could use the shield. I commute 50 miles to work each way and having to stop and change shields in the spring and fall is a pain and keeps me from riding sometimes.
My other helmets are Arais. I have a 4 year old Quantum II and a brand new racing red Vector 2. I can change shields on my Arais in 30 seconds or less so that's not the issue. I just hate having to stop
The Vortex fits my head perfectly. The cheek pads are a bit tight for my taste but both of my Arai's were too until I peeled off a layer on the Vector 2 and changed to thinner ones on the Q II. I have thinner cheek pads on the way for the Vortex.
It is noisier than either Arai. I ride a VFR800 and the wind off the windscreen hits me right in the middle of the face.
I wear earplugs most of the time so this shouldn't be a problem. I tried running upwards of 80mph and moved my head to the left and right.
The helmet felt fine and the face shield did not blow open at all.
The lack of a lock is probably a non issue for normal street riding. This helmet isn't quite put together as well as my Arais but it's not far off and a fantastic value.
I do have one question for you. You rated this helmet poor for its weight of 1784 grams and you rated a similarly heavy Shoei X-12 (review) as very good.
I would think the much more expensive X-12 would take more of a demerit for it's heaviness. Perhaps a different reviewer?"
Editor's Reply: Not sure about the weights - the reviews were done by two different reviewers, but I think the X-12 had better balance, while the Vortex felt top heavy. Also, the X-12 was getting its share of knocks, so we may have cut it some slack on the weight issue.
From "L.R." (February 2012): "First, thanks for the extensive helmet reviews, made picking a new helmet much less of a frustrating and ultimately disappointing experience. I bought this to replace my clapped-out HJC CL-16.
I am completely blown away by the Vortex. I can't believe the quality for the price. It's super comfortable but seems to run slightly small. Also the chin bar is pretty close. Other than that, amazing. I haven't put many miles on mine yet, sadly.
It's very quiet. The ventilation works great. I could definitely feel a difference between open and closed just driving down the street, this will be greatly appreciated come summer here in Texas.
Another thing that just blows me away is the visor which is like a new world, especially after the utter disappointment that the CL provided.
I don't think I can recommend the Vortex highly enough."
From "P.P." (July 2011): "I decided the Bell Vortex would be my next helmet after reading the review in webBikeWorld. Knowing I could live with the minor flaws you discovered, I started my online search for the Torn Gold model back in April.
It took several days to find a dealer who still had the Torn Gold model in size Large. It seems that particular color was discontinued for 2011. However, I finally tracked down a dealer who had the helmet I wanted at a considerable discount.
The total cost was less than $115 delivered to my door.
The webBikeWorld review was spot on. I've been using the Vortex almost daily for about three months and am very pleased. If the interior holds up, I can wear this helmet quite happily for the next several years.
And since I always wear earplugs, my only complaint -- the higher-than-average wind noise -- is not much of an issue.
This is not just an exceptional helmet for the money, it's a terrific helmet, period. Thanks for the helpful review!"
From "S.S." (04/11): "I concur on almost all aspects, regarding the review on the Bell Vortex. This is one fantastic helmet for the price! My only small gripe, is the soft liner on the chin strap is too short on both sides, so the strap can be a bit uncomfortable as it rubs against my neck and chin."
From "F.V." (12/10): "I have been reading your reviews for a couple of years now and have found them to be an excellent source in looking for a new helmet.
I read your review on the new Bell Vortex and even though you mentioned that it may not fit my round head that well I thought I'd give a shot.
Well, you are absolutely right on all accounts. I found a Striker red, then added the SOLFX transitions shield for another $100, what a deal!!
It is Christmas Day and opened it as a gift, then proceeded to go for an hour long ride.
The Striker graphics are awesome, I wear a small and it fits my round head actually quite well, the cheek pads are a bit tight but they should break in with more riding.
Venting is amazing, we had a 69 degree day here in (Florida) and I only opened the brow vents and it felt as if I had all the vents opened on my really old but trusty helmet (Shoei X8 Air) I didn't even think of opening the top vents.
I had never worn earplugs before, but based on your review I did for the first time and I am glad I did.. You are right, it is very loud, but it seemed only head on, I was able to determine that if I turned my head to the side a bit, it would quiet down.
Also, you mentioned that you tried to put your hands all over and could not find where it was quieter. I found that if I placed my hand just over the shield release mechanism it would become much quieter.
Overall, like you said for the price, you are getting an excellent helmet with minor flaws we all can live with. The SOLFX shield works as described, fantastically, and it seals extremely well. Thanks for your great work."
From "K.W." (12/10): " I was happy to read your review on the Bell Vortex. As beginning rider I bought an XL for myself, and shortly after bought an Icon Speedmetal in size M for my girlfriend.
After being continually frustrated with the Vortex, I decided to try on the Speedmetal, and my XL head fit perfectly in the size M Speedmetal. That was confusing, but what is more confusing is your review of the Vortex.
I would recommend that anyone interested in this helmet go to a retailer who would allow them to try it out on their bike before committing to purchase it.
I wear earplugs 96% of the time. The only time I do not wear them is if I am doing a quick jaunt to the grocery store where I don't get over 30mph.The Vortex is extremely heavy and loud. Going over 30 mph requires earplugs. The roar is deafening.
I'm guessing it may be due to the "echo chamber" cutout that allows for communications placement. But I don't see how someone could even hear anything in that helmet.
The shell is huge, and the side of the helmet acts like a sail. Turning to the side to check your blind spot feels like a strong person is pushing on the upwind side of the helmet. The strap has a magnetic catch to keep it from blowing around, and this is great.
However, after only 3 weeks, the magnet was falling out as it is only glued in. I took some thread and needle to sew it in.
To me, the liner is inferior to that of the Speedmetal; the difference being the Vortex having some quilted material versus the Speedmetal's smoother (microfiber?) liner. The liner is not uncomfortable, it just is not great.
The one saving grace of this helmet is the ease of Visor replacement. It really is simple--just 2 latches. I guess its ventilation should also get a nod of approval. I can feel the air moving through the helmet and my hair.
It is a welcome blessing in the mid-Atlantic summer which gets 90+ degrees with 90+ humidity. Also, the anti-fog works well in the helmet, I've had it down below 30 with minimal problems if I open it up within a few seconds at red lights.
Honestly with the Speedmetal only being $15 more, I would not recommend the Vortex over it, unless you have a need to change your visor very often (like twice a day often).
In fact, I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone without being able to try it out from with a liberal return policy. I certainly would not buy it again. But I know I will be in the market next spring as me and the lady fight over her helmet!"
Editor's Reply: You say the Vortex you purchased was a size XL, but then you tried an Icon helmet in a size medium and it fit. This suggests that the XL Vortex was an incorrect size for you and that could account for the increased noise levels, the oversized feeling and the weight.
From "J.D." (11/10): "I have been using Bell Helmets since the early 70's. I own a Gold Vortex which matches my Benelli Cafe Racer.
Compared to my silver Bell Star, the Vortex is much more quiet albeit with less ventilation. I can definitely feel the difference in warmth now that the temps have started dropping. The Vortex is a bit warmer due to the full neck roll.
I wear glasses and any helmet has unique procedures for their use but really have no quibbles with the Vortex. Once fitted, there is no vibration to cause vision problems. Comfort is outstanding as is the finish. With a Mag-8, Sprint, Vortex and Star in the house, I recommend the brand highly."
From "T.M." (11/10): "Tried one on a few months ago and really wanted one but the deal breaker for me was the fact that I had a very difficult time getting my glasses on... "