New for 2009, the HJC IS-Max has a modern-looking shape and a newly designed rotating visor mechanism that operates very smoothly.
It’s comfortable and quiet and it may actually be the preferred HJC flip-up, even though it’s not the most expensive.
HJC is on a roll, releasing new helmets about as fast as we can review them.
The new IS-series of helmets is a good example, with three new helmets filling what is an apparent gap in the HJC pricing structure.
Perhaps they’re taking a cue from the digital camera market, where manufacturers develop a huge (and ultimately confusing) product line that tries to address every single price point for any and all potential customers.
The HJC helmet line used to be easy to cipher, with low-priced polycarbonate helmets for the price conscious and high-end helmets for the style mavens, but it’s getting rather confusing.
I’m not sure where the IS-series fits in the HJC product mix; perhaps it is a quick reaction by HJC to the horrific economic conditions of 2008-2000.
But HJC told the Editor at the recent Powersports Dealer Expo that this wasn’t the motivation at all.
In any case, the IS-Max, at $199.99 USD (for the solid colors), does indeed slide nicely into the pricing gap between the long-lived and low-end HJC CL-Max, which carries a current U.S. list price of $149.99 (solids) and the high-end SyMax II (review), with a list price of $279.99 (also for solid colors).
But the IS-Max is, I think, the best deal of the trio, because the styling, features and quality are very competitive.
Indeed, I think the IS-Max is a better flip-up than the SyMax II, but I just have this sneaking feeling that with the IS-Max surely stealing sales from the SyMax that HJC is surely right now developing a SyMax III, no?
I was a bit dismayed at a couple of previous HJC series releases, namely the CS and FS helmets, which seemed a bit stodgy and with questionable quality.
But HJC is definitely back in form with the IS-Max, doing what they do best — offering excellent helmets at very reasonable prices with massive distribution and retail to satisfy the proletariat!
Let’s take a look…
Paint, Graphics and Overall Quality
It’s been mentioned on these pages before that flip-up helmets are typically rather conservative in their styling, and the IS-Max doesn’t break any new ground in this regard.
It’s available only in your basic black, white, silver, gray and the radical (!) “Wine” color schemes.
The absence of graphics makes it a bit difficult to assess the quality of the finish, but the paint on this pure white (no metalflake or pearlescent finish on this one) is very good.
Due to a quirk in logistics, the Editor ended up with a black IS-Max in size large, while this white IS-Max is an XL. Both surface finishes are very good, with none of the apparent flaws like dust, runs or thin paint sometimes found in “value priced” helmets.
One thing we have both noticed though is that the surface could probably use a thicker clearcoat.
Both helmets seem to show scratches very easily, and the white helmet had some nicks in it just from handling it before I even got a chance to wear it, while the black helmet developed “spider web” scratch marks in the otherwise highly polished surface just from taking it in and out of the helmet bag.
The parts on the IS-Max all fit together very well however, with tight tolerances and just a couple of tiny gaps and some untrimmed mold flash showing here and there.
The liner in the white helmet also has a couple of loose ends and doesn’t quite tuck all the way into the bottom of the helmet in the rear, but overall I’d say it’s about a 95-percenter.
The liner is very comfortable and other than the couple of minor loose ends, it fits well and the material is smooth.
One thing that is definitely different about the IS-Max, and which the HJC sales person was very proud of, is the very smooth operation of the rotating visor.
The center latch opens the visor and it has a very smooth and easy feel through its arc, giving the helmet a feeling of quality.
I will say that this helmet has a silky smooth rotation that is the best I’ve ever experienced on any flip-up helmet, so kudos to HJC on the new design.
Score: I’ll give the HJC IS-Max an “Excellent” for quality; the only thing keeping it from the “Outstanding” rating is the thin clearcoat and the slightly loose liner edges. See the ratings descriptions in the summary table at the end of this page.
The IS-Max feels to me like a neutral shape tending towards round, rather than long oval. It has what I think is a similar fit to many other flip-up helmets I’ve worn, and will probably fit a large majority of owners except for the very long oval types.
The size large IS-Max in black should fit perhaps a 59.5 cm to 61 cm head, while the XL doesn’t really feel all that much bigger, perhaps only 1/2 size larger. I think it will fit a 60-61.5 cm head.
It’s interesting to note that both helmets weigh exactly the same, which probably means that only the liner is slightly different in the XL. It isn’t often that we have two helmets that are identical in every way except for size, so this makes for an interesting comparison.
The white size large fits me perfectly, although I find it interesting that I can not push my wire-rimmed eyeglasses into the helmet and hook them around my ears once the helmet is on, which rather defeats one purpose of wearing a flip-up helmet to begin with.
I’m not sure why this is, because the helmet liner does have ear pockets that would be suitable for speakers, but the liner has no provision along the front edges for eyeglasses.
That is, the helmet does not have an “eyeglass channel” that might make it easier to slide the temples of the eyeglasses in between the liner and the head.
The chin bar seems thicker (taller) than average; we have noticed this phenomenon on several newly developed helmets recently and it’s my understanding that this may be due to the newSHARP helmet testing scheme in the UK.
The IS-Max seems to sit high and although the chin bar feels wide, the bottom of my chin and jaw are even or just below the bottom of the helmet. This has a detrimental effect on air flow and wind noise, as I shall describe in a following section.
As always, make sure you try the helmet on before buying, and try a variety of sizes.
The smallest size that fits comfortably is usually the safest. For more information on choosing and fitting a motorcycle helmet, please see the wBWMotorcycle Helmet FAQ page, which also includes a discussion on head shapes.
Score: I’ll give the HJC IS-Max a “Good” for fit and liner/overall comfort, but the helmet does feel like it rides slightly high and the lower part of the helmet does not cover my face as I’d like, so the score is lowered a couple of notches from the top rating.
Liner and Material Comfort
The IS-Max uses HJC’s ubiquitous “SilverCool” lining, which seems to get better in each iteration. The material is comfortable and the padding feels relatively plush. The liner is claimed to wick moisture and have anti-bacterial properties.
The liner is removable and the cheek pads are separately removable, although it doesn’t appear that HJC offers different sized cheek pads that might be used to custom-fit the helmet, but I can’t confirm this.
Overall, the IS-Max is very comfortable and the liner material is soft and feels relatively plush. The top of the helmet, above the ears, feels like it slopes towards the top very slightly, giving it its neutral shape.
This also seems to make the helmet feel like it sits slightly higher than normal.
The ear pockets are fairly sized they are lined at the “bottom”, where they meet the liner.
The liner snaps into the shell with some type of plastic (non-metallic) snaps, but they feel strong and they seem to hold the liner very securely and they don’t feel like they’re going to rip out of the plastic liner cover after one or two tries.
Score: I’ll give the HJC IS-Max an “Excellent” for a very comfortable liner with plush padding for a flip-up and also for a removable liner feature.
HJC IS-Max internal sun visor rotating mechanism release.
HJC features their “ACS”, or Advanced Channeling Ventilation System, on many of their helmets. This, they say, has “full front to back airflow” which “flushes heat and humidity up and out”.
I don’t know about that; what I do know is that the pair of vent holes on top of the IS-Max don’t really seem to do much for ventilation.
This may be due to the location of the holes, simply pointing upwards. I can see directly through the holes, down through the matching holes in the liner, but the air seems to pass over the upward-facing holes without actually being forced down into the helmet.
This changes slightly when the head is pointed forward, as when riding a Sportbike, but I can’t say that this is the best ventilation I’ve experienced.
The holes also cause some slight wind rushing noise when riding in an upright position, due to the air flowing over the top of the holes, giving the “blowing over a soda bottle” effect.
The chin vent operates with a firm and solid feel, but it also doesn’t seem to do much. The chin bar has no air vent holes through it, so the air from the chin vent is directed up on to the back of the visor.
However, because the helmet sits higher on the head than normal, a lot of air flows up under the chin bar and that’s where most of the ventilation (and noise) comes from.
The back of the chin bar is lined with a thick but hollow semi-hard plastic; it feels hard and I don’t think it would be much fun for my chin to hit the material. I’m surprised that HJC didn’t see fit to installing some type of softer padding in this area.
At least the operation of the vent openings is both straightforward, simple and with a good feel. Push the little door back on the top vent to uncover the two holes, and push the chin bar vent cover up and down to close or open. Simple and it works.
Score: I’ll give the IS-Max a “Good” rating for venting, with the chin bar vent system being basically not very good but the top vents at least trying.
Close-fitting tolerance on the rotating visor and other parts.
Our HJC IS-Max weighs 1803 grams (3 lbs., 15-5/8 oz.) in both L (black) and XL (white). This isn’t the heaviest flip-up we’ve weighed by any means, but it’s about 2/3 of the way up the scale.
The IS-Max does feel like it has what is the typical flip-up high center of gravity, but not as bad as some other flip-ups I’ve worn.
I really do wish the bottom of the helmet came down about 10 mm farther — and that it had a chin curtain, which would, I think, give a better feeling of having head fit inside the helmet rather than its actual feeling of the helmet sitting on my head.
Score: I’ll give the IS-Max a “Good” rating from me for its weight that is unfortunately slightly top heavy.
Metal latch hooks on the rotating visor.
HJC seems to come up with new names for its clear face shield removal systems with every new helmet release; what used to be called the “RapidFire” system is now apparently called the “QuickSlide” system. But who cares what it’s called — it works great, and is probably the easiest face shield removal system on any helmet.
Lift the face shield, pull the release forward and pop goes the face shield. And it’s just as easy to replace. Excellent!
I mentioned the smooth operation of the flip-up rotating visor, a very nice design that is really the signature of the IS-Max helmet.
However, all is not clotted cream with strawbs and scones — the clear face shield feels flimsier than average, although the face shield on the white helmet shown here measures 2.15 mm thick.
It has a nice, large lifting tab on the left-hand side, but the face shield has a lot of flex, which makes it difficult to lift without binding.
This is one helmet that could definitely use a lifting tab right smack in the center, which would distribute the load more evenly across the entire face of the face shield.
The face shield binds enough that I can’t get it closed tightly without either slamming it shut or lowering it as far as possible, then pushing down with a separate movement in the center.
Since the clear face shield is probably the most frequently used feature on the helmet, this is something that the owner will constantly have to deal with and affects the overall perception of quality.
I’d suggest that HJC either use a thicker 3 mm face shield like Shark, and/or place the lifting tab in the center at the lower edge of the face shield, and work on the lifting mechanism, which may have been compromised by the QuickSlide removal mechanism.
Apparently, it’s mandatory to have an internally rotating sun visor in a flip-up helmet nowadays. None of us are big fans of these, simply because we haven’t found one that does everything it should do without compromise.
HJC continues to use the fussy and what I think is overly-complicated spring-loaded visor lowering and raising system.
On the IS-Max, the visor can be lowered to one of two positions only: about 3/4 of the way down and all the way down.
The fully engaged position actually does seem to lower the visor out of my line of sight, but the 3/4 position puts the lower edge of the visor right in front of my eyes. I’d much rather see a simple, friction system that would allow me to pull the visor down to any desired position.
The HJC system has a button on top that must be pressed to release the visor, and the spring-loaded system snaps it back up inside the helmet.
I almost never use these visors because they never seem to be dark enough to do anything anyway.
So I’d just as soon be able to pull it down just far enough to block the sun from above my eyes, especially when riding to the west late in the afternoon, which I have to do to get home.
Otherwise, the optical properties of the internal visor are excellent, while the optical quality of the clear visor is just average. By the way — the tall chin bar does inhibit the view and feels taller than most of the other flip-up and full-face helmets I’ve worn.
The side-to-side peripheral vision is a bit narrower than normal or expected also.
Score: I’ll rate the operation and design of the clear face shield and internal visor as “Poor”.
I am pleasantly surprised at the relatively low noise levels of the HJC IS-Max. I think the tight tolerances around the rotating visor help keep the noise low and the plush and well-fitting liner also helps.
As I mentioned, my chin is about at the lower edge of the helmet shell, and this allows a lot of air to flow in under the chin bar. This also causes some elevated noise. The IS-Max could definitely use a chin curtain.
But overall, the noise levels are among the lowest I’ve experienced in a flip-up helmet.
The open feeling space under and in back of the chin bar also causes some noise from turbulence when riding behind a windscreen that dumps air on to the face of the helmet, but it’s not as annoying as other helmets — either flip-up or full-face — that I’ve worn.
The two air vent holes up top do create some whistling noises when I’m sitting upright on my K1100LT and the air passes over the top, but close the vent cover and the slight noise from up top disappears.
Note that our helmet evaluations are 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 wBWEarplug 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 rider’s clothing.
Score: I’ll give the IS-Max an “Excellent” rating for noise control.
wBW Video: HJC IS-Max Motorcycle Helmet
The HJC IS-Max has a polycarbonate composite shell, according to HJC, and it meets DOT safety standards when sold in North America. I’m not sure if the IS-Max is sold in Europe; I can find the IS-16 and IS-33 sold in the UK, but not the IS-Max.
The IS-Max has a D-ring attachment system and the chin strap padding is adequate. The end of the strap is secured with a plastic snap.
HJC offers a one-year warranty, according to the documentation in the helmet box.
The HJC IS-Max is nicely styled — actually, probably one of my favorite flip-up motorcycle helmets in terms of style and looks. I like the contrasting center strip and the overall shape.
The noise levels are lower than normal, and the liner is comfortable. I also like the smooth visor lifting system. Sure, there are a few minor quality quibbles here and there, but for the price, the IS-Max probably can’t be beat.
Now if HJC would do just a couple of things, like redesign the clear visor to make it stronger.
Also, ditch the spring-loaded internal sun shade system (and while they’re at it, give the sun visor a straight bottom edge); and make the shell about 10 mm deeper.
And throw in a chin curtain! After that, I’d say they might just have the perfect flip-up helmet!
From “D.D.” (May 2012): “I have written very few reviews for any product, but I have a story that you may be interested in.
Soon after the IS-Max was released several years ago, I had my local bike shop order one for me. The main features I was interested in was the modular design, the internal visor, and price point.
When I received the helmet, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the padding, paint, and design.
Keep in mind that I have been riding motorcycles for nearly 30 years so I have used my fair share of helmets. Here is where the story gets interesting.
To date, I have put around 20,000 miles on this helmet. On the evening of April 20, 2012 I headed out for a 3 hour road trip and only 2 miles from our house I had an accident going around a curve.
I still don’t know what exactly happened but my 2008 Kawasaki 1600 Nomad went into a skid as I was meeting a car in the middle of the curve.
I was thrown off of the bike and hit the pavement, rolled once, and my body slammed into the oncoming car which knocked me unconscious.
I do not always wear a helmet, but fortunately this night I had geared up with all my leathers and helmet. I spent 6 days in the hospital with a broken my collarbone, 9 broken ribs on the left side, and a knee that is fractured and has ligament damage as well.
My helmet took a pretty good shot to the forehead and actually cracked the polycarbonate shell. I know that this helmet saved me from a serious head injury and possibly even saved my life.
So, when it comes down to choosing a helmet, it really comes down to more than internal visors, and a cheap price. Ultimately, it comes down to safety and protection in the event of an accident like mine.
Now that my old helmet is toast I am faced with a decision of what to replace it with. For me, it really isn’t a hard decision at all and in fact my new IS-Max should be delivering this week.
Having said that, there are a few quirks that one should be aware of with this helmet.
As has been mentioned in other posts, the sliding door on the external vents do have a little play in them. I only noticed this when in the closed position but it wasn’t bad enough to really bother me.
I love the internal tinted visor and would not do with out it.
It allows the rider to leave the outer clear visor open in hot weather to allow added ventilation into the helmet but to still allow for eye protection.
I wear glasses and am able to easily put the helmet on without removing them. The trick is that the chin guard has to be in the open position to allow more room when putting the helmet on.
It is rare to be able to field test a helmet in the way that I did, and I must say that I wouldn’t recommend repeating it because it is pretty painful.
Hopefully I will never have to go through an experience like this again, but I am sold on this helmet and a testimony to its quality in the event of an accident.”
From “K.A.” (05/11): “I just got my HJC IS MAX BT today. Like it so far. I, too, experienced the ticking sound at higher speeds. At first I thought it was a tag I forgot to remove. Checked, not the problem, so I kept going. Still there.
Thought zipper from jacket vent hitting helmet. Nope. Opened vent on top of helmet and sound went away. Close it and sound comes back.
Turns out that when the top vent is closed the sliding vent door loosely fits and rattles with the wind. How the designers missed this one I don’t know.
Gonna fix it like the other reader did with some black duct tape to tighten the tolerances.
A chin skirt is also needed I think. Other than that, good fit, quiet, and cool.”
From “D.S.” (4/09): “I’ve put over 1000mi. on the IS-Max while riding an 05’ Vstrom. Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the IS-Max. It is the first flip up I have owned and ridden with and I must say that it is very nice to have the option of opening the chin bar at stops.
The max is a nice high quality helmet. The paint is consistent and smooth and the hardware on the helmet seems durable and of good quality.
The chin bar mechanism works smoothly and has the metal to metal locking mechanisms. I cannot open it with out using the central button in the chin bar.
The drop down visor works exceptionally well (it could be a little darker though) and HJC appears to have added a dampening mechanism to the spring retractor for the tinted shield.
It has multiple positions to deploy to and drops down plenty far enough to do the job well.
The ventilation also works very well. When I open the chin vent, I feel air across my face and shield area.
When the top vent is open, I immediately feel cool air rushing over the top of my head (I live in Minnesota and have been riding in 40-50 degree weather). Is it the best of any helmet I’ve owned?
No, but those helmets were also 500+ dollar helmets!
Regarding the ticking noise from a previous poster – It is probably from the top vent of the helmet. When it is in the closed position, the sliding vent cover fits loosely and ticks in the wind.
To remedy this, I used black Gorilla duct tape to tighten the vent up. I put the tape on the top of the sliding mechanism and also on the base of the vent with the holes cut out with an X-acto knife.
It looks factory and solved the problem. I do think this helmet could benefit also from a chin skirt to block air from underneath. It’s not a big deal, but would be welcome.
Other that that, the IS-Max is a great helmet. Excellent liner, quiet and comfortable.
BTW – Kudos to webBikeWorld for all you guys do to promote safety in the MC community! Thanks!!”
From “P.S.” (4/09): “I’ve worn only one other helmet, but during the 300 miles I’ve put on my IS-Max it seemed very noisy. I’ll probably need to play around with the fly-screen on my new Versys, but for now it is set on the highest position (I’m 6’3).
I’ve yet to take the bike over 55 m.p.h. (still in break-in; usually riding 35-45), but my ears ring after a ride even though I always wear a fresh set of earplugs.
I don’t recall having that problem when wearing a borrowed Sy-Max (original) on my first 250 “training miles” on a DL-1000 (or my first ride on the Versys when I was still waiting for my IS-Max to arrive).
To help mitigate the noise, I cobbled together two triangular pieces of sponge material, wrapped them in fabric, then placed them in the ear-spaces within helmet. This seems to help a little since they are pressing on my ears (plus plugs).
HJC tells me they’ll have a chin curtain available in May, which I’m hopeful will also help. I’ll need to take a few more rides with the sponges to get a better idea how much better it is.
Another annoyance is that there is a ticking sound when riding at higher speeds (40-55). Initially, I thought it was the bike, then I thought perhaps it was the end of my chin-strap but it continued after the strap was secured.
Finally, I read a blog mentioning it might be the wind battering the sun-screen controls. I’ll need to experiment a few times to see if touching or holding down the controls while riding changes this sound.
At least it might verify that this is the problem (being a new biker I tend to like having both hands on the bars when I’m speeding along).
The IS-Max, a large, fits well (snug) and I like the sunscreen feature, though it could be a bit darker. I’m not sure what’s normal with venting, but during the 40-50 degree days I’ve ridden the clear visor fogs at every traffic light unless I crack it open.
Anyway, if the noise level can’t be resolved the helmet is unacceptable to me.”
Editor’s Reply: As we always mention, helmet noise can be caused by a variety of factors. I’m not sure why your helmet seems loud even when wearing ear plugs, because we found it to be rather quiet compared to other flip-ups.
Noise is most often generated from turbulence due to a windscreen.
Also, the helmet must correctly fit the rider’s head shape and the helmet liner must fit snugly against the head and neck at the bottom of the helmet/liner, or the rider will most likely experience higher noise volume from the turbulence.
Also, make sure the ear plugs are correctly inserted – if they aren’t, they can actually cause more noise, especially if any part of them is touching the helmet liner. This will transmit noise directly into the ear.
The internal sun visor system on the IS-Max is pretty sturdy and spring loaded to close, so I’d be very surprised if this was causing the ticking noise.
I’d suggest checking to make sure the chin strap is secured properly, as I have experienced this type of ticking noise with loose chin straps that bang into the helmet.
Follow-up from P.S. (7/09): “2nd comment: Initially, I thought the IS-Max was too loud but after finally trying a few more helmets (not like I didn’t also try a dozen when I bought the IS-Max) I concluded that the helmet was the wrong shape for my head.
I’m more of an intermediate-oval and finally settled on a medium Arai, which fits perfectly (who’d have thought for a bald guy who’s 6’3). Lesson learned: the sales guy may not know everything.
I ended up taking a photo of the top of my head and compared it to shapes on the Arai website. Anyway, I still believe the release button for the internal sunscreen rattles at higher speed because the rattle stop when I apply light pressure with my hand.”
From “E.A.” (3/09): “Regarding your comment about trying to put your wire-rim glasses on while wearing this helmet.
I have always kept my glasses while putting my flip-up (Nolan N102) on my head. I had thought that was one of the positives of flip-ups. With the helmet flipped open there should be enough clearance between eye glasses and the helmet to allow the helmet to fit over someone’s head with eyeglasses on.
I wish the HJC folks had an IS-Max in High-Viz green as I’ve been looking for a replacement for my Nolan.”
Author’s Reply: I agree that one of the benefits of a flip-up helmet is that they can sometimes be easier to use for eyeglass wearers. Normally have no problems putting on my eyeglasses with my Multitec, but I do have problems with the IS-Max for some reason.
Also, it can sometimes be difficult to put on a flip-up helmet over eyeglasses for riders with a round or “earth” shaped head, where the widest part of the head is above the ears.
I can normally slip on my very thin wire-framed eyeglasses into just about any helmet, but not the size large IS-Max…
From “B.C.” (Sent in February of 2009 before our review was published):
Paint Graphics and Overall Quality: High quality gloss paint with very well done fit and finish. Unfortunately no graphics are available although the center stripe is very noticeable and gives the helmet a nice style.
No marks or blemishes, the vents are tight but should loosen up with time. The chin bar mechanism is smooth one hand operation that’s sturdy and offers a confident safe feel to its movement.
One thing I did notice is that the full close for the visor is very stiff, hopefully this loosens with time. I do have some noise concerns with the upper vent and the way it will catch the air. It has a very vertical lip and sticks into the wind 1/4 inch.
The integrated sun shield is top notch for optical quality.
I was extremely surprised at how little difference it made to my field of vision with the visor down. The visor comes down without touching my nose and has a satisfying snap when you hit the automated return button.
The sun shield is actuated by a slider on the back of the helmet, there is a release button on top of the helmet to return it to the up position.
The system is easy to use, but it does seem to add weight and complexity. The shield is as clear as I have experienced using standard HJC parts with an easy to use release and shield change mechanism.
Helmet Fit, Internal Shape, Liner and Comfort: Uses standard HJC helmet sizing which for me means an XL. Head shape is slanted towards round with good cheek pad fitment and just enough clearance to the chin bar for a close but comfortable fit.
The interior is listed as the same HJC uses but for some reason it feels much softer than my AC-12.
Ride Comments: Wind noise was surprisingly low while riding. I didn’t even notice how little noise I heard at first until I finally did hear an external noise and it surprised me. I am not saying it’s perfect but it is a lot quieter than my HJC AC-12 Carbon Fiber.
Aerodynamics seem good, not a lot of extra wind buffeting, I ride with no windshield so it’s stuck in the wind all the time.
The shield outside in the sun on an open ride is phenomenal, it seems to be larger than the average opening and the optical quality is outstanding. I would recommend this helmet to anyone wanting a flip face/modular.