The HJC Sy-Max III is a worthy upgrade to the original, with better build quality and improved visibility, noise control and comfort.
The flip-up visor retention system has also been improved.
Warm-weather ventilation is a question that will have to remain unanswered until next summer.
But overall, everyone who has tried the new Sy-Max III has been pleased with the updates.
HJC’s Sy-Max has been one of the most popular flip-up motorcycle helmets available for many years, hitting a “sweet spot” with a feature set and price that apparently resonates with many riders.
That the HJC brand is sold in just about every motorcycle shop in the world (50+ countries, anyway, according to HJC) doesn’t hurt either!
The HJC Sy-Max (review) was first reviewed back in…2006, I believe it was. The original Sy-Max was a successful design and apparently it was a sale success too, because HJC kept it in production without changes for nearly 5 years.
The Sy-Max II (review) was released not long ago and we reviewed it in May of 2008. But the helmet has already gone through a complete re-do and we now have the HJC Sy-Max III, the subject of this review.
By the way, both the Sy-Max II and the Sy-Max III are also closely related to another HJC flip-up, the HJC IS-Max (review).
We published an article about the helmet latch failure in the Sy-Max II in July of 2011 but by that time, HJC already had the Sy-Max III design finished and the new helmets were on the way to the retailers.
So I don’t think it’s possible that the article had any influence on HJC’s decision to update the helmet.
But, they must have known about the issue, because we received some correspondence from HJC with details on the completely revised latch system, which will be described in this report.
The HJC Sy-Max III: Paint, Graphics and Overall Quality
We still have the original Sy-Max for comparison purposes, and Chris has been wearing his Sy-Max II for some time and he just bought a new Sy-Max III. He wrote a comparison of the two, which is presented in Part 2 of this review.
So the original Sy-Max was resurrected and compared to both the Sy-Max II and the III.
The original actually holds up pretty well, but there is no doubt that the Sy-Max III is a significant redesign, not just a cosmetic once-over, and it’s a much better helmet.
The overall quality of the Sy-Max III has been improved and the styling was given a modern update. Also, the overall feel of the helmet shell and the operation of the rotating flip-up visor have definitely been improved.
HJC also redesigned the geometry of the eye port while they were addressing the visor lock mechanism, and the Sy-Max III has surprisingly good outward visibility and it’s now one of the best flip-up helmets in this regard.
For some reason, the Sy-Max III is only available in black or silver as of this writing. We’re not sure why this is and why the helmet isn’t even available in basic white.
One can only hope that a wider choice of colors will be available soon, including the metallic wine color of the original Sy-Max and perhaps red, blue and — can we hope? — high-visibility yellow.
The silver metallic paint on this example looks good, although there is a slight tone mismatch on some of the attached parts, like the rear exhaust assembly and the Bluetooth intercom cover. Apparently, those parts were painted by a supplier or at a different time and/or place than the rest of the helmet.
Most of the moving parts have a quality feel, with just a couple of very minor rough edges that can be seen along the smaller parts, like the upper vent cover and rotating chin vent cover.
The clear coat seems thicker than on other HJC helmets we’ve reviewed and it feels like it should have good protective qualities.
Put on the helmet and you should immediately notice the comfort, with thick and plush padding — much different than the original Sy-Max!
The rotating flip-up visor has a solid and smooth feel as it rotates through its movements and it locks tightly, quietly and quickly without much effort.
This indicates close tolerances and good design, something missing from many different flip-up helmets in a variety of price ranges.
Apparently, it’s not easy to get everything lined up so that the visor closes and locks tightly without a lot of effort or fussing by the rider.
The Sy-Max III also does not have the creaking and groaning sounds one might expect in a flip-up helmet (and which are heard in the original Sy-Max) — something I (we) have complained about in too many flip-up reviews.
The fiberglass shell again feels solid and the redesign of the moving parts must have something to do with this.
Finally, the Sy-Max III has a “deeper” shell, with noticeably improved coverage at the lower part of the cheeks and jaw line.
This probably helps to control the noise levels also, which are lower in the Sy-Max III than either the Sy-Max II, the original or the IS-Max.
Score: I’ll give the HJC Sy-Max III an “Excellent” rating for paint, clear coat and moving parts. The shell feels sturdy, as does the new visor locking system. See the Summary Table at the bottom of the page for a description of our rating system.
HJC Sy-Max III Helmet Fit, Internal Shape and Liner
The original Sy-Max sits on the head with a top-heavy feel, contrasted with the Sy-Max III, which feels like it sits much lower and “absorbs” the head. The deeper fit gives the helmet a lower center of gravity — this is good, by the way!
Otherwise, the fit and internal shape of the original Sy-Max and the Sy-Max III are very similar. The Sy-Max III size large feels like a true size large and should fit the listed 59-60 cm neutral to slightly round shaped head with no problems.
In comparison, the original Sy-Max has the same internal profile, but it feels tight for a size large and the shell doesn’t have as much vertical depth.
The padding in the Sy-Max III is noticeably thicker and more comfortable than the original Sy-Max and the fabric is also much smoother and softer feeling in the new helmet.
So the bottom line is that the Sy-Max III fit and shape is about the same and it should fit a wide variety of head shapes. HJC says the size large should fit a 59-60 cm head and I think that’s about right.
Rick’s head is 60.5 cm in a round shape and the Sy-Max III fits him with just a slight tightness in the cheek pads, which could probably be relieved with a thinner set (the cheek pads and liner are removable).
The ear pockets in the Sy-Max III feel deep and the surrounding padding is thick and comfortable, which also helps attenuate unwanted noise. The pockets are lined and they have indents for speakers.
The Sy-Max III is prepped for the Chatterbox XBi2-H Bluetooth intercom system ($212.46), with a removable plate on the left side of the helmet for an intercom. Strangely enough, there is no information about the intercom on the HJC website or in the Sy-Max III box or owner’s manual!
Overall, I think the Sy-Max III has a more expensive, “richer” feel than either the original Sy-Max or, if memory serves me correctly, the Sy-Max II and the IS-Max.
It’s very comfortable, plush, the padding is thick and the fit conforms perfectly to my head shape.
This moves it up-market from the “cheap” flip-ups who sell mostly on price and puts it into a good position with slightly more and higher-quality features at a slightly raised price point.
Score: I’ll give the HJC Sy-Max III an “Outstanding” rating for fit, comfort and internal shape. The padding and liner feels very plush and better than average for comfort.
The HJC Sy-Max III liner is very comfortable and nicely padded.
HJC Sy-Max III Eye Port, Visibility, Rotating Visor and Internal Sun Shade
Eye Port and Flip-Up Visor Locking
The redesigned flip-up visor on the Sy-Max III also has a new eye port and face shield. The visibility is improved, with outstanding visibility out the bottom and sides and about average at the top.
The design of the eye port puts a slight angle at the 8 and 4 o’clock positions, which can be seen in the peripheral vision but are not bothersome by any means.
Compared to other flip-up helmets, I’d say the Sy-Max III has much better outward visibility.
The rotating flip-up visor has a very smooth and precise feel and it’s apparent that HJC took some extra effort in the redesign. In fact, this is probably the most worked-over part of the helmet when compared to the previous iterations of the Sy-Max.
What is also very different from the previous versions — and from most flip-up helmets in general — is the ease with which the Sy-Max III closes and locks.
Unlike a lot of other flip-ups, it doesn’t take much pressure or effort at all to click-lock the Sy-Max III closed, yet it still has a precise and solid feel.
Some flip-ups — including the very expensive SCHUBERTH C3 (review), have visors that must be very deliberately pushed or slammed home to get the locking/clicking sound.
And even when forced, some of the other flip-ups don’t give a secure feeling that the system is working.
So this is the most noticeable difference in the new Sy-Max III — the visor rotating mechanism and the locking system have been dramatically improved.
In fact, I might even say it’s one of the smoothest and most precise locking mechanisms I’ve experienced on a flip-up helmet.
The clear face shield on the Sy-Max III measures 2.12 mm thick, about average.
It has 5 detents, although the first detent for the defogging position has an imprecise feel and the face shield opens a bit too far for simple defogging in the first position.
The rest of the detents have a crisper feel and the face shield is very easy to remove when it’s lifted to the highest point.
The lift tab could be a bit larger also and perhaps located more towards the center, as the offset location allows some twist to work its way through the face shield as it’s lifted, making it feel less accurate than it could be.
It also doesn’t quite close with a solid feel; it has to be pushed or given a sharp knock to get it to seat.
The face shield comes equipped with Pinlock anti-fog insert (review) studs but the Pinlock insert it not included, which is puzzling, especially since the Sy-Max III is not an inexpensive helmet.
HJC does not say that the face shield has an anti-fog coating in the promotional literature, so we’ll have to assume it does not.
The internal sun shade is an improvement over previous HJC designs; or, rather, it’s an evolution.
The spring-loaded sun visor assembly seems smaller and lighter than previous versions, but it still has the three-position-only lock, so you can only set the internal sun visor at one of three pre-determined positions.
The final position, to set the visor at the lowest point, uses the still-strange HJC method where you have to use two hands or two fingers to hold the button down, then push the lever up to it’s highest point up on top of the helmet.
The system is spring-loaded, so a single press of the button swings the sun visor back up into the helmet shell.
We still think a simple friction-based system, which would allow unlimited positioning choices by the rider, would be better.
The bottom edge of the sun visor used in the Sy-Max III isn’t as straight as it should be and the visor could probably rotate down another 10 mm or so (and it wouldn’t hurt to have a darker tint).
Chris uses a piece of black electrical tape across the top of his face shields to block sun glare, and you may want to try a strip of “Poor Man’s” tint on the inside or outside, as described in the “El Cheapo Sun Shade (review)“.
The eye port gasket seals fairly tightly across the face shield, but water can enter at the split line where the rotating visor meets the helmet shell.
There is a slight gap between the gasket along the rotating visor part and the helmet shell and it’s big enough for water to enter.
But, it would have to be some relatively extreme weather conditions and once the rider is moving, the air pressure should eliminate this problem.
Score: The HJC Sy-Max III has better than average outward visibility for this type of helmet. I’ll give it an “Outstanding” rating overall.
The Sy-Max III is fitted for a Chatterbox Bluetooth intercom, but HJC has no information available.
Top vents are very narrow. Slider in the center can be difficult to locate when wearing gloves.
The chin vent works well but flows a small amount of air on to the back of the face shield only
So far, it sounds like the new Sy-Max III has a lot to offer, and it does. But, there’s a fly in the ointment, and that’s the ventilation, which just doesn’t match the nice effort put into the rest of the helmet.
We’ll have to wait until warmer weather next summer to really tell.
But so far everyone who has worn the helmet has mentioned that it is difficult to tell how much air is coming in through the very narrow top vent slits or through the chin bar, which directs air on to the back of the face shield only and not through the chin bar.
We tried blowing compressed air through the top vent and it is felt inside the helmet, but not as a flow of air — more like a difference in ambient temperature.
Compressed air through the chin vent can barely be felt along the top of the chin bar, but a lot of air flows up into the helmet from under the chin bar.
The problem with this is that it it uncontrollable, so the helmet can be a bit chilly in cold weather.
It sorely needs a chin curtain and it’s a shame that HJC didn’t design one for the Sy-Max III. In the meantime, you’ll need a balaclava in winter…
Overall, I’d rate the Sy-Max III upper ventilation as average and the chin venting as below average.
Score: I’ll give the Sy-Max III ventilation system a “Neutral” rating.
The rear exhaust vents are incorporated into the sun visor assembly.
The redesigned rotating visor locking system on the Sy-Max III.
HJC Sy-Max III Sound Levels
The larger shell size, plush padding and deeper ear pockets all conspire to give the new Sy-Max III a newfound resistance to noise levels that puts it a cut above the rest of the flip-up crowd.
We were all pleasantly surprised at the low noise levels experienced when wearing the helmet in a variety of conditions.
The noise that does enter seems to come from under the chin bar, another reason why HJC should include a chin curtain with the helmet.
Certain windscreens can cause a sort of low frequency hollow wind blowing noise around the bottom front of the helmet, but it still sounds quieter than other flip-ups and noticeably different from any flip-ups of lesser quality and cost.
The thicker-feeling padding around the ear pockets, probably designed to assist the Chatterbox Bluetooth intercom system, also help.
Flip-ups are notoriously noisy helmets, due usually to the split design of the shell and/or poorly designed padding underneath, around the neck roll.
The shell design of the Sy-Max III helps to overcome most of those problems, making it at least one of the quieter flip-ups you can buy.
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 HJC Sy-Max III an “Excellent” rating for reasonable weight with very good balance.
The HJC Sy-Max III has double D-rings and a handy snap, along with nicely padded chin strap protectors.
The Sy-Max III has a double D-ring system for the chin strap, with a plastic snap retainer located in a handy spot, just under the rings. The padding under the chin strap is nice and cushioned, so no problems there at all.
The helmet meets the DOT safety standard in North America.
It’s interesting to note that there is no information on the warranty in the box, in the owner’s manual (which simply refers to a warranty but doesn’t describe it) or on the HJC website.
The new HJC Sy-Max III is a definite upgrade to both the original and to the Sy-Max II.
It’s comfortable and quiet and the eye port is one of the largest to be found on a flip-up helmet. It also has excellent noise control; much better than the average flip-up and better even than many full-face helmets.
The ventilation needs improvement but we’ll have to wait for warm weather to return to fully understand how much air flows through the Sy-Max III when it’s really needed.
Also, we’d really like to see a good, solid, large-sized chin curtain as standard equipment…and how about that Pinlock insert, HJC? And one more thing: how about more color choices, HJC?
The list price is slightly higher than one might expect — this is not an “el cheapo”, bargain-basement flip-up.
But we think it’s worth the price and it can be found at discount. It is definitely a step above those cheaper flip-ups, most of which sound and feel two or three cuts below the Sy-Max III.
From “K.H.” (April 2013): “Just received my Sy-Max III yesterday. Very nice helmet for the dosh, and I agree with the vast majority of wBW’s review team’s comments.
Having ridden extensively with the Sy-Max II on a variety of bikes, one can see that HJC listened to the criticisms lobbied against the earlier model(s) and built a better helmet all the way around. The comparison of newer to older model Sy-Max helmets was a nice touch as well.
In addition, The Hi-Viz is a great option that every helmet OEM should offer: See and Be Seen! For the record, I personally chose the Hi-Viz color option: great for riding visibility and a great example to set for my BRC/ERC/ARC students.
Unfortunately, you do get what you pay for and this helmet, like it’s little brother the IS-Max BT (which I also own), is most certainly built to a price point.
To be fair, I did have a new Shoei Neotec arrive concurrently with this helmet, and while the comparison isn’t fair (the Shoei is double the price… and then some), there is no real comparison.
The Shoei, as is commensurate with its price, is a superior helmet in every way. Only time will tell if the Shoei is twice the helmet the HJC is (it isn’t, but I digress). Certainly, the Law of Diminishing Returns is certainly apropos here. (i.e., spend a lot more, to get a little more).
Criticisms: Not many.
As stated in the review, build quality could be improved, as could the included helmet sack (dust cover?) this thing comes with (where’s the deluxe carry bag that my HJC AC-12 came with? This comment goes double for the nearly $700 Shoei!!!).
The omission of a Pinlock insert and a chin guard curtain is certainly a cost-cutting measure, but missed nonetheless.
For Bluetooth Users: Great option for a built-in Chatterbox BT IC, but be aware of an important caveat. The Chatterbox XBi2-H Plus (or older XBi2-H for that matter) that this helmet is designed around does not fit.
I had to call Chatterbox to fix the problem and, fortunately, it is a relatively simple fix.
Apparently, there is a reinforcing frame behind the helmet shell at the BT mounting “ring” surrounding the OEM BT compartment.
The forward-most screw (one of three en toto) mounting the reinforcement frame to the inside of the helmet shell interferes with the mounting of the internal portion of the XBi2.
This causes the inner portion to not fully extend outward and the outer “business” portion of the IC to miss the spring-loaded pin connectors of the inner portion by the smallest of margins. This renders the unit inoperable.
Once the offending screw is removed, the IC can be installed and both portions will mate as designed and the IC will then function normally. The screw can then be reinserted with no ill effect.
Obviously, this little quirk should have been caught by HJC and/or Chatterbox before the Sy-Max III went into production.
As is usual, wBW is an invaluable resource to both the M/C Safety professional as well, as the informed, responsible rider! Keep up the great work.”
From “A.L.” (September 2012): “I use webBikeWorld as my main source for helmet reviews as your website offers the most comprehensive analysis. Your website’s review of the HJC Sy-Max III lead me to purchasing one.
After using my Sy-Max III for 6 months, I find that I can only use the helmet for periods of 45 minutes or less as the area just slightly rear and above my ears develops hot spots and becomes sore, which leads me to believe that I may have a slightly oval head and not a slightly round shaped head.
According to your affiliate site, RevZilla, I read that the HCJ RPHA Max has a slightly oval shape and am considering one as my next helmet. Will the HJC RPHA Max be reviewed any time soon?”
Editor’s Reply: Yes, we have one in the evaluation process and the review should be ready for publication in early October 2012.
From “J.W.” (March 2012): “I have used my Sy-Max 3 Modular for a couple of weeks now and I have found it to quieter than the Sy-Max 2 . However when it come to air flow it is very poor I feel no air at all on the top and little on the chin vent.
I wasn’t sure if just received a bad one or need get better helmet like the Shoe Multitec?”
Editor’s Reply: As we noted in the Sy-Max 3 review above, ventilation is weak. The Shoei Neotec (review) has the best ventilation of any flip-up helmet we’ve reviewed so far.
From “B.R.” (January 2012): “I have no bad news or complaints, and in fact wanted to comment on your review of the Sy-Max III on the site. It turns out that this version of the chin curtain for the Sy-Max II fits the helmet perfectly (well, with a slight jiggle to insert it correctly)!
So I am an extremely pleased customer and will be testing it on cold weather rides immediately.”
From “P.G.” (December 2011): “The internal sun visor feature only has 2 positions. The third setting is for changing the internal sun visor only. HJC puts standard smoke visors in their helmets that have this drop-down feature.
They offer a dark smoke and a hi-def amber depending on the customers needs.
I have changed many of these for customers and it is an easy process. Thank you for your wonderful reviews of motorcycle products. I have told hundreds of customers about your informative site and use it everyday.
I call it the “Consumer Reports” of the motorcycling community. Keep up the great and useful information!”
Editor’s Reply: Thanks for the feedback and for your support. I just checked the owner’s manual again to make sure, actually, it says the helmet has 3 positions, they call it “Standard”, “Lower” and “Lowest”.
It says that the lowest position is used “primarily” to change the shield but it is implied that it is also the lowest position and it does move the sun visor down slightly one more level. So, it’s a bit confusing but apparently there are 3 levels that can be used when riding.
From “R.H.” (December 2011): “I had the chance of riding with the Sy-Max III for a few weeks before the weather turned and absolutely love it. I’ve been with the Sy-Max family for all three revisions and will say this one is without a doubt well worth the upgrade from the II.
So far, the two things that I am enjoying the most is the Pinlock shield and cut-outs for the speakers for my Scala Q2. With the Sy-Max II, the Q2 speakers were always irritating me by falling out or rubbing against my ears.
No more of that! Pinlock, well, it works and it works very well. No fogging at all!
The only thing so far that I do not like isn’t about the helmet but with the Scala Q2 installed on this helmet. The boom mic cover is so large that it feels like I’m eating it.
The open space between my mouth and chin bar has decreased enough just to make the mic boom foam be in the way. It’s incredibly annoying. I have not yet fiddled with it but chances are I will replace the foam with some other form of hairy fuzz to help reduce the footprint of the mic.
I opted for the matt black which is a little more expensive but looks incredible. I’ve also purchased some hi-viz yellow tape that I plan on putting around the base of the helmet but have not taken the time to apply yet.
As for sizing, I have always had XL in Shoei and HJC. XL in the Sy-Max III fits as I would expect. No surprises.”