Review: AGV's carbon SportModular is a no-compromise flip face even sport riders will love
Do you remember the first time you took an iPhone home and opened that fancy box, and thought to yourself "This box alone may be cooler than anything else I own, imagine how good the phone must be?"
And the phone was that good. At least, until you did a software update.
Nowadays, all sorts of things come in fancy boxes. I've got a box from a WiFi router that's still sitting there in my cupboard because I'd feel guilty throwing it away. But the box from the AGV SportModular is the first time I've seen premium style packaging on a product from the rough and ready world of motorcycling.
I have reason to believe the box is perfumed. I've been sitting here with the box on my head trying to work out what the perfume is. I think it's some kind of pine forest, the kind of forest you could be out there riding through if you weren't sitting there with the box on your head.
The helmet bag alone warrants mention. There's two of them. One a beautifully stitched regular soft bag, the other a foam semi-hard case shaped like it should be staring down Sigourney Weaver in a dark, metallic blue corridor.
The message from AGV is clear: gird your loins, peasant, something special and regal is coming. And they're not kidding.
The SportModular is famously the world's first full carbon shell flip face helmet. Where other manufacturers have shied away from the extra cost of making carbon molds for both the shell and the chinpiece, doubling early setup prices, AGV has gone all in.
The unbearable lightness
The result is a flip face helmet that is literally lighter than the lid Valentino Rossi wears on the MotoGP grid. Rossi's full carbon Pista GP R nominally weighs 1,350 grams in an extra small. The SportModular, despite the flip face mechanism and a raft of other features we'll get to, weighs just 1,295 at its lightest. Rossi wishes his lid was this light.
In my size (large), it tips the kitchen scales at 1,466 grams. In practicality, that means it's light enough that pretty much any riding buddy who picks it up will go "whoooo, that's really light" as you burst with pride. There's your money well spent, right there.
It's extremely strong, too. I rang Talal Kaakani, AGV's Brand Manager for North America, who spoke of the SportModular in tones normally reserved for the first time one's child wins an Oscar. He assured me its unbearable lightness did not come at the detriment of safety. "It's a light helmet," he told me, "but we didn't compromise at all on the safety element. We have our own AGV standards whenever we're developing a new shell or a new helmet. We do our own severe testing. They must not only meet DOT and ECE certifications, but exceed it by 20-30 percent. Instead of testing at 7.5 meters per second, we test at 8.5 meters per second. If the ECE only allows 275 G of G-Force to be transmitted to the head, we won't allow more than 250."
Jolly good, then. And it's worth noting the SportModular has a terrific viewport opening that allows no less than 190 degrees of panoramic vision, with 85 degrees of vertical. That's an even more important safety standard to me, because extra vision in the peripheries helps you not bang the helmet into things in the first place when you're riding through dynamic traffic situations. The vertical opening isn't as wide as the Nolan N104, but then I don't think anything is, and you really only notice that on head checks.
If you like features, this helmet has those in abundance. Take the adjustable, optically corrected flip-down sun visor, now a standard in the modular segment. Or the included Pinlock 120 anti-fog insert. "That's the highest spec anti-fog visor Pinlock makes," says Kaakani. "And it comes as a gift in the box. The "120" stands for 120 seconds under the most extreme conditions before the visor starts fogging. It's the latest and the best technology Pinlock offers. We didn't go with the 70 or the 90, we used the best."
Or the vents, which are the ventiest vents I've ever encountered. Likely because AGV didn't design them until they'd had a chance to put the shell in a wind tunnel, tilted at 77 degrees (the rough angle your head's at when you're going all ape-faeces on an aggressive super-naked). Where the points of greatest wind force were, that's where the vents went. Function first, form second. The chin vent in particular absolutely floods your face with air. It can be too much. I've been half-opening it just so I don't get home with a choir-boy part in the middle of my beard. It's amazing. The back of the lid has an exhaust vent that you can use as a multi-position spoiler for extra downforce in ultra high speed riding. Who thinks of this stuff?
We haven't touched on the materials yet, which are terrific as well. Apart from the full 3K carbon fiber shell, every piece of material your skin will come into contact with has a lovely luxurious feel to it.
Reversible cooling/warming crown liner
And here's a terrific idea: AGV has fitted this thing with a reversible crown liner that snaps in and out in about 20 seconds. One side of it's covered in cushy Shalimar, which feels a bit like a North Face jacket and has a slight warming effect. Flip it over and you get Ritmo, which feels smoother and sleeker and has a slight cooling effect. The difference is subtle but noticeable, especially for baldies – and the best part of all might simply be that it flips over. "We've got people coming up to us a lot at trade shows telling us they love to flip it over halfway through a long, sweaty ride," says Kaakani, "so they've got a fresh, new feeling helmet for the ride home."
All the liners are sanitized, with moisture wicking qualities and an anti-microbial treatment to keep the lid fresh for longer anyway. It feels every bit as high-end and noggin-pampering as the X-Lite X1004 I've been spoiling myself with recently.
AGV's approach to noise is an interesting one. "Quiet is not the final answer for us," Kaakani tells me. "Obviously you don't want too much wind noise, but you also want the thrill of speed and to be able to hear what's going on around you, and also hear the engine. We want to transmit some sound, but without distortion."
The primary noise-proofing features are the neck liner and the superbly slim frontal profile of the helmet, achieved using an extremely sleek and narrow chin flip hinge with a super-compact visor tilt and release system built right into it. Nothing sticks out save the tiny screws for the Pinlock visor. Everything else is bullet-smooth. The aeros are superb.
In practice, this is a very quiet helmet at speed, but I'll still be wearing ear plugs. Without them, it's true that the SportModular lets me hear more of what's happening around me than anything else shy of a minimalist open face or an ice cream bucket (don't laugh, I've seen that in Vietnam), but there's still some wind noise, and as an ex-drummer with tinnitus to manage, I declare all wind noise must die.
Searching desperately for reasons not to call this the greatest helmet ever made, I press Kaakani on a potential limitation: surely, I tell him, if you're building the world's greatest flip face helmet, you need to cater for the real nerds and build in a Bluetooth communications system. Sticking a chunky clip-on thing on the side of this beauty would be like strapping an unshaven pig to one side of a Formula One car.
"The helmet has the cutouts," he tells me. "It's ready for a communication system. And we're working with one of the premium brands in the market – I don't think we can mention the name yet – to develop our own streamlined Bluetooth system that works perfectly with the SportModular. I've seen pictures, it's incredible. So we're working on it. When will it be available? I don't know the ETA yet, but it's coming out soon." He then goes on to tell me which brand, in confidence. And it's a brand that makes me very happy.
The SportModular riding experience
In my personal experience riding several hundred miles in this thing, it stands out as the best flip-face lid I've ever worn. Vision is excellent. Comfort is wonderful. Even the chin strap (with its double D rings made out of titanium because of course they are) sits so comfy on my neck that I have checked more than once at the lights to see if I forgot to do it up.
In fact, the first time I wore this lid, I went outside, started my bike, put my gloves on, then went "you idiot, you absent-mindedly forgot your helmet." And the key was halfway back into the front door before I realized the bloody thing was on my head. I'm not kidding. That's ridiculous, that's what that is. This thing is a beast.
My complaints are few, and they're far from deal-breaking. I'm not a huge fan of the black plastic tab that locks the main visor down, it sort of hangs there in your vision and makes you wish it was a targeting system for your onboard machine guns. The chin bar takes a bit of effort to lock down with one hand, which can mess with my flow, and when it's right down I do find my chin touching up against it. The sun visor, at its lowest position, pokes a bit at the bridge of my nose – but then you can just put it a bit higher and it sits there fine. That's really all I've got.
AGV sees the SportModular as a bit of a category buster – a flip face brain bucket that's pretty, sleek and light enough to grab customers who'd normally go for a full face, because you get the benefits of a modular with almost none of the normal drawbacks.
I can't comment from that perspective, I'm a flip face tragic from way back. I've always loved riding around with the wind in my face, being able to talk to people and pay for petrol without pulling my lid off, and then having the ability to pop the chin into place when the speed comes up or the rain comes down. I've been happy to look like a dork, put up with extra weight and noise for the privilege.
The SportModular looks pretty good in my opinion, it's relatively quiet, super comfy and it's ultra-light even compared to race helmets. Add in some fun practicalities like the reversible liner and a feel that's top-end premium from the minute you open the box, and AGV has come up with an absolute winner that I'll be comfortable wearing on just about anything from a sportsbike to a super-naked to a tourer. I fully intend to shout my joy and fear into this thing as I get deep into sixth gear down the chute at Philip Island. I'd encourage any full-face devotee who's feeling a little modular-curious to try this one. If you don't like this, I doubt you'll ever like a flip face. I'll wager it'll steal a few hearts.
And while the price is premium level, I'm pretty stoked to see it comes in well under a lot of high end full face lids. In plain, glossy 3K carbon fiber, it's US$749 in the United states, AU$899 in Australia. A range of fairly conservative paint jobs take it north from there.
If you can't tell, I'm blown away by this lid and everything it brings to the table. HEre's a short video:
Product page: AGV