It's hard to believe it's been nearly 60 years since the first polystyrene helmet was made by Bell Auto Parts owner Roy Richter—a man who had seen too many friends lost to auto racing, and decided to do something about it. And while safety standards and government certifications have certainly evolved during this time, aesthetically-speaking, the classic full-face Bell Star 120 that reigned supreme in the '70s is still very much a major source of inspiration for modern designers. The new Bell Bullitt hammers that point home. Designed by Brooklyn-based industrial designer Chad Hodge under direct influence of the Bell Star and other era-specific helmets, the Bullitt melds vintage styling with a modern sensibility to create a helmet that's sure to reach iconic status in years to come.
As the culture around vintage motorcycles continues to grow, Bell's introduction of the Bullitt brings new relevance to the iconic American helmet-maker. And while the Biltwell Gringo and Ruby Le Castel have routinely drawn praise for reviving the nostalgia-laden helmet style, it's important to note Hodge actually designed the Bullitt in spring of 2010—years before either the Gringo or Le Castel existed. As an independent designer, Hodge first introduced his original design concept to the Bubble Visor blog to gauge interest. Needless to say, it was a hit across the board.
"Since there was nothing like this on the market, I tried to consider that there'd be a pretty broad spectrum of people that would be attracted to it—everything from the scooter crowd to guys riding Harleys," says Hodge. To do this, Hodge fine-tuned each and every detail, making the helmet equally attractive with or without the visor and in a range of colorways. The attention to detail and overwhelmingly strong concept caught Bell's eye, and after a handshake, a trip or two to China and countless hours of R&D (read: riding), the Bullitt is now a reality.
With Bell, Hodge was able to tweak proportions to pass testing standards—making it both DOT and ECE certified, meaning there's no difference between helmets hitting American and European markets—and adjust some minute detailing to further his original vision to appeal to a range of riders. The fact that it's now available in five colorways with two interior and nine visor options didn't hurt either. "It's a very style-driven piece. You're supposed to be able to make it your own thing," continues Hodge.
Clean and simple are two words that like to linger on the tongue when describing the Bullitt. Clever is another; and it's one that fits the magnetic visor clasp all too well. A little leather tab hangs just within eyesight when the visor is raised—making it easy to grasp even while wearing gloves—and secures the visor in place without the need for a reciprocating clasp on the helmet itself. As for the eye port, it's noticeably larger than on most helmets. Hodge designed it this way to drastically improve the wearer's field of vision, and encourage those vintage motorcycle enthusiasts that wear open-face helmets (because it matches their bike's aesthetic) to consider a significantly safer full-face option. Plus the wide eye port accommodates goggles, and a narrow slit in the perforated micro-suede interior is a deal sealer for those who wear glasses.
A single, horizontal vent graces the slender chin-bar, while four more mesh intake vents border the brow. These dime-sized intake vents reference visor clasps found on traditional vintage helmets, while remaining entirely functional—they draw in air that runs through channels in the EPS liner and out a single rear exhaust vent. "All the details that you would expect of a new helmet are there," explains Hodge. "You can really make this into anything you want—you can ride it off road with goggles or you could go on a trip with a Bluetooth system (thanks to speaker pockets in the 3D-cut cheek pads). A whole lot of thought has gone into every part of the design."
The Bullitt motorcycle helmet can be found online from Bell Helmets and Union Garage NYC in a range of colorways for $400. And keep in mind, from the get-go the Bullitt was designed to be premium in every way, so don't let the price dissuade you—this is no novelty piece. Visit Chad Hodge's personal site for more on his design approach.
Lead and slideshow photos by Graham Hiemstra, all others by Ryan Handt courtesy of Union Garage NYC