Words and Pictures by Kenn Stamp
Full disclosure: I was fully prepared to dislike the Schuberth C3 before I ever received it. I mean come on: It costs $700, when you pick-up the helmet for review you’ll get an hour long briefing about what makes Schuberth different, and the helmet has an owners manual that, even discarding the pages filled with the languages you don’t speak, is still thicker than the owners manual that came with my new TV. This all smacked of pretentiousness and I was fully prepared to dismiss the Schuberth C3 as just a mediocre helmet banking on the “German precision” marketing hype.
I was wrong. Really, really, wrong.
Before we get into the details of the helmet itself I’m going to put the info learned in that briefing (I had mine via Skype since I don’t live in LA) to good use and give you a wee bit of background on Schuberth and how they do things today.
Schuberth, being a German company, started making crates for breweries in 1922 (I was shocked to learn that Germans drank beer <cough, cough>). Some time later they branched out and started making soft leather linings that later became linings for head protection products. Since no detail is given about why they decided that leather linings were a good thing to make or what head protection products used them, I’m going to guess they made linings for military helmets leading up to and used during WWII. But that’s just a guess.
Their next venture was making hard shell mining helmets in 1952 which led to them making motorcycle helmets in 1954. Schuberth started making helmets using thermoplastics soon after and then branched out (again) and made helmets for European armed forces. Today Schuberth continues to make all types of protective head gear for everyone from a motorcycle rider, to firefighters, to soldiers and more.
Schuberth introduced its first flip-up style helmet in 1980 in a partnership with BMW that lasts to this day.
Why is any of this important and why did you just waste seconds of your life reading the above paragraphs? Simple; Schuberth’s history, both ancient and recent, inform and shape their corporate thinking and, by extension, their products. This is most evident in how Schuberth views themselves, not as a helmet manufacturer but as a manufacturer of head protection gear. The importance of this distinction will become a bit more clear a little later in the article.
Schuberth helmets have been available for years in the USA through a typical “custody chain” that one finds with foreign goods (manufacturer – importer/distributor – retailer – customer). After they and their customers were burned by the importer/distributor, Schuberth decided to sell dealer direct – which they started doing in 2010. That decision allows Schuberth to train their retailers to not only know how much a helmet costs but to also know exactly how to properly fit, care for and adjust them. Obviously this level of knowledge will be a huge asset to potential customers at the point of sale.
This direct line of training and communication also allows Schuberth to offer a complimentary 3-year service plan – allowing a customer to register their newly bought Schuberth helmet and then, any time within the next 3 years, take the helmet and certificate to a Schuberth dealer who will inspect, adjust and clean the helmet to return it to factory specifications (this does not include replacement of any worn parts although the customer will be advised if there are any).
Another cool feature of the plan is the Mobility Program. If a rider has an accident and damages their registered Schuberth helmet (within the 3 year period), they can return the helmet with the program certificate, purchase receipt, proof of motorcycle endorsed license and a copy of the police report from the accident and Schuberth will authorize a replacement of the damaged helmet with a new one of the same model for 1/3 the retail price. Seems like a lot of work I know, but we are talking about replacing your damaged $700 helmet with a new one and you only spending $230(ish) to do so. Not so much work now, eh?
By now you are either asleep, got bored and wandered off or are sitting there thinking, “what does any of that have to do with how the helmet works and why, for the love of all things holy, does it cost $700!!!???). OK, OK, enough with the history lesson then and on to the actual review.
I decided to go with the Schuberth C3 in the World White color to be different as I usually pick black helmets….and because Schuberth didn’t have my first choice (World Black) available. Once I received the helmet I was glad I chose the white as, with the gray globe graphics, it is quite a looker. There is also enough clear coat that there are no discernible ridges where the graphics are applied.
As an interesting note: other than the paint/graphics being applied by robots, the only other automated part of the C3 build process is the water cutting of the eyeport, vent holes and chinbar; everything else is done by a real live person. That fact may not inspire confidence if the tag said “Made in China – by unwilling, low-paid, conscripts who barely eat enough and have no access to health care or anything resembling human rights”, but Schuberth is a German company with German employees (whose healthcare pays for them to take ski trips when they feel stressed – at least that’s what I’ve been told) so having their little fingers involved in most of the building process is a probably a good thing.
Schuberth creates the shell of the C3 using fiberglass, Kevlar and Dyneema (a polymat material that resists penetration) and weaves them all together into sheets to create a fabric they call S.T.R.O.N.G.. These sheets are then cut into two 2-pieces and pre-formed before going into the helmet mold.
This process means that there are no issues with one part of the helmet shell being denser than another, which can happen with the hand-laid/blown fiberglass method of construction used by other helmet manufacturers. Since the fiber weave is the same density throughout the helmet it allows a consistent absorption of the resin that is poured into the mold; resulting in a uniform shell thickness. This uniformity is tested by placing a powerful light into the shell to ensure there are no brighter (indicates a thin spot) or darker (indicates a thick spot) areas in the shell. This technology is one of those areas that is a carry over from Schuberth’s other lines of business – when you make military and police helmets that are designed to stop a bullet, making sure there aren’t any thinner or thicker spots in the shell is of utmost importance.
It’s this ability to maintain a uniform thickness in the shell that allows Schuberth to keep the exterior shell size of the C3 to the bare minimum. This was made evident when I compared the C3 to my Bell Star; the C3 is a lot smaller in every external dimension – and I was comparing a Large C3 to a medium Star.
These smaller dimensions, coupled with that tightly controlled building process, means that the C3 isn’t very heavy either. Weighing in (on our trusty postal scale) at 1595 grams means that, compared to other full face helmets, the Schuberth C3 is a verifiable lightweight. Actually, unless you look at carbon fiber race helmets, the weight of the C3 compares beats a lot of full face helmets on the market too.
Another thing that contributes to the overall weight of the helmet is the interior. Schuberth has developed a way to create a multiple-density EPS liner in one piece rather than the separate pieces that most other manufacturers use to create their dual-density EPS liners.
The interior lining of a helmet, that part that touches your skin, is the area I use to really judge whether a helmet is truly a premium helmet – or just an overpriced wanna-be. I can say, without reservation, that the Schuberth C3’s interior is just about the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of sticking my head into. It’s one thing when the fabric used feels soft to your fingers but another level entirely when you can actually feel how soft it is on your forehead.
While Schuberth doesn’t put any sort of fabric or at least mesh between the padded panels to hide the EPS foam liner (Schuberth claims they don’t do that because it hampers airflow) they do cover the EPS itself with a fuzzy, velvety-type material (like those old flocked toys/Christmas decorations) which looks a LOT better than the raw EPS you’ll find in many helmets – premium or otherwise.
I was told by the Schuberth rep that one of the complaints they often hear about from new C3 owners is that the helmet is too tight. Apparently, and I’m just going by what they told me, due to the types and quality of the materials they use to build the interior, a Schuberth helmet takes longer to break-in than other brands.
When I ordered-up the C3, I did my usual and got a size larger than I really am because most helmets aren’t built to my exact head shape. I was glad I did because, for the first few rides I took that lasted longer than 30 minutes, I was getting a pressure spot at the middle of my forehead. This was due to Schuberth building the C3 with a mid-oval head shape while my head is a long-oval.
Usually this pressure would be a deal-breaker for me and I would pass along the helmet to someone else once the review was done – I’ve learned that those pressure spots don’t ever seem to go away. I liked the C3 so much though, and Schuberth said the helmet would break in, so I gave it some more time and now……no more pressure spot. This has to be due to their EPS foam manufacturing process because I’d never had a helmet that gave me pressure spots stop giving me pressure spots; no matter how long I wore it for.
Another bullet point in Schuberth’s presentation dealt with helmet quietness. Schuberth claims a decibel rating of only 84dB(A) at 65mph on an bike with no fairing. Having just tested the HJC RPHA 10 helmet and seen how HJC’s definition of “quiet” vastly differed from mine, I was hesitant to believe Schuberth’s definition would any closer. Turns out that the C3 is pretty quiet. I don’t have a decibel meter but I will say that the C3 is the first helmet I’ve ever worn that doesn’t make me feel I HAVE to wear earplugs or risk immediate hearing loss from wind noise.
That level of quiet comes not only from the design of the helmet and padded acoustical collar (the neck area is where most wind noise comes from) but also from small “turbolators” molded into the faceshield. These “turbolators” cause the air hitting the shield to spin in such a way that it goes smoothly over the top lip of the shield – thereby reducing both turbulence and noise. Schuberth is able to do all these little fine-tuning bits because they have the second quietest “aero-acoustic” (can test for both wind noise and aerodynamics) wind tunnel in the world.
Schuberth’s face shields are rated optical Class 1 which means nearly distortion free vision. They might be “nearly” distortion free when tested in a lab, but in the real world I’d say the were “completely” distortion free as I can’t find any distortion no matter how I move my eyes or tilt my head. Those same distortion free qualities also seem to carry over to the tinted integral drop-down sun-visor (which is cable driven for better reliability and smoother action).
The only thing I’m not wild about is the center “lock” on the shield – really just a little plastic “latch” on the helmet that snaps over a small tab on the shield. While there are no buttons or levers to manipulate, it can take quite a push to get the shield into the full down and “locked” position because you have to both push in and down to get the tab to go under the latch. Besides letting in cold air on cold days, leaving the visor resting on top of the little plastic latch also increases wind noise by quite a lot. I really find center “locking” visors to be, for the most part, just a pain in the ass and the one on the C3 is no exception.
Schuberth equips the C3 with their patented AROS (Anti Roll Of System) which, basically, consists of additional straps that are riveted to the base of the shell and connected to the chin straps. During a crash this system helps assure that the helmet will not cause an injury by rotating forward, nor will it come off the riders head.
The chin straps themselves are connected not with the good ol’ D-ring system but with a micro-lock ratchet system. I’m not crazy about the micro-lock ratchet system only because it’s bulky and hits you right in the Adam’s Apple; and I don’t have a large Adam’s Apple. You really only have limited adjustments that can be made because the chin straps are tethered to the back of the helmet by the AROS – so you can’t just slide the chin straps forward and further away from your throat. Unless you’ve got a large Adam’s Apple, or a low-tolerance for something touching your throat, you’ll eventually get used to it though. I can’t help but feel however, that the micro-lock ratchet system seems to be one of those areas where the typical German “we can build it better” attitude has created a problem where a good old D-ring set-up wouldn’t.
OK, OK, I know…longest……helmet…..review…..article…….EVER!!!! One more thing and then it’ll be onto the summary and class will be dismissed.
Last thing to talk about is airflow; both around and through the C3.
Because Schuberth didn’t create the C3 to be used on the track its outer shell is devoid of fins, strakes, spoilers, wings or any other “go fast” part that you’ll find on most full face helmets (this smoothness also contributes to how quiet the C3 is). Even without all those air-modifiers stuck to it and at speeds that would have caused any traffic cop to immediately drop their doughnut and spill their coffee on themselves, I never felt any buffeting. No buffeting, no wobble, no wiggle and no feeling of drag – even when I turned my head from side to side. This stability can be directly attributed to the hours of wind-tunnel testing that Schuberth does.
Another benefit to having your own wind-tunnel is being able to properly tune your helmet for ventilation. When I saw that the C3 didn’t have exhaust vents on the top rear of the helmet, only one intake vent on top and one chin vent, I thought “Oh this one’s gonna be a hot helmet”…….and then those pesky German engineers and their wind-tunnel proved me wrong.
The top intake vent lets in a good amount of air all by itself and the grooves cut into the EPS foam channel that air over your head and out the hidden exhaust vents at the bottom rear of the helmet. But the real magic comes from that chin vent. It’s a mystery how a small vent that only only opens from the top a little bit (next to the shield) can let in so much air. Most chin vents allow a gentle breeze to gently waft across your hot, sweat laden nose. The chin vent of the C3 is more like opening all the windows of your home during a hurricane – completely eliminating any sweat. I’ve honestly never felt a chin vent move as much air as the one on the C3 does.
This amount of airflow wasn’t solely designed to cool you down though, it was also designed to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the helmet (from you exhaling); the reduction of which helps reduce fatigue and keep you feeling refreshed on long rides. This carbon dioxide reduction goal is why, even with the vent in the closed position, a small amount of fresh air is allowed through – good for CO2 reduction, bad for keeping your nose warm on really chilly days. If it bothers you buy a 2-hole balaclava and your nose will stay toasty warm.
While the Schuberth C3’s $700 price tag might be pricey, the build quality and attention to detail quickly makes it seem a reasonable price to pay. The C3 is impressive not only due to the overall size and weight but also by those small details that lend a certain air of class to any product. Simply by holding a C3 in your hands or by putting one on your head you immediately can tell you are dealing with a quality product; much the same way you could tell you were sitting in a BMW or Mercedes rather than a Chevy or Ford, even blinfolded, simply by the feel of the materials you can touch.
Is the Schuberth C3 a perfect helmet? No; but then nothing can be perfect for all people. The Schuberth C3 is, quite simply, a helmet built to a higher standard.
P.S. (you thought I was done didn’t you) – The Schuberth C3 available in the USA is both DOT and ECE certified. Our helmets have an extra layer of Dyneema due to the DOT having a penetration standard which the ECE doesn’t have – hence the Stateside version of the C3 weighs a smidge more that the European version.
P.S.S. – By the way…did you know that in order for a helmet to obtain and keep ECE certification 150 out of every 3000 helmets built must be randomly chosen off the line and tested to destruction? Yeah I found that to be quite amazing as well.
OK I’m really done now. Seriously I am.
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- The materials used feel high-end
- The small physical dimensions
- The lack of weight
- The airflow
- The cost – no matter how justified it is it’s still a lot of money
- The chin-strap buckling system
- The center lock on the shield