Gear and kit

Review: HJC RPHA11 (Monster) vs Shoei NXR. One of these helmets is very good. The other is epic.

The plan was to review the new Monster Energy liveried HJC RPHA 11 up on the one-way, unrestricted speed limit Mountain Road at the Isle of Man TT, test it at insane speeds and compare it to the legendary Shoei NXR. We got to the TT, but the Mountain Road wasn’t having any of it.

We do the TT every year. This year, we had the idea to make it the perfect road/race helmet test: A blast up along some of England’s finest twisties to Liverpool, four days of eight-hour blatting around the Isle of Man, including the infamous Mountain Road during ‘Mad Sunday’, then a motorway mile munch on the way back to the South East. What better conditions for helmets designed for 150mph+ performance efficiency yet at the same time be comfortable for long periods of hard riding road use?

We’d lined up the latest HJA RPHA 11 – the latest model being the first helmet to feature Monster Energy branding that is not related to a Moto GP rider – to compare against the Shoei NXR which had done the same trip two years before.

Having a ‘Shoei head’ I’ve pretty much stuck with the brand for 20 years and, for my style and type of riding, the Shoei NXR seems the perfect road/race helmet. Light, stable at high speeds, manoeuvrable, relatively comfortable and fairly affordable for a premium lid. It’s so good I’d spent my own money on one.

But I knew the RPHA range was something pretty special and as the TT is the highlight of my riding year, the stage was set for the perfect trip. Until we saw the weather reports.

HJC RPHA 11 review
The RPHA 11 ready to head up to the TT, where it will be worn pretty much constantly for five days

The twice the speed-limit test 

If you don’t know already, during the TT only, the Mountain Road is made one way, so between practices and racing, weather permitting, you can take advantage of the beautiful fast sweeping roads, with no speed limit, to give sports bike gear a thorough test. This happens for the whole of the two weeks of the TT festival, BTW, not just Mad Sunday.

If you know the road, and I do, 140-150 mph is easily possible in places on a litre bike (although some locals and properly quick riders will laugh as they fly by you, when you are doing ‘only’ 150….). That was the idea, anyway.

Unfortunately, ‘weather permitting’ turned out to be an issue. The 2017 TT has been one of the wettest in decades and despite numerous attempts, every time we went up to the start of the Snaefell section after Ramsey, the ‘Mountain Road is Closed’ signs were up. Sadly, it being my main reason for visiting the TT each year, we couldn’t get up there.

For the purposes of the review though, all was not lost. We switched to the lesser-known ‘Mini Mountain Road’, the A36 further south on the island to do our high-speed testing.*

While the weather played havoc with the race schedule, away from the road circuit there are plenty of unrestricted roads on the island, with various profiles and surfaces to get to grips with (I was also testing the Metzler Sportec M7 RR). You can’t quite get up to the speeds of the A36’s big brother, the A18. But you won’t be far off. That’s good enough for us to get testing.

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HJC RPHA11 vs Shoei NXR

Performance

These are lightweight race/fast road lids. So there are two issues affecting performance, weight and wind resistance.

Both the RPHA 11 and the NXR score highly on weight saving, with the HJC just edging it by being 10g lighter. In the hand and on the head, you can’t tell the difference.

On a faired sports bike, before tucking down behind the screen, wind stability is excellent on both helmets. Above 80 mph (we were testing on an island where many roads have no speed limit, remember) you’ll notice a slight strain on the neck with the NXR that doesn’t exist on the RPHA 11.

On track, where I can only manage 140mph on Brands Hatch’s Brabham Straight on the brand new Metzler’s (wuss, I know), neither helmet gives you any issues when tucked below the screen.

SHOEI NXR: 4.5/5

HJC RPHA 11: 5/5

Vision

The RPHA 11 wins this hands down. Wearing the NXR, the upper area of the visor is restricted by the frame of the helmet. Shame, as this is the bit you use most when hunched over a sports bike tank. I had quite forgotten how bad it was on the Shoei until I slipped on the HJC.

Compared to the Shoei, the Monster-branded lid offered me what seemed like acres of vision – not just straight ahead but the peripheral bits to the sides too.

SHOEI NXR: 3/5

HJC RPHA 11: 5/5

Noise

If you’ve read our advice on protecting your ears you’ll know you should wear ear plugs every time you are likely to be riding above 50mph. So for our high-speed tests, the plugs were always in, making it difficult to give any meaningful report on wind noise.

There is one thing though. In the RPHA 11 my ears became noticeably cold… On the motorways there and back, at speed, the cold air was noticeable inside the RPHA 11, not unpleasant but in winter it could be a problem.

Because I was using earplugs all of the time, we are not going to give a score for wind noise.

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Ease of use

Both helmets are very easy to put on (both have emergency release tags, just in case) and strap adjustment is a cinch.

Where they differ is in the visor and air vent controls.

Hands down, the RPHA 11 visor control is way better than the NXR, which is slightly basic by comparison. The HJC has a patented auto-lock, that, after a certain amount of wind pressure will lock the visor automatically. Some reviewers aren’t keen but actually for me it’s one less thing I’d have to do anyway.

Once you remember the lock is in the centre, the lock is easier to use and has more control. Opening and closing the visor is much smoother than the NXR too.

However, the air vents are easier to use on the NXR. There is a nifty rubber encased wheel on each side of the RPHA 11 that, when you aren’t wearing the helmet, seems much easier than the NXR’s sliders. But wearing the helmets it becomes a different matter. The NXR top vents are much quicker to find and easier to open and close than the RPHA 11’s.

Face and demisting vents are more blatant with the RPHA 11, with an extra vent hidden on the inside of the mouth area, although it’s tricky to get to with the whisper guard in place.

Now things get a little more specific, but I suspect many people suffer from the same issues. I wear contact lenses, the hard type. On most rides wearing the NXR I get grit in my eyes. It’s extremely painful and so bad sometimes I have to pull over and my eyes will be streaming. This happens on around 90% of rides.

With the RPHA 11 I didn’t have it once. In over 1500 miles of hard riding. Then there’s another thing to do with my eyes, which may be peculiar to me, but it still happens.

I wear dark visors pretty much all of the time. Mainly because I have light sensitive eyes and struggle wearing sunglasses inside a lid but also because I’m one of those twats who thinks it looks way cooler to have a dark visor (especially in a lighter coloured helmet).

After even just a few miles inside a Shoei helmet with a dark visor my eyes become very bloodshot. The optometrist says there nothing to really worry about, “Just blink more”. With the HJC helmet, my eyes are perfectly clear… I’m putting it down to the quality of materials used.

BTW, the HJC comes with both clear and legal smoked pinlock visors. That could save you money over the NXR, which only comes with the clear visor.

Here’s another biggie, for me anyway. Changing visors over is much quicker with the HJC (when I remember to carry a clear visor on longer journeys). The systems are very similar, but the Shoei always ends up being a little more fiddly.

SHOEI NXR: 3/5

HJC RPHA 11: 5/5

HJC RPHA 11 review vs Shoei NXR
In real life, not just fancy PR shots, both helmets look good

Quality

Both helmets are premium lids. Not at the top of the price range but certainly not cheap with retail prices around £400-£480 depending on the colour scheme. Both come with a 5-year guarantee for construction.

It means both have superb paint finishes and quality components, although the HJC’s inner lining materials feel a bit Ford compared to Shoei’s Audi.

Construction is, of course, multi-layered with both brands using carbon and multi-composite fibre layers to keep the protection properties high but the weight down.

SHOEI NXR: 5/5

HJC RPHA 11: 5/5

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Comfort

First time on with the RPHA and I was in for a shock. After a quick 50-mile blat I was literally in pain where the medium sized helmet (my usual size) had been pressing up against the bottom of my skull. Surprised because, although coming up small in size had been mentioned in other reviews, actual pain hadn’t been an issue but the all-round quality of the helmet had, in spades.

Having found much to like about the lid myself on that ride I knew the issue wasn’t so much about my Shoei head shape as size, so I ignored my own advice about bedding in and swapped for a larger size.

Boy, am I glad I did. When you are wearing a crash helmet for up to 8 hours a day, as we were on the TT trip, comfort is everything.

On first putting on the NXR, the helmet is very comfortable and this continues throughout wearing it. Until you get to the point, after many high-speed miles, that the wind is pressing the lid against your forehead. After a while it becomes annoying, with constant little nudges to relieve the pressure.

The RPHA 11 is completely the opposite. Maybe because it’s newer but, despite being a larger size than I would normally use, the HJC is actually less comfortable initially. However, after lengthy wear it is head and shoulders, excuse the pun, above the Shoei when it comes to comfort. It just beds in better.

SHOEI NXR: 3.5/5

HJC RPHA 11: 4.5/5

Cleaning

To be honest there’s not much in it when cleaning the inside liners. Both helmets have fully removable linings with very similar press-stud mountings. I did struggle slightly removing the top liner from the RPHA 11, but only because I was afraid of tearing the lining, which looked weaker than the Shoei’s. Inspecting the HJC guarantee, only the construction is warrantied for 5 years – the linings are only covered for 2 years.

The outside is a different story. The problem with the NXR is those channels that surround the air vents. After an hour each wearing each lid on an early summer’s day, it’s easier to clean the midges and fly crap off the RPHA 11 thanks to fewer channels and ridges in the design.

HJC RPHA 11 review vs Shoei NXR
Fiddly grooves make the NXR harder to clean

If I were anal enough to take our advice on removing the amino acids and enzymes in this stuff from the paint after every trip I’d have invested in cotton buds for the NXR long ago. Cleaning these sections is fiddly.

HJC RPHA 11 review vs Shoei NXR
Compared to the NXR, the RPHA 11 is easier to clean, but large vents could let large insects in your helmet

The RPHA 11’s air scoops, while very elegant, are a little awkward to clean though. And the vents themselves are big enough to let a whole bug in and once it’s in we can’t see it coming out for a while. If it’s the stingy type… actually, let’s not go there.

SHOEI NXR: 3.5/5

HJC RPHA 11: 4/5

Looks

In the words of a mate, “That Monster helmet is a good-looking lid.” But if you put the same Druidi Performance design on the Shoei I’d say it would look just as good.

The Shoei has a slightly more mean looking visor (leading, though, to that restricted vision), the RPHA 11 has a slightly higher dome. I’m not really into the whole Monster worship thing, so going purely on shape design I’d say there’s nothing in it.

Both lids feature the aggressive lines most sports bike riders like (except Gix… no, we’re not going there).

SHOEI NXR: 5/5

HJC RPHA 11: 5/5

The summary

The Shoei NXR is a VERY good helmet. The RPHA 11 is also very good. Both are stable at high speeds, both look great, both have nicely designed features.

But when you have to live in a helmet for five whole days of riding around at a place as full-on as the Isle of Man during the TT, cold ears notwithstanding, I realised that the comfort levels of the HJC made it not just very good, but like the Island itself, one notch better than that. The comfort and the fact that the visor system is just so much better than the Shoei’s means the RPHA 11 is actually is pretty epic.

Final scores:

Shoei NXR: 27.5/35
HJC RPHA 11: 33.5/35

*The TT Course on the Isle of Man is a public road outside of racing-related events. It is not a race track at these times but the lack of a speed limit means some people treat it as such. At all times during our higher-speed testing, the B&B team made sure the road conditions were clear with no other members of the public using the road – as close to ‘closed road’ conditions as we could make it.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.