Product review: Steelbird Air SBA-2 Flag helmet
The Steelbird Air SBA-2 is a full-face helmet designed for urban commuting. The biggest hint at its intended use is the large brow-to-chin visor, which covers almost the entire face. It features the company's Air Booster venting technology, with thin slats across the top surface that can be opened to a varying degree and also completely shut.
The outer shell of the SBA-2 is made of high-impact ABS material. The company claims that it features multi-layer high-density and low-density EPS (foam) inner shell. The build is atypical of full-face helmets, since the chin guard is narrower than is found on most full-face helmets. Where on majority of other full-face helmets the chin bar rises up to cover the nose, the one on the SBA-2 begins from under the nose. All but a but thin line at the bottom of the helmet is covered by the long visor. The helmet's outer shell is a single piece and the EPS inner shell is glued to it. The comfort liner is held in place with snap-on bolts, and velcro. Hence, the liner stays in place.
The visor movement mechanism has one notch to open it about 20 per cent to facilitate air flow to the face. Otherwise it locks in place only when fully open, or completely shut. That said, the movement had enough resistance for the visor to remain open at any position it was kept. After a few weeks of use in daily commute, there was some creaking from the visor mechanism, but a little silicone lubricant spray solved that. Air vents at the top are operated by a single tab in the centre. Although there are three positions on it, it was difficult to guess which position they are in while worn.
Looks and finish
The SBA-2 Flag helmet we tested has the colours of the German flag. The graphic is nicely laid out on the surface to form thick diagonal stripes of black, red, and yellow from front to back respectively. The bold graphic with the contrasting colours certainly makes it eye-catching, both, in terms of visibility from the sides and rear.
The cool rainbow-tinted visor is very attractive; its shape and size is similar to the Iron Man face mask and that adds to the coolness factor, especially with the rainbow mirror finish. There is also a clear visor included in the package, which takes away some of the cool look.
The helmet looks great when worn with its inverted teardrop shape from the front, and the angular rear profile formed by the passive vents at the back. The colours, the visor, and the its overall futuristic form will make you look like a member of French electronic music duo Daft Punk, and I didn't mind since I'm a fan.
The paint looks good even after using it for my daily commute. There is some finishing issue at the bottom edge of the shell where the visor sits. Over prolonged use, the rainbow visor managed to catch some fingerprint smudges where I hold it to open or shut, but has not been marred by scratches so far. Scratches and smudges are more pronounced on reflective surfaces, so it would be advisable to clean the visor regularly.
The SBA-2 is sold in two sizes 600mm and 580mm. I have the 580mm (58cm) size. It was a surprise fit as the outer shell made it look very compact. In other helmets I usually fit into the 60-62cm size bracket. Putting the helmet on is simple as the opening is a wide oval and at 1,200 grams, it feels very light on the head. The padded interior holds the head well. Over prolonged use, the fitting around the outer edge of my ears lead to hot spots. There is a soft neck roll around the back which helped in the comfort department.
The SBA-2 has a contoured, padded fabric interior in black with some grey patches. It could have been better if the fabric was a little less slick, so as to better grip the head. Although the liner layer is not very thick around the temples, the comfort was acceptable for commuting. I have a roundish oval head shape and the case may be different for different head shapes, but the fit was good around the crown but not the same around the front part of the helmet.
The padding ends around the ears with none for the cheek area. This is is due to the low design of the jaw as mentioned earlier. The lower jaw and chin area simply get a soft plastic lining held in place with four Philips head screws. These screws are exposed and could be a concern in case of an accident.
Micrometric plastic buckle and adjustable nylon straps are convenient. In this budget, you will rarely find a double D ring strap, which provides the most secure clasping by staying on the head even after a bad fall. The straps do have some padded covering which didn't stay in place during use.
The liner is removable though and that should help with keeping it clean. The neck roll at the back also feels comfortable after a long day of commute.
While the company claims it is easy to change the visor, it took a few attempts to get used to the changing mechanism. So it may not be advisable to frequently switch the visors.
On the bike
The visor is not the typical shape and goes all the way down to the chin, so it is not as easy as other helmets to just open it up a bit to let air in. In fully locked position, I heard wind noise around 70kmph, which should not be a botheration as speeds are lower in most city riding scenarios.
The liner does not grip the head well enough (slips a little) so you have to hold the helmet in place with one hand and open visor with the other, as the visor movement is not soft enough for one-handed operation, even after a few weeks of use. This meant I could not open up the visor while riding and could only do so when stopped at a traffic signal.
With the rainbow tint in place, in case of dimly-lit lanes, vision was affected to a small degree and opening the visor even the slightest meant introducing a whistling noise. That said, it blocks some sunlight for use during the day. And the viewing angles, both top to bottom and side to side, are worth noting. I would go so far as to say that the viewing angle is just shy of what a half-face lid offers.
It seems to be optimum for upright riding, as the angle of a tucked riding position made it noisier. Ventilation on the top is via the air booster which has three sets of small vents on either side of the open-close tab. Interestingly, under the soft liner, the EPS has channels cut in, to direct air through the helmet. There are two large passive vents at the back of the helmet to facilitate exit of the air. Air flow was good through the helmet with the top vents open and the visor opened to 20 per cent. But this situation also led to a whistling noise from the front and around the right ear. So if you are doing anything more than 60 kmph, we would advise you to keep the visor fully closed.
The Steelbird SBA-2 Flag helmet is essentially a half-face helmet with a long visor to cover the face. However, it adds just enough to the safety aspect with integrated jaw and chin protection to qualify as a full face helmet. Its unique visor provides a wide, unobstructed view which comes in handy during commutes in congested traffic. The bright bold graphic on the shell and rainbow mirror finish visor will find appeal among the younger crowd including new riders and college-goers. Unfortunately, many in our country refuse to use helmets while commuting and some of them say they cannot bear the closed setting of a lid. This could be a good solution for such people, as well. In effect, you get the convenience of a half-face, with the protection of a full-face helmet. At its price and with the variety of paint, graphic, and visor options on offer, the SBA-2 is an attractive option, at least for urban commuting, if not the safest.
Price: Rs 2,699
Available at: steelbirdhelmet.com
Images by Akshay Jadhav
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