Up to this point in my riding career, I’ve been wearing an HJC CL-MAX modular helmet. I paid $199 for it at Gresham Honda in Gresham, Oregon and have been very happy with it. It’s been comfortable and has performed adequately. It has some room for improvement, however, as can be expected in a budget helmet.

The air flow with the vents open is minimal, and when closed the vents rattle. The face shield doesn’t form a tight seal against the gasket surrounding the helmet itself and during top-down rain showers water can run down inside the face shield. The liner isn’t removable, either.

When HJC came out with the Sy-Max II, the CL-MAX’s more full-featured big brother,HJC Sy-Max II modular helmet I was excited after reading numerous glowing reviews. I finally found one with a great price, $209 at NewEnough.com, and placed my order. It arrived two days later (shipped from Medford, Oregon).

The Sy-Max II has a moisture-wicking liner that’s removable and washable. It’s also much softer to the touch than the CL-MAX. I bought the same size Sy-Max II as I wear in the CL-MAX without having tried it on first (the dealerships in my area can’t keep the darn things in stock, they sell so fast!). It’s a bit tighter around my cheeks and seems to ride higher on my head, but it fits as expected. I haven’t figured out yet what my exact head shape is, but I suspect it’s oval. The HJC line seems to fit me well, with only one slight pressure point on the crown of my head, immediately above my forehead. It’s possible the padding in my CL-MAX has collapsed slightly making it feel more loose than the brand new Sy-Max II.

I wore it for the first time on my ride to work this morning. My first impression was that the amount of air flow is substantially greater than the CL-MAX. I especially notice it flowing from the top down over my ears, which is surprising but pleasant nonetheless. It’s as quiet, if not slightly quieter, than the CL-MAX. I wear foam ear plugs every time I ride so that impression is rather subjective and helmet noise is not much of a factor for me as a result.

The overall fit is comfortable but that opinion may change once I’ve worn it for several hours in a stretch on one of my longer trips. 20 minutes into the office isn’t much of a test as far as fit is concerned. So far I haven’t noticed any hot spots.

I also noticed the face shield forms a tight seal against the gasket surrounding the face hole. I can assume it will perform very well when riding in the rain. The chin latch that opens up the modular portion of the helmet is large and easy to operate. The chin bar doesn’t stick up as much above the helmet when in the open position and has a very solid feel to it. It feels more substantial and solidly built than the CL-MAX.

The final feature I especially like is the drop-down integrated sun-screen. A slider across the ridge of the top of the helmet drops it into one of three positions. A single button at one end of the slider releases it, allowing it to snap back into the up and unused position. You basically tap the top of the helmet with your finger and snap! Back it goes, out of your way. I’ll have to see how it performs when riding into the sunset.

Considering the price I paid and the features offered, my impression is this helmet provides an outstanding value. Time will tell how it holds up and performs under more diverse and longer riding conditions, but it’s definitely looking promising so far. More to come.