Review: Bell Full-9

By in Reviews

Growing up in the 90’s and spending too much time trawling through copies of Mountain Bike Action, it was hard not to notice how one helmet brand seemed to adorn the heads of the sport’s movers and shakers at the time. This was of course Bell. A brand with more pedigree in helmet manufacturing than the rest combined, but where have they been these last ten years? Lost in the woods perhaps? Where ever it was, they are back and back with a bang!


Words: Olly Forster | Photos: Thomas Gaffney & Olly Forster

Questioning where a brand has been for a decade might seem like a harsh way to begin a review, but if you were into mountain bikes back then, you’ll totally understand where I’m coming from. You might be wondering why the bang? Well, first day of Eurobike and there it was, like a giant beacon; Bell’s huge stand and on it, some refreshingly new and altogether awesome looking helmets for the kind of riding we love here at Factory Jackson. But it was more than that, for me it was the return of a brand I still associate with John Tomac, Brian Lopes (during his days on the Mongoose team) and even Rob Warner getting his one and only World Cup victory. All of these riders and many more at the time were on Bell and Bell had ‘the’ helmets you wanted to be seen in…

While Bell have had a few bicycle specific full-face helmets out over the last few years, I think it’s fair to say they’ve been a little on the cheap side and certainly not up to competing with the likes of Troy Lee Designs, who I think it’s also fair to say, have somewhat dominated the ‘luxury’ end of the market and for quite some time. But 2013 sees a resurgent Bell re-enter the ring with a product line up that if the Full-9 is anything to go by, is ready to take on the competition and offer the consumer an alternative, that we here at Factory Jackson feel has been missing for some time!


So what is the Full-9? Essentially, it’s a great example of how you should design and manufacture full-face bicycle helmets in 2013. Take a moto lid and down-size it, simple! Both sports are similar and share many aspects, but at the same time have differing needs. A moto helmet for DH works, but why carry the extra weight? Weight that is the result of extra material intended to prevent damage from speeds far exceeding that of a push-bike and without the need to worry about the ten guys behind you running over you when you go over the bars… This approach works. TLD did it and look at the D3. Bell have done exactly that and taken their stunning Moto-9 downscaled it and this is the end product!

Within the full carbon shell and looking past the rad graphics and aluminium grills, lies a whole load of neat design features. From the fully adjustable “flying bridge” visor, to the integrated roost guard, integrated ‘breakaway’ GoPro mount and all the way to an eject system, which unfortunately is an aftermarket option, but the option is there… The thing is, this is just the start!


Video Time!

Liner and Pad Set

Another area where the designers at Bell have pushed the boat out, and once you undo the nicely padded chinstrap and take the Full-9 off your sweaty head, they soon become very apparent…


Comprising of 5 separate parts: 2 cheek, 2 chin and one for your skull. Each part is extremely well made and while I’ve never sent it through a machine wash (preferring to wash helmet pads by hand) the Full-9’s pads are in great shape after months of wear. Another neat feature is the addition of what Bell refer to as “X-Static Extended Wear Interior” – this is basically the addition of an anti-bacterial material into the fabric, that helps keep it that little bit fresher.


While the Full-9 is a feature packed helmet, it’s the magnetic cheek pads which never fail to put a smile on people faces – it’s a great idea and if you’re out cold and a medic needs to remove the helmet for what ever reason, there’s little risk of unwanted movement on your neck, especially with the large “pull to remove” signs on them. Another notable design feature employed in the Full-9 is the painted EPS liner – pretty simple when you think about it? You take a big hit and want to check for damage? A painted liner will always show you where the liner has cracked and broken under impact. If it’s in a bad way, it’s time for a new helmet! There’s more – with three large vents in the brow and channeling in the EPS liner’s moulding, air can be channeled in to where it’s needed and unwanted perspiration out through the exhaust ports at the rear of the helmet.


Out on the Trail.

The Full-9’s moto lineage is evident from the get-go; with it’s aggressive styling and sheer volume over what many of us are used to when handling a bicycle helmet, this is one purposeful piece of kit. Weighing in at 1120g, it’s roughly on a par with the carbon Troy Lee D3 and hardly a heavy weight by any stretch, but in saying that, the new Fox Rampage Pro Carbon is a whole 360g lighter again and is roughly the same size… Weight aside, slipping the Full-9 on is a pleasure and the pad set combined with a very welcoming liner, makes the Full-9 one comfy helmet. Available in 6 sizes ranging from XS to XXL, the Full-9 is all about delivering the right helmet for the individual rider and any brand that’s not about compromise and sloppy design is exactly where you should be looking.

The GoPro mount is sheer genius and while you might be thinking “great idea, but it doesn’t help save your life”, you couldn’t be further from the truth. While it does provide an excellent position for capturing the action, it is also designed to breakaway from your helmet during an impact with the ground or a tree branch, and does so without damaging either the camera or helmet. The really cool thing (as far as your safety is concerned) is that in an impact scenario, it breaks away without causing any jerking of the neck as your carcass rolls across the dirt at 20 miles an hour. Clever stuff indeed and from what I’ve heard this could well be the start of a new “industry standard”.


It’s a looker alright and while I’ve heard from more than one person that it looks like a similar TLD design, a former pro moto rider I often ride DH with informed me that the yellow and black “Hurricane” design is actually a really old design from back in the day – a guy funnily enough called F75A9531

In today’s market a helmet’s ability to function with a neck brace (like the bell-full1

One of the issues encountered with Moto helmets, downhill riding and neck braces, is the amount of restriction you have to deal with from side to side, especially when aggressively moving around on the bike while descending. Once again, two similar sports, but when you scratch past the surface similarities, we have different needs… Moto helmets by their very nature, are larger and bulkier – just look at one head-on and it’s evident straight away how much wider they are with all that extra material. What this does, is impede side to side and fore and aft movement and while the latter can be successfully adjusted within a good adjustable neck brace, it is the side to side that is lost. Granted, the Full-9 is bigger than your average MTB full-face helmet, but thankfully the designers at Bell have put the right amount of material, right where its needed, keeping its shape and volume to a level that neither compromises safety, or the helmet’s ability to successfully function with a neck brace.



So, have Bell delivered a helmet to stand up to the D3? Why even ask this? Well, the D3 in our opinion was the first bicycle specific helmet to recognise the needs of today’s downhill rider with reference to the bikes we now ride and the type of tracks we ride them on. You’ve got to hand it to TLD, when it comes to helmets, they seem to write the rule book, but not everyone wants a TLD and thankfully for those that don’t, 2013 throws you some trump cards in the shape of this beauty and the bad-ass Rampage Pro Carbon from Fox. Both helmets deliver that scaled down moto helmet we should be looking at and the Full-9? It’s good, very good…

It comes with a helmet bag, and a rad one at that! While I would have liked a spare peak in the box, the Full-9 is a whole £75 cheaper than the carbon D3 (which comes with a spare) and £20 more than the Fox RPC (which also doesn’t come with a spare), but at £350, is a helmet for the serious downhill rider out there and probably not the part timer looking for some extra protection for that infrequent day getting some lift assisted shredding in.


It’s well priced amongst the markets other contenders, has unique looks that separate it from the crowd and from a brand with history and heritage that seems to be back on the right footing. The fit and feel was everything I knew it would be and while the ability to fit speakers, cabling to your iPod, as well as the ejector removal system – all of these are optional extras and aren’t in the box. While both upgrades represent something pretty rad, they’re also something I can only see them being used anywhere but on a wet rutted hillside in the UK. What will get the Full-9 on the heads of riders on any rutted hillside in any country, is the fact that Bell did their homework and delivered something that is truly awesome; the Full-9.

Bell Helmets are distributed in the UK by the fine folk at Zyro and for anything Bell and beyond, hit that big logo! Happy trails, Olly.

Bell logo



In Reviews


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