Sneeze, Sip, Schmooze: HJC RPHA 90 Modular Helmet

It took me exactly 12 minutes to wonder what took me so long to get a modular helmet. You see, it was spring, and love was in the air. 

Specifically plant love. Pollen. I’m talking about pollen. 

Twelve minutes into my maiden voyage in HJC’s latest modular helmet, the RPHA 90, I started to feel the love all up inside my left nostril. Instead of the usual “ewww” that follows sneezing in a brand new helmet, I simply flipped the front open, turned my head, and sneezed all over the shoulder of my ‘Stitch. 

It needed a good cleaning anyway.

The RPHA 90 is more than just a sneeze-friendly lid. The outer shell shares the same basic components of the rest of the RPHA series, what HJC terms the Premium Integrated Matrix. The PIM Plus material, which HJC is for some reason not simply calling PIMP, is composed of carbon and carbon glass hybrid fabric to provide comfortable shock resistance without adding a bunch of weight. The RPHA 90 weighs in at 1,639 grams—the same as the non-modular RPHA 70 ST—and only 217 grams heavier than the RPHA 11 Pro race helmet. 

While it weighs the same as the 70 ST, which was until recently my go-to lid, the 90 is a totally different lid. Besides the obvious flip-front elephant in the room, there are a couple other key differences. First, the peripheral vision is not quite as good as the 70 ST due to the eye port narrowing more at the edges. It isn’t bad, but a shoulder check requires a bit of a crane impression. It also lacks the ST’s ventilation in the mouth area, but there is that whole modular thing that provides 100% airflow, so the tradeoff is acceptable to me.

The RPHA 90 does have an easily manipulated “snork” vent up top that slides back to take in a very respectable amount of air, and a much harder to find exhaust vent located back where some helmets have a spoiler. Once located, it’s a simple enough task to click it open to increase the flow.

The removable liner is made of what HJC calls “multicool” fabric which is antibacterial, moisture wicking, and quick drying. I was especially happy to verify the last two as not just marketing jargon after wearing the 90 for 10 hours straight in temps reaching 101 degrees. Even with slightly less airflow through the chin vent, I was never uncomfortable and the liner was dry within minutes of taking it off at the end of the day.

Standard on most street helmets these days is a drop-down sun visor, so obviously the RPHA 90 has one. The mechanism was unexpectedly stiff and very difficult to actuate at first, but after a few dozen times it loosened up a bit. A couple hundred actuations later, the sun visor still locks in place both when stowed and deployed, just as it should. Like the one in the 70 ST, it’s optically correct and provides about 99% coverage of the eyeport—a sliver of daylight is visible at the bottom but is not distracting.

But the whole purpose of this lid is just how flippin’ convenient it is. Need to grab something from the store? Flip the front up. Need to have a quick chat with your buddy at a stoplight? Flip the front up. Need to take a drink from your mocha after going through a Starbucks drive through on your DCT Gold Wing? You guessed it. The opening is even wide enough that on a recent photoshoot with Fish, I left the helmet on while I got the photos I needed. Safety third only applies to riding, after all.

There is a downside to the modular convenience though: noise. It’s not the loudest helmet I’ve ever worn, but the extra cracks do make some unique noises when in open air—not really a whistle, and not the normal “wind noise.” I experienced what sounded like my hair rustling,  however, I have lacked anything on the top of my head for a number of years now. Like I said, it isn’t loud, but the noise is different and always there. Much like the slight decrease in peripheral vision, it’s not a deal breaker.

Whatever wizardry HJC is embedding into their lids, I am consistently impressed with the all-day comfort their lightweight tech provides. The fit of the RPHA 90 is on par with rest of the “rippa” line, with the large reminding me of the Shoei helmets in my collection.

$459.99 for solid black or white, $469.99 semi-flat black or titanium, $499.99 for fancy-pants graphics. XXL versions cost five bucks more. Learn more at HJCHelmets.com or pick one up at CycleGear.

This story originally appeared in our July 2018 issue.

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