Photochromic helmet faceshields: my new favorite gear

The technological advances I’ve seen in my many years of riding motorcycles have been impressive. I now look at the skinny fork tubes and narrow, hard-rubber tires on the bikes I rode as a beginner and wonder how I managed not to crash in every single curve. The last decade, particularly, has brought incredible advances, from multiple electronic riding modes to anti-lock braking systems that work smoothly and effectively and ever greater advances in tire grip and longevity.

The same goes for gear. When I lived in Puerto Rico 20 years ago, I would have paid a lot of money for the hot-weather comfort and protection of today’s mesh jackets. Gear options are more numerous, armor in gear is much better and the future promises even more protection, such as air bags built into garments.

But in the here and now, none of that qualifies as my favorite new development in motorcycle gear. That goes to the new photochromic faceshields made using technology licensed from Transitions Optical, Inc., the folks who make the photochromic sunglasses you’ve heard about. I love this feature so much, I may never buy a helmet that doesn’t have this technology. Read on to see why.

What makes the Transitions faceshields so great? See that faceshield in the photo below from my recent trip? It’s not a tinted shield. It was totally clear the night before. It’s lightly tinted when the skies are cloudy. It’s fully tinted when I need it to be.

Maine state line

LaZer Kestrel helmet with the Lumino photochromic faceshield made using Transitions technology.

This is an advance I’ve been wanting for years. Now it’s here and works great.

What’s the big deal? Some will say, just wear sunglasses. Some prefer the new helmets with the flip-down sun visor, which is like a set of sunglasses built into the helmet. Others don’t mind switching shields. There may even be some people out there who don’t mind squinting into the sun and getting headaches. As for me, a photochromic shield works better than all those other solutions for handling glare.

I do a lot of long rides, and sunglasses under a helmet generally start to become bothersome after a while. They cause pressure points on my temples or nose. I have to choose a helmet based on how it accommodates glasses, and you can’t exactly put on or remove glasses while riding. The flip-down sun visors are an interesting new approach, but they add weight, complexity and bulk to a helmet, and they still only give you two options: full tint or no tint.

Then there’s the approach I’ve been using for years: carry an extra faceshield and switch between clear and tint as conditions change. I’ve been doing this for years because I love tinted faceshields. They not only shield my eyes from glare, like sunglasses, but also shield my entire face.

Of course there are drawbacks. I had to carry two shields. And in the constant changing back and forth, there was always the chance that I’d snap off one of the tiny plastic tabs that slot into the helmet mechanism, thus rendering a $60 faceshield useless. And there was the time I did a fly-and-ride trip and was 2,500 miles from home, with darkness falling, when I realized I’d packed the clear faceshield for a different helmet from the one I was wearing.

I always imagined that a good photochromic shield would be the best solution to the glare problem, but past efforts didn’t win rave reviews. So when I had the chance to test the new faceshields using Transitions technology, I was all over it.

Bell and LaZer are the two helmet manufacturers using Transitions technology at the moment, and Shoei is introducing a faceshield of its own, too. I tried the Lumino shield on a LaZer Kestrel Carbon Light Rich helmet, which is an exceptionally lightweight, carbon fiber helmet. In addition to the photochromic feature, the faceshield also has the Pinlock feature, which makes it impossible to fog the inside of the helmet visor even in the worst rainy and cool conditions.

For me, gear is successful when it just plain does its job and you forget about it. I tend to notice my gear most when it’s not doing its job, when it’s making me uncomfortable or I don’t trust it to protect me. By that standard, the LaZer Lumino shield passed with top marks. The first time I wore it, I thought it wasn’t doing anything, until I cracked it open and saw how bright the sunlight was when I wasn’t looking through the faceshield. Sunny, cloudy or nighttime, the visor did its job without me noticing, protecting me from glare or letting me see.

I wanted to see if my subjective opinions were corroborated by objective testing, so I got a Bell Transitions shield and a regular dark tinted shield from my AGV helmet for comparison. I kept the two photochromic shields in total darkness in a closed cabinet in my windowless garage, then took them outside on a sunny day and shot the photo below after 20 seconds of exposure to direct sunlight. As you can see, after just 20 seconds, the two photochromic shields are almost fully darkened.

photochromic helmet faceshields

Photochromic faceshields after 20 seconds of exposure to bright sunlight, with a regular AGV tinted shield at left for comparison purposes.

The shields darken faster than they lighten, and higher temperatures speed up the rate of change from dark to clear. In reality, however, the only time the rate of change can’t keep up is when you enter a tunnel. If you commute from New Jersey into Manhattan by motorcycle every day, that could be a concern. For most of us, it’s not an issue. I go through a few tunnels on my regular trips across Pennsylvania to RevZilla headquarters, and I’ve never felt my safety was compromised.

The photochromic shields cost around $100, which sounds like a lot to some people. But for most helmets, even buying a tinted shield to go with the standard clear shield is going to cost at least half that much. Plus, both LaZer and Bell have had promotions in which they’ve given away a photochromic shield with the purchase of a helmet.

Read my full test at RevZilla if you want all the details, or watch the video below, made by Bell, to see how the photochromic faceshields work. Or, just go with this summary: photochromic faceshields are my new favorite gear and I plan to use them as long as I ride.

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2 Responses to “Photochromic helmet faceshields: my new favorite gear”

  1. coastrider99 says:

    I had a lazer helmet and hated the latches for changing the visor… I hope the new one is better

    • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver says:

      I don’t like the mechanism for changing the faceshield on the LaZer Kestrel very much. It’s strong, but fiddly to use. Plus I had a problem with the little screws in the visor endplates coming loose. See my RevZilla review for more details. But here’s the great thing. With the Transitions shield, it just doesn’t matter. I never change it, so I don’t care if the mechanism is easy or hard to use. One less thing to have to consider when shopping for a helmet.