JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.
Bags of function, bags of safety and aimed at the dual-purpose helmet market, we’ve tested Shark’s Explore-R over thousands of miles on and off-road to find out what it’s really like.
With Arai and Shoei on the case for several years with dual-purpose helmets, French manufacturer Shark has been a little slow getting with the programme. Shark’s range had nothing really to suit Adventure riding until the Explore-R came along but this multi-function lid hits the market with a distinctive look and a handful of unique features.
Constructed from carbon aramid and glass fibre this ‘Carbon’ model of the Explore-R sits in a simple six helmet Discovery Division line-up. Basically a road helmet with a peak screwed on you’d be excused a wry look at it, particularly if you’re preferred Adventure option is an off-road lid.
The Explore-R looks different and doesn’t really hide its road bike biased very much. That large chin bar is the giveaway but the dual aspect is exactly what I like about it – this is a road bike helmet transformed into an off-road looking one. The very obvious differences are the goggles that set it apart from the majority of its competition. From the inside at least, the goggles give the impression you’re wearing an off-road helmet without the obvious compromises in safety that can so often bring.
The Explore-R is part of the ‘R’ range from Shark and in effect is the same model as the Vision-R helmet. Detach the peak and goggles (both of which are quickly removed), clip in the visor and this helmet conveniently reverts back to road-spec. A big plus point of that is the helmet is quiet.
I’ve had a couple of rides lately where the day has been long and darkness has fallen long before I was anywhere near home. Switching back to road-spec, removing the peak and slotting in the clear visor for a blast back in the dark is a bonus. The ‘Vision’ part of the name is a talking point too. As it’s name suggests, it’s all about giving you a very broad orifice to look through – to the point where the edges of the aperture are only just visible in your peripheral vision giving a very clear view of the road.
A positive aspect of many Shark helmets is their aerodynamics too and the Explore-R is no different in many ways. The Explore-R is light but it’s very good at not being affected by the windblast as you ride. Some helmets can catch the wind and buffet or pull, but the Explore-R is good at feeling smooth and unaffected in the wind.
I should add that’s not quite the same if you have the peak on, for obvious reasons. The peak can catch the wind and pull your head up but for sure that’s obvious and normal. There’s also an option for an adaptor which allows the visor to be used with the peak fitted. This is a retro-fit via a dealer for those like us who’ve had the Explore-R for a while, and one we haven’t gotten round to yet.
I must admit I’m won over by the Shark philosophy of “protective instinct” being part of the design process from drawing board upwards. The ‘crumple-zone’ philosophy behind it, allowing the helmet to absorb the impact and offer less shock to the brain inside the skull, works for my precious (albeit small) brain. I have no plan to test this aspect however…
The all-important fit is good too, with no pressure points or uncomfortable aspect for me although these things can sometimes be subjective depending on the shape of your noggin. Getting the helmet on and off is a bit of a squeeze with the extra base section (which houses the bib). It’s designed that way, to keep the up-draft around the neck to a minimum. It has a stretch panel at the back so putting the helmet on by pulling the sides outwards with the straps helps. You can also remove the bib base to wear the helmet like a standard one though it makes the back look a tad scruffy.
The venting is ok but to be truthful I’m not a particularly sweaty person so top vents do little for me unless we’re talking hard off-road in hot weather. The chin bar vent is effective but I found I had visor misting problems a couple of times on cool, wet days. The front vent didn’t help much in those conditions and even with the “rapid anti-fog system” flipped (a small lever which pops the visor open by a millimeter or two) it didn’t clear off very happily and always crept back at anything below than 50mph or so. I feel like the problem is worsened by wrapping up well in the cold because my breath couldn’t escape and therefore fogs the visor more easily. It’s not helped by the visor seal system either which is so good it doesn’t let any rain or wind past. In short it’s so good it is a little bit bad on a chilly Northern European evening.
The visor comes with anti-mist coating which helps but you’ll also do well to be more careful than I am with keeping the visor closed and moisture outside on a wet day. I had no problems in warmer weather, nor with the goggles fitted and if you remove the whole base section (it just pulls out) the problem disappears too.
That bib I mentioned is a unique aspect in my experience and a good idea. Within the base of the helmet there’s a zip-out bib made of a thin, shell material. The idea is it falls from the chin bar down your neck and chest under your coat to hold off wind blast. It works, gladly, and helps in the area I often find cold creeping in at the front and chest area. The only fault is where it Velcro’s to itself around the back of the neck, you need a neck the size of Vladimir Klitschko’s for it to be tight.
The quick release goggle system is a bit of a blast from the past if you’ve been into off-road bikes for as long as I have. Shark’s take on it works well enough with the right-hand side clipped in more permanently and the left side being the one to clip in and out to remove the goggles from your eyes.
The goggle fit is a little bit of a marvel in reality. Often the goggle-to-helmet fit is not too compatible with going fast on the road but it works pretty well with this helmet and all but eliminates any draft gaps blasting cold air in and freezing the end off your nose or suchlike. Other lens colour options are available, though we only tested the standard dark option.
The only problem with the goggles is they become annoying when you want to ride without them on. During slow-speed, off-road riding or getting out the petrol station and the like, they just flap and hang about on the right of your head. You can’t attach them round the back because the strap is too long, and with no full strap you can’t take them off and wrap them around an arm. That leaves no option but to let it hang off the right-hand side of the helmet and that gets in the way a bit.
Other features include the “easy fit” system which allows glasses wearers room, a removable and washable lining, optional Sharktooth Bluetooth integration, two shell sizes, quick release visor system, anti-scratch UV protective visor/lens’ and a claimed weight of 1350g. The price is good too at a competitive £299.99 for the base models and £329.99 for the Carbon we’ve tested.
Last and certainly least of all is the flip-down dark visor system. An option with the clear visor fitted, but not with the goggles attached, it flips down like a pair of detached sunglasses. I say last and least because these things are the motorcycle helmet fashion equivalent of a mullet. Yes, yes, yes they are a quick and practical solution when the sun is in your eyes but I’d rather squint or stop and change a visor than look like an eighties throw-back.
All-in I find the Shark Explore-R a very good helmet. I can comfortably wear it all day for days on end, I trust it to protect me in a crash and it has unique and useful features. Above all it works as a dual-purpose helmet – which is exactly what we feel is needed. It works as well on a motorway as it does in a forest trail and although you do need to carry the visor and/or peak and goggles with you, I don’t mind that because it means the helmet has no compromises wherever I’m riding.
Prices: from £299.99 (£329.99 for the Carbon model tested).
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