Road Tested: Icon 1000 and Knox upgrade their bestsellers

Road Tested: Icon 1000 and Knox upgrade their bestsellers
This week, we’re looking at new and improved versions of two hugely popular pieces of gear: Icon 1000’s new Variant Pro helmet, and Knox’s updated Urbane Pro armored shirt. The originals are mainstays of many riders’ gear closets, but are the new versions better than before?

Let’s find out…

Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet
Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet Icon 1000’s original Variant helmet took cues from the popular ‘adventure’ helmet style, and blended it with Icon’s own brand of hooliganism. And it ultimately became a hallmark piece for the Portland-based company.

So for its sequel, the Variant Pro, Icon 1000 have kept the basic recipe, but tweaked it. The general layout stays the same; a deep jaw area, wide eye port and MX-style peak. But the look is even more sculpted and aggressive than before.

It’s easily the most menacing helmet on my shelf, especially since I picked the black ‘Rubatone’ colorway—Icon’s proprietary matte finish that feels almost rubbery to the touch. The vibe is extremely covert, especially when paired with a dark smoke visor.

Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet
You can also get the Variant Pro in a black and white ‘Construct’ finish—a design that shows off the weave of the underlying materials. And if you dig into Icon’s broader catalogue (the ‘1000’ range has a very specific aesthetic), there are some wild liveries on offer too.

The shell itself made from a mix of fiberglass, Dyneema and carbon fiber, with an EPS foam liner inside. The result is a respectable weight of 1700 grams for my XL-sized unit.

Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet
Icon’s design department clearly went all-out on the Variant Pro. View the helmet from various angles, and you’ll notice how the various contours and details complement each other.

The chunky mouthpiece and sharp peak look well thought-out, and round the back of the helmet there’s a slightly raised cutaway at the neck, put there to minimize interference with jacket collars. There are also two sharp cutouts on either side, that Icon tell us are designed to direct airflow to the back of the helmet (and provide a neat channel to run cables for comms systems through).

The helmet’s cinched down by a tried-and-true D-ring system, but even this has some slick details on it. The D-rings have been anodized red, and the press stud for stowing the excess strap length has Icon’s logo embossed on it.

Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet
My first experience with the Variant Pro, was to swap out the stock clear visor for a tinted one that Icon had sent me. It’s a really simple process: release the peak via a button on top of the helmet, rotate it forward, and pull the sides to free it from its mounting points. Then you can access the visor, which is equally easy to remove. The only trick is getting the angles just right, and knowing how much force to apply.

The process does reveal one caveat of the Variant Pro: unlike most adventure-type helmets, you can’t run it without the peak. You can run it without a visor though, but only certain goggles will fit.

Popping the Variant Pro on, it was super comfortable from the word go. Icon run three different shells throughout their size range, with an intermediate oval shape that suits my head well. (Their size chart is dependable too, so I was able to order my helmet blind.)

Icon use their own HydraDry liner inside the Variant Pro—which is both moisture wicking and super plush to the touch. There were no hot spots on my helmet and no need to break it in, and even though I’ve worn it on some hot days, it still smells factory fresh inside. The liner’s also removable, and there are even cutouts in the EPS section to mount Bluetooth comms speakers in.

Ventilation on the Variant Pro is pretty sweet too. You get three vents across the top that, even though they sit under the peak, are easy enough to open and close. And there’s a vent at the mouthpiece too—but its mechanism is a little less logical. To open and close it you need to reach into the jaw to slide it up or down. Personally, I think Icon missed an opportunity to give the Variant Pro a massive, externally operable vent on the mouthpiece. And the internal slider also means that the helmet’s chin curtain is curved up inside to make space for it. It’s not bad… it’s just weird.

Still, the ventilation system works well enough, aided by a couple of exhaust vents around the back. And the Variant Pro’s visor is fog-free as well.

Visibility is good too, thanks to a nice wide eye-port. You’d think that the visor’s bulbous design would create some optic distortion, but it doesn’t. And it has a real positive feel when opening and closing it, clicking into place solidly without the need for any sort of fixture.

Adding a peak to a helmet primarily designed for street use always raises questions about aerodynamics and lift, but Icon have done well here. If you grab the Variant Pro’s peak with your hand and shake it, there is a little bit of a jiggle—but while riding, there are enough air channels directing flow that there’s no vibration or lift.

Icon 1000 Variant Pro helmet
Like any helmet with a peak, it works best in clean air (on a naked bike) or with a really generous fairing. If you’re riding something with a short screen up front that pushes air straight to your brow, you’ll feel it. And while the Variant Pro is a lot quieter than old-school dirt bike helmets like the Shoei EX-Zero or Bell Moto 3, there’s a bit more wind noise than you’d get from racier street bike helmets.

There’s really not much else to nitpick here. Summed up; the Variant Pro looks radical, works well and is one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve owned.

Price: USD 350 (Rubatone), USD 375 (Construct black or white) | Safety: DOT and ECE certified | Buy

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt
Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt The British company Knox makes some of the best protective gear in the industry. Their armored shirts offer two big advantages over regular motorcycle jackets: the armor covers more surface area, and the skin-tight fit keeps it exactly where it needs to be in a crash.

Knox have traditionally designed these to be worn under an abrasion-resistant outer layer—but their new Urbane Pro shirt adds an extra twist. By using the right materials, they’ve managed to land it CE approval for not only impact, but abrasion resistance too. So it’s fully protective on its own, with no need to layer up.

Knox have also outfitted the Urbane Pro with their proprietary Micro-Lock armor, with CE Level 1 elbow and shoulder protectors, and a CE Level 2 back protector. It’s pretty malleable stuff that hardens on impact, so the shirt doesn’t feel overtly bulky. (There’s also the option of adding a chest pad, that attaches to a velcro strip just inside the jacket.)

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt
The chassis is a combination of tough stretch nylon and ‘arrowmesh’ panels, with additional stretch mesh panels in between. So it’s designed to be form-fitting, but also flexible—and it lets all of the air through too, making it ideal for summer.

As for sizing, Knox’s guide is in the ballpark, but if you’re at the upper end of any particular size range, consider sizing up. I speak from experience; I’m on the cusp of two sizes and would have been happier one size bigger. But since the Urbane Pro is stretchy in multiple places, it’s not the biggest of deals—I can still squeeze into it, and it’s breaking in more with each ride.

(As an aside, our friends at Urban Rider have a habit of writing their own size guides, and their Urbane Pro one is right on the money.)

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt
On the bike, the Urbane Pro feels snug, but not bulky. It is a different vibe from wearing a bigger, more traditional moto jacket though. Sliding into it sometimes involves quickly adjusting the shoulders and elbows to sit just right, and yanking your arms out the sleeves again takes a minute. But Knox have nailed the Micro-Lock armor design, and despite the size of the protectors, they’re not the least bit cumbersome.

Elasticated thumb loops at the cuffs keep the sleeves from riding up too; handy when slipping an extra layer over, or in a crash where there’s a risk of the sleeve (and therefore armor) moving.

The Urbane Pro also has belt loops on the inside bottom edge to cinch them down to your pants, but the system is far too fussy to be practical. You need to weave your belt alternately between your pants’ belt loops and the shirt’s, which is neither a quick nor easy process. A simple elastic loop with a press stud would have done the trick with less hassle. On the up side, Knox have cut the shirt longer in the back, so there’s enough coverage anyway.

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt
Since the Urbane Pro is designed as a standalone garment, Knox have paid a little more attention to details than with past iterations. The YKK zippers have a really slick gunmetal finish, and there are small, tasteful Knox logos sprinkled throughout. You get two pockets too—a chest pocket that fits a smartphone (and nothing else), and a bigger stash pocket at the lower back.

I also own the Urbane Pro’s predecessor (the ‘Urbane’), and the Pro is a solid step forward. The details and heavier-duty fabrics are nice, but that built-in abrasion resistance is the real game changer.

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt
Admittedly, with my, uhm, ‘fuller’ frame, I’m not ever going to wear something as form fitting as the Urbane Pro by itself. And for other riders, the mesh-with-armor look might not be their thing. But the real kicker is that if you do want to layer up, you can wear literally anything you want over it, whether it’s bike-specific or not.

Since the Urbane Pro has great airflow, on hotter days, I’m likely to throw a MX jersey or thin sweatshirt over it and stay cool. And when it gets colder, I can toss something thicker on. With the shirt itself being tough enough to protect me in a crash, my outer layer doesn’t need to be—and that makes it an extremely versatile piece of kit.

Colors: Black, black / denim, black / grey, black / grey / denim | Price: $299 | Buy

Knox Urbane Pro armored shirt and Jacob base layer
Worn with the Knox Jacob base layer (GBP 54.99) Knox doesn’t just make armor—they make outer and inner layers too. So they sent me their Jacob base layer to try with the Urbane Pro. It’s a high-tech garment that uses a fabric called MerinoPerform Advantage. It’s a blend of ultra-soft Merino wool and synthetic fibers, designed to wick moisture and keep you cool on hot days, and warm on cool days.

And it works, too. The Urbane Pro’s tight chassis means that even though the mesh bits flow air, it can get sweaty under the non-mesh bits on really hot days. The Jacob base layer pulls that sweat away from your body, keeping you cool.

It has a really soft feel to it too, which makes it a comfortable way to layer up, and a neutral grey marl finish, which helps it look casual. And since it’s not a completely skin-tight fit, you don’t look like a track day bro when you strip down to it.

Road Tested: Icon 1000 and Knox upgrade their bestsellers
Images by Devin Paisley | This article was recently edited to provide clarity on certain Icon 1000 Variant Pro features that we were previously unaware of.