Road Tested: Retro full face helmets from DMD, Shoei, and Biltwell

Retro full face helmets from DMD, Shoei, and Biltwell Inc.
It used to be that if you wanted a retro-styled helmet to match your retro-styled motorcycle, your choices were a handful of open face lids from a small pool of manufacturers. But given the proliferation of modern classics in recent years, having feature-rich retro full face helmets has become de rigueur among helmet brands.

Today, we’re sampling full face helmets with vintage style from three companies—one of which usually focuses on more modern gear, and two of which focus solely on classic gear. I’ve been putting miles into the Shoei Glamster [below], DMD Rivale, and Biltwell Inc. Gringo SV to see how they stack up.

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
Before we dive into each helmet’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s worth noting that they share a remarkable number of similarities—starting with their overall aesthetic. All three pay homage to the helmets of the 70s and 80s, sporting a minimalistic vibe that works just as well on the back of a Triumph Bonneville as it would behind the wheel of James Hunt’s McLaren M23.

All three helmets also feature extremely compact shells, which means that they might not suit everybody’s head shape. With my face being on the longer side, I find that my chin sticks out the bottom of each helmet just a smidge, and I find that each helmet’s chin bar is very close to my face. It might be different for you, so try before you buy, or buy from an online retailer with a solid returns policy.

DMD Rivale retro full face helmet
Given that Rivale [above], Glamster, and Gringo SV are big on looks, they do make some compromises in terms of performance. They all offer a measure of ventilation and quietness, but none of them run quite as cool, or block quite as much wind noise, as some of the more performance-driven lids on my shelf. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker—just as long as you’re realistic about each helmet’s intended usage.

Safety-wise, these helmets meet with Europe’s ECE standard; ECE22.05 certification for the DMD Rivale, and the newer ECE22.06 certification for Shoei Glamster and Biltwell Gringo SV. The Gringo SV is the only helmet on this list that is also DOT-certified—which means that neither the Glamster nor the Rivale are currently available in the US.

DMD Rivale retro full face helmet
DMD Rivale Available in a handful of solid colors and graphic options, the DMD Rivale nails the look of 80s and early 90s motorsports. It’s tested here in the ‘Cream’ colorway—a timeless off-white paint job with a great finish and hardly any branding. If minimalism is your thing, the Rivale is tough to beat.

The Rivale uses a fiberglass and carbon kevlar composite shell, with two shell sizes across the five-size range. A removable and washable anti-bacterial lining sits inside, trimmed with faux leather details that include a stylish perforated section across the brow. The strap uses a traditional double D-ring design, with a small press stud to stow the end of the strap.

DMD Rivale retro full face motorcycle helmet
Although the liner doesn’t look particularly premium at a glance, it’s extremely plush to the touch. And that means that the Rivale is supremely comfortable when it’s on your head. The XL unit that I picked from DMD’s size guide fit perfectly straight out the box, as if I had been wearing it for years, and showed a respectable 1,428 grams [3.15 lbs] on my scale.

That said, the Rivale is an extremely compact lid. I can feel the edge of my mustache tickling the inside of the shell, and my chin would be visible below the helmet if it wasn’t being hugged by the Rivale’s removable chin curtain.

DMD Rivale retro full face motorcycle helmet
The Rivale normally ships with a clear shield, but my test unit was specced with a stylish dark smoked part. Swapping shields is pretty straightforward, requiring just an Allen key to remove the retainer plates. A small tab on the left of the shield matches up with a pin on the helmet to lock it down, while a clever indentation around the pin makes sure the whole thing is easy to operate with gloves on.

A Pinlock anti-fog visor insert is standard-issue, and it works, ensuring clear visibility in moggy conditions. But I have a nit to pick; while the Rivale visor offers a wide field of view, the Pinlock insert sits about half an inch lower than I’d like. In an upright riding position, its top edge is just within eyesight, but as soon as you hunch over the bars of a café racer, it’s a bonafide distraction.

DMD Rivale retro full face helmet
Ventilation on the Rivale includes nothing more than a pair of slim chin vents. They work well enough on all but the hottest days while helping maintain the helmet’s pared-back aesthetic. Still, an additional forehead vent wouldn’t go amiss.

[Update, 2/23/2024 DMD has just informed us that a new, ECE22.06-approved version of the Rivale will be available in the coming weeks. It features a bigger Pinlock insert to improve visibility, and the shield locking mechanism has been modified to make it even easier to use with gloves on.]

Price €469 to €570, depending on graphics | Sizes XS to XL | Certification ECE22.05 | More

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
Shoei Glamster Notwithstanding its cringeworthy moniker, the Shoei Glamster is a stunning piece of gear. I typically lean towards muted colors on helmets, but this time I bypassed the Glamster’s myriad solid color options and picked the ‘Bivouac TC-2’ graphic instead. It’s an alluring dark-ish turquoise paint job with just a hint of flake, offset with tasteful black and white stripes and classic Shoei logos.

Up close, it’s clear that the graphics haven’t been hand-painted—but they still look good. And although running your finger over them will reveal where the decals start and end, there’s enough clear coat here to avoid the heavily debossed effect that some helmet graphics have.

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
Shoei uses four shell sizes over six helmet sizes, and the Glamster features its standard multi-layered AIM shell with an EPS liner. The detachable and washable inner feels both plus and substantial, and is trimmed with bits of synthetic nubuck- and leather-looking materials. The whole package looks and feels primo, and even features the same quick-release cheek pads that Shoei’s more modern helmets have.

I typically do well with Shoei helmets and sizing, but the Glamster left me disappointed. The actual sizing is spot on, and it fits without any fuss or pressure points. But it tries so hard to be slim, that it sacrifices some comfort along the way.

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
With the helmet on, the ear cut-outs are so small that I can feel my ear lobes being squished against the lower section of the cheek pads. And the chin bar sits so high, that not only does the helmet’s chin curtain cradle my chin, but my nose occasionally touches the top edge of the chin bar. Making the Glamster’s shell a smidgen bigger will eliminate these issues, without sacrificing an ounce of style.

Moving to the shield, Shoei has eschewed the pivot mechanisms on their other helmets for a more retro vibe that uses stylish round retainer plates. Swapping the standard clear shield out for a tinted one was a cinch, but the instructions to do so included a spiel about adjusting it to make sure it creates a proper seal. I luckily didn’t have to do that, but the process seemed so convoluted that I wondered why Shoei wouldn’t use a simpler setup.

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
The Glamster’s shield offers great visibility and comes with a Pinlock insert to mitigate fogging. It’s held in place by a small locating tab on each side, below the hinge, and a locking tab on the left of the shield. The locking tab requires a firm hand to cinch it down, and disengages by pushing it forward, and then up (it’s a great mechanism, once you’re used to it).

Because of the way the hinges and locating tabs work, the Glamster’s shield needs a firm hand to open. And once it’s up, it’s prone to slamming shut unexpectedly at highway speeds.

Shoei Glamster retro full face helmet
Ventilation comes courtesy of a set of mesh-lined slits on the chin bar, and a closable vent at the forehead. Again, it works well enough—but an exhaust vent at the back would help. A tried and true double D-ring system secures the helmet, with Shoei’s standard issue press stud to stow the strap. And the whole package weighs a fair 1,421 grams [3.13 lbs] (for my XL unit, as weighed).

There’s no denying that the Shoei Glamster is exquisite—as confirmed by the endless compliments it attracts. But it needs a few thoughtful tweaks to bring it to the level of other Shoei lids I’ve owned.

Price €526 to €631, depending on graphics |  Sizes XS to XXL | Certification ECE22.06 | More

Biltwell Gringo SV retro full face helmet
Biltwell Inc. Gringo SV
The Californian parts and apparel brand Biltwell Inc. has built its reputation on unpretentious, no-fuss gear that doesn’t break the bank. And that’s the Biltwell Gringo SV, in a nutshell.

The Gringo SV is a re-jigged version of the company’s uber-popular Gringo S helmet. The V stands for ‘vents,’ and that’s what sets the SV apart. It sticks with the classic shape of the Gringo S, but adds two channels on the chin bar that lead into vents, two closable vents at the forehead, and a lip on the back that hides an exhaust vent.

Biltwell Gringo SV retro full face helmet
The outer shell is an injection-molded ABS affair, with a dual-density EPS inner. There are no leatherette details here—just a soft removable liner that uses fleece Lycra and open-cell foam padding. The double D-ring strap features soft-touch fabric pads for added comfort, with the usual press stud strap-stowage setup.

As we’ve come to expect from Biltwell, the Gringo SV is beautifully finished. It’s only available in solid colors right now—but those colors include everything from flat black to metallic grape, plus the metallic sea foam green finish pictured here. Chrome trim lines the eye port and the bottom edge of the helmet, matched to chrome shield retainers.

Biltwell Gringo SV retro full face helmet
It’s a little on the portly side, with my XL test unit tipping the scales at 1,731 [3.82 lbs]. But it runs true to Biltwell’s sizing chart and fits well. The inner padding is cushy, and the helmet has enough ventilation to prevent stuffiness in most conditions.

My only nitpicks are that my chin once again pokes out the bottom (there’s no chin curtain on this lid), and that the fabric that lines the ear pockets is a bit looser than it needs to be. It’s presumably set up this way to accommodate a comms system, but the tradeoff is that it often brushes up against my ears, which can be distracting while riding. On the positive side, there’s enough room to slide a pair of glasses on with the Gringo SV.

Biltwell Gringo SV retro full face helmet
Biltwell’s shield system looks rudimentary (which is most of the charm with their helmets), but it’s surprisingly effective. The shield seals well and has two tangible stops between fully open and fully closed. I’ve criticized Biltwell’s shield-locking mechanism in the past (a brass stud that matches a hole in the shield), but they seem to have refined it. It works great on the Gringo SV for both opening and closing—even if it is set a little far back for my liking.

The Gringo SV’s price is worth a special mention. It retails for $299.95, which is considerably less than the other helmets listed here. And considering that it offers just as much style with the same trade-offs between form and function, it’s an easy recommendation.

Price $299.95 | Sizes XS to XXL | Certification ECE22.06 and DOT | More

Biltwell Gringo SV retro full face helmet
Outdoor images by Devin Paisley