HJC CL-SP v Scorpion EXO-400

Two budget lids duke it out on my head
Published November 8, 2008

The date is sometime late February, 2008. I’m anxious for my upcoming appointment with MSF, and sleeping poorly because I can’t stop dreaming about riding. The only indulgence I can afford myself is piecing together a set of full gear, and the first order of business is picking a helmet.

Committing oneself to riding can quickly grow costly–there’s the cost of the bike, the cost of MSF, a helmet, and if you’re healthily concerned about safety the cost of riding boots, pants, an armored jacket and gauntlet gloves. It’s easy to get carried away with spending, but I’m not that ballin’. When it came to choosing a helmet, a $400 Shoei was out of the question.

There aren’t many quality resources for helmet reviews online, though webBikeWorld‘s got a nice collection of helmet evals covering lids of all prices. The helmets aren’t compared to each other, more reviewed on their own merits–those reviews and some online shopping lead me to the HJC CL-SP. Matte gray, size small.

A couple of coworkers had recently bought Scorpion helmets (one EXO-400, one EXO-700–I really can’t tell the difference between them), also both in matte finish, so I was interested to compare their helmets to mine. First observation: The matte finish on the Scorpions is a paint versus the HJC’s matte plastic, and after a few months of abuse my coworkers’ helmets showed some pretty visible mars in the paint. My HJC, despite not always being babied, looks still almost flawless, the only sign of wear a small pock in the plastic that doesn’t disrupt the solid gray coloring. I was feeling pretty good about choosing the HJC.

I was feeling pretty good about choosing the HJC

Until I took a closer look at the insides of the Scorpions. The liner in the HJC is decent, if not slightly scratchy, but inside the Scorpions is a very slick fabric that’s definitely nicer to the touch. The Scorpions, too, boast anti-fog visors–I had to buy a separate breath guard for my HJC to make it usable in temperatures below 60–and generally feel sturdier.

So when I got the opportunity to buy an anthracite-gloss EXO-400 for a very reasonable price, I ordered it, sight-unseen, figuring that at the worst I’d use it as a second helmet for a passenger. I’ve since adopted it as my main helmet, though it hasn’t made the HJC obsolete.

Despite buying the EXO-400 in a size medium, it fits me considerably tighter than the small CL-SP, and the tighter fit is something I’ve grown to appreciate. The fit difference is mostly in the cheeks, where the Scorpion snugly squishes my face while the HJC loosely but securely covers my dome. The tight fit of the Scorpion also contributes to lower ambient noise, better muffling the bike’s engine note and other surrounding noises. However, the Scorpion does kick up more wind noise and the vents whistle at speed, so I can’t conclude that it’s actually a quieter helmet–it’s more muted, but it generates more of its own noise.

Build quality definitely favors the Scorpion

Build quality definitely favors the Scorpion. The feeling of sturdiness I got from handling my coworkers’ helmets is even more apparent when wearing the lid. The visor’s plastic is softer than the HJC’s, so it clicks up and down with less clatter, and closes more solidly. The HJC does have a locking mechanism on the visor to keep it down in extreme wind, though I’ve never needed to use it and have likewise never had a problem with the non-locking Scorpion visor.

The anti-fog visor of the Scorpion is pretty impressive in most conditions, resisting stoplight fog-ups in all but misty weather. Though interestingly, the Scorpion seems to guide foggy breath directly onto my sunglasses while the same shades seem unaffected under the HJC. And despite the excellent anti-fog of the visor under most conditions, in recent foggy/misty weather the mighty Scorpion plastic adopts a smeary, Vaseline quality, even while moving with the vents fully opened–a scary situation. The CL-SP with the (optional) breath guard is virtually fog-proof in any situation, so I’ve resorted to using it until the weather clears up. Or until I get a Respro Foggy Mask to beef up the Scorpion’s fog resistance.

In ventilation I’d give the advantage to the HJC. Not that it’s every really hot enough around here that I notice much, but the lackluster performance of the Scorpion in the fog has me wondering if the vents on that helmet do anything but make noise. The fit of the HJC is also more comfortable for my head shape, even if the materials inside aren’t as cush’. I noticed immediately when wearing the Scorpion that the head shape near the forehead is a lot tighter than the HJC (not in cushioning but in the shape of the inner shell), but it’d never been a problem until I took a longish ride with the helmet and felt a serious pressure point that forced me to pull over at one point. I don’t fault the Scorpion for this–it’s simply a matter of head shape, and mine’s not completely compatible with the helmet. But for 99% of my riding, I still prefer the EXO.

Some other quick comparisons: A mirrored visor for the HJC ran me just over $30 while a mirrored Scorpion visor cost $50; The external shape of the HJC I find more attractive, though it also appears larger and gives me a bit of a bobble head (maybe due to the matte finish versus the slimming gloss of the Scorpion); The Scorpion has a very handy strip of fabric on the D-ring that makes it easier to unbuckle; Vents on the HJC are much easier to operate with gloved fingers; Switching visors is much easier on the HJC, though the Scorpion’s visor locks look nicer; I like that Scorpion is an American company.

If I had to give up one helmet to keep the other, I’d hang onto the Scorpion EXO-400. The main advantage I get with the HJC is the fog performance, though that’s only with the breath guard that I bought separately. Were I to give the Scorpion the benefit of an additional breath guard, I’ve no doubt it’d perform as well as the HJC in misty weather and would likely put the HJC on permanent pillion duty. The HJC has other advantages–biggest among them the lower wind noise and easier visor switching–but the sturdy feel and craftsmanship of the EXO add a pleasantness to gearing up that the HJC just doesn’t have, like the difference of riding in a brilliantly solid Bavarian motorcar versus a tinny rental econo-box. You could argue that the CL-SP has more practical advantages (like useful vents), but I don’t miss them in the EXO like I miss the quality of the Scorpion when relegated to wearing the HJC.