At one time, not too long ago, “you get what you pay for” may have been a reasonable rule of thumb when buying motorcycle helmets. Sure, it still holds true for the inundation of cheap, low-quality helmets on the market, some of which (at first glance) resemble their pricier competition. The past several years, however, have seen a rise in high-quality, moderately priced helmets that offer many of the qualities of those on the high end of the price scale. Some, such as Scorpion and the lower-end HJCs, have earned a following and reputation. Others remain slightly hidden gems.
Among these gems is the GMax GM54S modular. GMax has packed a multitude of features into this helmet, more than almost any other modular available for under $200. It’s also a logical and affordable next step for those currently wearing open-face helmets but interested in upgrading to something with more protection.
But, a Modular?
While many debate the relative safety of modulars compared to solid full face helmets, the pop-up chinbar and face shield can help provide a blast of air on a hot day, make communication easier and still offer much more protection than an open-face. Modulars usually have more interior space than full face lids, which is appealing to buyers concerned about feeling claustrophobic. I find they offer a better fit for the “unique” size and shape of my head. Some people have egg-shaped, some round, some long. Mine is sort of cylindrical, what I call “Fred-Flintstone-shaped,” a 7 3/4 hat size with a not insubstantial jaw. Most off-the-rack hats and caps don’t fit.
Whether a modular will hold up in a crash as well as a full face is questionable, though. The better ones may in some cases, but there are plenty of anecdotal reports of various modulars failing. While it’s certain that the chinbar latches or mechanisms on some modulars have failed, it’s difficult to know how common this is or whether it’s more prevalent with certain models. From a casual review of online reports, many of those reported to have failed use plastics for key parts of the latch and hinge. A modular I previously owned loosened over time as plastics wore down and after a year could easily be popped open (with a little force) without disengaging the latch. The latch of the GM54S is metal and tangibly stronger than some other modular helmets. It’s bolted or screwed right into the helmet’s shell. That said, it’s reasonable to assume that almost anything with a hinge and latch will be more vulnerable to breaking than a quality solid shell on a full face helmet.
On first try, the GMax was much more comfortable than other helmets in its price range. A common difference between higher-end models and some of the better cheaper ones is the quality of the padding and interior materials. GMax didn’t skimp. The DuPont “Coolmax” lining, most often found in sports and exercise apparel, is engineered to keep sweat off skin and allow it to evaporate quickly. It also feels much better than the cheaper synthetics used by many manufacturers.
The ample padding is firm but not hard. Once broken in, the cheek pads and ear covers rest nicely against the head. There are cavities over the ears with pockets for speakers. These also help keep your head cool. In addition, the chin strap is padded and covered in a soft, fleece-like material.
When it comes to ventilation, the GM54S beats many modulars at any price point. The helmet sports nine adjustable vents: five in front, four in the back. While the vents on some helmets seem more decorative than functional, there’s a discernible improvement in airflow through the GM54S when all are opened. The drawback is that there are nine vents to fiddle with. Though the closures are secure, it’s pretty easy to open or close one simply by handling the helmet. Partially open vents occasionally cause a slight whistling noise at high speeds, and unless you’re willing to devote one hand to patting down your head to check all nine vents, there’s not much to do about it until a stop. I’ve learned to check the vents before donning the helmet.
The helmet also comes with a removable “chin curtain,” a snap-in mesh panel that blocks airflow through the bottom of the helmet. While this is a thoughtful addition, I found it obtrusive and bothersome and removed it after a couple rides. It got in the way when putting the helmet on and the plastics holding it in place often poked me. Other GM54S owners I know like the curtain and have left theirs in place.
According to GMax, when raised, the chinbar rotates back further than other modulars, improving balance. However, like most modulars, this is not intended for riding with the chinbar up; I rarely leave mine in that position for more than a moment unless pumping gas or chatting while stopped.
At 4.3lbs (for the XL), the GM54S is heavier than most helmets, but about average for a full-featured modular. I’ve worn mine on several all-day rides, sometimes going many hours without removing it, and the weight hasn’t bothered me.
Anything that interrupts the smoothness of a helmet’s surface can add to noise. Given the number of elements on the exterior of the GM54S, it’s a wonder that it’s not louder. The helmet’s shape and the way the visor and chinbar seal when closed reduce wind noise, aided by the padding and chin curtain (if used). I’ve also noticed that the interior acoustics of the helmet are different than my others, possibly due to the padding around the ears. When singing while riding (you know you do it too), even at the top of my lungs, my voice (which certainly qualifies as “noise”) is muffled. Overall, the noise levels are much better than most modulars. The one exception is the whistling vents issue mentioned above; this is easily dealt with.
The GM54S runs a bit large. A few owners I know, myself included, wear a size smaller than we would in most other helmets. Though the sizing is consistent with the chart on GMax’s website, all helmets fit differently and can’t be properly sized without trying them on. The GM54S has two shell sizes, XS-L and XL-XXXL. The larger shell is pretty big; the GM54S won’t fit in some underseat storage areas that my previous, XXL helmet could fit in.
The interior shape is fairly round, with more front space than other modulars. It’s not as roomy as a Vega Summit (which has the most face-to-visor/chinbar space of any modular helmet) but should comfortably accommodate most riders. The shape should work for a broad range of heads.
The most noteworthy feature of the GM54S is the patented red LED light bar centered on the back of the helmet. The light has three modes: steady on, blinking, blinking faster. Turning it on and changing modes is done by pressing a small button beneath the light. As much as I love the idea of this, the implementation could be improved. The button is fairly flush with the helmet shell, so it’s difficult to activate the light while wearing the helmet and gloves. There’s not enough tactile feedback to be sure if the light is on or what mode it’s in. This might be solved by a button that clicks, or is even slightly raised. Otherwise, the light itself is fairly bright and effective at increasing rider visibility at night.
For those who want to enhance this feature further, GMax offers a wireless brake light kit (approx. $35) that links a replacement light with your bike’s braking circuit. The kit is a fairly simple swap for the GM54S (though the transmitter needs to be wired to your bike, which is a tad more complex). The “multifunction LED” can work as a modulated (blinking) or steady light.
Internal sun visors are fairly common now, no longer the novelty they were just a couple years ago. I’ve always been a bit wary of these, preferring to wear a decent pair of polarized sunglasses. The positioning of the internal visors in some helmets is problematic; a few I’ve tried dig into my nose or cheeks. The internal visor on the GM54S takes advantage of the helmet’s volume and can be comfortably lowered even over a pair of shades. The visor is operated via a slide on the top of the helmet. Using it while riding can be a bit awkward at first.
The sun visor’s tint is fairly dark—if lowered while wearing sunglasses, too dark for anything but the harshest light. On its own, it could easily replace the need for sunglasses. I’ve used it on occasion during those dawn or sunset hours when the sun blasts into the top of my line of sight.
The external faceshield is solid, with good visibility, no distortion and a nice feel to the hinge. It’s prone to fogging — at least as much as most other helmets without special shields. A double-layered anti-fog shield is available for around $30, slightly more than replacing the stock one.
The viewport of the GM54S is wide, allowing for better peripheral vision than many full face and modular helmets.
The chinbar latch release is a large, sliding spring-loaded switch located at the front and center of the bar. It protrudes enough that it’s easy to operate while wearing heavy gloves. While this may be more sturdy than the push-button releases on some helmets, it’s conceivable that should your find yourself in the unfortunate but unlikely position of sliding backwards while face down, the latch could pop open.
Directly over the chinbar release is an adjustable vent that slides up and down to open/close. More than a few times (when wearing heavy gloves), I’ve found myself fumbling with one while reaching for the other.
For a helmet with so much going on, the GM54S’ appearance is fairly restrained. The many vents are attractively designed and even the large slider that operates the internal visor doesn’t appear too obtrusive—more like a black stripe down the middle.
The helmet’s overall elongated ovular shape is a bit unusual, though. In profile, the GM54S appears longer than many other helmets, tapering to a point from the back of the crown and the neckline. (This is probably to provide space for the lighting.) The front is rounded. The surfaces are so angled and curved that I’m unable to mount my Chatterbox X1 comm unit to the helmet for lack of a flat place to attach the bracket. The helmet’s shape isn’t visually unappealing, but again adds to the overall dimensions, making this a hard fit for some topcases and underseat storage.
Those who prefer loud, busy graphics on their helmets might be disappointed in the options available for the GM54S. The helmet comes in solid colors (black, flat black, pearl white, titanium, red wine) and one graphic option—a pink ribbon graphic to benefit breast cancer research. An earlier graphic, silver lines on flat black, may still be available at some retailers.
The fit and finish are good, paint consistent with a nice clearcoat. As with many mid-range helmets, the branding looks a bit cheap, a slightly crude logo slapped on the forehead and clearcoated. Because I’m picky about such things, it bother me immensely that the white of the logo doesn’t match the pearl white of my helmet. I suppose the price difference between this and a $400 helmet has to come from somewhere. (Note to smaller helmet manufacturers: Better branding would instill a lot more trust in potential customers. Cheap graphics give a bad impression.)
While no one expects to get the equivalent of a helmet that costs twice as much, at $180 MSRP, the GMax GM54S offers some of the best features we’ve seen in any modular. Compared to others in its price range, it’s a standout, among the top of its class. Only a few small issues separate this really good helmet from being an excellent one.
- Comfortable. Coolmax lining; nice padding.
- Spacious interior.
- Well ventilated.
- Internal sun visor.
- Rear LED light.
- Large shell and unusual shape may challenge some storage.
- LED operation needs improvement.
- Slightly heavy.
- Limited color options.