HJC CL-Max III Review

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HJC’s brand has become synonymous with high quality and budget-friendly helmets for riders of every preference and variety. The CL-Max III is their current modular offering that sports high end features without the high end price tag. Their target consumer demographic is the sports-touring crowd, and like most HJC CL series helmets the Max III is designed primarily for medium oval head shapes.

Most riders pick HJC because the build quality, features and safety are way beyond what’s available in the same class and price point. The CL-Max III is a popular choice because it is  what riders have come to expect of HJC and more. Not only is it a flip-up modular helmet that allows you to eat, drink and speak without removing your helmet, but it also has comparable high end features like modulars from Shoei  and Schuberth. So does this budget-friendly modular measure up? Let’s check out the features and find out.

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Ratings

Comfort:

90%
Comfort

Visibility:

95%
Visibility

Ventilation:

75%
Ventilation

Quietness:

65%
Quietness

Specifications

Outer shell material : Polycarbonate Composite Shell

Shell size : XS-3XL

Liner : SuperCool Interior: Moisture-Wicking & Anti-Microbial Fabric

Weight : 3.95 lbs

Pinlock : Ready

Strap System : D-Ring loop with a snap connector to fasten the strap end

Safety Ratings

DOT : Yes

ECE : Yes

SNELL : No

SHARP : Not tested


Shape and materials

Given its price point, it’s not reasonable to expect exotic materials of more expensive helmets, but what you do get for your money is safe, solid and attractive. The exterior shell is a composite poly-carbonate with a ton of finish and graphics options. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a graphics pattern, color combination and finish texture after a quick look through the HJC catalog.

At a glance, there is clearly a significant amount of applied research in the design of the CL-Max III. It’s aerodynamics are excellent, vent placement and baffling are practical, and it’s built for medium oval head shapes. This is the happy medium of helmet head shapes, as it can accommodate both round head shapes and long oval head shapes with only minor adjustment and fitting. It’s also available in sizes from XS to 3XL., so finding the right fit in your size is much easier.

Last but not least, modular helmet fans want to install a Bluetooth audio or intercom system for extended cruises or long road trips. One thing owners all agree on is the compartment for existing Bluetooth systems or Sena intercoms easily accommodates anything you need to install. The cutouts for speakers/headphones are also generous, making it easy to get your custom speakers installed without having them press into your skull or ears while you ride.


Things I liked

  • Smooth operating mechanism that’s easy to operate one-handed
  • Integrated drop-down sun visor
  • Modular convenience at an affordable price

Things I don’t like

  • Poor chin ventilation
  • Poor noise dampening
  • No independent safety data on face shield chinbar lock

Overall comfort

Interior padding is covered with HJC’s removable and washable SuperCool liner, so you can easily pop the cushions out and give the liner a good wash and air dry between trips. It’s not as fancy as what you’ll find on a high end helmet from Schuberth or Shoei, but it definitely keeps the sweat our of your eyes on hot days without moisture buildup.

I do have one caveat about comfort and fit: some owners have reported they needed to go up a size compared to previous helmets they’ve owned. Padding and chinbar placement felt a bit too snug for some upon first trying the CL-Max III.

This is not a universal problem with the CL-MAX III though, so make sure you can exchange or return your purchase to get the right size for you. Aside from these minor issues, most riders who wear a CL-Max III say it fits comfortably without causing headaches or pressing down uncomfortably on their cheeks or skull.

I’d take a close look at the chin bar mechanism, too. It’s center switch controlled and raises to the top of the open visor position rather than flipping all the way back to the rear of the helmet. It’s not a critical issue, but if you are expecting the whole face shield and chin bar to flip up and away like high end, pricier models you may want to rethink that idea. All in all, it’s a comfortable helmet with some minor adjustments needed.


Visibility

HJC has gotten eyeport down to an art form and it shows. Clear peripheral vision with the face shield up or down and smooth, pinlock-ready visor operation are part of what makes the CL-Max III a great helmet for visibility. The drop-down sun shield is also well-designed and functional, allowing you to slide the integrated shades into place with one hand.

Something you should know about the sun visor slider though is that it’s spring-loaded and locks into a single position. Granted, for the price point, that’s not surprising, but if you want to make an adjustment to partially raise the sun shield you’ll need to adjust it with the slider without retracting it.

Moreover, the sun shield slider and the crown vent adjustment slider are pretty close together, so if you’re in a hurry or not paying close attention you may flip your vent all the way open instead of raising the sun visor. It’s a minor issue, but worth noting Most riders probably won’t care, but it’s an important pre-purchase consideration everyone should think over before buying a CL-Max III.


Quietness

This is not a quiet modular helmet. If you aren’t wearing ear plugs while you ride, it’s going to seem even louder. Apparently when HJC designed this helmet, the noise dampening is where they decided to cut costs the most. If you ride with a good pair of earphones or use an audio system, it’s not a big deal. Riding without audio though can make the auditory experience of riding with a CL-Max III uncomfortable. Honestly though, it’s not unexpected given the price point of this otherwise excellent modular.


Ventilation

Ventilation is decent on the CL-Max III. I wouldn’t call it great. The primary air channels are the crown vent and side vents, both of which are easily adjustable with glove-friendly controls. The chin vent is less than ideal though, and if you live in a cold or humid climate you may need to invest in a pinlock for your visor to keep the visor from fogging.

Many riders may be perfectly happy with the ventilation system for the CL-Max III for their riding needs. The helmet does have great airflow over the top and around the sides to keep you cool riding on hot days. I think it’s just worth noting the chin vent issue so buyers can be prepared to install a pinlock for better anti-fogging and ventilation.

If I had to pick one characteristic about this helmet that’s sub-par, it’s the ventilation. Noise is subjective, but fogging and ventilation are not. Definitely plan on getting a pinlock if you ride in high humidity or cold weather. This is a good modular helmet for the money, but if you are picky about ventilation you’re going to need that pinlock.


Safety

Unfortunately, this helmet is only DOT rated for the US and Europe. It doesn’t have any third party testing of its own, so it’s definitely a buyer beware situation. There was significant discussion about the chin bar lock when the CL-Max II released which potentially cast a shadow on the safety of the CL-Max III. In 64 percent of all impacts for the CL-Max II, the chin bar lock failed and compromised structural integrity. That’s a scary statistic for a crash helmet.

Here’s the good news: Snell and SHARP have both tested the HJC IS-Max 2 for chin bar failure in Europe. The IS-Max 2 is also a polycarbonate shell modular helmet, and it shares much in common with the CL-Max III. The IS-Max 2 chin bar lock stayed secure in 100 percent of all impacts, and was awarded a 4 out of five stars from SHARP. While there’s not data available for the CL-Max III specifically, it’s unlikely owners need to be concerned about the chin bar lock in the event of an accident.

Conclusion

A modular helmet in this price point is bound to have drawbacks. My opinion is the benefits outweigh the risks and drawbacks. Aside from the chin ventilation and the internal noise level, the HJC CL-Max III is a great value modular helmet that allows anyone on a budget to get a quality modular helmet.

Educate yourself a little about how to set up a pinlock though, and if you don’t ride with ear protection now you’ll want to start. The HJC CL-Max III is a solid modular helmet that’s easy on the wallet, the eyes and your head while riding. Definitely give it a look next time you’re in the market for a modular helmet.

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