Bell Custom 500 review: Timeless Style Never Goes Out of Fashion

Bell Custom 500

Based on the helmet that kick-started Bell’s motorcycle journey, the Custom 500 is simple, comfortable and effortlessly cool

Good value, great choice of colours, solid range of sizes
The perils of an open-face helmet, no vents, as basic as they come

Believe it or not, the Bell Custom 500 has been around in some shape or form since 1954 when the US company first started mass-producing this now iconic noggin protector. 

Steve McQueen famously made one look effortlessly cool when he paired his open-face Bell with goggles and a tanned chest while wrangling his Husqvarna across the Californian desert - and the rest, as they say, is history.

We’re not suggesting a Bell Custom 500 will make you look (or ride) like McQueen, but the low profile, three-quarter open-face lid is a great addition to any casual biker’s armoury. It will pair nicely with a chopped Harley-Davidson Sportster (flake paint for the win), while simultaneously topping off that classic Desert Sled or Urban Scrambler look. 

Key features

- Fibreglass composite shell

- ECE and DOT-Certified

- XS-XXL shell sizes

- Integrated snap pattern for shields and visors

- Antimicrobial comfort padding

- Customisable paint and graphics

Its all-encompassing safety credentials might be questionable, but its versatility is undeniable. If you’re looking for a slick, low-profile lid that can be worn on those easy summery cruises, they don’t much better than the Bell Custom 500.

Part of that is down to Bell’s efforts in keeping things minimalistic, grinding down the profile so it is as low and unobtrusive as possible. One of the biggest issues with open-face helmets is that they tend to look absolutely massive, making riders with smaller craniums look like they have lollipop heads.

It’s not an issue here, as Bell has created one shell size for its XS and S helmets, and then produced four others to cover M to XXL. This allows for uniformity over the amount of EPS padding that goes into the lining, without the need to scrimp on comfort or safety. But it’s still worth pointing out that massive question marks hang over the crash performance credentials of an open-face helmet. Sure, the Bell Custom 500 boasts ECE and DOT certification, but that means nothing if you land on your nose.

The same goes for things like wind noise and ventilation, as there isn’t much in the way of innovation to assist with either. Cooling comes entirely from the front, while predictably, wind noise at anything but inner-city speeds is pretty intense. If you’re likely to be hitting anything above 30mph on a regular basis, you’ll need eye protection, which can either come in the form of some equally cool shades, goggles or a visor that connects via the integrated snap pattern.

There are plenty of aftermarket companies offering full-face, bubble-style visors that easily pop onto the front of the Bell Custom 500, while the company also offers the small snap-on peaks made popular by McQueen and the rest of the On Any Sunday crew.

Rather than offering the last word in safety, Bell’s open-face lid is more style than substance, and that’s highlighted in the almost limitless colours and graphics that are on offer.

Bell even has an online customiser that allows you to pick from hundreds of colours and paints, as well as the ability to add your name or a little motif on the sides. I opted for a Roland Sands Design for my recent purchase, but I’ve also had them in plain white and glossy black.

It is also worth noting that that interior finish is impressive, especially given the fact you can pick up the fibreglass models for under £100 if they hit the sales. Without discounts, the cheapest usually retail at £129.99, while the carbon fibre shell models cost £379.99. Adding custom paint and lettering quickly adds up, mind.

But back to the interior, as it’s an important element given that it’s highly likely onlookers are going to see it on a regular basis when off the head. Here, Bell uses antimicrobial padding that dries quickly, which is at least something to combat the lack of ventilation, while leather accents at the front and around the cheeks, as well as cool contrast stitching, complete the look.

Should you buy a Bell Custom 500?

If you are a stickler for safety, an open-face helmet is not for you. Similarly, if you plan to rack up lots of motorway miles and don’t appreciate feasting on bugs, it’s probably best to consider a lid with more coverage.

But the Bell Custom 500 has been around for over 70 years for a reason, and that’s because it’s arguably one of the coolest and most recognisable open-face helmets on sale. There’s plenty of opportunity to personalise and it looks great paired with all manner of motorcycles, particularly those embedded in the custom scene.

We’d highly recommend trying on a number of sizes though, as the lid suits round and intermediate head shapes. Those with any oval head shape might require sizing up.