Bicycle Helmets for the 1998 Season
Summary: Our report on 1998 helmets. This page is history. Select this link for reports from other years.
Researched at the Interbike trade show
in September, 1997.
This year's Interbike fall trade show featured fewer new helmet
manufacturers and fewer new helmets, reflecting in part a
consolidation in the industry and a squeeze on profit margins for
the remaining manufacturers. The pace of passage of new state
laws has slowed, and the market has flattened a bit. Every
manufacturer is looking for new features that will allow them to
raise their prices. That could seem very healthy for the consumer,
except that some of the "improvements" this year are actually a
New Directions: Vents, Vents, Vents
The major themes for 1998 are more vents and sharper lines. All of
the major US manufacturers showed hyper-ventilated models
following in the footsteps of Giro's Helios model, the first of
the "I can't believe it has all those vents and still performs"
models introduced in the 1997 model year. Many manufacturers are
now placing great advertising emphasis on the number of vents in their
helmets, a meaningless parameter that we will not even mention
Opening up larger vents normally is achieved by molding the EPS part
of the helmet with the plastic shell in the same mold. In one operation this bonds
the shell and expands the foam "beads" into solid foam.
The resulting helmet has almost every millimeter of space under the shell
filled with foam (except for any quality control problems), unlike
a taped-on shell which has voids of several millimeters in some spots. In
addition, the heat of the mold would melt the cheaper plastic used for
glued-on shells, so molding in the shell requires the manufacturer to use
a better grade cover. The shell's bonding and higher quality
plastic contribute to the strength of the helmet structure. Unfortunately opening
up new vents can involve the use of harder, more dense foam, and squaring off the edges
of the remaining foam to get the most impact protection possible from
the narrower pieces still there. Opinions may be divided on these
design features, but we believe that rounder shells and less
dense foam are virtues.
Performance as measured by the standards
does not have to suffer with the larger vents. The Helios was
introduced as a Snell B-90 certified helmet and now that Giro has
dropped Snell this year will be advertised as meeting the ASTM
standard. All of the other new hyper-ventilated models we have
seen this year also meet ASTM. None we have seen so far is certified to
Snell's more stringent B-95 standard introduced in 1995, but
meeting ASTM is perhaps the best that can be expected for these very fragile-looking
helmets. There are new hyper-ventilated models from Giro, Bell,
Specialized, Troxel (GT or Pro-Action brand), Vigor and others.
Some will not be on your dealer's shelves until March of 1998 or even later.
All will be expensive, since consumers apparently are expected to be willing to pay
more for more vents. Bell's Senior Product Manager Candi Whitsel
was quoted in the September 1, 1997, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
saying "The idea is to raise prices and get the consumer to buy
up. If you have a helmet at $50 with 500 vents, how are you ever
going to sell a $100 helmet?"
Although it may not be self-evident, most riders do not need the
extra vents, which is why we refer to these as "hyper-ventilated"
models. The normal venting in the good helmets of the mid-90's
has proven adequate for almost all riding by almost all riders in
almost all conditions. Opening up the big vents forces other
compromises in helmet design, even with the more expensive
inmolded process. To provide impact protection with less
foam the manufacturers normally have to harden the remaining
foam, so that the force of a blow is transmitted to the rider's
head with more pressure on one particular spot. There is no
unanimity that this presents a safety problem, and only the
Australian standard tests for "localized loading," but all things
being equal we would prefer to crash in a helmet with wider foam
strips in contact with our head than narrower ones.
Designs Get Sharper, Squared Off
Beyond the possibility of a point loading problem, the fashion
among helmet designers this year is to square off the edges of
the foam remaining around the vents, and add sharp lines in the
exterior plastic just for style. This is a less than optimal
design for crashing. We believe that the ideal
surface for striking a road resembles a bowling ball. Round
shells reduce to a minimum any tendency for a helmet to "stick"
to the surface when you hit, with the possibility of increasing
impact intensity, contributing to rotational brain injury or
jerking the rider's neck. To reduce potential snagging points to
a minimum we would prefer helmets with vents and ribs well faired
and rounded like the Giro Helios or Vigor's V-Tec. The Specialized
Air Speed and Trek's Elixir are similarly rounded, but feature extra ridges
for a "sculptured: look that do not contribute to a smooth round
contour. We would note that none of this is tested for by any of
the world's current bicycle helmet standards, despite studies that have
shown that helmets that do not slide well can cause higher neck forces
on chin straps and increase the g level of an impact.
Unfortunately, the squared-off fashion trend is going to make
your current safe, round helmet look clunky and old-fashioned.
The new ones are the snazziest-looking helmets you have ever seen
(prompting bicycle writer John Schubert to ask where he could
find the equivalent of a "tweed cap" style of helmet that did not
look like something out of Buck Rogers). Again it is worth
mentioning that there is no U.S. standard which tests the sliding
resistance of the shell of a helmet, and all of the helmets we
comment on meet the ASTM impact standard. We think that these
helmets will perform well in the field, but we just do not consider
the squared-off designs optimum.
Other trends this year include a slow movement toward brighter
colors, mirroring what is happening in bike colors and colors for
clothing and other accessories. Orange is coming back in some
areas of the country, and local clothing stores in our area are
now stocking bright yellow and orange outerwear. Several manufacturers
had orange, yellow or some other brighter colors in their
mix this year. Visors seem to be losing favor. Another trend is
for rear stabilizers to move down into the medium-priced helmet
market. These devices have been well accepted in the market, and
most manufacturers have been pricing their helmets with
stabilizers at the high end, pleased to have another feature that
can persuade the consumer to part with more bucks. A new wrinkle
has been the announcement by Giro that they now have a patent on
the idea and will be requiring licensing fees, said by one
manufacturer to be one dollar per helmet. Another trend in the
low-priced market is packaging helmets with other accessories,
particularly in the skate market, where a number of manufacturers
including PTI and Troxel have knee pads and wrist protectors with
their "multi-sport" helmets. We were surprised to find that most
of those multi-sport helmets are certified to the same ASTM F-1447
bicycle helmet standard as a normal bicycle helmet. The list of
those certified to Snell's N-94 multi-purpose standard is very short.
New Foam and a Folding Helmet
The most exciting new technology in the market this year is a new
foam being used by Vetta that they call NexL. It is a
closed-cell, cross-linked polymer that replaces the standard EPS
(Expanded PolyStyrene), EPP (Expanded PolyPropylene) or EPU
(Expanded PolyUrethane) in other helmets. Like EPU, it has a small
and uniform structure of air bubbles. Vetta says that the
material has remarkable properties, handling shock and
penetration while retaining its shape. We were not too keen on
the fashion features of the prototype we saw at Interbike as the
design chosen for the introduction of this new material, but are
pleased to see another choice for consumers that will solve
problems for some. It should become available in late 1997.
Another new innovation this year is a folding helmet from an
Israeli company called Motorika, reviewed below. It was new and
unprecedented, but seemed heavy, hot and expensive. It also features
a raised ridge along the centerline when unfolded. In December, 1997,
we heard that it was included in the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog.
Bell Covers the Largest Heads
Bell introduced in late 1997 their Kinghead helmet, a very large lid that fits
up to size 8 1/4. Most people can turn it sideways. It
meets the need of a small but desperate group of men with very very large heads,
who have been finding it increasingly difficult to ride on club events and
have even been riding unlawfully in some jurisdictions because they could not
find a helmet large enough. We salute Bell for producing this helmet as a
service, knowing that due to the very small market it will not make money.
Consumer Reports Picks A Winner
Following up on its June issue reporting on helmets, Consumer
Reports did some additional testing for their December issue, and concluded that
the Globe from Louis Garneau (Canada) was a Best Buy. The rating is based on impact
protection, stability on the head, venting and straps. It is the only Best Buy that Consumer
Reports awarded to a helmet this year. We were more impressed with some of Louis Garneau's
other models, but apparently CU did not test others. We did like the very bright yellow
that is one of the Globe's available colors.
You can find CU's June, 1997, helmet article on the new
Consumer Reports website, but it will cost you a paid subscription.
Advent has a line for 1998 with four ASTM/SEI certified helmets,
z-Jet, Z-Fire with rear stabilizer, z-bop and the child's
Answer Racing has one BMX helmet for 1998, suitable only for BMX racing.
It is an unvented fiberglass hard shell with a bolted-on visor and chinbar
for facial protection. (That represents an improvement over Answer's former
plastic cup chinguards. It is certified to the Snell B-90 and DOT motorcycle
standards. Answer does have an XXL adult helmet, but we don't know the maximum
size it will fit. Pricing on BMX helmets is generally much higher than regular
AST has four helmets for 1998 certified to Snell's tougher B-95 standard, including the
Avenir Corsair, Model 40, VSR Comp and Rascal toddler model.
Bell is still the largest, with a claimed 70 per cent of the
world bicycle helmet market. And they had more new stuff than
most at Interbike, including a big tractor-trailer with a helmet
museum inside. All of their helmets are SEI certified to meet the
The top of Bell's line will not be available until March of 1998,
and given the complexity of the construction techniques we can
understand why. It is their Intercooler, a hyperventilated design
made in layers of foam that are bonded together. It has an
amazing amount of ventilation through channels through the foam.
Unfortunately the foam outside and inside has ribbed surfaces,
interfering with the smoothness of the outside surface and
reducing the area of the inside foam in contact with the rider's
head during a crash. For that reason we do not consider the
design optimal for safety. To us this helmet is a little bit like
Windows 95--you know you don't really need it and it may not even
work as well as some older models, but it's new, it's sexy and
some people just have to have it. It's called marketing.
For our money the most exciting new development Bell introduced
this year was their new Kinghead, a nice looking
helmet made in very large size to fit heads up to size 8 1/4.
Smaller people with the average 7 3/8 head can
turn a Kinghead sideways. This is Bell's contribution to consumer
safety, not profits, since the helmet will fit only a small
number of riders, and is never expected to make a profit. But
without the Kinghead those riders have been helmetless, and we
have been hearing from them for years in phone calls and
emails in search of something large enough. If you know somebody
who needs a very large helmet, tell them to contact their Bell dealer, since
we have yet to see any Bell ads for the Kinghead.
Bell also showed prototypes of the Nemesis 2 and Nemesis 2 Pro
(with visor), another high-end model. This one has huge front
vents that may make it cooler than the Intercooler. It is molded
in the shell, expensive, and has very squared-off lines, with
ribs on the top (where few riders hit) but not on the sides,
where most impacts occur. Unfortunately it has two stylish
"wings" in the back that stick out about 15 mm, a potential snagging hazard
that should not be allowed by the ASTM standard, but is at
Consumer Reports tested several Bell models for the report in
their June, 1997 issue. We have a summary of that article up on
our website. They liked the Evo Pro 2, followed by the Psycho
Pro, both still in Bell's line this year. We panned the Evo Pro 2
last year for its use of part plastic/part foam on the outside
rather than a smooth plastic shell. Aside from any effect on
snagging, Consumer Reports found that it has good impact
performance, but we don't consider it optimum and hope it
disappears soon. The Psycho Pro and the Image Pro are still in
Bell's line for 1998 as well, and should be better bets. Both are
inmolded. From our conservative perspective another
one of Bell's better bets is the older Oasis, a nicely-rounded
design that we do consider optimal for minimum snagging.
Unfortunately it is going to look dated in a year or so, and is
not inmolded. There are quite a number of other
current Bell models: The Forza Pro (somewhat squared off), the
Vertigo Pro (more rounded profile), the Tsunami Pro, Traverse Pro
and Maniac Pro. The Jumpstart Pro is a youth helmet that has
hopefully replaced the hard-to-fit Jammer, and there is a new
Half-Pint Pro child helmet with actual vents, as well as the
perennial L'il Bell Shell Pro (now with a full plastic shell).
And then there is the Bellistic, a maximum-protection downhill
racer's helmet with a full chin guard, looking like a motorcycle
helmet with vents, and providing face protection for those who
need and can afford it.
Bell has another entire line of helmets sold at discount stores
and mass-merchant outlets. They are often discontinued models
from their bike store line, and generally have low-end graphics,
chintzy fit pads and cheaper packaging. But they are SEI
certified to ASTM, so they provide fine impact protection. And
the rounded profiles we consider optimum will persist in this
line for years to come. They sell for amazingly low prices: $8 to
$30. Safe Kids sells them to their chapters for $7.50 each. Ride
Safe has them in quantities for non-profit programs at $6.75 to
$10. They are among the best buys in the low end. But Bell does
not show them at Interbike, reportedly to avoid antagonizing the
independent bike shop buyers. Check our page on inexpensive helmets for further
info. Among them is the Bell Aggressive Skate Helmet, which provoked
our protest earlier this year when we discovered it has a label saying
"Bell Sports certifies that this helmet complies with the requirements
of ASTM Helmet Performance Standard F-1492-93 except for Section 8.0
Clause 8.5 - Area of Required Coverage." In our book that means the
helmet does not meet the standard.
The Bell 53-foot tractor-trailer display is a kick, and may be
coming sometime this year to an event near you. It features a bright
display of historical and current helmets, test equipment, trophies, race
clothing, Jeremy McGrath's racing motorcycle and even Jimmy
Vasser's full-sized Indy race car suspended from the ceiling.
It's worth a visit if you see it around your area. The rig's
appearances are scheduled by Bell's Senior Product Manager for
Bell Helmets, Candi Whitsel (408) 574-3400 ext. 3539.
Bell has a pamphlet out this year that recommends that you
replace your helmet every three years "to accommodate head growth
in children and to avoid any deterioration. Cracks, dents, holes,
and other forms of damage reduce protective capabilities." Well,
if your helmet is cracked, dented, has holes in it that the
manufacturer did not put there or some other form of damage, by
all means replace it, and don't wait for the three years to be
up. But otherwise, we would say normal riders do not need to
trash a helmet just because it is three years old. Again, it's
Bell is still the largest and most successful bicycle helmet
manufacturer. With their brand recognition they are still the one
to beat. We are pleased that the Kinghead shows that their
corporate culture still retains some of the "our job is to
protect the rider" flavor the company grew up with.
Briko is an Italian company trying to break into the U.S. market.
We did not see their top of the line, the $90 Shark, but if the
catalog photos are correct it has a rather strange fin-like lump
on top in the center (supposedly designed to increase airflow
inside), and we would avoid it, even though it is Snell-certified
to their B-95 standard. The Air Way Ocean and Air Way
Sting models have nicely rounded contours. The Pin Point Metal
and Pin Point Wave have highly pronounced ribs running the length
of the helmet, with deep valleys in between and rear extensions
not smoothly faired--another design to avoid. Although they
produce a Chrono Team model, if it is the same one we saw last
year it does not meet even the ANSI standard and therefore is not
legal in the U.S. market. Briko's downhill model has a chinbar
for facial protection. They have a ski helmet as well, called the
Windshape for its aerodynamic properties. The Briko catalog says
their vent system is so effective that "the hair stays perfectly
dry." We don't think that was meant as a joke, but it will
produce lots of chuckles anyway.
Byke Ryder - KR Industries
Byke Ryder helmets are the former All American line, which was
purchased by KR Industries some time ago. They have a fairly
extensive line marketed through discount stores at prices of $10
to $20. There are seven toddler helmets, five youth models and five
adult helmets. Every one has a smoothly rounded exterior shell
and "normal" vents.
Concord Arai Pvt. has few bicycle helmets, but will market its
Concord adult and youth helmets in 1998. Both are certified to Snell's
Cyclelink comes from Cycle Acoustics, who make a wireless
intercom for bicyclists that can be mounted on the helmet. Or you
can buy a Snell-certified helmet from them with the two-way radio
built in. The microphone boom arm has a breakaway mount, the
helmet has an exceptionally smooth outer profile, and one of the
models has a range up to two miles. Could be just the thing for
parents towing kids in a trailer.
This Italian company again showed an extensive and expensive line
led off by a new Maniac off-road helmet "designed for the person
it was named after." It has huge vents, squared-off lines, and the
protection in the rear comes down low enough to require an arch cutout for neck
clearance. This year Cratoni is touting their Soft Shock technology,
which they claim is an "EPS inner shell construction with 25 percent more
shock absorption without increasing weight." That doesn't mean Snell
certification, though, since Cratoni settles for ASTM on its U.S. models.
Left over from last year is the ZXR, with a nicely-rounded exterior shell
and lots of vents. There is also the Mag Super Pro and the Mag Pro with
Cratoni's adjustable ring to fit the helmet so that "one size fits all."
We are not sure how stable it would be in a crash, but like the old Bailen
of the 80's it might solve some fit problems and would be useful for swapping
helmets among family members or guests. The Evolution VX does not have ASTM
certification, and has smaller vents but a very well-rounded exterior, and
the adjustable fit ring in one model. The more up-scale Scorpion for off-road
riding comes in a chrome finish, has a very long visor. The Fox for children
also features the fit ring, but the sample we saw did not have an ASTM sticker.
The New York is a slick-looking inline skate helmet with ASTM certification and
one of the roundest, slickest exteriors currently made. Their LA skate helmet has
more venting. Both have the fit ring. Cratoni still has their V1 BMX/downhill model with
fiberglass/kevlar shell and face protection, and a visor bolted on. They also sell a
BMX helmet without face protection. Several Cratoni models have mesh behind the front vents
to keep the bees out, and some have a rear stabilizer with a dial adjuster,
Ecko showed BMX racing and skateboard helmets with ANSI stickers
but no ASTM certification. The shells were fiberglass, with
reasonable prices for BMX at $129 and $139 for the full-face model.
Visors are snap on, and designed to pop off in an impact. Sizing is
U.S. 6 to 7 3/4. Ecko also distributes the RAD, billed as a multisport
helmet. It has very small vents and a very well-rounded exterior surface, but
we don't know what standards it might meet.
Edge has the Odyssey for 1998, available by the end of 1997. It is a
hyper-vented helmet with a nice round profile similar to the Giro
Helios. It is inmolded, and will sell for $85. The others in
their line are BMX helmets are by Troy Lee Designs, and have the signature Troy Lee
bolted-on visors. The TL COMP-RF has a removable chin bar and retails for
$250, while the similar non-Troy Lee model is $150. Both are certified to
Snell B-90, as is the TL-COMP, a $120 BMX helmet without face protection.
Edge is also the home of the Briko helmet (see above).
Epsira Oy is the Finnish manufacturer of Knock helmets, advertised as CE approved and
supplied to such organizations as the Finnish postal service (in very visible yellow).
The designs appear to have nicely rounded contours. One model has reflective chin straps,
a new feature we have not seen before. Epsira Oy has other EPS products and some info
up on EPS. We are not aware of a U.S. distributor for their products.
Met is a seldom-seen brand in the U.S. They have a PD800 model which is
certified to Snell's B-95 standard.
After a year of being a subsidiary of Bell, Giro still seems to
have retained its independence in most respects. This year Giro
dropped Snell certification, relying on SEI certification of
compliance with ASTM instead. (We were shocked to find a sticker
in some of the Giro models that had the same size, shape and
colors as the old Snell B-85 sticker.) Some of their newer models
show the same tendency toward squared-off lines that we moaned
about in the introduction, and found in Bell's new models.
Giro's Helios started the hyper-vent theme last year, and we were
amazed that it was identified by Consumer Reports as their first
pick based primarily on impact protection. That proves that Giro
is doing something right, since the Helios is probably the first
helmet you noticed that seemed more vent than foam. This year the
Helios continues, with another new model called the Boreas added
in the super-vent category. The Boreas has the same skimpy
interior foam contact surface as the Bell Intercooler, and
unfortunately has rear "prongs" that stick out about 30 mm, which
again should not be allowed under the ASTM standard, but is. Of
the two, the Helios would be a better pick, not only because of
the Consumer Reports rating but for its smoothly rounded profile.
In addition to the Helios and the Boreas, Giro has four other
models that are inmolded. The Switchblade is their
downhill racing helmet, with a detachable chinguard. The regular
non-face guard version of that is the Exodus ($150), made of
green foam, with squared-off ribs and two 15 mm "teeth" sticking
out of the rear. Then there is the Hammerhead ($110), another
design with squared-off lines, and what may be the most
protective helmet in Giro's impressive arsenal, the Alturus, a
rounded-profile helmet similar to the Helios with not quite so
Further down Giro's ladder are the Gila ($70) with reflective
material in the center, Torero, Incline, Riviera and several kids
helmets: the Holeshot, Mudshaker and Minimoto. The Dervish is
Giro's inline skate helmet. The Mad Max is a full-out downhill
racer's helmet, with a substantial chinbar. None is inmolded, but their lower
prices reflect that, with the exception of the Mad Max.
Giro has reintroduced bright colors for some of their helmets:
orange, yellow and a red/orange have joined the ever-popular
white in their line. Most of their helmets have rear grippers (on
which Giro says they hold a patent).
In all, Giro continues to offer an impressive line of high-end
helmets, and to push the envelope on vents...and pricing.
GT incorporates helmets made by Troxel into its full line of
bikes and bike shop accessories, offering dealers additional
discounts on bikes if they also carry the helmets. The line is
extensive, and all are ASTM/SEI certified. Although some
manufacturers are using harder foam density to compensate for
opening up larger vents, with the potential drawback of
increasing point loading in a crash, GT's entire line is produced
to Troxel's conservative specs at no more than medium density.
Top of the line for 1998 will start with the $100 Pegasus
(available in November--we did not see an actual helmet), one of
the designs that prompted our comments above about squared-off
shell designs. The Machete, at $80, is a highly competitive
hyper-ventilated helmet with a nicely rounded outer shell, and since it
also has no super-hard foam it is worth considering for those
characteristics alone. We did not like the buckle design on the
Machete, which can be rendered inoperable by bending back a
plastic tab so that it does not catch. The Gator ($40) is
another model with "points" on the rear of the shell, an
unnecessary style feature that could affect sliding resistance.
Other models included the Stinger at $50, and the Orion at $25
with a ribbed interior design reducing the foam in contact with
the head. The Lightning, a $35 child helmet with Mickey Mouse
graphics, has the shell extended in the front to made a stiff
visor, not a design we would recommend, but the other GT visors
were attached with hook-and-loop fasteners. The Li'l Thunder
toddler helmet, at $35, offers a rear stabilizer done in cloth
rather than plastic to respond to parents' unwillingness to put a
plastic stabilizer on a small tot.
Hallaby Pty Ltd
Hallaby's line is all Snell B-95 certified, including the 007 Sphinx,
951, and 961. This is another brand seldom seen in the U.S.
Hamax is a Norwegian company we have not seen before, with a line
of EPS helmets with polycarbonate three-piece shells, and certified
to the European CE standard (weaker than ASTM). Some have a
hard visor which would not break away in a fall, but Hamax says
it is well adapted for protecting the child's eyes when putting
the child in front of the parent in a top-tube child carrier,
very few of which are in use in this country. The visor hides the
fact that some of their toddler models and a parent on one of
their brochures have their helmets cocked back on the head with the
entire forehead showing. Hamax has an adult helmet with a head ring
sizing system similar to Cratoni's, like the old Bailens sold in the
U.S. in the 1980's. They recommend their child helmets for kids as
young as 9 months, three months sooner than any U.S. manufacturer or
anybody in the injury prevention community here. The child helmets have
good vents, but not the toddler models. Hamax sells none of the European
"green" buckle, a breakaway buckle colored green which is designed to
prevent a child from being "hung" by the helmet strap if the
helmet catches on gym equipment in a playground. Their rep said
there is no market for green buckle models anywhere.
Happy Way Enterprises
This Taiwanese manufacturer has a slick looking line of Expanded
PolyUrethane (EPU) helmets that are Snell B-95 certified. Some are
fully inmolded models, while some have glued-on shells,
but prices are the same at about $40 retail. Adding a rear
stabilizer or 3M reflective tape adds about a dollar and a half
each. Although the EPU makes the helmet a little heavier than a
Giro or Bell, if this company had more name recognition it would
be a real contender. Happy Way sells mostly to importers and
This Canadian company produces a line of helmets from Expanded PolyPropylene (EPP)
that can take multiple hits and still perform. They have six models certified to
Snell's tough B-95 standard, with sizes running from their toddler model H-506 in XS
to a large adult model that fits up to 64 cm circumference heads. We have not seen their
line in recent months, but were not impressed with the vents or finishing of samples we
saw some time back. Whether or not they have improved, they are probably a low-cost
source of EPP helmets, and the Snell B-95 certification places their impact protection
among the best.
Headstrong sells primarily through mass merchants, including grocery stores, discounters,
drug stores, sporting goods stores and toy stores. Their line generally retails for under $30,
with some under $15. They did not exhibit at Interbike, and their 1997 catalog features only
some of their many models. The Cycling helmet is a very nicely rounded, reasonably vented "fully
certified" helmet, while the Ultra model has more vents and styling but still retains a smoothly
rounded shape. The Multi Sport helmet is another smooth profile helmet certified to Snell's
difficult N-94 multi sport standard, with a Radical version for under-14's, and a special
edition for a promotion in conjunction with Ringling Brothers circus. Headstrong's downhill
helmets have full facial protection, but have what appears to be bolted-on visors. Their
Skateboard & In-Line model is a hard-shell, very round helmet similar in
appearance to the Pro-Tec. Their ski helmet is another hard-shell, with very
large ear cutouts, while the equestrian model has a hard visor, vents and is
ASTM-certified. Headstrong also has a Toddler model. The company is packaging some of
its helmets with other equipment, so the bike helmets can be bought with a water
bottle, and the skate helmet is packaged with wrist, knee and elbow protectors. The multi-sport
helmet package adds a sports bag. Headstrong has a lifetime warranty covering any of their
helmets involved in a crash.
J&B always has an interesting line in the lower price ranges. For
1998 they have their line of Alpha helmets retailing for about
$14 to $25, all Snell-certified to the tougher B-95 standard, a good
value in this price range. At the lower end of that range
is a plain model with well rounded profile and Snell B-95
certification that should sell for about $15 or less in a plain
plastic bag. Their child and toddler helmets and their upscale
adult models with larger vents sell for $20 to $25. They also
had the Ritchey Tomahawk, a high-end model selling for perhaps
$150, appealing primarily to owners of a Ritchey bicycle. Despite the
very high price, it is only certified to Snell B-90.
Another supplier of low-cost helmets to toy and discount stores, Kent is one
of the few with a multi-sport helmet certified to Snell's N-94 multi-sport
standard. The model is called the Concept.
Louis Garneau is a Canadian designer whose helmet line has grown
over the years to a very impressive collection. Some of their
helmets are inmolded. On others they use polypropylene
lower sections, and some have a lower shell to protect the foam
from nicks (reducing sliding resistance as well). Their new top
of the line is the Genius, with the requisite multitude of vents,
too many ribs on the shell to suit us and a price tag of $119.
Others are the better-rounded Ozone at $80, the very nicely
rounded Super MSB with lower shell and Bumper PSB, the Bonded CX
inmolded, the Alien, with fussy ribbed exterior, and
the very well rounded and somewhat cheaper Globe, Saturn and
Space. In its December issue Consumer Reports rated the Globe
as a Best Buy. For youth there is the Grunge, and for kids the Terrible
or the Baby Boomer, both with nice graphics and vents. Their Buzz
downhill helmet has full face protection and is kevlar-
reinforced. Garneau has a rear gripper that adjusts with a knob
after you put the helmet on. We were pleased to see brighter
colors coming back on some of the Louis Garneau line, including
orange and yellow. The matte finishes popular last year are
disappearing, and higher gloss shells are in. Unfortunately, Louis Garneau has
launched a new ad campaign in 1998 emphasizing "smaller, lighter, better
ventilated" as their helmets' main assets. With today's designs, smaller
and lighter are largely irrelevant for most riders, and it makes no sense
to be making design compromises for weight or size. Smaller could mean either
less head coverage, or thinner. The standards require at least minimal head coverage.
But most manufacturers now go well beyond the tests, although they are not required to.
We hope that will not change. A thinner helmet would reduce the space for stopping the
head gently in a crash, which in the absence of better-performing foam would mean a
reduction of the protection as well. And there is no need for lighter helmets than
the 8 to 12 ounces of today's designs. We hope that the Garneau ads are just marketing hype,
and wish manufacturers would emphasize safety or even stylishness rather than
heating up the "smaller, lighter" race.
Motorika showed one of the most innovative products at the show,
a folding helmet called the Snapit. This is a true hard shell
helmet made with GECET foam and a nylon glass-reinforced shell. The
shell is made in two pieces and designed to fold one half into the other in a crescent-shaped
form much like a piece of cantaloupe. It comes with a hip-hugger
belt so you can wear it after the fold. It has ASTM
certification. It weighs 16 oz, not
bad for a hard shell, but about 6 oz more than most of the
helmets on the market today, and it feels heavy. The retail price
is $79, which seemed high to us for a niche product. We did not like the ridge
where the two pieces meet when the helmet is unfolded in the wearing position,
and for that reason alone would not recommend this one.
Nuovo Meyster, SPA
Nuovo Meyster is an Italian company bringing its helmets to the
U.S. for the first time. Their line will sell in mass merchant
outlets, but when we met them at Interbike they had not yet
certified their line to any U.S. standards. They had a Stelvio
model with a very well-rounded profile, but almost no vents that
will sell for $30 to $40, and a child helmet called the Flash.
Prowell is a Taiwanese company producing a line of helmets
in EPU foam, most of them appearing on Snell's B-95 certification list.
Their Mirage, Genesis and AirGlider are all molded in the
shell and beyond the Snell cachet they also have a very high quality
appearance, seeming solid (if a bit heavy) in the hand. There are more
square lines on the exteriors than we like to see on the Mirage and AirGlider,
but the Genesis has the smoothly faired surface we consider ideal, and overall
these are well-rounded helmets. The Cindy Duck multi-sports model unfortunately
has a solidly molded-in visor, which could present a snagging hazard. Prowell's
pricing is very competitive.
Protective Technologies International (PTI) is a very large producer
of bicycle helmets, mostly marketed through discount stores such as the
Sports Authority and Toys `R Us. Models include the top of the line Attack,
selling for about $80, with the numerous vents too sharply defined at
the edges for our satisfaction but an otherwise rounded profile.
The other models are all very well rounded on the exterior, including
the Trip at $40, the Raw at $30 the Wacko child helmet at $25, and
the toddler model at $20. There is one white version of the Trip with
very large letters "POLICE" down the sides selling for $20 to law
enforcement agencies. Tucked away in the back of the catalog
is the "Promo" model, with exemplary roundness on its exterior but
woefully small vents, and billed as a very low price helmet with a $6
dealer cost and a suggested retail of "FREE" said to be suitable for giveaway programs.
Some of PTI's toddler and youth helmets in toy stores are packaged with skate
accessories like wrist guards and knee pads. In our local Toys 'R Us are various
models of PTI helmets with "Approved to ASTM F1446.7" on the box, but a sticker
in the helmet saying only "ANSI Z90.4." PTI has discontinued using the
Zacko brand name, formerly associated with sexy ads.
Shenzhen Qukang Industry Development
This Taiwanese manufacturer has a line of EPS and EPU helmets,
which they said would meet the ASTM standard. Their EPU helmets
are inmolded, and are offered with or without a
plastic shell (EPU will form a "skin" in the mold similar to a
shell in any event). The helmets had a quality appearance, with
silk screened graphics. They have a fiberglass BMX model. Dealer
prices for the standard bicycle helmets in quantity are under $5,
but if you want a box it's another 50 cents.
OGK's line for 1998 will eventually feature the ReaQtor, a thoroughly updated,
hyper-ventilated, helmet with extensive rear coverage and a shell
covering the lower portion. The exterior has squared-off, sharply-defined
lines and the rear projections that we hope the ASTM standard will eventually
prevent. It will be available in the spring at $140 retail. There is also the
somewhat more rounded Ice Qube, certified by Snell to their tougher B-95
standard, a EPU foam helmet with big vents, a rear stabilizer and
hook-and-loop mounted visor retailing for $100. And the MoQa, a $50 B-95
model. Their downhiller, the Kamaquazi, is another B-95 helmet, with facial
protection and a retail price of $269.
Specialized, one of the major U.S. manufacturers, has five models
for 1998, led by the Air Cobra, with its "mouth port technology"
and a "chiseled, muscular look." Although the Air Cobra has more
vents, we were more impressed with the Air Speed, with a more
rounded profile, although it still shares with the Cobra a rear
overhang that is not very well faired. The Air Cut with a lower
price is now their budget model, the Air Wave Mega is the youth
market model, and the Bike Bug for toddlers has appealing ladybug
graphics. Specialized will have their new King Cobra out in March
of 1998, with large vents and other features, selling for about
$150. Specialized has colors now to match their bicycles. Specialized
is one manufacturer who tests their helmets for
long term sun and weather effects, probably making them a good bet if you
cycle frequently in extreme weather. They are continuing Snell B-90
certification for the Cobra, Banshee, and the new Sub Zero and King Cobra,
due out early 1998.
In August of 1997, Specialized announced a helmet recycling plan.
Specialized retailers participating in the Helmet Recycle Program
have kits including cardboard dump bins. Specialized offers
retail shops discounts up front without rebates to hassle with.
Three different programs offer new Specialized helmets at reduced
prices. Specialized is also producing announcements: radio ads
and print samples.
Tong Ho Hsing sends its line of four road helmets, one toddler helmet
and three BMX helmets to the U.S. through Sunbeam Trading Company of
Monterey, California. Their T-38 adult road helmet has "The Pump" for
fitting by inflating the headband. The others are the T-37, T-36 and T-35.
All are certified to the Snell B-95 standard, so they must perform well.
3M has been showing at Interbike for the last two years, with
products that you should be seeing on helmets but will not
because they are not cheap and consumers won't pay more for a
helmet that has them added. This year they were showing an
improved line of reflective cloth and clothing made with jillions
of "hard cube" reflectors to improve performance and be less
affected by water than previous reflective fabrics. They have
some tapes that out-perform the old Scotchlite by orders of
magnitude, and could make a product just for helmets if there
were a market for it. It might add 50 cents to the cost of
manufacturing, however, and in today's very competitive market a
feature that costs that much (like a rear stabilizer, for
example) can only be used if consumers will foot the bill.
Trek chose not to exhibit at Interbike, but was there in the presence of their Gary
Fisher subsidiary. Their Elixir model is another hypervent
which still retails a rounded profile, but adds ridges to achieve
the "sculpted" look. We can't comment on the foam density, which
seemed very hard to us, but it has a rear stabilizer. The Icarus
seemed a less conservative design, with pronounced internal
ribbing and ridges on the shell. The Milenium model has vents
that might best be described as "lumpy." while the Caliber has a
very well-rounded shell, smaller vents, and consequently looks a
little out-of-date. The Gecko Youth model had smoothly rounded
Troxel sells its helmets under the Pro Action brand as well as through
GT. Most of their models we have seen for 1998 were the GT versions, so
check the writeup above. Troxel also has a "multi-sport" helmet in the
toy store near us packaged with wrist guards, selling for $7.99. It is certified to ASTM
F-1447, which is the bicycle standard, not a multi-purpose standard. Since a
Troxel staffer is one of the guiding lights in the ASTM helmet standards committee,
we may soon see a proposal there for an ASTM multi-purpose standard.
Troy Lee Designs
For the first time this year, Troy Lee is showing bicycle helmets
with hook-and-loop mounts. Their BMX helmets continue to use
bolted on visors, so if you wear one and crash, be sure not to
snag your visor on anything.
Vetta has the most interesting new technology for 1998 in the
form of the new NexL foam mentioned above. This closed-cell, cross-
linked polymer replaces the standard EPS, and has multiple-impact
capabilities that should make it ideal for aggressive skate
helmets, hockey helmets and others. Vetta claims that a small
and very uniform structure of air bubbles in the material gives
it superior qualities. Unlike EPU and EPP, it is lighter than
EPS. The prototype shown at Interbike will hopefully be replaced
by a slicker design when the final helmet is released in early
1998. Vetta expects retail prices for the line to run from $60 to $100.
The Vigor Sports (Hong Jin Cycle Corp.) entry into the hyper-ventilated
race is their V-Tec, an inmolded design using GECET, with rounded contours
except for a large unnecessary bump in the rear. Their V-Tec
Sport is similar but has smaller vents and a taped-on shell.
Their Rave has one of the most smoothly faired shells in the
industry, referred to in the catalog as a "classic" design but
looking remarkably up to date for a smooth contour helmet. It has
a pony tail port. Their HPX model, near the lower end, comes in a
brilliant "Candy Yellow" color. Their Duo multi-sport helmet has
extended rear coverage, the Avail with "internal air channels" is
designed for women and youth, and the Tyke has vents, a
pinch-proof buckle and an adjustable sizing ring. For downhill racing
Vigor had a new top of the line Vamoose model with a Kevlar-
reinforced fiberglass shell that is designed to go beyond the
ASTM standard (they will apply for Snell certification). They
also have a line of five BMX models, all certified to Snell N-
94, the multi-purpose standard. Two are full face protection
designs: Da Bomb Fullface, and the Zero G2. One has a bolt on
chinguard called a "rock deflector." And the remaining two are
open face models. Most of them have bolt-on visors, a potential
snagging hazard, but Snell approves them anyway, so maybe we are
being too conservative. Vigor's SK8 is an aggressive skate helmet which
resembles the Pro Tec. Finally, they have a line of four ski
helmets for adults and children.
We are not familiar with this manufacturer's line, but they have three helmets
on Snell's list of helmets certified to their N-94 multi-purpose standard. They are
prosaically named the 1100, 1100B and 1100S. We hope to have more on them soon.