Peace of mind: 2014 helmet reviews

Six of the best lids to help keep your head

Editor’s note: This review originally ran in the August 2014 issue of Bike.

From left: Fox Flux, Specialized Vice, Smith Forefront
From left: Fox Flux, Specialized Vice, Smith Forefront

Fox Flux | $100 I
The Flux is ideal for anyone who rides in hot weather and wants maximum ventilation, yet also needs the added insurance that a little extra coverage provides. Fox designed the Flux with 20 massive vents that do an excellent job of keeping things cool on even the most blistering of days.

The Flux is also a smart-looking helmet that doesn’t repel massive segments of the population with pastel colors or embarrassing graphics. While good looks won’t save your melon, it never hurts to actually like how your lid looks on you. That’s the vanity and fashion bit.

As for function, the Flux gets the job done, but doesn’t possess the trimmings of the other helmets in this showcase. The visor, for instance, is a one-position affair and the attachment system is a bit crude, albeit effective.

Likewise, when it comes to fine-tuning the helmet’s fit, the pinch-style closure at the rear of the helmet only snugs up the back half, which leads to a less-balanced tension around the head.

Finally, the retention system only offers one position, so there’s no provision for height adjustments. The Flux offers a solid bang for the buck, but it would be nice to see the retention mechanism get a bit more design love in order to improve the helmet’s overall comfort and function.

Specialized Vice | $85 I
Sometimes you get what you pay for, but seldom do you get a whole lot more. Yet this is definitely the case with the Specialized Vice, a helmet that boasts an entry-level sticker price and top-shelf quality.

For starters, the Vice is very comfortable–one of the best of this bunch. The retention dial is a bit small and difficult to feel with cold, gloved fingers, but it offers tension adjustments in nice, small increments. The Vice also offers a four-position height-adjust retention harness, which makes achieving a perfect fit a breeze.

The Vice has less coverage than most of the other models in this showcase. This helmet is more of a middle ground between enduro and cross country. Despite the Vice’s Swiss-cheese ventilation styling, however, the helmet passes Snell’s very rigorous B90A testing standards–it can take a serious hit and then some. The Vice also felt the lightest of all the helmets tested, but this is probably more a matter of the generous comfort padding and the excellent venting. At 368 grams, it’s plenty light, but still mid-pack in the weight department. Then again, if it feels light, isn’t that all that matters?

I keep looking for faults in this helmet and can’t find any. The Vice’s price tag screams budget, but the construction, fit, feel and ventilation are on par with the most expensive helmets on the market.

Smith Forefront | $220 I
While the Forefront marks Smith’s first foray into the mountain-bike helmet market, this isn’t the company’s first head-protection rodeo. Smith has been making snow-sports helmets for years and that experience is evident in this lid, which features a GoPro camera mount, an angle-adjustable visor and both sunglass and goggle perches.

But there’s more to the Forefront than a bucket full of cool features. Smith claims that the helmet also takes a leap forward in the brain-protection department. At the root of that claim is Koroyd, a polymer honeycomb layer that reportedly compresses easier than the EPS liner to which it is attached. In essence, Smith is using Koroyd to create a dual-density helmet liner, which should provide ample cushioning for both high- and low-energy impacts.

The lightweight (360 grams) Forefront proved quite comfortable. A rubber-coated dial allows for easy, one-handed tension adjustments, and while the Koroyd liner looks uncomfortable, you forget it’s even there. Well, almost. The helmet dumps heat effectively, but since some of the honeycomb is angled against the flow of air, the Forefront doesn’t channel air as effectively across your scalp as some of the other helmets tested.

For fashion-conscious riders, the Forefront is available in 10 colors to suit a wide range of tastes.

From left: Fly Racing Freestone, Scott Stego, POC Trabec Race MIPS
From left: Fly Racing Freestone, Scott Stego, POC Trabec Race MIPS

Fly Racing Freestone | $110 I
Fly Racing has earned a reputation for producing quality moto helmets. The Freestone serves up notice that they can do the same with mountain-biking lids. The helmet features a dual-density foam liner, which should help attenuate a wide range of impacts. The Freestone also sports 19 cleverly shaped vents, complete with an integrated bug screen, which is something greatly appreciated by anyone who has ever had an angry wasp funneled into their helmet.

The Freestone also takes the cake on visor adjustability–the moto-style center dial provides both a secure anchor and a wider range of adjustment than you typically find on mountain-bike helmets.

Fit, however, could be a bit better. I found the harness itself a tad wonky. The Freestone is equipped with a large dial that is a breeze to adjust, but was also big enough to snag on some jacket hoods, causing a sudden loss in tension and adjustment. This is probably a non-issue if you don’t ride with a hooded rain jacket, though. The way the harness snugs up the helmet, however, could also use some work: It doesn’t apply even tension and I inevitably wound up with hot spots at the front and back of my head. If Fly Racing improves their fit system, the Freestone will be hard to beat.

Scott Stego | $160 I
Scott came charging out of the gate this year with its Stego helmet. You might not think of Scott as a helmet manufacturer, but the Stego more than holds its own among the best of them.

As with these other helmets, the Stego is designed to cover more of your head than popular half-shell lids of the past. The Stego definitely offers very deep rear and side coverage, but that extra foam adds a bit of bulk, and the helmet weighs in at 418 grams.

Given all the extra material and the relatively few vents, you might guess that the Stego would turn into some kind of brain sauna when the mercury rises, but it manages to stay reasonably cool. The twin brow vents, in particular, are a nice feature.
The Stego looks decidedly minimalist, but it comes equipped with smart touches, including a flat spot atop the helmet that makes it easy to attach a light or video camera, a very effective rotary adjuster and three-position height adjustment for the retention straps.

The kicker, of course, is the MIPS slip plane insert, which is designed to provide riders with additional protection from the kind of angled impacts often associated with concussions. The Stego isn’t cheap, but it is one of most affordable MIPS-equipped models on the market.

POC Trabec Race MIPS | $230 I
POC is sort of the OG of this bunch. The Trabec Race, however, is not at risk of being outdated. Consider the MIPS slip plane found within the shell. A slip plane is essentially an inner shell within the helmet that reduces rotational accelerations to the brain. It does this by allowing the helmet liner and outer shell to rotate independently around the slip plane during angled impacts. If that sounds like gobbled tech speak, it boils down to this: The plastic liner tucked into this helmet is supposed to reduce the risk of concussions that result from twisting forces.

We can’t attest to the effectiveness of the MIPS device, but it’s comforting to know it’s there. Well, ‘comforting’ in the intellectual sense. To some, it’s not actually that comfortable. At times it’s obvious that there’s a sweaty piece of plastic resting atop your head. MIPS also adds to the steep sticker price. Still, if it helps minimize the risk of concussion, we’re glad it’s there.

For a large, solidly built helmet, the POC is still quite comfortable. Despite a relatively sparse array of vents, the Trabec circulates a good amount of air through the helmet. And while POC’s ratcheting retention system isn’t as easy to adjust on the fly as the dial-type adjusters on most of the helmets in this showcase, its pinch-style ratcheting device does allow for precise adjustments.

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