7-24-08 // Tested: Bell Variant

Bell Variant // $100
800-456-2355; bellbikehelmets.com

Helmets are one part protection and one part personal fashion statement. A challenge presented itself, then, when a Variant—Bell's latest high-end, all-purpose mountain bike helmet, with hot pink highlights—showed up for a thrashing. This color scheme bounces my selection theory straight out the barroom door. Can its performance overcome my neon phobia? Do real men wear pink?

Regardless of its "fashionable" hue, the Variant's performance is pure machismo. It's the Mexican cage wrestler of bike helmets. In spite of its flashy exterior, the theatrics end when the Variant enters the ring—or in this case hits the trail. This helmet is all about taking care of business. Its easily adjustable GPS retention device grapples your head with a hold so stable that even the most aggressive trails, and a few ill-timed body slams, failed to rattle its composure.

The Variant also gets bonus points for its relatively svelte 309-gram weight. This is less than an ounce heavier than Bell's full-tilt, leg-shaver helmet, the Sweep XC. Even with the Variant's added coverage, there's no sacrifice in ventilation. And the adjustable visor actually maintains its position.

Hell, even the silver and pink "skull camo" graphics have grown on me. Sure, Bell offers four other conservative colors, but I won't be swapping this helmet for them anytime soon. I may be too much of a dork to hang out in the cool-guy zip code, where the uniform of the day seems to be limited-edition sneakers, track bikes, designer hoodies and pink graphics. But I'll move to the same state if I can wear this Bell Variant.