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Review: Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS Helmet

A high-end helmet for high-end riders

When Gear Editor Travis Engel passed me this clean, white Sweet Protection helmet and assigned it to me for a review, my first thought was how dirty it would get in the Southern California dust. My next thought was that if it’s getting dirty, I’m hitting my head on the ground. I usually try to avoid such things. Then Travis told me the helmet costs $260. Considering I haven’t spent that much money on a single piece of furniture in my living room, I was bewildered and intrigued. This helmet didn’t look much different than any other I had owned, nor did it feel much different when I first put it on in the office. So why the high price tag?

Sweet claims it’s the angular-shaped foam that brings the price tag up and with it, an extra level of safety. The idea behind the bumpy surface of the helmet is to help dissipate impact. According to Sweet, a flatter surface will distribute impact forces over too wide an area for the foam to compress enough to effectively decelerate the head when speeding into an abrupt object, particularly if traveling not so speedily. With angular steps between the thick and thin areas, the idea is that the Bushwhacker II will crumple upon impacts that otherwise would not deform a less-bumpy helmet. It doesn’t resist arrest, it gives up easily. This technology matters most on low to moderate speed impacts where there isn’t enough force to effectively crush a helmet but the blow still needs to be dissipated.

Looking back at the multiple times I have had helmet-to-ground or helmet-to-tree contact, it’s almost exclusively been at low to moderate speeds (knock on wood … preferably not with my head). So softening the force from low-speed impacts is an appealing feature. And when it does come to high-speed impacts, the Bushwhacker II’s foam will more effectively crush when needed with its angular-stepped design.

Making a helmet with different levels of foam required some problem solving. With abrupt changes in thickness, additional stress is applied in a more focused manner in specific areas. This extra stress could potentially break apart the helmet if no mitigating action were taken. Sweet solved this problem with a unique multi-piece in-molded plastic shell. Simply using a single thickness, stronger outer shell would have eliminated much of the low-speed impact dissipating benefits of the unique shape. So to take advantage of both the multi-level foam, they added the stronger plastic only to where it was needed for structural integrity. The thinner foam gets covered with thicker plastic, and vice-versa, totaling in a five-piece shell.

Sweet created this technology and for each helmet the molding and manufacturing process is more intensive than what you’d find in a traditional, single piece stamped out helmet shell. Therein lies the reason behind the high price tag. If that’s not enough, the Bushwhacker II is MIPS equipped to account for rotational forces, furthering their safety claims. For vents, Sweet placed a focus on air flow with their “Digitally Optimized Ventilation,” which means they designed it on a computer … like everybody else.

“Digitally Optimized Ventilation” or not, extra safety is good but for the majority of my riding I am not bashing my head against hard objects. Instead I want a helmet I can forget about. One that fits well, is easily adjustable and keeps me cool on hot Southern California days. If there is an extra level of safety that goes with this, I am all for it.

Though I didn’t find the thin pads uncomfortable, they can be problematic when it comes to sweat management, especially when combined with the shape of the inner MIPS shell and adjustment straps. For comparison, on my Montaro helmet, the thicker pads trap sweat and direct it away from my face. When stopping, I compress the Montaro and my captive sweat is dramatically released. Having now worn the Bushwhacker II for almost two months, I’ll happily take the Montaro’s sweat waterfall over the constant dripping I’ve sadly become accustomed to with the Bushwhacker II. Not only does Bushwhacker II not trap sweat, but it somehow channels it into my face and sunglasses.

The question of sweat brings me back to the “Digitally Optimized Ventilation.” While I poke fun at the name, it does seem to have some merit. The Bushwhacker II vents better than any other helmet I have ever worn. When picking up speed on downhills I can even feel the wind in my hair. If I were to close my eyes I could imagine myself on the Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio gently cupping my head. Of course if I close my eyes I might also end up putting that multi-thickness foam through a more thorough test than I am hoping. Either way, this thing vents well. So well that while I was riding it in Marquette, Michigan, in 60 degree weather, it almost completely eliminated the problem of sweat running down my face. Of course back under the blistering California sun, sweat is inevitable. But for those glorious downhill sections, this helmet is a dream on a hot day.

At the end of the day, this helmet is comfortable and easy to forget about, as long as I am not sweating too much. And the promised extra safety is an added bonus. The question then becomes if I would spend $260 on this helmet, or even $300 on the lighter carbon fiber version, which uses carbon plates as opposed to the thick plastic for the outer shell. It is a tough sell. The safety bonus is hard to quantify, and for me the other advantages over my Montaro don’t add up to $110. But then again, I won’t even spend $260 on living-room furniture.