Reviewing helmets is like going out for a night of drinking. It is all fun and games until you test your limits, lose some brain cells and wake up the next morning with no recollection of what happened. Now that I have been out of college for a while and discovered the virtues of going to sleep early, I try to avoid testing the limits of my alcohol tolerance as much as possible. Similarly, when I’m riding, I avoid testing the limits of my helmet as much as possible. I have been moderately successful on both accounts.
With that in mind, what am I to say about a product whose sole purpose I have not tested? Well, like a night of drinking that ends with clear memories and no hangover, I will talk about how great something can be without pushing it to the limit.
The Bontrager Rally MIPS does a great job at nearly everything that leads up to the “limit” that I knock on wood every time I mention. The helmet is aimed at the rider who is aggressive but not, like, “full-face” aggressive. It has plenty of coverage in the front and comes down lower in the back than many other helmet options on the market. There is a ton of ventilation, and the adjustment system is … dialed.
Boa, the same plastic dial found on several cutting-edge clip shoes, snowboard boots, compression bags, and joint braces, has made the jump to head-holding technology. It was only a matter of time. Boa has been proven to work as a fit system on just about every other part of the body, and it does an excellent job in a helmet as well.
The Boa has four thin plastic strings entering the dial, two on either side, and contracts or releases those stings in incredibly small increments for an impressively custom fit. With the Boa dial, Bontrager has managed to take much of the head-shape guessing game out of the equation. Your particular cranial landscape plays less of a role when it is so easy to fine-tune the feel. The Rally just plain fits, egg head or no.
The Boa fit is complemented by the plastic bracket it is mounted on. The bracket can move up and down in three different positions. And since the helmet already comes down lower in the back than others, it is easy to get the dial to where your neck turns to head. Maybe I have an abnormally-shaped head, but on other helmets I've had problems with getting the rear dial low enough. That is not the case with the Rally.
As for ventilation, the Rally scores somewhere in the middle. The vents are big and with the help of inner channels, air is able to move through the helmet and across my head easily, but it isn't blowing any other helmets out of the water. Wearing the Rally, I still got sweaty, even on cooler days, but the heat was never unmanageable. Despite repeatedly riding just behind the threshold of stroke during our unseasonably hot Southern California winter, the Rally never pushed me over the edge. I was, for the most part, reasonably comfortable.
Where the helmet did bother me was the straps. Unlike on other similarly priced helmets, the straps on the Rally are not in a fixed position. Both ear straps are made from one piece of ribbon that can slide from side to side. This meant when putting on the helmet, one side of the straps could be, and often was, higher than the other. If you have uneven ears this might be a boon, but for me, it was annoying to put the helmet on, discover the straps where in an uncomfortable place, take the helmet off, adjust and repeat. You are probably thinking this seems nitpicky. You would be correct. But it did bother me, and it was also the only thing I didn't like about this helmet. I will follow that up by saying, this shouldn't affect your buying decision. The Boa system should affect your buying decision. And the Boa system is fantastic.
The Rally has one other trick up its sleeve. The Blendr mount system. Blender is a magnetic clip that slides into the top vent of the helmet and can hold a light or Go-Pro. The ease of installation and removal is tip-top, bar none, and the magnet holds strong through high-speed technical descents or jumps. I didn't test it with a light, but I did put a Go-Pro on the helmet for an all-day shuttle ride, and after a few hours, the extra weight of the Go-Pro put an odd pressure point on the top of my head, and it got uncomfortable enough that I took the camera off my helmet. It was a Go-Pro Four, which isn’t exactly lightweight though. A lighter camera, or light may have alleviated the pressure point.
There is another supposed problem with the Rally. Apparently it is not comfortable if you are bald. After his first ride on the Rally, one follicly-challenged Bike Mag staffer reported the plastic bracket holding the Boa was uncomfortable against his skin since it has no padding. My hair was more than enough for this not to be a problem, but it is something to consider if you don’t have much hair on your head.
Finally, the Rally is equipped with MIPS for claimed extra safety in rotational impacts. The MIPS shell is integrated into the Rally expertly, and at no point did the helmet feel like two different frames, as is common on helmets with a less integrated MIPS shell.
So, I never fully tested the Rally helmet by pushing it to the limit and bashing my head against a rock or rolling head first into a tree, but I think it is safe to say the Rally is a fantastic helmet. And if safety is your top concern, the extended coverage and MIPS should ease your fears.