The Tracer is the newest adult helmet from Nutcase Inc., the Portland-based brand known for colorful helmets designed for the urban cycling revolution.
A lightweight, in-mold helmet that provides full-coverage, the Tracer offers innovative features as well as high-energy colors and reflectivity that make this helmet visible even at high speeds and at night.
Channel venting allows air to flow when riders need it and the CoolControlTM on-the-fly vent closure mechanism blocks the air on chilly mornings or rainy days when they do not. Meghan Sinnott, brand manager for Nutcase, says this feature is “the most universally appreciated thing about this helmet.” They’ve gotten great feedback from commuters who like to wear it because their commute is chilly in the morning but warms up in the evening. “With this helmet, they don’t have to bring a cycling cap to keep warm.”
The removable cloth visor shields riders’ eyes from sun and rain, while the adjustable retention system, multiple pad sets (3mm, 6mm, 9mm), and magnetic buckle all provide a customized fit.
“It’s going to be my next helmet because it fits better than any Nutcase helmet has ever fit me!” says Sinnott. “It’s not as round as our Street helmet and not as narrow as our Metroride. It’s also incredibly light.”
The collection comes in six colorways: Aurora Green, Eclipse Black, Glacier Blue, Ember Red, Spark Yellow, and Shadow Grey.
When Smith launched its first helmet a few years ago, two things stood out: the unique use of Koroyd protection material in the lining and the steep price tag approaching $300. Perhaps thanks to the former and in spite of the latter, the popularity of Smith helmets was instantaneous. Almost overnight, every POC-headed rider here in Colorado switched to a white or black Smith with the telltale green honeycomb Koroyd material showing through the air vents. The Smith was on trend, but it was still expensive.
This spring, Smith launched two new helmets that still feature Koroyd and a MIPS option but that start at $150 ($180 for MIPS). The new Route (road) and Rover (mountain) are very similar to the flagship Overtake and Forefront but use Koroyd sparingly—only in the locations where Smith determined your head and helmet are most likely to impact the ground, should you crash, instead of all over the interior of the lid.
What is Koroyd? In short, it’s a whole bunch of small polymer tubes thermally welded together in a honeycomb pattern—a shape has been found to be incredibly strong. It provides extra impact protection and is intended to reduce the severity of skull fractures that can lead to traumatic brain injuries. When the honeycomb gets hit, it crumples like the front bumper of a modern car, reducing the force that ultimately makes it to your noggin. Koroyd can’t eliminate impact fractures, just as MIPS is only supposed to lessen the severity of concussions, but it’s a noteworthy leap in helmet protection technology.
Not only does the streamlined use of Koroyd cut the price, it actually makes the new helmets more breathable. A common complaint has been that the all-over honeycomb makes the first-generation Smith helmets extra-warm, especially when riding slow. The new arrangement, plus 18 large vents on the Route (the Rover gets 20 vents, plus a visor and more rear coverage) definitely helps with breathability. Otherwise, Koroyd is extremely lightweight. You don’t really notice it’s there.
The Route’s fit is spot on, but I can only say that for myself. Helmet fit is about as personal as blue jeans (if that doesn’t make sense to you, turn to the woman in your life and ask her how she likes shopping for jeans), so I cannot tell you that this helmet has a “perfect” fit in general. For some reference, my head used to like Bell helmets (mid 2000s) but not the current models. I can wear some Giros but not all (and I need a bigger size than in other brands). I dig the fit of POC helmets. The Smith helmet fits me the best of all. That said, try before you buy. We can’t stress that enough.
Where I have found some helmet strap placements are too far back for a truly tight fight under my chin (rather than on my jugular), the Smith straps are forward enough, and spaced apart enough, for me to get this lid nice and tight without choking or rubbing my ears. The straps and buckles are otherwise straightforward—nothing you wouldn’t recognize.
The dial-adjusted fit tightens small arms inside the helmet that reach as far forward as your temple on either side. It’s a fairly simple adjustment system, but the big difference is how far down the back of your head the fit system extends. That allows the helmet coverage to be minimal, as many road lids are, while still ensuring it fully grabs your melon.
Notably, the placement of the fit system and straps allowed me to comfortably wear a wide range of sunglasses styles and brands. That’s a huge plus for me—with a small head, I find that the vast majority of helmets interfere with many sunglasses. I applaud Smith for succeeding here, especially since it sells its own sports shades and could have easily made this helmet to only work with its product.
Looks-wise, I appreciate that the Route doesn’t have an exclusively go-fast look. Unlike Smith’s high-end road helmet, the Overtake, the company doesn’t bill the Route as “aero,” which is just fine with me. (Nothing about me is aero…) The Route is very much an all-around-appearing lid, good for road cycling, adventure travel and commuting. It’s not too bulky, bulbous or alien-like. It even comes in camo print, damn! Finally, if you have a light with a long strap, you can attach it fairly easily to the back of the helmet, and the vents are plenty big enough to snake a cable lock through.
Admittedly, the $180 price tag for the MIPS equipped model is still high in the face of many brands bringing down the prices of their MIPS helmets, but Koroyd is still a space-agey material and it carries a price tag to match. After sitting through a presentation put on by the Koroyd team, I am mostly convinced that it’s worth the extra coin. As a result, I actively sought out Koroyd options when buying a new ski helmet for my hell-bent husband last year. It’s a free market society so we have to put a price on safety. It’s up to you what’s acceptable.
We just returned from a week at Press Camp in Park City, Utah, where several companies announced new stuff for model year 2017. Smith, Ryders Eyewear and Fabric all caught our eye with their new helmets, sunglasses, saddles and tools. Keep reading to check out the new gear. Reviews of many of these items will be coming soon!
Smith Route Helmet
Smith’s first road helmet, the Overtake, was launched a few years ago to much attention for its unique looks, use of multiple new protection technologies and its steep price tag. Now, Smith has added the Route, a lower-cost road/adventure/whatever lid that will retail for $150 without MIPS and $180 with MIPS. The Route is available now in nine colors, including white, black, orange and camo print, among others.
The Route still features a comfortable, 360-degree fit system and the striking green honeycomb protection lining from Koroyd. Instead of full coverage, the Koroyd (a rather expensive material designed to reduce skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries) is strategically placed where crash impacts are most likely to occur. Light and camera mounts aren’t included, because whatever you already have should work at the top of the helmet, where there is no Koroyd blocking the vents.
Also available is the Rover, a mountain bike helmet that is roughly the same thing but with a detachable visor included. Pricing is the same for the Rover.
Ryders Eyewear with antiFOG Lenses
As soon as I hear a claim like “these lenses will never fog,” my B.S. antennae goes up. But I received a pair to wear during Press Camp and, low and behold, Ryders antiFOG lenses actually work. They carried me through several steamy rides. I look forward to testing them this winter while fatbiking and commuting with a balaclava.
Ryders Eyewear started out as a family-run mountain bike sunglasses company and is now owned by one of the most high-tech lens manufacturers in the world. That gives the company access to some pretty impressive technologies, including the military-grade anti-fog treatment it adapted for its cycling lenses. Ryders elected not to polarize all of its riding lenses because it believes some glare is useful, allowing you to see things like ice patches and puddles.
Some frames will feature rimless tops, which are intended to provide unobstructed views from a crouched, looking-up position, as well as ventilation. Rims on the bottom can also help protect your face in the event of a crash. Sunglasses with antiFOG lenses start at $79 for clear up to about $150 for lenses packed with multiple technologies (too many to explain here; you can still get polarization if you want it).
Just know that the antiFOG seems to function as claimed and the glasses are very comfortable. Many models feature adjustable nose pieces and low-profile stems that work well with a wide variety of helmets.
Fabric is a UK-based company that makes saddles, grips, bar tape, tools and pumps. The unique thing about Fabric saddles are the way they are built: a one-piece waterproof microfiber top with foam padding is vacuum bonded (heated and pressed) to a one-piece, flexible nylon base. There are no nasty adhesives or side stitching that could compress the padding and eventually come apart. Water and dirt can’t get in and foam won’t pop out if the saddle is slashed in an accident. The saddles are supposed to feel the same for their entire lifetime.
The new Line saddle features an ergonomic relief channel that is not completely open (Fabric is thinking of its UK brethren who ride in rain often). The Line is 270 mm long and comes in two widths: 134 and 142 mm, eight color options and three rails (cromo, titanium and carbon). The Line weighs between 183 grams and 250 grams. Prices range from $70 to $100. We have one for test and will report back, soon.
The Fabric Cell saddle is not new, but it’s still rarely seen. Developed using sneaker technology (think high-end, springy running shoes), the Cell is an air-sprung saddle that deforms in a linear fashion to better support your bottom. It’s supposed to be super-comfortable even when riding without a padded chamois. It has a weatherproof TPU cover and comes in six colors. Weight is 355 grams, length is 282 mm and width is 155 mm. Price is $80.
Fabric Chamber Multitool
Bike tools with interchangeable bits often have tiny pieces that are easy to loose and hard to handle with sweaty fingers. The Fabric Chamber tool helps by offering 13 tool bits with extra leverage, including a ratchet function. Screwed into the chamber are six, double-ended bits and an 8 mm over-bit. Thirteen functions are included: 2 mm, 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm, SL3, SL5, PH1, PH2, T10, T25.
The bits can be used at different lengths in the chamber head, increasing access to the many hard to reach areas on a bicycle. The compact shape is snag-free and easy to carry. Its 162 gram weight feels a bit heavy, but no more so than standard multi-tools. Retail is $60.
Full disclosure, Press Camp is not a standard bike industry event, which often involves camping or at least staying in a sub-par hotel with questionable sheets and discolored bath water. Press Camp is held at a swanky ski resort with very crisp white sheets and fabulous meals. We were well taken care of.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $100 ($120 with MIPS)
Bern helmets are common in urban environments, ski slopes, skate parks and dirt jumps. While Bern’s skate-style helmets are stylish and functional, the FL-1 is the company’s first product for bike riders with a sporty mindset.
The FL-1 retains some of Bern’s signature look while dropping weight and adding ventilation. I got my hands on an early sample, and it is quickly becoming a go-to helmet for me. The BOA fit system is effective and comfortable, and the 18 vents and internal channels provided plenty of airflow.
I wore this helmet on tons of rides, including a 70 mile dirt road race, an afternoon in the desert outside Las Vegas, and dozens of shorter commutes and mountain bike rides, and it never felt out of place.
Visually it might not work so well with a full Lycra kit, but maybe that’s just me. I dig the style of this helmet, an interesting blend of urban sophistication and roadie performance, although I’m not a huge fan of the gloss white colorway. If white doesn’t trip your trigger either, you can pick from matte black, dark silver, or neon yellow.
A version with a visor is coming as well for the more dirt oriented among us. Good looks, good price, MIPS options and plenty of ventilation, this is a great choice for a rider looking for roadie performance without the in-the-peloton looks.
More info: Bern FL-1
The Soul is part of Bell Helmet’s women’s Joy Ride collection. It’s an all-purpose lid with options to run an attached soft cloth visor, a hard plastic visor or roadie style with neither. The Soul features Bell’s TAG fit system to adjust the circumference around your head. “Overbrow ventilation” and 22 vents are designed to pull in cool air and push out warm air by circulating the breeze through specific channels inside the helmet.
Bell’s helmets have always fit me nicely, and the extremely comfortable Soul was no exception. Bell’s rear fit adjustment system works as well as ever. The big, rear dial is easy to find with gloved fingers without being so bulky as to look outrageous. I don’t feel any strange pinch or pressure points when tightening the dial as far as it will go and never developed a headache on longer rides. I don’t know if a ponytail will fit through the rear opening. There is little bit of room back there, and I suppose it depends on how thick your hair is.
The chin straps and buckle are straightforward and classic—nothing to see here that will either confuse or wow you. I found their position to be just right: neither too far forward or back. I could get this helmet plenty tight without feeling like I might choke.
Speaking of looks—while I acknowledge they are personal preference—I say Bell nailed a pleasing style with the Soul, which is why I wanted to test it. The Soul comes in well under $100 (retail is $75), offer excellent features and sports a classic appearance without looking either too plain or too pro-white-Lycra-racer-boy-ish, though I could do without the giant logo on one side. The Soul also offers a narrow front profile, which means you won’t look like a bobble-head doll while wearing it (a problem I often have).
My only complaint is that I couldn’t get the soft visor to flip down, so its value in providing shade on particularly sunny days was minimal. For those times, I just grabbed the plastic visor, which snaps on with ease.
The Soul got a few, small fit tweaks that differentiate it from other Bell helmets. Otherwise, the primary differences between Joy Ride Collection helmets and not are unique color palates. I appreciate that every lid in the collection comes in black for those of us not wild about so-called feminine colors. The Soul is also available in a fetching white/light blue combo with a red logo.
If you want one helmet to serve all riding purposes, the Bell Soul is a great option to consider. I only wish they offered it with MIPS technology. I’d buy that one in a heartbeat. This helmet weighs 259 grams, which is plenty light enough to set it and forget it.
More info: Bell Helmets Soul