I should be dead, twice. The fact that I'm not — or even brain-damaged (I think) — is due to the helmets I wore while being hit by a car and slamming head-first into a mountain trail. By design, their foam shells cracked instead of my skull, leaving me with scrapes, a concussion and the ability to ride another day.
Cycling's speed and freedom make it inherently risky. Dangers lurk everywhere: distracted drivers; trees, rocks and potholes; 50 mph downhills. Bike fatalities are overwhelmingly due to head injuries. So why take a chance when today's helmets are so effective, lightweight and stylish? And they're getting more so all the time, as you'll see by the new models reviewed here. A helmet completes your cycling ensemble and makes you look smart — because it's really dumb to ride without one.
Made with a shade
Dux Helm Black Carbon: The first bike helmet with a built-in, retractable sunglass lens.
Likes: Ingenious and convenient — the biggest bike headgear innovation in a decade. The lens, hidden in a slot in the front of the helmet, slides down over your eyes with the one-finger push of a slide-lock lever on top. There are no blind spots from sunglass arms to obstruct your view as you ride, and no more forgetting your sunglasses or misplacing them when you take them off. The 12-ounce helmet, which uses an in-mold construction (a polycarbonate shell fused to a foam liner) and includes a handy and comfortable dial-to-fit circumference headband, is lighter — and less expensive — than it seems, since it eliminates a 2-ounce pair of glasses. With no frame in the way, it has great visibility when riding in the drops or the aero position. A mountain-bike model with a visor will be available by summer. Extra lenses can be purchased separately for $40. The Black Carbon has a padded chin strap and a rubberized outer texture; a model with a conventional, non-rubberized shell is $20 less.
Price: $199 (Black Carbon) and $179. http://www.duxhelm.com
Kali Protectives Maraka XC: Visor-equipped mountain-bike helmet that purportedly increases protection and reduces concussions via use of the "Composite Fusion Plus System," a co-molded shell/foam design that supposedly reacts more quickly and effectively to a collision. It includes a double-layer foam liner whose lower-density layer is said to absorb lower-level impacts better than normal and a pyramid-shaped foam bead that deflects energy sideways to spread and minimize impact over a wider area.
Likes: Comfortable and light at 10 ounces. Although I thankfully did not put the Composite Fusion Plus System to the test, the knowledge that I had an extra level of protection caused me to traverse steep, rocky, death-defying dropoffs in a blissful, life-affirming bubble of satisfaction.
Dislikes: Not cheap. (But how do you put a price tag on safety?)
Price: $190. http://www.kaliprotectives.com
Giro Reverb: Classic, retro-style nine-vent helmet for urban riders that includes a removable cap-style fabric visor. Like the other helmets reviewed here, it is built with in-mold construction, which fuses the polycarbonate shell with a foam liner.
Likes: Lack of pretension. The round, utilitarian urban styling lacks the pointy wind tunnel sculpting that screams, "Look at me! I'm an aerobic monster!" Ironically, this model is an updated version of a 20-year-old design that was meant for road warriors like America's three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Weight: 12 ounces.
Dislikes: Although lightweight and ideal for cruising, the Reverb might appear too casual for aggressive mountain or road riders. The inch-long visor is definitely a bit short for all-day cruising on a sunny beach path.
Price: $60. http://www.giro.com
Specialized Aspire: Lightweight women's road biking helmet that features HairPort SL, a portal for a ponytail located between the shell and the adjustable-fit mechanism.
Likes: Comfort. The Hairport (also found on Specialized's $75, visor-equipped Andorra mountain-bike helmet) did a good job of keeping my wife's hair off her neck. The micro-dial system with height adjustability allows great fit. It's very airy due to gigantic ventilation slots, starting with a gaping mouth in the front.
Price: $64.99. http://www.specialized.com
Wallack is coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times