An airbag for your head?
by Joe Clark
First published January 1993
The quest for the best-fitting bike helmet takes a somewhat gimmicky twist in Bell's new Pro Series line. The three models-- Razor for road riding, Avalanche for mountain biking, and Vortex for velodrome competition-- contain, of all things, a Reebok Pump inflatable air bladder. (Yes, that's the same Reebok Pump found in the high-end sneakers worn by status-conscious homeboys everywhere.) Apart from wowing you with their sheer hipness, the new helmets aim to improve fit by letting you inflate them like a blood-pressure gauge. Don't count on the air bladders for crash protection, though-- the foam structure of the helmets handles that.
The new line seems to be an attempt by Bell, the sales leader in bike helmets, to regain technological ground won by Australian competitor Headway, whose unusually snug-fitting helmets have eroded Bell's leader-of-the-pack image. The Bell inflatable helmets feature narrower and lighter (and more fiddly) straps and buckles than older models, and the Avalanche and Vortex come with visors. The helmets tend to inch skyward during inflation and, at suggested prices of $130 for the Razor and Avalanche and $150 for the Vortex, are at the high end of the market.
UPDATE: I eventually gave the Bell Pump away (to someone with a bigger head and way more hair). At the time, Bell Sports' headforms were quite unrealistic. If the foam doesn't fit you well, no Reebok air bladder will be able to overcome that poor fit. Also, I was being kind in describing the Pump's straps as "fiddly." With the goal of saving a measly few grams, Bell forces you to untangle the straps every single time you put the helmet on. Rather, attempt to put the helmet on: You turn the helmet over. You look at the straps. They're all completely tangled, roped, and twisted. You spend valuable seconds, as the sun pours down on your head or the heat fulminates off it, straightening out straps, all of which are about the width of a telephone cable. Then you plunk the thing on your head. It perches there like, I dunno, a casserole dish. You inflate the superexclusive Reebok Pump bladder until the helmet is sufficiently tight, but only tight around the temples, which isn't all that comfortable. You ride. The helmet jostles. You experience annoyance. You get home. You pull off the helmet and the tight ring formed by the air bladder exacts a final injustice on your hair.
Unfortunately, Headway went out of business, and their unmatched fit remains unmatched, although even Bell's newer helmets boast substantially improved headforms.
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