Grab you upside yo' head!

by Joe Clark

First published June 1994

Is there no end in sight for adding gimmicks to the humble bicycle helmet? Instead of focusing on producing a more accurate headform for a better fit, helmet-makers shoehorn in inflatable air bladders (Bell's Razor and Avalanche), blinking rear lights (Headgear), and now... an occipital brace.

"Giro's new Roc Loc provides suspension for your head!" shrieks the headline on a press release from Giro Sport Design. Its new Terramoto model comes equipped with a plastic "retention system" called the Roc Loc that grabs you by the occiput, the bony protrusion at the back of the skull. The Roc Loc looks like a Rorschach inkblot cast in plastic and might in another context work as a Borg implant in a Star Trek episode.

Does it work? Yes, to a point. Though ostensibly designed for bumpy trails, Toronto's pitted streets are just as stringent a test. Riding off curbs and over raised streetcar tracks reveals that the weak point in the "retention system" is the helmet itself: It's a wee bit too big for the Roc Loc to hold in place. Worse, the chin strap loosens of its own accord most ever day, necessitating a tedious tightening session before biking off. Giro spends a fortune on wind-tunnel tests to improve airflow (and hence cooling), but maximum ventilation with the Terramoto occurs when looking straight down - hardly a realistic bike-riding posture. Riders obsessed with fit should consider the Australian Headway marque, half the Terramoto's cost and a half-measure more snug.

UPDATE: I've found only one "retention system" that didn't (a) feel like it was digging into my skin (memo to helmet designers: A 2mm hunk of plastic with right-angle edges applied to the back of the head under the pressure of the helmet above it absolutely will cause enough pressure to shave your nape), (b) fail to work altogether, or (c) look dorky: The Troxel Vapour and allied Troy Leeified helmets, available in a limited run (and, one hopes, soon to be reviewed in this space). (Honourable mention: A Specialized model two years ago employed a retention system made of actual foam. Now that was snug. However, it's been discontinued in favour of a futile plastic model.) While the latest helmet gimmick, the visor, could at least be easily removed and offered modest real-world utility, occipital retention systems, on the whole, are a wank.

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