When the flesh hits the dirt there is nothing more important than the protection on our head doing its job. We want it to withstand the world of energy, protect our brains from imploding, maintain the integrity of our skulls, look damn fine and be as cool as a cucumber in the summer heat. So, what do lid do you want on your noggin?
Open Face Coverage
When it comes to helmets there is one thing for certain that we want and that is coverage, we don’t want an xc lid or road lid when trail riding or gravity riding. I can attest that when it comes to a big head knock in a decent crash, you need most of your head covered if you are not wearing a full face. So what does that mean?
Well there are many helmets out there but most trail mtb helmets that are open face have now adopted the ‘enduro’ style of coverage with greater coverage on your occiput (back of your head) and the sides of your head. I managed to stack it on a jump and hit my head, my bike proceeded to cart-wheel striking the side of my head with the wheel in a tomahawk fashion. Luckily the lid I was wearing did the job, even though it was quite a low-cost helmet, a fox flux. If it didn’t have the side and back coverage, I may have been in a little bit of trouble.
Now most cross-country bandits will preach the necessity to shave 8g off this and 2g off that but the reality is unless you are Nino Schurter then a few extra grams will not matter. For me it comes down to comfort, I don’t care how much my gear weighs; or how it goes up hill (within reason), all I care about is how fast it goes down. So for me, weight is not a big cofactor when deciding which lid I need or want to stop me becoming a disabled person.
That being said, you certainly don’t want to be adding big weight to your head, but it all depends on how much coverage you want and what your budget is. If you are wearing a full face for a race or otherwise then it will come in at a heavier price, but you need to balance weight with price. Also helmets with detachable chin guards will also weigh more than open face helmets. Essentially most open face helmets will come in under 400g and your full face should come in at under a kilogram with good ones hitting the 900g mark.
Full Face Versus Open Face
So the question is should I be wearing something that covers my face and chin aswell as the rest of my head……or not. The answer is not that simple…..
Where do you ride? If there is a large amount of descending at speed with drops and jumps of consequence then perhaps a full face might be a better choice, that being said if the drops aren’t massive and you are riding within your comfort zone then a full face may not be required. I find the question generally answers itself, if I find myself asking whether or not I should be wearing my full face over my open face at a location then I have answered the question already……. wear the full face.
What type of riding do you do? If you are just starting out and are riding less technical terrain with small drops and flowy trails then an open face should be fine and a lot more comfortable. But if you are hitting the bike park for some epic DH runs then a full face is a must. Horses for courses you see, personally I have both an open face and a full face. In fact recently I have picked up a Bell Super 3R MIPS for the upcoming enduro season to test out, which may be the best of both worlds, but I still have my full face for downhill racing and riding the DH bike.
MIPS or not to MIPS
MIPS is a technology system that was developed to mitigate and disperse the forces on your noggin in a crash. Quite simply put when you hit your head, energy or force must displace, the less that displaces in your head the better. MIPS is a liner system that moves slightly on your head so when the force hits your lid, it disperses better and leads to less of the bad stuff hitting the good stuff in your brain. Whilst some people tout that the science isn’t great, for me when it come to my head……I’ll take every advantage I can get. It’s like buying a set of mechanical brakes instead of hydraulic, it’s not the early 90s so why buy substandard equipment, particularly when it could mean life or death. In short, if you can afford it, get MIPS.
Detachable Chin Guards
In the last few years the EWS has led to some great advances in helmet technology due to epic rider feedback. Most Enduro riders want a helmet that protects you when it needs to, but is cool enough to for the rides back up. Lets face it, if you have raced an enduro then you are more than aware of how hot a full face lid can get on the climbs. With helmets being a must to be worn at all times, this has led to development of helmets with removable chin guards such as the Bell Super 3R and the GIRO Switchblade. They are both very popular and the options are always open, recently I picked up a Bell Super 3R for the next enduro season as a long-term test and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
Affordability or Price Range
If there is one thing you should not skimp on, it’s your helmet. It is the most important piece of protective equipment that you have and you should buy the one that is the best quality that you can afford. For me, it comes down to spending $200+ on a helmet that will and has saved my life in the past……. it is more than worth it. Keeping in mind that some people just don’t have the money for expensive helmets, there are plenty of affordable options out there. The helmets featured in this article are all mid range helmets that should be within most riders means of affordability, with the exception of the Bell Super 3R. You can still get a good quality lid that does the job for a reasonable price, just don’t buy the cheapest and buy the best that you can afford.
As the dust settles and we spin our way back to our cars after a morning ride, it is important that we are both comfortable and protected. There are many forms of head protection out there, just like bikes, every helmet has it’s purpose and it doesn’t hurt to have a full face and an open face. Remember a few things if nothing else……you only have one brain so protect it well and all helmets are disposable, one big hit and you bin it.