Last October I raced my first enduro at the Ashland Mountain Challenge and had a blast! I decided to continue challenging myself and participate in the 2018 California Enduro Series with the MTB Experience race team. I plan to be at the Toro, Mammoth Bar, Northstar, Kamikaze Games, and Ashland Mountain Challenge events. Some of these races will require full face protection, so I set out my search for a helmet I could both climb and descend in.
While there are a number of options out there, I learned that not all full face helmets are created equal – detachable chin bar or not. A “downhill rated” helmet is one that complies with ASTM F1952 (Standard Specification for Hemelts Used for Downhill Mountain Bike Racing), which requires the helmet and chinbar to withstand a certain amount of impact, as well as provide a specified amount of head coverage. While some face protection is better than none, I want the highest level of protection when it comes to my head and face. Thus, I narrowed my options to the following helmets:
– Fox Proframe
– Bell Super DH (released in November 2017)
First I tested the Giro Switchblade. I purchased it on discount at REI at the end of last year. At the time the Bell Super DH had not yet been released on the market, so this was the only downhill rated helmet with a detachable chinbar available.
Design – The helmet has 20 vents. It covers the ears when the chinbar is detached. The chinbar attaches to the helmet about midway along the side of it, secured with hooks that clip into it. It releases with the click of a button on each side. While the Giro marketing video made the chinbar removal look like a breeze, I found it extremely frustrating to remove. The hooks did not release easily, and I had to tug, pull, and twist to get it to come off.
Fit- The helmet fit as expected, with an adjustable cage, which made me feel secure.
Comfort – I quickly learned that this helmet does not ventilate well, with or without the chinbar attached. I thought it would be something I could adapt to over time, but after about five rides I became so frustrated I considered chucking it off a cliff. With warm padding, poor ventilation, and covered ears, I felt like I had a fever on the climbs and felt like I was suffocating on the descents.
Verdict– No way Jose. The lack of ventilation was too big of a downer here.
Next I tested the Fox Proframe. I used my REI membership coupon and dividend to bring the price down on this one. I was really excited to try this helmet, as I’ve heard great things about it.
Design – The helmet has 24 vents and is very lightweight. The integrated chinbar is not removable. The simple design of the “Fidlock” buckle makes it easy to strap in.
Fit- The helmet comes with a “fit kit” with spare cheek and neck roll pads with varying thicknesses to enable a custom fit. Although my head measurements placed me well in the middle of a size small, the helmet wiggled just a bit too for me to feel safe wearing this helmet – even with the thickest pads installed.
Comfort – While I didn’t try this helmet out on a ride due to the poor fit, the lightweight design and great ventilation felt relieving after ditching the Switchblade. I will say that from what I’ve heard from others is that it’s a very comfortable helmet that is still breathable when climbing in it!
Verdict– I so badly wanted to keep this helmet due to its light weight and comfort, but unfortunately I had to return it, as it does not fit securely. I hope Fox can integrate an adjustable cage in future designs. I would still recommend trying this one out if you’re in the market for an enduro helmet.
BELL SUPER DH
Finally, I went for the Bell Super DH. It had finally been released on the market after I had tested out the Switchblade and Proframe. I bought this one with a 20% off coupon from backcountry.com.
Design – The helmet has 25 vents. It does not cover the ears when the chinbar is detached – it feels and looks like a normal helmet. Buckles on the back and two sides of the helmet attach the chinbar to the main piece. I found removing and installing the chinbar to be so easy – such a relief to the frustration I felt with the Switchblade!
Fit – The helmet fit as expected, with an adjustable cage. It stays in place when I shake my head around.
Comfort – This helmet is very comfortable, relatively lightweight, and breathable – even with the chinbar attached.
Verdict- Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! I was so excited to finally find “the one”. The Super DH fits well, has an adjustable cage, is breathable, looks great (super important), the chinbar easily detaches and reattaches, and is downhill rated. I’m looking forward to feeling safe and comfortable this race season! I recommend you giving this one a try too!
– Kim Rafter, MTB Experience Moderator and Race Team Organizer