Another well written review by Cat McKinnon. If she keeps this up, I may have to offer her some sort of Internship or something.
Looking for a new helmet seems to be one of those things that we cyclists both love and hate doing. We love looking for new gear, but most of us realize that helmets tend to be pretty expensive for what they are (mostly foam and plastic). We like checking out the new helmet colors and designs, but if we’re on a tight budget, we hate a lot of the concessions we have to make in order to afford a new helmet.
Often times, that means giving up certain features or a certain style because it’s out of our price range. And the lack of much competition in the Trail/AM-type helmet market, especially in the United States, means that the “Big Two” (Bell and Giro, which somewhat non-coincidentally, are both owned by the same parent company) get most of the helmet business. Sure, Fox makes a couple Trail/AM helmets now, and Pro-Tec has been making some great skate-lid type noggin-savers for years. And many European helmet manufacturers like Uvex, Catlike and POC are now making helmets that conform to our national helmet standards (which are generally more strict than many EU standards). But those Euro imports are still relatively rare – and usually pricey-, and it only takes a quick look around the local trails to see that 8 or 9 out of 10 riders are probably rocking either a Bell or Giro. They make great helmets, to be sure, but also seem to sort of have a monopoly on the helmet market (in my opinion, anyway).
Well, a new contender has entered the trail lid fold, offering many of the features of helmets such as the venerable Giro Hex or Bell Sequence, but at a MUCH more reasonable price!
Kali Protectives is a fairly new company. They’ve only been in business for a few years and mostly focused on protective padding and full-face helmets, but the founders have pretty strong pedigrees: one has worked for several cycling companies (which isn’t surprising in itself), but he also worked with the friggin’ US GOVERNMENT on stealth technology!!! The guys at Kali REALLY know their stuff!!
Recently Kali has moved into the trail helmet sector with some very nice offerings, and this year they’ve released one of the most bang-for-your-buck line of helmets I’ve ever seen! In fact, it’s so new that it’s just barely started shipping. I had to work with their customer service department (thanks Allison!) to get one shipped to my local Kali dealer for purchase, but by the time you read this they should be trickling into more dealers (I just saw the Chakra’s listed on JensonUSA a few days ago, in fact).
Kali’s two newest helmet models are the Chakra and Chakra Plus, which sell for $40 and $50, respectively. I purchased the Chakra Plus, as I felt the extra $10 was worth the “upgrades” over the basic Chakra (bug net, “enhanced” fit system, and a bit more in-molded protection). I got the white version (which has some subdued black graphics), although the Chakra Plus is also available in black, neon blue and neon green (the neon colors seriously look straight out of “Saved By The Bell”!!)
The helmet itself comes in the standard open-front box featuring Kali’s logo (which I personally think is one of the coolest in the industry), containing the helmet, an instruction pamphlet, and a big Kali Protectives sticker. Upon unboxing, what immediately struck me is how well the helmet is made: what Kali calls “CompositeFusion” construction (similar to Giro’s “In-Mold”, where the plastic and foam is molded as one piece instead of being glued together after the fact), and a large, easy-to-adjust knob on the back to tighten things up with positive clicks. The fit adjustment reminds me more of the BOA system, with a big knob, rather than the small dial that Giro and Bell typically use. Another nice touch is the clamping mechanism at the chin strap: most helmets have little clamps under the ears, but Kali goes one further and provides this same clamp under the chin (instead of just the strap loop at the clip), so when you get your straps adjusted just right, they’re not going anywhere.
Other features include fully removable padding held in by Velcro, and a very capable visor. I should mention that this visor is not adjustable, but Kali seems to have done their homework: the visor is just big enough to keep glare out of your eyes most of the time, but it won’t mess with your peripheral vision either. It seems to be just about in the perfect spot, and I’m not going to knock off points for it being non-adjustable at this price point. The visor is held on by Velcro in the front, and two molded plastic pins on each side, and it’s easily removable if you don’t want it. Another nice touch, which is almost NEVER seen in a helmet of this price, is a “bee net” (integrated into the large main pad); a mesh under the vents to keep stabby insects out of your helmet. I’ve never had a bee fly into my helmet or sting my head, but obviously someone somewhere has, otherwise nobody would’ve thought of it. I don’t know if it’ll keep a bee from stinging me, but I can certainly appreciate that it still might keep bugs like mosquitoes from having a meal on my melon (and possibly infecting me with some sort of weird barnyard-related flu).
The straps and rear sizing mechanism are mated to the helmet with steel inserts. That means if you ever need to replace the sizing mechanism, it’s a simple matter of popping the old one out and popping a new one in. While most helmet straps aren’t really designed to be replaced, it’s still a nice show of quality that Kali anchored them to metal inserts instead of just molding or gluing them into the EPS foam or to a piece of plastic. Also, all the logos and graphics on the helmet are actually UNDER the clear coat, instead of just being stickers…not something that affects performance, but still another nice touch that shows Kali isn’t messing around when it comes to quality, even on a “budget-priced” helmet!
After getting the straps and fit system dialed in, I went on a 4-hour trail ride to break in the Chakra Plus. First off, this helmet is super-comfortable! It didn’t shift around on my head yet wasn’t constricting, it wasn’t noticeably heavy, and after about ten minutes of riding, I’d forgotten I was even wearing a new helmet. It was really easy to adjust tension with one hand via the big dial in the back. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I think this helmet runs large…my head measures right at 57.5cm and the medium is supposed to cover 52-58cm. I have to crank it down about as tight as it will go to fit my head, so I’d definitely recommend trying different sizes before you buy!
Sorry for the terrible angle. I had to take the photo myself. And yes, those of us with long hair have to rock the annoying low ponytail with the Chakra Plus, but that’s just how trail helmets are.
The strap clip under the chin kinda threw me at first: I’m used to helmets with straps that loosen up a little after a few days, but the Chakra Plus doesn’t do that. However, once I realized that I needed to set my straps up EXACTLY as tight as I wanted them, it wasn’t an issue. At first it was kind of annoying, but then I realized that helmet straps really shouldn’t be loose anyway and I’ve come to think of this as a plus in the design…After all, how many of us “set and forget” our helmets and never readjust them, even after months of use? They might not be providing the protection we think they are, because they’ve loosened up over time, and this is a dead-simple way to keep your helmet from becoming dangerously loose.
As for heat, the helmet is pretty cool for the most part. Trail-type helmets tend to not cool as well as XC or road helmets, which is a trade-off for better skull coverage, but this one does an excellent job. During an aggressive ride on a hot day (90 degrees at 6:45pm), my head felt “kinda warm”, but not uncomfortably hot. At this price range, I think Kali pretty much nailed it (keep in mind that I have the white version of this helmet, and that the black or blue colors will probably be hotter). The Chakra Plus also has 25 vents and I don’t think there’s really too many other ways they could make this helmet shed heat any better than it already does. Even when I pushed myself as hard as I could, the pads did a fantastic job of keeping sweat out of my eyes.
All padding is removable for easy cleaning (which I’m assuming should be done by hand). And my ability to center a photo sucks.
The weight* is a reasonable 336g (about 12 ounces). Not the lightest trail helmet, but still on the lower end of the weight spectrum for this type of lid, and pretty respectable. In fact, there are some very popular helmets in the $100+ price range that weigh 400g or more, so Kali did a good job keeping the weight off.
But we all know that no product is perfect, and there are a couple minor issues to touch on:
First, the “owner’s manual”…it sucks. Granted, most cyclists who’ve ever owned a helmet will know how to adjust a new one. But for first-time helmet buyers, this manual is terrible. One of the instructions says that the helmet must fit and be adjusted properly to “provide adequate protection”, but nowhere are there any instructions on how to actually fit or adjust the helmet. Even the cheapest Wal-Mart helmets usually have pictographs showing how to adjust a helmet properly, and I think it’s wise to include instructions like that with any protective gear. Kali is trying to break into the “affordable” market with a fantastic product, and I think it’s especially important that they include much better instructions in this case.
Second, while the padding is excellent, part of it almost completely covers two fairly large vents directly on top of the helmet. It’s not a major deal, and as I said before, the helmet vents very well for this type of design (and in fact, I didn’t even notice it until after I’d taken a few rides). But considering that heat is mostly going to exit up and out, it might be a better design if the padding didn’t cover these important vents. An alternative might be to extend the bug net fabric into this area, to allow for better ventilation while maintaining the integrity of the main pad. This one certainly isn’t a deal breaker, and I’m not even sure it would make much of a difference. Still, it’s something I noticed, so in the interest of full disclosure I figured I should mention it.
Lastly, the rear adjustment knob seems a bit larger than it really needs to be. I know this isn’t a race helmet, but the knob on mine is about the diameter of a US quarter, and just seems…intrusive? It works well, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be a little smaller. I didn’t have any issues with it loosening up, but I could see how it might potentially be able to loosen if it were to rub against clothing or a ponytail in certain situations. Nitpicking, I know, but it still annoys me a little.
However, these relatively minor complaints certainly wouldn’t keep me from buying another one or recommending it to others.
Ultimately, after putting the helmet through a couple weeks’ worth of rides, from trails to commuting on pavement, I’m even happier with the Chakra Plus than when I first put it on! It’s comfortable, doesn’t get too hot and is easy to adjust on the fly, even with full-finger gloves on. At a price that’s barely more than Bell and Giro’s entry-level helmets, it exceeded my expectations in features and quality, and it can easily compete with helmets in the $100 range!
Overall, I think Kali has hit the nail on the head with the price/feature set on this helmet, and I think it’ll be a huge seller once it hits the market in full force. I fully expect to see a lot more riders wearing Kali helmets come next spring!
For more information on the Chakra Plus, along with the rest of Kali Protective’s awesome gear, check out their website at www.KaliProtectives.comand thanks to Allison at Kali Protectives and the guys over at Westside Cycling for helping get the helmet before pretty much any other dealer had it!
*(I don’t own a scale, so I came up with a ghetto-method of weighing the helmet…I took it to my local grocery store and nicely asked the clerk if he would weigh it on his digital scale for me! I weighed it again on a self-serve scale in the produce department, and then just averaged the results. Genius kinda!)