Today's efficient mountain bikes with more travel and less weight enable riders to push harder, and faster, on bigger terrain, but riding burlier terrain leads to bigger consequences. At the end of the day, we all want to go big, but also go home without any sort of detour to the emergency room, and this fact makes today's protective gear all the more relevant.
Because we're actually riding—not always shuttling or assisted by lifts—longer travel bikes further into the backcountry, we're quite dependent that our protective gear keep up with with the capabilities of the bikes that we're on. We require our pads and helmets to be lighter, but also safer and more comfortable than ever before.
BikeRadarscoured the halls of Interbike looking for the most relevant examples of 2012's most trail worthy protective gear, from helmets to pads that you will actually be able to pedal in. Here's what we found.
Bern: carbon helmets and pro models
Bern's roots come from the skate and snow world but they've been steadily building a bike following over the last few years. Their helmets have become particularly popular with dirt jumpers, urban riders and bike messengers - segments influenced by skate style.
Because of their background Bern has led the charge of bringing multi-impact helmets to the bike world. Safety standards differ greatly between the skate world: skate helmets must meet multi-impact standards where as bicycle helmets are generally 'one-and-done'. When Bern's helmets first hit the bike scene they were multi-impact and not certified to the bike world's higher impact standards.
Times have changed, and Bern currently offer 15 different bike specific models that meet all CPSC, ASTM and EN standards for bikes. Through the development to meet these standards Bern created their Zip Mold process, which is a proprietary liquid form hard foam (a type of in-molding) that allows for a low volume helmet when compared to expanded polystyrene (EPS) that offers similar protection. Note that these high-impact helmets are built to be durable, and after impact should be replaced
Bern offers full carbon fiber shelled helmets that use more standard EPS liners. The carbon shells make for Bern's lightest helmets that are claimed to be among their most durable high impact helmets. The helmets use a vacuum bag molding technique for a precise finish, a helmet molding process Bern claim to have adopted from NASCAR.
Billy Sinkford's (r) and Kevin Bolger (l) pro models
Bern also claim to be the originator of the hard-shell, soft-visor design, an element that runs throughout their line, and one that is becoming a trend in today's urban helmet market. For 2012, Bern will also offer two 'Pro' models: Billy 'souphorse' Sinkford, a racer and retired bike messenger who now designs for Mission WorkShop, and Kevin 'squid' Bolger a iconic NYC bike messenger who co-founded Cyclehawk Messengers and president of the New York Bike Messenger foundation.
Dainese: integrating Boa technology into flagship pad set
Dainese's new Oak Pro range of knee and elbow pads ditches conventional Velcro straps in favor of a more elegant Boa reel-and-cable system. It's only lower profile and more flexible but also presumably more comfortable given the lack of bulk, as well as having more uniform fit and easier to put on, adjust, and remove. Since there's less material overlap, breathability should improve over conventional pads, too.
Dainese's new top-end Oak Pro pads use Boa reel-and-cable technology for a lower profile and more uniform fit. The flagship aluminum hard shell version will run a whopping US$199 per pair
Dainese will integrate the Boa system on two new sets of knee and elbow pads – one with aluminum caps and the other with the company's ProShape honeycomb-form molded rubber exterior.
One major downside with the Oak Pro collection, however, is cost: a pair of either knee or elbow pads (not both) will run you a whopping US$199 for the hardshell version and US$149 for the softshell ones. In fact, even Dainese doesn't expect many non-sponsored riders to be seen on the mountain wearing them as a result.
Standard Oak pads will use the same overall construction but with Velcro straps for a more reasonable US$99.
Also new from Dainese for 2012 is the Rhyolite Vest, featuring multi-layer Crash Absorb memory foam padding on the chest, back, kidney, and shoulder areas, a full-zip form fit, and vented and perforated fabrics for breathability.
G-Form: new slimline padding promises to change the protection game
Body armor upstart G-Form was quietly tucked in against the wall of the Sands Expo but its plexiglass demonstration display showcasing its impressive Reactive Protection Technology padding material drew plenty of attention. Despite the material's very thin form factor – it's much more compact and lighter than d3o – two small swatches of RPT were still able to protect packs of M&M candies from being crushed by the weight of a bowling bowl dropped from about a meter up.
G-Form's Interbike booth was centered on this convincing display. The G-Form padding did a better job of protecting M&M chocolate candies from a bowling ball dropped on them than the foam in many conventional body armor pads
Like d3o, RPT is a strain rate-sensitive material, meaning it remains soft and flexible when you just push on it with your finger but it stiffens up dramatically when subjected to a bigger, faster impact. G-Form claims RPT absorbs more energy than d3o, though, plus it's machine washable and cheaper – knee, elbow, or shin pads cost just US$46.99 a pair, crash shorts are US$79.99, and a full compression shirt is US$89.99.
Moreover, G-Form says the RPT are far more resistant to abrasion than d3o so the pads don't have to be covered with another layer of material. However, this also unfortunately yields the biggest downside we see with G-Form's current product range – the aesthetics. Rather than stick to a more traditional look, G-Form molds the segmented pads directly on to Lycra sleeves, making for a extremely lightweight and breathable garment but one that also looks rather odd.
Regardless, we're still very intrigued with the technology and hope to have a test set in our hands shortly.
Giro: new Feature all-mountain and Savant road helmets
Giro's new Feature offers more coverage for less cash, and is aimed squarely at the longer travel all-mountain rider we described in our introduction. The $75 helmet offers wrap around coverage that trumps the Xar for close to half the price.
The 306g helmet features 12 vents that are designed to work best at slow speeds, like when climbing, and it's finished with lightweight straps adopted from the now discontinued ProLite, an InForm dial-adjust fit system, and a moto-style adjustable visor.
Giro launched a new flagship helmet for the road this past spring, called the Aeon (US$250), but used Interbike to follow up with a $90 model called Savant. The new road helmet offers Giro's now trademark road look namely its styled front and rear spoiler, but at a very reasonable price. The spec is impressive too; Savant weights a claimed 265g, has 25 vents and sports the latest Roc Loc 5 retention system, which means it should fit as well as the Aeon.
Giro's Reverb is the latest from their city line. The $60 helmet brings back Giro's signature 'Air Attack' look with center channel venting and the option of retro graphics, but add the contemporary Auto Loc fit system and a removable fabric 'cap' style visor.
The Reverb's shape, fabric visor and graphic scream throwback
iXS: Swiss design, pro models, and lots of color coordination
The 100-year-old Swiss motorcycle contingent, Hostettler, spawned iXS in 2001 and since the brand has made waves with their lightweight pads and helmets, many of which are tested to meet European motorcycle standards, keeping in line with the manufacturer's pedigree.
The Slope EVO D-Claw kneepad is new for 2012, and designed with input form Darren Berrecloth. The pad is made from iXS' AeroMesh anti-microbial fabric and features the manufacturer's Knee Gusset and NockOut foam padding. It's a light pad with ergonomics for pedaling and a low profile that makes it unobtrusive and able to slip under a set of jeans for dirt jumping.
The Darren Berrecloth edition Slope EVO D-Claw pads
The Metis is new for 2012, the bike rated full-face helmet (no DOT rating) has 21 vents and will be available in 5 colors. The new helmet costs $150 and features removable pads and a moto-style D-ring closure.
The Phobos is a $90 full-face helmet, and while not a new model for 2012, the Richey Schley signature plaid model is new. In addition to the pro model, the Phobos is available in 14 different color schemes, and each scheme is equipped with a matching glove and goggle.
Kali Protectives: in-mold full-face and new soft pads
Kali Protectives are on the leading edge of the industry's helmet design. For over a year they have produced one of the lightest full-face helmets around in the Avatar, which uses the manufacturer's Composite Fusion in-mold process.
For 2012, however, Kali up their game with the $350 Avatar 2. The new helmet is not only lighter than the original, but adopts Kali's Composite Fusion Plus in-molded liner. The new liner is adopted from Kali's Prana DOT moto helmet. The adopted Composite Fusion Plus liner in Avatar uses the same cone structured dual density liner, which is said to move energy, laterally within the EPS and keep it from the head.
Kali's 775g Avatar 2
The bi-product is a lighter helmet that tests better on impact — Kali claim it's 15-percent better at dispersing energy on impact — than the original. The new Avatar 2 weighs 775g (to the original's 850g) and features a full carbon shell (the original uses a fiberglass shell).
Kali offer two new Aazis Plus soft knee/shin pads for 2012 in two lengths 130mm ($89) and 180mm ($99). The 130mm pads were originally designed for moto riders, to best fit with boots, but have been initially accepted by smaller riders.
Kali will also offer a new line of hard shell pads next spring.
POC: VPD 2.0 pads and MIPS equipped helmets
POC brought a full line of VPD 2.0 protective wear to Interbike. The new padding is based on a specially molded foam that traps air to provide protection. The concept is that under slow movement like bending a knee or arm, air is allowed to escape making the material pliable and comfortable, however, when impacted at high-speed, the air can't exit the tiny pores, thus the foam provides firm protection against the impact.
POC will offer the VPD 2.0 padding in a Spine Jacket for $300, kneepads at $120, elbows at $100 and extended knees at $90 (by far the best deal). The new pads will be available in February.
POC will offer three MIPS equipped helmets for 2012. The Cortex DH MIPS helmet was in the line for 2011, but it's joined by the Trabac Race MIPS, $220, which trickles the technology to an open faced trail helmet for the coming season, and the Receptor Backcountry MIPS helmet which is a multi-sport, multi-impact skate style helmet.
A cut-away show's the Trabec Race MIPS liner
MIPS stand for Multi Impact Protection and is made up of an inner chassis that allows the outer shell of the helmet to rotate in the event of a rotational impact. The liner adds 19g to the helmet, but is said to offer 30 percent more protection over the non-MIPS equipped Trabec Race ($180).
A note on POC's multi-impact helmets, Cortex DH and Receptor: they meet CPSC 2040 and are certified for skiing, skate and bike. The EPP liner (expanded polypropylene) differs from EPS (expanded polystyrene) in the way it reacts after an impact—it reshapes to its original form.
Fredrik Hallander, POC's product manager, said that as long as the outer shell of a multi-impact helmet is intact, then it's safe to continue using. The liner must be able to take a 250G hit four times in the same spot to pass the multi impact standard, generally it will take 20 seconds for the helmet to rebound from an impact.
Fredrik Hallander explains the multi-impact features of the Receptor +
Urge: the new all-M and Veggie lids
French helmet manufacturer adds the all-M ($120) to its line of enduro and downhill mountain bike helmets. The all-M features a more traditional (for Urge) set of longer ovalized front vents, a departure from the circle type vents found on their other helmets, reinforced with a tubular alloy frame. The helmet weighs 300g and uses recycled PET for its straps; the all-M comes in two in-molded shell sizes.
Urge also offer their Veggie line, in which they make the same full-face models: Archi-Enduro, and Down-O-matic out of all organic materials. The helmets substitute the fiberglass and polycarbonate shells with linen fiber an plant fiber made from the Linum usitatissimum plant; additionally Urges' linen fiber is grown organically then woven into a material that can be used in place of fiberglass or carbon fiber.
The prices of the Veggie helmets are higher, because the process is unique and more complicated, but the helmets are safer to make and hypoallergenic. The standard Urge Down-O-matic downhill helmet costs $189.99, while the Veggie model costs $299, while Urge's lightweight enduro full-face Archi-Enduro costs $179.99 or 249.99 for the Veggie version.
Archi-Enduro, the Veggie version