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Old 07-09-11, 04:38 PM   #1
TomD77
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Helmets and Cooling

My posts are mostly from the viewpoint of a relative newcomer to biking; this is my 2nd year and I'm still discovering the stuff that is old hat to most of you, so old hat that you don't say it because everyone knows it. Not everyone as it happens. I'm sure there is a percentage of the people here who, like me, are relatively new to the sport. I doubt that I have any insights of interest to someone who has been biking for decades but most of my observations represent hard won knowledge to me and possibly of interest to someone just entering the sport. So please take my infantile observations in that light.

Helmets: Didn't really have the problem last year because I didn't wear a helmet last year during the summer, just a head band and ball cap. That plus the fact that my rides a year ago now were at about 13 mph average and around 1-1/2 hours max kept the potential problem to a minimum. Fast forward a year and I'm now wearing a helmet, riding 5+ mph faster and for 2 to 2-1/2 hours a day in Florida and helmet cooling has become a major thing.

My previous helmet is a $25 "big box" effort by Pacific Cycle. From a protection standpoint, it is probably as effective as anything in common use today. The head size adjustment mechanism and straps are at least as good as as the much more expensive helmets that I now have. What it doesn't have is cooling slot area or internal connections between the slots. But it worked well for my daily rides through the winter down here (such as it is) and spring. The past couple of months have shown the limitations because I've not been able to complete a ride without coming out of the helmet.

A couple of weeks back, I bought via the internet a Bell Influx, a mid-grade helmet (average sales price $60) and with a common review comment saying how well it cooled. I ordered it medium because Bell's site stated my measured head size was smack in the middle of medium, but it wasn't even close, I couldn't wear it at all. I needed large, the charts are wrong.

I noticed that the Bell Influx had a massive increase in the total area of the helmet that was open for air slots, maybe as much as approaching double the open area as with my "cheap" helmet. I also noticed that the internal surface of the Influx was flat, just like the "cheap" helmet. I never rode with the helmet.

When reordering the helmet, I noticed that they had a deep discount special on Bell Volt helmets which usually sell for in the $175 range, deep enough to bring it down almost to the Influx range. So a large Bell Volt is what I ordered. On observation, the Volt has the same adjustment mech and very close to the same percentage of slot area as the Influx. Construction, shape, materials seem identical. The only real difference I could find is that the interior surface of the Volt is sculpted so that there are channels interconnecting the exterior slots. Is that plain? I'll photo the helmet interiors later to illustrate. Rode with the Volt for the first time yesterday and for the 1st time in my helmet wearing life, felt air flow across my head while wearing a helmet.

Yesterday did the Volt helmet make me feel like I was riding in air conditioned comfort? Not even close. But what was different was that I kept the helmet on for the ride. The best a helmet can do in hot conditions is give you impact protection while allowing the most cooling possible with a theoretical maximum of no helmet at all.

I have to question the pricing. Like I said, I could find no difference between the Volt and Influx except the air passages between the slots in the molded styrofoam. Is that worth $100?

Last edited by TomD77; 07-09-11 at 04:48 PM.
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Old 07-09-11, 05:03 PM   #2
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I did 86 miles this morning, with a max recorded temp of 115. Every time I stopped to refill my bottles, I removed my helmet and soaked my hair with cold water, also putting some down my back. Did some of that while riding too, and especially if stopped at an intersection. Boosted the evaporative cooling a bit I have a Trek "Circuit" helmet, which lists for $99. Pretty cool, and they have free crash replacement for a year.

So to answer your question - probably not.
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Old 07-09-11, 05:16 PM   #3
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More expensive helmets incorporate more venting, better foam varying in density, more adjustable and better quality straps and buckles, CF weave for multiple impact protection, fancier colors and decals the latter of which dictates price.
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Old 07-09-11, 06:43 PM   #4
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I have a mid ranged Specialized that seems to work OK for me. It's solid silver in color and I have noticed that it is not as hot as the all navy blue helmet of the same brand that I had before. I always wear a sweatband ($2.00 at WalMart) in the summer for several reasons, the main one is that it absorbs the perspiration very well. It also keeps the helmet from sliding down my forehead when I perspire and when it really starts getting hot, I soak it in cold water, put it on the back of my neck, soak it again and put it back on my head. It works wonders. I ride with guys that have helmets that cost around $150.00 and more and they don't seem to be any cooler than I am. In the end, helmets are really a matter of preference and what you can afford to spend on one. I don't mind spending more money on a helmet if it is going to be much better, but I can't tell enough to justify the extra money.
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Old 07-09-11, 06:53 PM   #5
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This topic comes up often enough that it would be interesting if somebody would do some controlled testing to determine if color, for example, really makes any internal difference in a bike helmet.
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Old 07-09-11, 08:51 PM   #6
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A white/silver Giro Encinal for me cause it has huge holes and was only $30. Was a good upgrade from the old Bell and I can feel the wind in my hair now.
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Old 07-10-11, 05:42 AM   #7
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This topic comes up often enough that it would be interesting if somebody would do some controlled testing to determine if color, for example, really makes any internal difference in a bike helmet.
My ibs told me years ago a study showed no difference in the heat wearing a black vs. white helmet, due to the styrofoam like substance working to insulate any transfer of heat. That is also why those ventilation vents are so important.
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Old 07-10-11, 06:11 AM   #8
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This topic comes up often enough that it would be interesting if somebody would do some controlled testing to determine if color, for example, really makes any internal difference in a bike helmet.
Measurements would be good. I would expect the difference to be near immeasurable however. The colored layer is separated from the head by a thick layer of "Styrofoam", an excellent insulator. With that, the wind going by the outer surface of the helmet and removing heat, and the air passing through the helmet removing heat, I don't think there'd be even a minute difference inside the helmet due to outer surface color.
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Old 07-10-11, 06:23 AM   #9
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Measurements would be good. I would expect the difference to be near immeasurable however. The colored layer is separated from the head by a thick layer of "Styrofoam", an excellent insulator. With that, the wind going by the outer surface of the helmet and removing heat, and the air passing through the helmet removing heat, I don't think there'd be even a minute difference inside the helmet due to outer surface color.
That would be my bet too, but I keep hearing anecdotal stories to the contrary. Sometimes 1 measurement is worth 1,000 guesses.

I'd be interested in seeing measurements concerning the cooling affect of shade and airflow through the helmet vs. a bare head too.
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Old 07-10-11, 06:36 AM   #10
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Here's a picture of the interior of the Volt showing how the interior of the styrofoam shell has been molded to create air flow from vent to vent. Seems to be an intuitive enough thing to do to aid cooling. Haven't seen it before but I don't have a history of peering into high end helmets. Is this a common feature?

Edit to include a shot of the exterior.




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Old 07-10-11, 07:14 AM   #11
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That would be my bet too, but I keep hearing anecdotal stories to the contrary. Sometimes 1 measurement is worth 1,000 guesses.

I'd be interested in seeing measurements concerning the cooling affect of shade and airflow through the helmet vs. a bare head too.
Maybe someone could do some comprehensive tests with a sensor and a meter on the handlebars. Might be the next thing to come out on the market for cycloputers.
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Old 07-10-11, 11:07 AM   #12
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I've never had a LBS that could explain reflectiveness in helmets to me, they just want to sell me the most expensive model. My Specialized Tactic does not have the channels like the Volt does, but from the photo, the holes in the Volt look like they are offset from one another. My helmet has 7 rows of holes that are aligned in a straight row but has wide channels on each row from front to back. I must agree with the styrofoam insulating the head, but I'm wondering if the silver or white color of the helmet somehow offsets the refractiveness of the black foam around the holes? Just a guess. I haven't read any studies on helmets and cooling properties, all I can tell you is that I could notice the difference between the same helmet model in silver and in a dark navy blue.
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Old 07-10-11, 11:28 AM   #13
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Rode 30 yesterday with my new S-Works Prevail, weighs nothing & feels like you have an A/C system on your head. North of $200 but a nice upgrade for the summer.
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Old 07-10-11, 04:33 PM   #14
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Rode 30 yesterday with my new S-Works Prevail, weighs nothing & feels like you have an A/C system on your head. North of $200 but a nice upgrade for the summer.
Do you have a camera? I'd appreciate a couple of pictures of the inside and out to see the details on a very good helmet.
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Old 07-10-11, 05:50 PM   #15
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Do you have a camera? I'd appreciate a couple of pictures of the inside and out to see the details on a very good helmet.
Lots of photos here..

http://www.bikeradar.com/gallery/art...rd%2Farticle#1
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Old 07-10-11, 07:36 PM   #16
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My ibs told me years ago a study showed no difference in the heat wearing a black vs. white helmet, due to the styrofoam like substance working to insulate any transfer of heat. That is also why those ventilation vents are so important.
I guess that's why the foam is always black. I prefer the ol black car-white car test or which one can you put your hand on in the afternoon sun, but that's just me. At least we can all agree on the large vent holes. Come to think of it though, I'm not seeing any black helmets in the Tour de France, probably cause they're just not dealing with your IBS, or black is just not colorful enough, I suppose.

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Old 07-10-11, 07:43 PM   #17
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Lots of photos here..
The inside of my Specialized Tactic is the same as that shown in photo #8 and #11 where there is a wide channel from front to back for each of the rows of vents. However, judging from the photos, some of the openings in your helmet are a bit larger than on the Tactic.
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Old 07-10-11, 08:13 PM   #18
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This topic comes up often enough that it would be interesting if somebody would do some controlled testing to determine if color, for example, really makes any internal difference in a bike helmet.
Rambler sold a lot of cars without AC in the fifties because all there models had a "white" roof!
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Old 07-10-11, 08:23 PM   #19
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Another thing that puzzles me about helmets is the lack of a visor on most road models. I can't tell you how many times I see riders with very high end helmets (with more larger holes than the cheaper ones) wearing a baseball cap underneath the helmet to keep the sun out of their eyes. This sort of defeats the purpose of all these large, ventilation holes, doesn't it?
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Old 07-11-11, 03:15 AM   #20
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..............I can't tell you how many times I see riders with very high end helmets (with more larger holes than the cheaper ones) wearing a baseball cap underneath the helmet to keep the sun out of their eyes..........
Never been a problem. Sunglasses work for me.

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Old 07-11-11, 05:54 AM   #21
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Another thing that puzzles me about helmets is the lack of a visor on most road models. I can't tell you how many times I see riders with very high end helmets (with more larger holes than the cheaper ones) wearing a baseball cap underneath the helmet to keep the sun out of their eyes. This sort of defeats the purpose of all these large, ventilation holes, doesn't it?
The helmet comes with a detachable visor which I immediately detached. Reason being that I tend to ride head down when cranking hard and the visor cuts into my forward vision to the danger point. Almost had a couple of bad ones over that issue last year.
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Old 07-11-11, 08:40 AM   #22
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I expect the higher price would be justified by the manufacturers as amortizing the cost of the engineering needed to design all the fancy air flow slots.

As far as exterior color, I want something visible, so black and dark colors are not an option, independent of heat effects.

@TomD77, I see you went with the "white with gold flowers" Volt - doesn't look as girly as it sounds.
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Old 07-11-11, 01:03 PM   #23
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@TomD77, I see you went with the "white with gold flowers" Volt - doesn't look as girly as it sounds.
So that's why the thing was discounted by $100. Those are supposed to be flowers? They look more like someone on the production line got fingerprints in the paint.
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Old 07-11-11, 01:17 PM   #24
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I have the NEW cheap big box store helmet. My evening rides start out at about 90-92 degrees and I do not have a problem. Any hotter and I simply do not ride....period. Too hot and that's not helmet-driven just general comfort and safety.

Look at the big box store and you will see some pretty decent helmets in there now. I was surprised.
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Old 07-11-11, 03:26 PM   #25
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The helmet comes with a detachable visor which I immediately detached. Reason being that I tend to ride head down when cranking hard and the visor cuts into my forward vision to the danger point. Almost had a couple of bad ones over that issue last year.
The reason that I went with the Tactic was because of the color and the visor. I wear prescription sunglasses and get glare in from the top of the glasses when my head in lowered, especially when I'm riding in the drops. The visor keeps the glare out of my eyes and also helps shade my face. The LBS that I bought the helmet at is one of the largest in Tampa and outside of the MTB helmets, there were only one or two high end models with visors. This shop sells Gyro, LG, Specialized, Bell, and several others.
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