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Old 08-26-14, 06:39 PM   #1
chaadster
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Review: Torch Apparel T1 helmet (integrated head and tail lights)

Impressions of the Torch T1 helmet.

It was 86ºF, sunny, and very humid when I strapped on the T1 by Torch for its maiden voyage. I start with this because, if you've seen the helmet, you've gotta think it looks hot-- as in boiling, not Kim Kardashian-- but also because while it's tempting to think of this helmet purely in terms of the nighttime benefits, the fact is probably that you'll wear it as much during the day, if not more than at night, so this is probably an issue worth addressing.

The great news is that it's really not uncomfortably warm, even for a big guy like me who tends to heat up pretty quickly. I was pleasantly surprised by this part of its performance, and while I did miss the typical airflow over the forehead that you get with a racing type helmet, the T1 really worked pretty comfortably. I think the secret to it's success is the pair of channels that run front to back down the middle, under the the vents. I did about 10 miles, across town over to the west side, over some gently rolling terrain which can get one's heart rate boiling if they so desire, and while I got up enough perspiration to soak the pads, I wasn't going nuts waiting to get the helmet off.

The big story, of course, are the lights, so let's get down to that part. There are fairly wide lenses front and rear, call 'em 2" front and 3" rear, behind each of which are 5 LEDs, white forward and red rearward, obviously. Front and rear are independently switched via a small textured button in each lens, and you can set either to one of two flash modes (faster/slower) or one of two steady modes (brighter/dimmer). The lenses are clear, but textured to diffuse, but the LEDs are clearly visible nestled in their cutouts in the foam behind the lenses, both when on and off.

In terms of brightness, to be sure, you're not getting light enough to see where you're going, unless, perhaps, you're really short or ride prone like Graeme Obree. Even on the high setting, this doesn't throw a lot of lumens in either direction, and the light is very diffused, with no apparent beam. I have seen no manufacturer indication of lumens, lux, or anything like that.

That said, for enhancing rider visibility, I think it's a great addition in active lighting. Being at your head height, especially in traffic where a row of cars may be overtaking you, the helmet light can be visible when your frame mounted taillamp may be obscured to other drivers by a car that's alongside you.

There are separate batteries front and rear, each with it's own recharging port. A Y cable is supplied so both can be charged simultaneously from a single USB outlet. I've neither run the lights to exhaustion nor recharged them from zero, so I can't speak to claimed run or recharge times. See the manufacturer for that info: T1 Bicycle Helmet-Black | Torch Apparel

Build-wise, the helmet has what I'd call a "handcrafted" look to it, meaning some of the lines for the various cutouts aren't perfectly straight, but it appears it's due to a type of bleeding over from the foam as it's molded to the shell. It's not unappealing, though and is actually suitable, in a way, to what feels like a young, small company with a startup product. If this were a Giro, Bell, Specialized, it'd be out of place, for example, and I'd expect different finish and materials values.

I bought a S/M size, for what I thought was my size 56 melon, or as I've been told, my small head. This helmet just fits. I had to max out the dial-adjust to get it on, but it's comfy when on, if a tad on the snug side, but that may be me being unused to the extended coverage-- I usually wear race helmets-- and 644gm weight. It doesn't necessarily feel heavy in hand or on head, but my other lids are in the 300gm range, so this is significantly heavier by comparison, and is probably felt in some way.

Overall, then, it should be apparent that I like this helmet quite a bit. I don't love it, primarily because I'd prefer it lighter, better ventilated, and fitted with a more sophisticated lighting array. As it sits, it's cool, and project-like, though more like something I'd have expected to see 5 or more years ago. That we didn't see a helmet like this back then probably speaks more to my unrealistic expectations than it does to meaningful shortcomings with the helmet.

I'm definitely happy to be adding this helmet to my toolbox, and can see it being extremely useful, as my family has multiple bikes per person, and keeping track of all the light units (both physically and in terms of charging) can get a little challenging. I'd be satisfied enough to set off with just the Torch for a night ride in my well-lit, bike lane equipped downtown, and would even be content with just the helmet on my kid, along with her reflectors. I watched my daughter riding down the street with it, and was impressed with the visibility. For commuters (especially in mild climates) looking to augment their navigational lights with some marking light, this is pretty nifty, and IMO, worth the asking price.

Here are a few lousy pics I quickly snapped:





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Old 08-26-14, 08:26 PM   #2
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Very interesting.

Is there a label indicating CPSC or CE or other certification?
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Old 08-26-14, 09:07 PM   #3
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Very interesting.

Is there a label indicating CPSC or CE or other certification?
Yes, both CPSC and CE EN1078.
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Old 08-26-14, 10:42 PM   #4
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It looks Star Wars-ish. I like it.
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Old 08-26-14, 11:43 PM   #5
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Do you think it will hold up to rain? In Portland?

I'm thinking about this for my son.
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Old 08-27-14, 05:51 AM   #6
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Do you think it will hold up to rain? In Portland?

I'm thinking about this for my son.
I certainly hope it would, and it would be a serious design flaw if it didn't!

Visual assessment doesn't reveal much about waterproofness. While there are no visible seals around the lenses, the electronics are not visible, either. You can see the LEDs, of course, but they seem to be set in some kind of casing, and circuits or wires are not visible. I can't see the battery, and the switch seems to be covered in a rubber sleeve, so the stuff behind the lens looks pretty safe, but I don't know.

Now, the charging ports on the bottom side of the helmet look as though they may be a weak spot, in that they look like your basic metal 2.5mm DC female plugs, and have no provided cap or cover. They're on the bottom edge of helmet, but it's not hard to imagine water tracing in and causing corrosion. I guess they could be stainless steel or something, but that's a question better for Torch.

The plug:



and one more cycle-selfie where you can see the front of the helmet and LED arrangement better:

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Old 08-28-14, 03:57 PM   #7
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Nice helmet, I like the integrated lights.
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Old 08-28-14, 04:45 PM   #8
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Even Star Wars-ier!
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Old 08-29-14, 02:55 AM   #9
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Build-wise, the helmet has what I'd call a "handcrafted" look to it, meaning some of the lines for the various cutouts aren't perfectly straight, but it appears it's due to a type of bleeding over from the foam as it's molded to the shell.
The foam should not be molded into the shell, the foam should be glued into the shell with adhesive that breaks during impact to increase shock absorption. For the cost of one of these, you should expect better fit and finish, as on a helmet those 2 things can translate into how well it may protect you in a crash.

The fact that the batteries are integrated internally makes me question its effectiveness as a helmet, as heavier = harder impact, and batteries = make piss poor substitute for foam that breaks apart absorbing energy.

I really appreciate this review, but i do have some points to add.

On the point of keeping track of bikes, each one should have its own set of lights, or at least a set of mounts that you can pop lights into. On the point of being seen from behind, a reflectivity strip does the job extremely effectively, adding pretty much no weight. On my nutcase, the logo and fitment dial on the back are both reflective, logo on front is reflective, strap adjusters (bit below the ears) are reflective, and the straps have reflecive threading in them These are way better at being seen when you take into account having to remember to turn the lights on, an easily forgotten thing, as well as the myriad angles you can be viewed from as you travel along.

On the point of not having seen these types of helmets before, it's because they do not succeed in the market and cease being made with oft limited amounts produced. Even if you get tired of this thing, i'd hold onto it, as after the company goes under it may command a hefty price for people looking to collect such novelties.

I'm glad you enjoy it, and thanks again for the lengthy review with effective use of photos and useful descriptions and details!

- Andy
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Old 08-29-14, 08:01 AM   #10
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The foam should not be molded into the shell, the foam should be glued into the shell with adhesive that breaks during impact to increase shock absorption. For the cost of one of these, you should expect better fit and finish, as on a helmet those 2 things can translate into how well it may protect you in a crash.

The fact that the batteries are integrated internally makes me question its effectiveness as a helmet, as heavier = harder impact, and batteries = make piss poor substitute for foam that breaks apart absorbing energy.

I really appreciate this review, but i do have some points to add.

On the point of keeping track of bikes, each one should have its own set of lights, or at least a set of mounts that you can pop lights into. On the point of being seen from behind, a reflectivity strip does the job extremely effectively, adding pretty much no weight. On my nutcase, the logo and fitment dial on the back are both reflective, logo on front is reflective, strap adjusters (bit below the ears) are reflective, and the straps have reflecive threading in them These are way better at being seen when you take into account having to remember to turn the lights on, an easily forgotten thing, as well as the myriad angles you can be viewed from as you travel along.

On the point of not having seen these types of helmets before, it's because they do not succeed in the market and cease being made with oft limited amounts produced. Even if you get tired of this thing, i'd hold onto it, as after the company goes under it may command a hefty price for people looking to collect such novelties.

I'm glad you enjoy it, and thanks again for the lengthy review with effective use of photos and useful descriptions and details!

- Andy
Thanks for the comments.

It sounds like you're unfamiliar with what has been the dominant bicycle helmet construction method (at least for adult helmets) for a long time, like probably 15- 20 years, called in-mold construction. It has many advantages over glued-on shells, and I would be very surprised to see a top-quality bicycle helmet these days made any way other than in-mold (excepting the Urban/Skate hard-shells).

You're right that build quality could be better in an absolute sense, and I'd expect that quality will improve as they mature past this first commercial offering as a young, crowd-funded, small startup. But, for you to say that I should expect more for the money strikes me as awfully presumptuous! First, because we each weight the value of things differently based on our needs and sensibilities, then because we each have different financial means, but ultimately because there is no helmet option that offers exactly what Torch does, so if I want 360º lighting in an integrated, USB rechargeable helmet with urban casual styling, what choice do I have that delivers better build quality for the same or less money that can be used as a reference point of quality? I don't think there's one...but clue me in if I'm wrong about that, for sure!

Your point about batteries and safety is interesting, although questioning the effectiveness of the helmet seems unnecessary since it's safety rated by the two top certification agencies. Yet, wondering what happens to the batteries in the case of impact, and what effect weight has on impact severity, are worthwhile questions. I don't think there's any arguing that more weight makes the force of impact harder, or that batteries are less shock absorbing than foam, but the question would be how did Torch address these issues? I don't know the answers, but perhaps 150-200 grams of additional weight over a typical helmet is insignificant in terms of impact management, and maybe they used thin, flexible, lithium polymer batteries designed to break away at impact? I don't know, but the safety certifications give me some security that these issues were either addressed or are insignificant safety factors.

Your concern and tips about how I should keep track of my lights is appreciated, and certainly buying more would help, provided I kept them charged, which is a big part of the equation. I need to install one of those wall outlets with built-in USB charging out in the garage, but really need something like a wall mounted USB power strip so that I can plug in all the lights in a convenient location. If each bike got it's own lights (there are 3 riders), that'd be 24 discreet units to manage! I don't know how you'd cut it, but it seems to me that having 3 unit (Torch helmets) that do the same job (assuming comparable illumination to increase rider visibility, not to see by) is necessarily less to worry about, and may be worthwhile to consider even at a small premium (though it could be less; are there USB rechargeable head and taillights that put out as much light as the Torch for $17 apiece?). Anyway, for me at this point, the Torch is merely supplemental lighting, not replacement. It's fun, novel, supplemental lighting!

I don't share your assessment that reflectors are better than lights because lights can be forgotten to be turned on, or that viewing angles are necessarily more and better. Plus, lights offer notification to drivers even when they're lights are off, as well as to pedestrians and cyclists. There may be no reason not to use reflectors, but I can't think of any reasonable way to say they're better than lights.

Lastly, I don't recall there having been a commercially produced bike helmet with integrated, rechargeable, front and rear lights that has failed in the market; which one(s) are you thinking of? I've seen ones with only a taillight (non-rechargeable) come and go, and the Lazer Urbanize offered small, coin-cell powered front and rear lights, but that's as close as I can recall. From that understanding, I think Torch is offering a more complete solution to the market than we've seen ever before, and have addressed the major shortcomings of previous iterations which made them unappealing, at least to me. For example, I still have a gang of CR2032 powered Knog LEDs that have such short run times, and are such a pain to have to keep batteries for, that I scarcely use them except for rare occasions, and even then only as decorative side marking lights on one of my trailers. A helmet equipped with that kind of system would be of zero interest to me, but perhaps the Urbanize was better, I don't know. The Lezyne Femto CR2032 powered lights are immensely brighter, and I believe, longer running than the original Knog Frog, which speaks to how far LED tech has come in the past few years.

Anyway, I've prattled on too long (again), but want to say again thanks for your comments and compliments!
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Old 09-26-14, 07:02 PM   #11
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Chadster,

thanks for the review. I received a few questions from someone after they mentioned it to me and I wanted to send you a quick note with some points.

1. Some helmets from our first production run were mis-labeled when referring to the weight. The helmet actually only weighs 366 grams as is stated on the web-site. Unfortunately when we sent the weight info to our label manufacturer in China, someone translated to grams incorrectly.


2. As for the battery, it is a lithium-polymer battery which is solid in state, but flexible. This prevents it from possibly damaging the foam which is more dense than the battery, in an impact.


3. Also, the lenses are shatter-proof polycarbonate. The same grade that is used for protective eye wear. During CPSC and CE impact tests, each helmet was impacted on the battery position using a hemispherical anvil under four different conditions: ambient room temp., frozen, soaked in water, and heated to 120 degrees F. During each impact the lens remained in tact, and none resulted in a ruptured battery. If fact all tests except for the water-soaked helmet the lights remained functioning.


4. We then went a step further and impacted the same spot four times in a row to go above the test requirement, because it sounded fun. After four impacts on the front battery position, the lights still worked and no damage to the electronics.


I wear the helmet proudly knowing it is safe. As for the quality issues, they are already being addressed.

Thanks so much for the mention.

Nathan Wills
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