When I was at Press Camp in 2012, I got my first look at products from Kali Protectives. Founder Brad Waldron is a former aerospace engineer who found his way into cycling for the same reason most of us working in the industry do—he had a passion for it. Following a stint with the heavyweights in Morgan Hill, he went on to found Kali Protectives. At the root of his desire to start Kali was his interest in pursuing the conehead technology invented by Australian Institute of Physics member Don Morgan.
In broad strokes, Morgan’s conehead technology uses high density foam for the majority of material at the outside of the helmet while placing lower density foam near the head to help dissipate impact energy. Rather than simply slapping one layer on top of the other, Morgan’s idea was to create a number of small cones of lower density material penetrating into the higher density material. Were you to see just the low-density portion of the helmet, it would look like something out of Mad Max. Spray paint it black and splash come fake blood on it and you’d have an ideal post-apocalyptic film prop.
More important is how this technology has been shown to decrease the G-forces experienced in an impact. I’m always careful to say that I review products; I don’t test them. It might be a semantic point to some, but I think testing would, in this case, mean submitting my head to an uncomfortable impact while ensconced in this device. And to do a proper job, I’d probably have to submit my head to yet another, though not covered by anything than my silver fox mane. Nothankyou. The chart above tells me all I really need to know about this technology. It compares the difference between traditional EPS foam helmets with Kali’s early Composite Fusion Construction helmets and their newer Composite Fusion Plus Construction, which is found in the Maraka and Phenom helmets.
Above is one of the sections of the Maraka mountain bike helmet, prior to integration with the other sections. The concept of using different densities of foam to build a helmet that further reduces the possibility of a traumatic brain injury has been gaining interest and acceptance, and now the technology and design are beginning to catch up.
I began wearing the Maraka when mountain biking last year for one very simple reason: it was more comfortable than the other mountain bike helmets I’ve tried. It doesn’t provide quite as much rear coverage as some of the newer enduro-style helmets, but in a move that I’ve yet to encounter in another helmet, Kali uses sections of memory foam molded into the shell to further cushion the head. I get how everyone wants a light helmet and an ultra-ventilated helmet, but I really don’t see the point in having bare EPS sit directly on the head, even if you’re like me and still have plenty of hair.
The yellow sections in the shot above are the memory foam elements molded into the helmet and the black dots are the velcro dots the pads attach to, which is to say those locations are places meant to make contact with your head.
I liked the look of the Maraka well enough for mountain biking, but the road version, which was simply this helmet without the visor, didn’t wow me. Fast forward a year and Kali has introduced the Phenom, a road-specific helmet that really gets the look right, while keeping the conehead technology.
The look is rakish and aggressive, like you took one of the crazier Euro helmets and allowed a student from Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design (where BMW gets all their new recruits) to fix it. Ventilation seems on par with the other helmets I’m wearing, though I have to admit this time of year that on most of my rides, I’ve got a cycling cap beneath the helmet to actually reduce air flow due to cool (certainly not cold) air.
Kali is offering Phenom in just two sizes (small/medium and medium/large) while the Maraka comes in three sizes (extra small/small, small/medium and medium/large). There are two white vents at the temples (you can just see one of them in the image above) and they are the only opportunity for perching eyewear on my small/medium size helmet. I was able to fit Smith Pivlocks, Giro Havik IIs, Shimano Equinox and Spy Screws in the vents without too much difficulty. Oakley Radar frames have larger earpieces and don’t like to stretch much, so they didn’t fit. And the wrap of the Assos Zeghos is so great that not only did they not fit this helmet, they really don’t fit in anything.
The occipital retention device, called the Microfit System at the back of the Phenom features the largest opening I’ve encountered in any such mechanism. It is absolutely the best such device for anyone with long hair that needs to be pulled back in a ponytail. There is one small downside to this. Unlike the systems found in helmets from Giro and Specialized, this thing can’t be adjusted much; there are but two positions. Even with it set in the upper position, I’d like to adjust it upward half a centimeter to a centimeter because the straps that reach forward to the temples sit very close to my ears. It’s not uncomfortable when I first put the helmet on, but I do notice a bit of discomfort after two or three hours if I’m not wearing a cycling cap beneath the helmet. The device would be a bit more comfortable if I could move it up just a touch. It seems designed for a helmet larger than this one, though the folks at Kali tell me this helmet is intended to have a very deep fit.
My one other issue with these helmets is that they haven’t moved to the lighter weight webbing I’ve encountered in helmets like the Aeon and Prevail. I’m less concerned with helmet weight than I am with how the thinner material absorbs less sweat and feels more supple against my skin. Now, on the subject of weight, while the Maraka is reasonably light for a helmet with a visor, at only 259 grams, the Phenom weighs a fair bit more at 310g.
There are those who complain that a single-serve device such as a helmet is just too expensive, and given that many of them run to nearly $300, I can see some resistance to that. However, the Maraka and Phenom will be a welcome switch. The Phenom is only $159, while the Maraka is only $189.
As someone who’s had two concussions, I can say I’d really like to avoid them in the future. Any company willing to pursue technology that might reduce the impact my brain experiences has my attention.