I can’t help but look back on the history of cycling as I check out new gear. There’s something inherent to my world view to consider history as I review gear. I consider history in other settings as well, but as a reviewer it’s integral to how I do my job.
So when the Bell Stratus arrived, I did a double-take. Six months before I’d reviewed the Bell Zephyr, a helmet that redefined Bell’s presence in the road market. With aerodynamics on par with many of the other top helmets and two-piece construction that used both low- and high-density foam along with the inclusion of MIPS, the Zephyr was arguably the most advanced road helmet on the market. Did I mention it was comfortable as a recliner?
The Stratus confused me. Without holding the two helmets side by side, I couldn’t tell the Stratus from the Zephyr. Let’s be honest: Second tier helmets, util recently, never looked all that impressive. This was true for two reasons. The obvious one is that helmet manufacturers don’t want their less expensive helmets to look as sharp as their top models. The other reason is something only one company has mentioned to me and it may not still be standard practice, but it was true for a time that junior designers were unleashed on more budget-oriented designs.
The design principles that informed the design of the Zephyr (now called the Z20) are at play with Stratus. Gone are the Cadillac tail fins, which proved not to be very aero. A new retention system called Float Fit and a simplified helmet strap guide plus lightweight webbing combined with a MIPS liner make it the most comfortable sub-$200 helmet I’ve ever worn.
The helmet uses an internal polycarbonate roll cage to help keep the it structurally intact in the event of an impact. An in-mold polycarbonate shell gives it improved durability and makes the helmet more likely to slide on the ground, rather than grip it, which has been shown to cause injuries.
Bell touts the Overbrow Ventilation, which is meant to channel more air across your forehead to keep you cool on hot days. Is it superior in that regard? Possibly. While I have never been one to overheat due to my helmet, I can say the way the 18 vents channel air across your head make it a great helmet for August days. Speaking of vents, they are well-positioned for eyewear stowing, at least in my size, which is small.
Years ago when I worked in a shop, back when most helmets cost $50 or less. Customers would often ask why they should spring for the $50 helmet rather than the $35 one. My answer? Buy the $35 helmet, if you have a $35 head. No one can suggest that buying a $150 helmet is the cheapskate route. The Stratus is clearly superior to every helmet I ever wore prior to about 2010, and it’s still less expensive than the top-shelf models being sold then.
The Stratus comes in three sizes, S-L and a whopping eight finishes.
Final thought: More affordable doesn’t mean cheaper.