For five years, only a Specialized Echelon helmet graced the illustrious dome that is my head. When I first bought my road bike at the tender age of eighteen, I grabbed a red version that matched my new Allez without thinking. When that red one became so grubby and stinking that I could no longer put it on my head, I replaced it with a white, slightly newer Echelon in a stunning white color. I was pretty brand (and model) loyal as far as my helmet went.
The first time I really crashed, however, the Echelon did not stand up. Cruising for a bruising at thirty miles an hour on a mountain bike, my three month old white Echelon took a nice little crack on the side and the tension system snapped in two. The helmet had done its job, because all of my brains were neatly tucked inside my cranium after I sat up. I was not satisfied with the design; how could the tension system snap? Shouldn’t the design and construction absorb enough impact that the helmet need not shift on my head? And was there any way I could have looked cooler as I crashed? As loyal as I was, I decided to explore other options, and the Bell Volt had it where it counts: style.
The old saying “Safety First” is best reserved for power tools. In cycling, it’s “Style First”, and probably “Match Accessories” second, if we are being honest. The Bell Volt has style to burn, and a proven pedigree to match. You’ll probably recognize it right away if you’ve watched any professional cycling in since 2008, when the first model made its debut. It has been on the anointed skulls of the Schlecks and Fabian Cancellara (while they were with SaxoBank), George Hincapie and most recently on Cadel Evans when he won the 2011 Tour de France. Not too shabby of a track record.
If you like Cadel and Big George, the Volt comes in BMC colors, and nine other colors as well. The official Bell site offers eight, but by scouring the interweb, you can even dig up the original SaxoBank version from 2008, and the red and white variation Fabian Cancellara wore as Swiss champion in 2010. Personally, I’m partial to white and silver.
The helmet itself features twenty-two vents with Carbon Fiber Intakes (CFI) that direct airflow through the helmet and out the vents in the back. Bell uses some overly elaborate verbiage to describe the ‘internal StreamJet Ventilation Channels’ but the result is obvious: your head stays cool. The ultimate test, which I undertook for the sake of this review, is the wind tunnel. So, while driving my car, I stuck my head out the window at sixty miles an hour. The airflow was much better than my Echelon, and with a much more secure and comfortable fit. The Twin Axis Gear adjustment system makes the helmet fit tight and snug, and allows for some adjustment up and down, so you can have the helmet fit lower or higher on your head. So far, I haven’t had to mess with this feature other than just a few turns of the dial to tighten the tension.
For the weight freaks, this helmet is quite light at 297 grams. No, it is not the lightest lid on the market, but unless you have not one ounce of fat left to lose, there is no reason to lay awake at night over a few extra grams on your head. Compared to lighter helmets I tried, including Lazer and Giro helmets at similar price points, the Volt fits more comfortably, in part because you can feel it hugging your cranium. The fit and weight are perfect reminders of its strong, beefy molding which is quite comforting, especially for a guy fresh off a concussion.
All-in-all, this is a great helmet. The negatives comprise a short list of the familiar drawbacks: It’s expensive, and it may not fit everyone’s head. As far as price, you can find it online for as low as $109 on eBay and amazon.com. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the hefty price tag. If you have a lumpy head, definitely try on all of your helmets, this one included. If it doesn’t fit, you’ll be hard-pressed to find this much style in a helmet.
Pros: Lots of colors, great fit, great ventilation, reputable company.
Cons: Pricey, may not fit everyone perfectly.