one one of those sunday rides in the weeks leading up to christmas, the velo club had elected to ride over towards mulindry on the glen road, leading past the enormous iron-age fort at dun nosebridge. just before you get to the short, sharp incline at ballytarsin smiddy, the road climbs gently from puddle hole to the raw, and it was at this point that the mind of lord carlos of mercian had strayed far from the pedalling task in hand. to put it quite bluntly, he wasn't paying attention.
the first i was aware of this inattention was clunk on my back wheel, something i thought self-induced by not having tightened the rear skewer properly leading to the rear wheel pulling to the non-drive side. as i stopped to effect repair, a clattering sound from behind, midst human cries of pain made it rather all too clear, that lord carlos in the throes of his daydream, had cycled into my back tyre and succumbed to gravitational pull. though only mildly bashed-up as a result of this slow-speed fall, one side of his giro helmet was in, shall we say, a daunting state of disrepair. lord carlos would be the first to admit a certain reticence to his sunday morning velocity, and this unexpected accident (are any of them ever anticipated?) likely took place a only a couple of kilometres per hour, given that we were both in the process of cresting a hill, and he is no marco pantani.
had he not been wearing his helmet, i'm not sure he would be thinking straight even yet.
then, only a couple of weeks ago, the mighty dave-t and i took leave of each other after a fine pair of cappuccinos at debbie's, he heading south to the principality of port wemyss, and i in the opposite direction on my way home. a few kilometres or so south of port charlotte, he stood up on the pedals to begin the laborious ascent of the mud infested hill at octofad, at which point, his chain gave way and he stylishly headed roadwards. though the main casualties were a kneecap, elbow and shoulder, post-crash investigation showed scraping to the side of his helmet.
i have no doubt that many others could add to the above minimalist catalogue of helmet efficiency in the face of adversity, while many others could point to situations where being run over by a volvo or a bus rendered a bicycle helmet entirely academic. cycling can be dangerous at times, whether in the midst of traffic, of sheep or in the middle of nowhere. i purchased my first helmet some twenty years ago on realising that certain of the mud and gravel strewn descents between sanaigmore and bowmore, could likely prove my undoing. the choice was whether to acquire a helmet, or simply slow down. given the pleasures of descending, however briefly, at speed, i opted for the helmet.
tom southam has given credible weight to leaving the perceived need or otherwise for wearing a helmet in a brief piece on rapha's faq page. and in this, he is 100% correct. nobody forces us to ride our bicycles, and currently no-one forces us to wear a helmet when doing so (unless competing in a sanctioned race). it has become an insidious part of human nature to seek to blame others for whatever befalls us out on the road; hopefully helmet wearing will remain the subject of personal choice well into the foreseeable future.
but in the light of the two accidents listed above, the case for wearing a helmet in the act of cycling is well-made, as is, i believe, my own decision to wear one because it makes me feel a tad safer, even if it has no perceived bearing on my ability on a bike. and as lambing season looms in the hebrides, with all the unpredictability that such entails, i think i'd prefer to err on the side of helmet wearing no matter the copious evidence and dissertations to the contrary. and if i'm going to wear a helmet, i'd like it to be a nice one that fits particularly well. though most currently on the market fulfil both criteria quite successfully, some are better than others and more suited to particular shapes of head.
entering the fray, and with a convincing palmares, are italian maker kask, supplier not only to team sky, but as of 2013, also to rapha condor jlt. though commercial considerations can, on occasion, outweigh sensibility, i think it likely that a team with the palmares of sky could pretty much pick and choose whichever suppliers they saw fit. and they have seen fit to choose kask.
but just before i get onto the whys and wherefores of the vertigo helmet under consideration, might i just point out that all the kudos they have gained from being on the heads of sir bradley and jimmy mccallum have been totally undermined by naming their retention system up and down technology. in a rudimentary sort of way, its operation can be considered to come under the heading of technology, but i can only assume that up and down sounds far more impressive in itialian than it does in english.
ignoring the banality of its name, the retention system is kask's secret weapon. a ratchet adjustable band across the rear of the helmet that is hinged to allow it to do do its job at the base of the skull, is, to all intents and purposes, darned near perfect. in fact, if you take the trouble to view, as i did, the youtube videos thoughtfully provided by kask to demonstrate how to properly fit the helmet, you will soon realise that the up and down technology manages to fix the helmet exactly as it ought to be fixed prior to fastening the chin strap
and that chin strap is also something i have not seen on a bicycle helmet before (though there may be others who do likewise), in the manner that is is fabricated from eco-leather, as opposed to the woven fabrics that comprise the majority of helmet straps. this is a washable, leather-like material. indeed, the remaining portions of retention straps that are affixed to the helmet are of this safety belt consistency, but the smooth leather of the chin strap seems not only admirably strong, but remarkably comfortable. and the comfort does not stop there, for likely the single biggest obstacle to helmet wearing is a lack of perceived comfort. there's little point in a cycle helmet offering the protection of a romulan force-field if it offers all the rudimentary fitting of oor wullie's bucket.
all the additional comfort that any cyclist could possibly ask for is taken care of by strategically positioned pads, several of which are constituted of a jelly-like material. the padding at the side and top of the helmet's inner-sanctum offers breathability, washability and, in my humble opinion, the ideal way to cover a pelotonic head. if we add to this a hardshell coating over the lower sections of polystyrene, the fabric of the helmet is likely to last well into the future, being slightly more resistant to those inadvertant dings when laid down where it probably shouldn't have been. the fact that hose bits are shiny lime green is, to my mind, simply one more string to its bow.
i have worn several varieties of helmet over the years, but i think i can say without fear of contradiction that the kask vertigo is the best fitting i have yet come across, and more specifically due to the strategically placed pads and that up and down technology. i take it on trust that any cycle helmet, not just those from kask, have been tested to within a centimetre of their lives, for it would surely be somewhat iniquitous of me to attempt to follow in the wheeltracks of lord carlos and fall off just to test its integrity. additionally, and importantly at this time of year, the medium size as reviewed still allowed sufficient leeway to fit a rapha team sky winter cap underneath.
there's no point in being well-protected if your ears are freezing.
the kask vertigo helmet is available in a variety of colours and has an rrp of £165.
wednesday 27th february 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................