PRODUCT RELEASE / FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Lazer Jackal KinetiCore
Lazer Introduces KinetiCore
In recent years, bike helmet manufacturers have all embraced technology that addresses rotational impacts. That seems logical, since it's easy to imagine that most bike crashes involving impact with your helmet would not involve straight vectors; between momentum, gravity, body language, and uneven surfaces, your head is subject to a lot of competing forces that cause oblique impact angles in a crash.
When addressing rotational impacts, manufacturers have to decide whether to work with existing providers of this technology - MIPS being both the first to the party and the one with the most uptake - or to develop their own, as Leatt has done with 360 Turbine, POC with Spin, Kali with its Fusion and Low Density Layer, Trek with WaveCel and so on. Until now, Lazer used MIPS across its line, which made good sense because MIPS is now by far the most recognizable brand in rotational impact safety for helmets. However, Lazer has been working on their own system for a while, and they're calling it KinetiCore. The helmet I have here to test is the Lazer Jackal KinetiCore, which replaces the Jackal MIPS.
Unfortunately I only received the helmet a few days ago, so my time with it is limited, but initial impressions are positive, and KinetiCore is quite interesting.
KinetiCore Compared to MIPS, etc
In a short span of time, the concept of rotational impacts became prominent, and MIPS especially has been successfully marketed as a good way to address it. However MIPS and its rivals have their disadvantages: hair can get caught in the slip plane, causing discomfort; they add weight as well as cost; they usually compromise the fit of the helmet (due to added bulk); and ventilation also suffers.
Where systems like MIPS use various methods of separating a helmet's layers to isolate the head from the helmet's rotation, Lazer's approach is different. Rather than employing a slip plane, KinetiCore is composed of molded blocks and channels that form part of the helmet's Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam to create controlled crumple zones, designed to work the way modern cars do, to dissipate impacts through deceleration and absorption. It is a simple and elegant approach to the problem.
It also addresses many of the issues that riders have with MIPS. KinetiCore is light (the new Jackal KinetiCore weighs 50 grams less than the Jackal MIPS, other Lazer KinetiCore models dropped even more weight). Lazer also says it ventilates better (albeit only by 5%, which I doubt will be noticeable), but the absence of added material and bulk makes for a helmet that fits well and doesn't snag hair. MSRP of the Lazer KinetiCore Jackal is set at 285 CAD / 220 USD, so that advantage was not realized over its predecessor. However, that's more a function of the other features built into the Jackal, as Lazer has rolled out six new helmets with KinetiCore altogether, including one aimed at kids and one for toddlers that retail for a very respectable 65 CAD / 50 USD.
Lazer Jackal KinetiCore Features
This new Jackal is similar in appearance to the last one, which we reviewed a little over a year ago, and many features are similar:
- It is lighter at 340g in size Medium vs the old model which we weighed at 399g
- Vertical and horizontal fit adjustment with the Turnsys dial and a harness that moves up and down at the back
- Rubberized goggle grippers at the back of the Jackal help with retention
- A lightweight magnetic buckle is easy to use
- Strap on camera or light mount
- 3-position goggle-friendly visor
The main difference between that Jackal which used MIPS and this new one is the switch to KinetiCore. Otherwise the vent shapes look to have been tweaked slightly, but the principal shaping seems very similar.
As I mentioned earlier, there hasn't been much time to ride with the Jackal yet, but first impressions are positive. The fit is very secure: the adjustable harness envelops the back of my head snugly and any amount of upside down head shaking with the strap undone will not shake it loose. It's on there, but not uncomfortably tight. The Turnsys buckle primarily grips the sides of my head just behind center and a bit at the temple. It feels like one of the most effective examples of this type of fit adapter. The twisting buckle is easy to locate at the back of the head and operate with gloves on and a quick adjustment while riding is dead easy. Small tweaks to the straps took very little time to get them clear of my ears and get the magnetic buckle in the right spot under my chin.
You do not notice KinetiCore's blocks and channels with the helmet on - there are no pressure points or any indication that they're in there. The Jackal's light weight adds to the comfortable feeling. It's too early in the year to really test ventilation - mid day temps are still hovering around 10 degrees C.
Other new Lazer KinetiCore Helmets
Besides the new Jackal, Lazer is also rolling out a comprehensive lineup of new KinetiCore helmets, from the high-end aerodynamic Vento KinetiCore, to the CityZen (targeted at urban and rec riders) and, impressively, two helmets for the smaller riders out there: the Nutz and Pnut.
MTB - Lazer Jackal KinetiCore - 299 CAD // 219 USD // 340 grams
Road - Lazer Vento KinetiCore - 399 CAD / 299 USD // 290 grams
Road - Lazer Strada KinetiCore - 149 CAD / 109 USD // 290 grams
Urban/Sport - CityZen KinetiCore - 79 CAD / 59 USD
Kids - Lazer Nutz KinetiCore - 65 CAD / 49 USD // 250 grams (90g lighter than the Gekko MIPS)
Toddler - Lazer Pnut KinetiCore - 65 CAD / 49 USD // 240 grams (90g lighter than Lil'Gekko MIPS)
The Problem with Helmet Testing
Having spoken with helmet designers from many different brands over the years, the people tasked with figuring out how best to reduce head injuries all seem very knowledgeable, dedicated and serious about finding solutions rather than generating profits. The odds are stacked against even the most honest and up front would-be sharers of information: everyone's brain reacts differently to trauma, making it extremely difficult to conduct meaningful studies; laws and the threat of litigation makes it illegal (not to mention reckless) to make bold claims about your helmet being able to prevent concussions and other injuries, which is why the language is always crafted very carefully. And not much research has been done to this point.
In recent years one independent body - the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab - has made a name for itself for its research into helmet efficacy across a variety of different sports including football, hockey, and - as of 2018 - cycling. As soon as they started publishing helmet ratings for bike helmets, manufacturers started using those ratings to market the safety of their helmets. However, I'm not sure the VT lab's tests are all that representative of real world conditions, especially for mountain bikers: to replicate rotational impacts, they drop a helmet with a weighted headform inside it from a prescribed height onto an anvil coated with sandpaper that "...simulates the friction between a helmet and the road."
Now, I'm not claiming to be a helmet engineer or a brain scientist here, but sandpaper on a smooth surface doesn't seem like a great indicator of the variables mountain bikers face in a crash. Also, a headform that isn't attached to a neck and body probably doesn't behave like a rider falling off their bike, and I have heard it said that the way tests are currently set up favours helmets equipped with MIPS and other, similar technologies. By no means do I claim to know whether or not MIPS, Kineticore, etc are effective, but I think a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted.
We don't want to get too deep here, that's an article for another day. VT does test for different types of impacts, at different speeds and areas on each helmet, and they are developing a catalog of head-to-head test results that, whether you agree with their methodologies or not, at least establish a base line for results under certain conditions. VT has been studying brain injuries in sports and the influence of certain types of helmets on the number and severity of brain injuries for years, amassing a decent amount of data.
For its KinetiCore launch, Lazer is relying heavily on its bevy of 5-star ratings - and indeed Lazer's helmets have always ranked highly in VT's evaluations. But that is the only independent testing that manufacturers seem to use and I guess if this massive tangent leads me anywhere, it is here: I hope that in the near future, Virginia Tech isn't the only independent body testing bike helmets. I'm not saying there's no value in VT's testing and results, but there needs to be more science, and more scientists, studying brain trauma and prevention of brain injuries.
Until then, we have a five star rating system that has concluded that MIPS - and now KinetiCore and systems like it - are the best thing we currently have to reduce the threat of concussion when we hit our heads while out riding. Unfortunately it's really hard to be sure just how good that science is - yet.