REVIEW | EDITORIAL
Min-Maxing With The Kali Viva Helmet
Ten Tiny Vents
There's a river of sweat pouring down my brow, but to be honest the flow isn't heavier than on any other hot August day. Out of the saddle and hammering, the only thing louder than my heart beat is my breathing. I can't even hear my massive Plus tires as they churn up the steep gravely pitch.
When I'm gassed there is nothing worse than a steep straight climb where the final destination is mockingly in sight and impossibly far away. Actually it's worse when a stronger, fitter, better-looking compatriot is closer to topping the final grind than I am to them.
I crest, roll to a stop, and remove my helmet to give my head some air, something I don't normally do. The bright green bucket is amazingly comfortable, but any idiot can see those ten tiny vents allow very little cooling. It breathes better than expected but my expectations were more toque than bandana.
I began looking at the Viva through a Keith Bontrager-esque 'Protection, Price, Venting: Pick Any Two' lens, examining how sacrificing air flow could net all the benefits of Kali's multi-density cone-shaped foam and softer helmet philosophy for 50 USD, but I didn't expect to be so taken with this helmet. This may sound ridiculous but, without even considering price, if I was buying myself a new half-lid tomorrow it would be a bucket, like the Kali Viva.
Even on the hottest days, I've been wearing the Kali Viva almost exclusively for daytime rides since mid-August. This piece started out as a call out; Kali says most bike helmets are too hard but many riders can't or won't spring for a Gucci lid like the 180 USD Kali Interceptor.
Kali also brings Interceptor-level safety features to the 100 USD Maya 2.0. It also sacrifices venting but not as much as the Viva, but I want even more value. I want maximum protection and fit for my dollar when I'm charging North Shore trails.
The features I maximize with the Viva are fit and function while venting takes a back seat to hit that sweet 50 USD price. I thankfully haven't had to test the function in a crash but I can't say enough about how a properly sized bucket maximizes fit.
It's been years since I wore a pad-fit lid, and ditching the retention unit - any retention unit, even my beloved BOA - for the light embrace of all-around pad contact is glorious. And yes, that embrace gets a bit moist and sweaty at times but as I said above - I'm all in.
We're at the top of a trail called Ned's which for some reason I find so-so on a full suspension bike and love on a hardtail or rigid bike. My friend is doing a slick bit of humblebragging about how little he's been riding and I can tell from the Mick Jagger level swagger that he smells blood. Mine.
It's go time and I'm straddling my rig holding the bucket in both hands. I lift it up to my head and just before it drops on my crown the opening guitar riff to April 29, 1992, starts playing in my head. It's edgy but so smooth, torpid but vicious. Oh yeah, now I'm ready.
I hear what you're saying: "It's just a bloody helmet." I know. Yes, I know. There are no mirrors in the Serengeti but I swear that this bucket takes ten years off my riding. I've been brazenly braving more and somehow crashing less.
Riding speed is all relative but we're normally wheel-to-wheel in terms of descending speed and today I'm dropping my friend at will. I'm not even picking lines, I'm just squatted calmly with my weight between the wheels with my bike floating over the trail.
You may think this is like saying a Brooklyn TMX climbs like a carbon 'cross bike but riding with a bucket just might be making me a better rider.
The Original Slip-Plane
Back to features, the Viva uses Kali's Composite Fusion 3 with triangularly shaped cones of different foam densities. Kali claims this helps with "impact management efficiency" and the notable benefit is that the Viva has a relatively low volume for a skid lid.
What the Viva doesn't have is the Low-Density-Layer (LDL) of the Interceptor or another "Slip-Plane" technology like MIPS. And before I ask you to take a leap of imagination here I'd like to note that I am not an engineer, arm-chair or otherwise, and my personal helmet lab research doesn't go past the 'grab the helmet and see if you can rotate it' level.
Fit pads provide a combination of a light 180° pressure fit and friction fit which does a great job of keeping the helmet in one place and doesn't create any pressure points. No hot spots. Ever. Despite the solid fit it took a few rides to get used to wearing a helmet that isn't ratcheted into position.
This got me thinking about MIPS*. Crashing in a bucket, the chin strap keeps the helmet on my head but the shell rotates easily because impact with an immovable object will easily overcome the light pressure and friction fit that keeps it in place.
Put another way, when I ratchet down a regular mountain bike lid isn't this exactly what MIPS does? It allows the shell to move independently of the harness that is essentially hard mounted to my skull. This, of course, had me in giggle fits because some companies were charging as much for a MIPS upgrade on their helmets as the cost of a good bucket lid.
*I'm using MIPS here as the Kleenex of Slip-Planes but feel free to substitute Slip-Plane, Low Friction Layer, LDL, SPIN, etc.
Unsurprisingly, there doesn't seem to be any science to back me up but I think it's a pretty easy experiment to do yourself. Go into your local shop, pop the right size of skid lid on your head, adjust the chain strap, grab it by the vents, and move it around a bit.
I don't think it's far-fetched to claim that the helmet can slide relative to my head and, therefore, reduce rotational motion in an angled impact. I doubt anyone will invest a dime comparing the protection benefits of Low Friction Layers versus just removing the ratcheting retention band and adding some padding. But I wonder if we've drifted some miles from Occam's brain bulwark in the name of a few extra gaps for passive air flow.
Most of my friends think I'm imagining things but I've noticed a big difference in interactions with other riders since I started wearing a skid lid, or 'kid lid' as I call it. Cruising up the gravel access road of my preferred local mountain I generally say hello to everyone who passes me as well as the few suffering souls that I happen to pass.
Kids and teens are notably more likely to say hey and strike up a conversation. Old dudes on top-end Enduro super-sleds the opposite. Same bike, same clothes, same demeanor, two different lids. It's so freakin' strange. And it brings me back to that question of whether hitting the trails in a brain bucket can actually make you a better rider.
Step one find a 13-year-old kid. Step two, ask them if you're old. Step three, if they say "yes" then throw a few bucks down on a bucket. It can't make you any worse!
I'm really happy with the 50 USD Viva, so if the kid lid fits wear it.