Review: Bern Brentwood helmet

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bern-helmet-250pxI’d be the first to admit I have a big head. It turns out, also, to be an awkward size.

While there are lots of arguments for and against helmets, I figured that there’s no convincing case where wearing a helmet is positively bad for you. (And before you say anything, yes I’m aware of the research that suggests drivers will pass closer to cyclists in protective gear; I said no convincing case because that research doesn’t convince me that this effect necessarily leads to accidents.)

So, a helmet was always going to be on my shopping list. The question was, which one?

I immediately ruled out the aerodynamic, highly aerated type so beloved of racers. I’m not looking to shave milliseconds off the time it takes to amble down the voie verte with the dogs. And I’m happy to leave that ant-headed Lycraman look to the fitness freaks and Tour de France wannabes. So I was pleased when the More Significant Other (MSO) pointed me towards Bern helmets.

The style is far more reminiscent of the kind of thing you might see atop a pot-holer or horse rider. I’d hoped for something orange, being a great believer in hi-vis but settled for the green: I’m a little concerned the colour will disappear in Normandy’s summer foliage. However, it should stand out during the mud brown and slate grey of winter.

The Bern’s hard shell has the usual padding, plus a clip-in liner with adjustable headband, to ensure a tight fit, and a flip-up visor. That visor allows good forward visibility when you’re in head-down, power mode (which I never will be), but allows you to have it in the down position to keep the rain or sun out of your eyes. Actually, that brim is pretty short, so the degree of protection it provides is modest at best, but it’s better than nothing. You can swap out this liner for a longer, ear-warming winter version. The manufacturing quality is excellent throughout.

I bought my helmet for €80. The winter liner costs another €40.

So am I happy? Well, not entirely.

I have of late (and I know exactly wherefore) become somewhat disenchanted with online purchases of clothes – and anything else that needs to fit. Being in the middle of the countryside, with a limited choice of local shops, it’s inevitable that online shopping plays a big part in our lives. Many of the things we want are simply not available locally. And helmets are a case in point. This being France, all the bike shops are entirely geared towards racing, and sell only ant-man helmets.

Before ordering this helmet, I spent many a nervous hour wrapping a tape measure around my head. It always read 60.5cm. According to Bern’s website, the M/L size of Brentwood fits heads up to 60.5cm and the XL/XXL size fits big brainboxes like mine from 60.5cm. I’m right on the cusp. And I know from past experience that I need big hats: I have real trouble finding titfers that fit. So I went with the larger size, thinking that anything too small is likely to give me a headache.

And the truth is, it does fit reasonably snuggly around my brow, but sits too low. That means the adjustment mechanism at the back digs into my neck and the front sits a little too far down my brow.

For summer, I’ve fixed this by inserting a 0.5cm-thick bit of foam that sits on top of my head. This pulls the helmet up slightly and now it feels reasonably comfortable. It remains to be seen (and I’ll edit this review accordingly) how well I get on with it over long rides.

For winter, I’ll probably wear a thin beanie under the helmet (I’ve already stolen one from the MSO). With that, it fits snugly – although, for some reason, the MSO still keeps referring to me as ant-man. Maybe it’s the colour…

What this tells me is that measuring the distance around your head isn’t enough. Everyone’s head is a different shape in all axes. And a helmet is something that needs to fit well if it’s going to do its job. So while I think this is an excellent piece of kit, my advice would always be to try before you buy.

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