Friday, October 18, 2013

Night Rider & New Helmet

A couple of things sparked this post:

1. I bought a new helmet, and right after I bought the new helmet, I received a comment reply from a Trisha at LGRAB (on her post about her Carrera folding helmet) asking about my experience with the Yakkay helmet I bought earlier this summer. So I thought I'd share my thoughts about the helmets I currently have.

2. Biking at night is something that seems totally normal and totally terrifying to me, all at the same time. So let's talk about that, since I could avoid it pretty easily from May until now, but HEY WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF SUNSHINE.

"I have no lid upon my head, but if I did, you could look inside and see what's on my mind..."

-Dave Matthews Band

I currently own three helmets.

A 2006 Giro something-or-other that was the least-offensive-option when I started riding my mountain bike again to cross-train (I needed something to compliment the running I'd just discovered). This helmet is US-certified. It has vents, but I find it tight and hot when I wear it in the summer, and it dents my forehead unless I wear it with a bandanna, and then I have to remove a pad so it isn't too tight. I paid about $50 for it, new. It looks like this when I wear it:

A 2010 Yakkay Smart One which I bought secondhand via Amazon, because the suckers are expensive. ($80 I think for a new helmet and $60 for covers?) It is EU-certified but not US certified, and I think I know why; more on that in the reviews. There is a Smart TWO which is available for sale in the US. The primary difference between the two (from what I can gather) is that my helmet has a fabric strap to secure the helmet at the base/back of head; the Two has wires that dial for tightness. It looks like this when I wear it without a cover (most of the time in the summer; details in the review):

(I don't have a photo yet with the cover on, because I've only used it once; the helmet is theoretically safer without it, among other benefits when it is warm outside, and I'm certainly not just wearing the damned thing to look cool.)

And the newest member of the brain bucket club, my 2013 Nutcase. I have wanted a secure, adjustable-size helmet and kept coming back to the nutcases. I like their patterns, and unlike the Giro Surface, which made me look like this, I  think this one suits my narrow face a little better. This is what I look like when I wear my new Nutcase:

I took this last night after I got home from a rehearsal (the reason the chin strap is released). It was blurry enough that it looked dumb in color, so I made it B&W. This is what the helmet looks like in real life; the design is called Mellow Swirl, which is totally weird, but whatever. 

So, my thoughts about these helmets. There are good and bad things about all of them. I may keep all three or let one go. I don't object to having multiple helmets if they all serve me well, but I don't need every surface of my home covered with bike-related goodies, either. I welcome thoughts, experiences, feedback (about these helmets, other helmets, and how many helmets - whatever).

The Giro is secure, and pretty comfortable, though it's snug. As mentioned, I must remove the front pad to fit a freaking handkerchief under the helmet, and it gives me a head dent when I remove the helmet, even after just 20 minutes. And if it's warm, that means I have a head-dent for like half an hour. Not my favorite look. It's vented, and it is very light, so it's a pretty good summer helmet. But it gets very warm when the temps inch upwards above 70 or so, largely because the pads are continuous enough that even if air can get into the helmet, it doesn't move around much to cool you down. Also, it's the most aggressive/racy/MTB-type helmet I have, and I don't feel very feminine in it, which matters to me. I'm also concerned that, at 7 years old, the foam may be past its prime. That said, the helmet lives inside in a temp-controlled home, so it's not like it has had to suffer the ravages of sun and ice or anything. I welcome any feedback about whether the age alone is enough reason to part with the Giro, or whether you'd hold onto it.

The Yakkay is very light-weight, and the most minimalist/stylist. It's also a champ when it comes to ventilation, which I did not expect. At all. Here's why it works. The half-bowling ball style has four perfect circle holes on the top of the helmet. Instead of linear pads inside, the Yakkay features fairly stiff circular pads, which aren't very soft, but which hold the helmet just a bit away from your scalp. Air can -- and does -- flow between the helmet and your head. I still sweat -- heavens knows I would sweat riding in the summer without a helmet -- but I can feel a breeze! And that's pretty awesome. HOWEVER, the helmet does NOT feel particularly secure, and, in fact, slides back on my head. The lovely mid-forehead position it enjoys in my photo, above? Only stays that way when I wear the handkerchief. Otherwise, it slides back on my noggin. And this bothers me tremendously. I don't know, but suspect, that the more rigid Yakkay Smart Two's back-of-the-head fit system helps prevent this better than the strap. But it occurs to me that if I were to get into a bikey accident and need it, the helmet may not do for me what I need it to do. This is also due, I'm sure, to chin-strap slippage, which seems to be aggravated with this helmet. So, take that as you will. I'm thinking about ditching the Smart One in favor of the Two if I can try it on first and if it feels more secure. But only if I can try it first. Too expensive to guess. (The "hat" covers fit both models.)

The Nutcase is new, and my feelings about it will surely develop into more profound thoughts over time, but here's what I think so far: (a) it fits like it was made for my head. Given my issues with the first and second helmet, this is lovely. (b) the padding is so soft. So. soft. (c) it's adorable. (d) I can already tell that if it's over 65 degrees my brain will melt. So far, the fact that it will clearly be warm is the only meaningful downside. I sort of think it's just another reason to move to Portland, OR (with milder summers and winters), but hey. I tend to think most things are reasons to move to Portland (I love it there).

Michael Knight: I need ya buddy!
KITT: Right away Michael.
-Knight Rider

Now, a quick little bit about riding at night. 

I'm just starting to get into night riding. I'm largely embracing it because autumn is upon us and the light is waning...even with extended daylight savings time. So while I've been able to avoid it for the most part by focusing on riding my bicycle to work or other daytime activities, it's closing on in the time that night will fall before I can get my rumpus out of the office, and long before I pull my bicycle into my driveway at home. 

I have ridden after dark a handful of times since I started riding again last spring. Once to a happy hour 2 miles from my home in the same suburban area as my home, which ran from 8-10pm (I had a single beer and an appetizer, and it was about 90 degrees outside). Twice to my evening rehearsals (also 2 miles away, same suburban area), and twice to meetings, which started while it was still light out and weren't totally dark when I was heading home. There was one occasion a couple of weeks ago when I was late at work finishing a project and was about 30 seconds from needing my lights when I pulled onto my street. In every instance, I was, ultimately, safe and pretty comfortable. That said, here's what I've gathered from my experiences so far.

1. I am so glad I purchased really really really bright, high-quality lights. Mine are by Serfas, and I talk about them here. They were about $150, so you bet I take them off my bike when I park it out of my sight. If I am locking my bike to something, the lights are coming with me, thatstheendofthestorythanks. This is what they look like when they are on my bicycle at night:

The back (red) light blinks, and attaches by a neato little bungee. The only complaint I have is that the bungee is wholly detachable, and I lost one at the supermarket a hot minute after I purchased the lights. I'll have to look into a replacement, just in case. But it means I can attach my light to my bike rack, my seat post, or just about anything else I can wrap it around. The light has several settings: high-steady, mid-steady, low-steady, high-blink, low-blink.  

The front (white) light is nearly as bright as my husband's Maglite. It is fantastic! It has several brightness settings, as well as a blinking option, which I endeavor only to use at dusk, because it's too intense (for me AND drivers) when it's truly dark. Then I use a steady beam on the front of the bicycle.  You can get a sense of how bright the beam is on the high setting in my photo. It's resulted in a complete white-out of the top of the plant on my porch and part of the exterior wall of the house. I can see the road in front of me pretty well, as well as obstacles and objects, and people can see me coming. When it is angled slightly at the ground, my front basket is SUPER shiny, and I can see the road, signs ahead of me are illuminated, and even some leaves above my head are a bit illuminated. I try to aim it down just a bit so it's not obnoxiously bright in someone's eyes while they are driving. I'm nice like that.

This is what my sleepy neighborhood looks like when I ride at night:

Dead. All the people were inside and silent. Seriously. In two miles, I saw one car. Which brings me to my next point: yay for only seeing one car. Seriously.

I live in a very safe part of the county, and while quiet back streets are always worth paying extra attention to, they are not scary where I live. This was my first time taking my quieter route home after dark; in past evening rides, I favored the more brightly-lit main streets (nothing arterial, but in each mile-long stretch, I probably get passed a dozen times by cars, even at 10pm on a Thursday; more if it is earlier). And here's the thing; I don't like getting passed by cars when I am riding at night. Hate it. It's so much harder to confirm they see you and are giving you enough room when they pass, and in one of my rides in my idyllic suburban setting, a huge-ass Suburban hollered at me, honked and scared the snot out of me, which really put me off night riding. I was actually pretty anxious before starting this ride, and decided I preferred the quieter side streets... and it was better. I don't know if your part of the city or county will be as safe on side streets, but it's something to consider. I was passed by one car on the way home. One. Single. Car.

Still, I rode faster than I do during the day. There isn't a lot to see, but there are a few streetlamps, as you can tell from my photo. It was so quiet, and quite chilly, and my 20-minute ride took just fourteen minutes on the way home. I stood up on the hills and kept my butt in a productive gear. I consider it my cardio for the day, too. All in all, I don't know that I'll avoid night riding, and I may make it a goal to test my fears in this safer setting, but it's not my preferred time to ride, just like it's not my preferred time to run. Maybe my small & female instinct is just too strong, and I'm not sure I want to totally quiet that voice, because she probably keeps me safe from time to time.

Cheers and happy riding!


  1. I should probably be shopping for a helmet. My Bell Citi will turn five in a few months, and, while I hate to replace what seems to be a perfectly good helmet, that's about the maximum recommended life span. The Nutcase sounds like a pretty good cooler weather helmet, and it has the rounded (non-racey) style back that I prefer, but I'll probably get something that will work for all-weather riding. Vented helmet plus under-helmet-hat and/or thin balaclava is how I ride when it's cold.

    I enjoy night riding. I did a decent bit of it through somewhat rougher areas than where I live now. Realistically, I figured my changes of having some kind of crash (while quite low) were greater than my chances of having crime/violence problems, even in more questionable areas. An oddly comforting thought.

    I do need to upgrade my front light though, as well as figure out a better attachment system for my rear light. And yes, even with my not-too-expensive lights, I always carry them on my person when the bike is parked.

  2. The age is the primary reason I'm thinking about getting rid of the Giro; at 7, it's past its prime. But I didn't use it at all for several years, and it was stored in a climate-controlled spot, so I'm not sure if that matters.

    I hope to warm up to night riding, especially since my non-work daylight hours are rapidly disappearing. I am much more nervous about visibility to cars and distracted/drunk/anti-bike drivers than people.

    FWIW, I really do like the Serfas lights. They are expensive, but the ease with which they attach/detach (and the flexibility of where you place the rear light) is really nice.


Let the bicycle talk begin...