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The new Bell Zephyr helmet combines a new construction technique, MIPS integration and beautiful details.
The Audi A7. That’s what we thought when we first got our hands on the new Bell Zephyr helmet. It’s a good looking helmet and the almost imperceptible kick at the rear echoes that lines of the A7 sedan to our eyes. Not bad company to share aesthetic language with, but the new Zephyr’s talent runs more than skin deep. It looks like no other Bell helmet, yet is still obviously a Bell helmet.
Bell has pioneered a totally new construction method for this helmet and patented the process called progressive layering, or bifurcated construction. Bell has been making helmets since the ‘50s so when it decide to scrap the way it was done before, we paid attention.
The Zephyr is really two helmets in one. Bell molds two shells – an internal lower density shell and then a higher density external shell – and then bonds them both chemically and mechanically. Each shall has its own polycarbonate internal skeleton. This allowed Bell to create the most aggressive vents and deepest channels of any road helmet it has ever made for what it believes is the best ventilation in the peloton.
MIPS – a layer that allows the helmet to slide against the head and reduce the rotational force of impacts – is also a big part of the new Zephyr’s story. Sure, MIPS has been working its way into almost every brand’s helmets and even Bell’s own Gage, but most of those were add-ons, existing helmets upgraded with MIPS. The Zephyr is a MIPS only helmet and molded as such from day one. Where added on MIPS can significantly effect how a helmet fits a Zephyr will not only fit true to size, Bell has used the MIPS layer to make the best fitting Bell ever. The rear cradle attaches directly to the MIPS layer which acts as a halo securing fit circumferentially, not just by pushing the front pads to your forehead. For those familiar with Lazer’s fit system, it results in a very similar feel, which is a good thing. Bell spent 18months testing MIPS before including it in helmets and even built one of only two rotational impact testers in the world to do it right. The other tester? That’s at MIPS HQ.
While integrated MIPS and progressive construction are the two big stories here the Zephyr has plenty more to brag about. The fit system – Float Fit Race – provides incredible adjustability, the new dial offers positive feedback and sits suspended off the back of the head. It’s the same Bell head form Gage riders will be used to, but new molding techniques now allow Bell to offer protection lower on the back of the head. It has also taken the helmet’s padding and extended a tab about a half inch from the forehead, which allows sweat to wick away from your head and drip down away your glasses, falling harmlessly on your top tube or stem. It’s a very nice detail.
The slight ramp at the rear says, ‘Audi A7’ to us. Image: Brian Vernor
Of course, we had to ask about weight and aero. The new construction technology was not really about saving weight, at least not in this helmet. At 280 grams our size medium Zephyr is light, but won’t challenge the lightest on the market. Admittedly, all the features would be significantly heavier without progressive layering construction. When it comes to aerodynamics, Bell mentioned the Giro Synthe was the benchmark – a helmet widely regarded as the most aero of the vented road helmets on the market. Since Bell and Giro live under the same corporate system Bell would only claim to be very competitive with the Synthe. Reading between the lines, it sounds faster. One way they created this was remarkably simple. The strap guides under the ears are designed to lie flat against the face. Bell found that many guides on the market will angle out while riding and can cost over 9 watts of drag.
That little nugget sums up the new Bell Zephyr helmet pretty well. While Bell reinvented the way it makes helmets, and finally fulfilled the promise of MIPs, Bell did not forget about the details. The forest looks great, but dig in and the tress are just as impressive.
The 2017 Bell Zephyr Helmet will retail for $230 and come in seven color ways. For an extra $20 a version with reflective coating is available. A lower priced Stratus helmet, inspired by the Zephyr, is also available for $130 and $150 with MIPS.
For more info on Bell go to: bellhelmets.com
For more info on MIPS hit: mipsprotection.com