“Do you like your teeth?” Answering this, as a Brit, isn’t the yes or no, cut and shut answer one could expect. Maybe I better rephrase that. Do you want your teeth forcibly removed? Well, probably not. Even somebody with teeth that resemble a Picasso painting, without a parallel line in sight, probably doesn't want them taken out by force. Funnily enough when I first got to Canada from the UK, seeing everyone's perfectly straight and pearly white teeth firsthand made me almost grateful for the mask mandate, if only to hide my own tombstones.
I suppose it’s an odd thing, the concern we have for our faces. In one relatively small area, there are a lot of vulnerable pieces and when we ride bikes I think we’re acutely aware of that. Well, for the most part. Even if a Hapsburg Prince went OTB they would probably still think to protect their features, even if in actuality it’s the ground that I would feel sorry for once that battering ram of a jaw picked up some real momentum.
I don’t think it’s merely vanity to be concerned about your facial features. In fact, I think it’s a very human thing. I don’t know if it’s learned or ingrained but the idea of smashing your face into something isn’t quite as easy to brush off as a damaged limb or battered torso - even if those others can be equally severe.
The only type of trail I don’t like to wear an open face on is when the speed is high, the trail is rough and the grip is low. I hate that feeling of having the front wheel snatched from you and not having enough time to even get a hand out in front of your face. Steep and tech doesn’t bother me so much. I suppose those crashes don’t tend to have the same immediacy, or high speed and sometimes can feel like falling over more than crashing, or at least at the speeds that I tend to bumble along at.
I recently tested a Giant Realm MIPS helmet. I’m not sure what to call this style. Ear-muffed-open-face? What about a three-quarter job? Maybe not. My friend, who we'll refer to as Johnson
here, was nicknamed Half-a-Job-Johnson
by his partner. We never knew exactly what that referred to and always presumed it meant he didn’t do the dishes properly or something… either way, three quarters sounds a bit unfair.
Admittedly, this style of helmet isn’t that easy on the eye, and that’s irrespective of brand. They seem to look like a polystyrene version of something Gimli would wear, albeit with a massive avant-garde, high fashion golf visor that elderly ladies have on holiday to keep the heat from their face, but are they as silly as they look? I would say not.
The obvious question is that if you’re riding trails that demand more protection and yet still involve pedaling, why on earth wouldn’t you go for a lightweight enduro full face? They’re made to the same standards as a downhill helmet, they might even come with removable jaw protection and they can keep you cool and fresh on the descents and climbs, while wearing something only slightly heavier and less breathable than the halfway house of the ear-muffed-open-face.
Well, I suppose I come at it from the other end - if I’m riding a trail that has me reaching for a full face, why would I want anything other than a downhill helmet? The enduro helmets, while light and comfortable, have never really instilled me with that much confidence. I don’t know if it’s the flexing jaws, the low weight or the padding that feels like it often doesn’t hold your head completely securely that has me concerned, but I just never feel totally confident in them. And, if I don’t feel totally confident then what’s the point?
I know there are better and worse executions, and I don't want to tar them all with the same brush, but some of them, even with all the relevant safety certifications, seem a bit sketchy. It's the ones that are chasing low-weight as the highest priority and feel as light and flimsy as an ice cream cone that I don't look on favorably.
I suppose years of the bike industry positioning high-end helmets as not merely satisfying standards but far exceeding them, and this being very important, has left me somewhat skeptical about the certifications in general. For the record, I am definitely skeptical of removable or flexing chin bars. With full downhill helmets becoming lighter, better ventilated and working better with yellow PVC sunglasses than ever, it has me asking why I’d even bother? Okay, I’m joking on the last bit but you catch my drift - downhill helmets have never been so good, and that’s what I compare the enduro full-face helmets to, not anything with an open face.
And the half-a-job-Johnson
helmet definitely does offer something different to what I consider to be its main competition, a classic open face helmet. When the comparison goes between the two, the ¾ shell does come off looking more favourable.
Another question would be, is this style of helmet merely a fad? It’s all very well and good the 50/01 riders wearing them while they’re getting-trendy-in-the-woods, but what about you and I while we’re dragging brakes and casing jumps? I wouldn’t say so, and I think helmets such as the Realm are here to stay. They might not have the chin bar of some burlier helmets but that’s also what makes them so versatile. For me, it’s not just the weight of a full-face helmet but also the chin bar keeping my hot-air exhalations in that makes me not want to wear one.
If I was doing days of bike park laps or wild trails would I wear one? No, to be honest. If it deserves extra protection then I want a full downhill helmet. However, I think the Realm, and helmets like it, for all day lift-assisted alpine riding with some vertical gains thrown in, cruisy spins with friends or cooler climates.
Truthfully, if I need a full face then a lightweight one isn’t going to satisfy me, but there are plenty of times where I might be going to ride technical trails where I would gladly take extra protection but I don’t want to overheat. If I’m riding something gnarly, then I want to feel safe and comfortable that I’m adequately protected. If I’m pedaling and it’s hot then I want something to breathe not trap the hot air next to my face. If it’s a long climb and something truly dangerous I’d rather just take the cheek pads out of my full face and suffer a little. Either way, there’s a far greater chance that I’m reaching for an open face with extra coverage than a lightweight enduro helmet.