About This Review
It’s a fairly logical progression when you think about it: bike weight and geometry have evolved enough that long travel mountain bikes can now easily be pedaled to the top. Then mix in the speeds and technical gnar a skilled and aggressive rider can handle while descending. Plus, now there are e-bikes (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay). Alongside this progression, there’s been a similar growth in helmets with a removable chin bar—think of them as kind of like a mullet: half shell business on the up when you’re sweating that climb, and downhill full face party on the downhill when you’re hitting warp speed. And while we’re all about the party, this review of five removable chin bars is all business.
Helmet cert quick facts:
• Helmet certifications include CPSC (USA, Canada, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Brazil), CE-EN 1078/EN-1078 (Europe), AS/NZL 2063:2008 (Australian/New Zealand), and ASTM F1952.
• Helmets are certified based on the amount of force from which they offer protection and the amount of protective material, with EN-1078 as the thinnest and highest up on the head, and ASTM F1952 as the burliest, encasing the entirety of the skull.
• These are tested by dropping a head form that’s wired up with accelerometers and various measuring devices encased inside a helmet onto a variety of anvils from various heights. Medieval, maybe, but straightforward and reliable.
• Helmets that meet the ASTM F1952 downhill standards are tested with higher drop velocities and can protect against a greater range of impacts—say, to the face—than helmets that just sit up top.
Full face helmets must clearly meet a much higher safety standards than half shells do. So if a full-face lid is that much more protective, why not always wear one? Simple: that protective casing doesn’t breathe or ventilate as well as a half shell lid. And they’re designed as more of a full tilt boogie kind of thing. So we have evolved the removable chin bar helmet to bridge that gap for this “enduro “ type of riding: they breathe better than a dedicated full face for the “cruise control” of the ups with the chin bar off, and offer that additional level of protection for singletrack plowing on the descents with the extra security of having full facial protection in place. But take note: while that chin bar will definitely help in the event of an impact—it uses EPS or EPP foam—it’s primarily designed to deflect, so it’s mostly just there to keep your face pretty.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the advent of rotational energy management systems, too, like MIPS or Leatt’s 360° Turbine. While there is currently no standard of certification for these systems, having these types of slip plane technologies in a helmet can help it deal with rotational impacts, by allowing the outer shell to move in response to an impact, rather than remaining in place and taking the full force of a blow.
Giro Switchblade MIPS
• Actual Weight: 903g w/ chin bar; 613g no chin bar (size S)
• Tested Color: Matte Warm Black
• Sizes: S (51-55cm)/ M (55-59cm)/ L (59-63cm)
• MSRP: $270 USD
Giro pioneered the original Switchblade in the early 2000s. That design pales in comparison to the re-released Switchblade of 2016. The Switchblade MIPS is touted as all about the down, and it does carry that ASTM F1952 certification as well as MIPS, but it’s also very much about the up, with hydrophilic padding and enough ventilation to let in some airflow.Features:
• ASTM F1952, EU CE EN1078, CPSC certified
• Climbing-friendly padding and ventilation
• 3-position adjustable visor
• Giro's Roc Loc Air DH adjustment system
• Moto-style D-ring closure
• Tool-free chin bar on/off
• Replaceable cheek pads to tune fitFit:
I tested the Switchblade in size small. The fit was spot on my 55cm head with the smaller cheek pads attached. The dial of the Roc Lock easily allowed me to adjust the helmet to a tight but comfortable fit (with and without the chin bar). The D ring closure system is known to be a safe choice and is a straightforward buckle system that is easy to adjust with gloves on or off. There is a snap on the strap to keep the extra material from flapping. The visor easily adjusts to fit desired google positions. The Switchblade does hug the face (and cheeks) fairly tight, but there are ample vents and cutout ear holes so I could hear people around me relatively well. Ride Impressions:
Like all the convertible helmets in this review, I tested the Switchblade both with and without the chin bar, climbing and descending, and in a range of spring and summer temperatures. The helmet offers some of the best coverage with the chin bar off and offered such a solid and snug fit that it moved very little when descending technical trails (or with my shaking the head around as a test). I had decent peripheral vision, and the chin bar was easy to remove when the helmet was on.
Snapping the chin bar back into place takes a little practice and I noticed that sometimes I thought it was locked in when it wasn't, so it's always important to give it a little tug to make sure everything is in place before dropping in. While this helmet is well ventilated, I will note that it runs on the warm side—even with the chin bar off, on any climbs in the heat the Switchblade had me looking like a Red Hot at the top. If you are looking for a convertible helmet that provides excellent coverage both with and without the chin bar the Switchblade is a great option, although I would lean towards choosing it for shorter climbing days in cooler weather.
Giro Switchblade MIPS.
Best half shell coverage+
Very stylish design
Bell Super 3R MIPS
• Actual Weight: 738g w/ chin bar; 547g no chin bar (size S/M)
• Tested Color: MatteDark Gray/Gunmetal
• Sizes: S (52-56cm)/ M (55-59cm)/ L (58-62cm)
• MSRP: $225 USD
The Bell Super 3R MIPS is aimed at trail riders wanting the security of a full face helmet in a lighter weight, well-ventilated package. It's crafted by bonding the outer shell of the helmet to the EPS liner in a process Bell pioneered called fusion in-mold polycarbonate. This creates a sturdier helmet with reduced weight. This helmet is CPSC certified; but take note: it does not have the ASTM F1952 certification found on the slightly heavier Bell Super DH
Spherical helmet or the other helmets in this review. However, with the chin bar locked in place, it will still function to deflect impact forces away from the face in the event of a crash (although like all chin bars, it has limits).Features:
• Tool-free, two-chip chin bar
• Adjustable visor accommodates both goggles and glasses
• A plethora of vents
• Bell's Float Fit
• Breakaway camera mountFit:
I tested this helmet in size small. The overall fit was perfect out of the box and the Float Fit system dial allowed me to easily fine-tune as needed. The helmet is the lightest of the bunch tested here. With the chin bar removed, it feels as if it is perched higher on my head, but the fit system does a good job of keeping it snug on one's head. I would note that with the chin bar on, I needed to pull the chin bar down to ensure that my chin was covered adequately, which was unusual. I'm uncertain as to why, because my head (in general) is on the smaller side making me think that the chin bar fit would be more natural.Ride Impressions:
This is the lightest helmet of the review and also offered the least coverage, but it's not a DH-rated helmet, so that was to be expected. The light weight and venting did make this by far the most comfortable helmet for climbing. Peripheral vision was good. While you can easily take the chin bar off the helmet without removing it from your head, stashing it for the ups isn't as easy as some of the others in this review because it's a completely circular frame with a release in the back—i.e. you can't just tuck it into a waist strap.
Attaching the chin bar back on is fairly easy, although it is not the easiest of the group; you have to make sure the back latch is hooked before you put it on, and then line things up before latching it down—and then give it a little tug to verify you didn't mess it up. I see this helmet out on the trails very often, whether it's on kids or adults, and it appears to be a top pick (probably due to the cost and light weight). If you are looking for a little extra face and head protection this helmet is a good entry point into the convertible helmet world: it doesn't break the bank and won't weigh you down on epic backcountry missions.
Bell Super 3R MIPS.
Coverage feels minimalistic-
Only convertible without ASTM F1952, and EU CE EN1078 certs
Sweet Protection Arbitrator
• Actual Weight: 984g w/ chin bar; 547g no chin bar (size S/M)
• Tested Color: Nardo Gray / Natural Carbon
• Sizes: S/M (53-56cm)/ M/L (56-59cm)
• MSRP: $349.95 USD
This Norwegian brand has been making full face and half shell mountain bike lids for a decade now, and the Arbitrator is their removable chin bar design. This helmet is designed with a four-piece in-mold shell and an EPS liner with MIPS. It also utilizes Zytel (a type of nylon resin) internal framing for additional structural support.Features:
• CPSC, SGS EN1078, and ASTM F1952 certified
• Two different retention systems for use with or without chin bar
• Sturdy construction
• Single snap closure to join helmet and chin bar
• Replaceable cheek pads to tune fitFit:
I tested this helmet in size S/M. The helmet fit well with the chin bar on and the boa dialed all the way down. With the chin bar off the helmet felt a tad bit loose on my head (much like the Leatt). The helmet has a double strap retention system, meaning the half shell has a standard buckle and the chin bar has a separate buckle. While I found this unique, I didn't have any issues buckling the thing up once it was on my head and it didn't feel as bulky as I thought it would. Not sure what the purpose is, but maybe the doubling up prevents helmet ejection in case of buckle failure? Peripheral vision with goggles on was good.Ride Impressions:
This is the heaviest and bulkiest helmet of the review, but also felt the most like an actual full face. The chin bar system was unique: you have to take the helmet off to get the chin bar off as it's a solid circular lower shell that snaps to the upper half shell. To buckle it in place, one aligns some v's, slides guides into slots, and then levers a single snap closure that locks everything into place. The snap takes a little bit of muscle power, but as a result I definitely knew that the chin bar was securely on. With the chin bar in place, this helmet definitely gave me the confidence to just pin it—knowing I had such a solid fit and excellent coverage around my head definitely gave me a boost of confidence heading into root and rock filled chaos. Kind of like powering down a pothole-filled road in a classic soft top Cadillac: looks sweet but it's as solid as it comes.
Sweet Protection Arbitrator
Confidence inspiring design
MET Parachute MCR MIPS
• Actual Weight: 826g w/ chin bar; 440g no chin bar (size S)
• Tested Color: Petrol Blue/Matte Glossy
• Sizes: S (52-56cm)/ M (56-58cm)/ L (58-61cm)
• MSRP: €330
The MET Parachute MCR utilizes a magnetic chin bar release (M-C-R) that was developed in partnership with Fidlock to convert the helmet from full face to half shell and back.Features:
• AS/NZS, CPSC, CE 1078, ASTM F2032, and ASTM F1952 certified
• Magnetic chin bar release (MCR)
• 21 vents
• Flexible and adjustable visor
• Fidlock magnetic buckle and BOA adjustment system
• Replaceable cheek pads to tune fitFit:
The size small MCR with the standard cheek pads offered a great fit. This helmet is super comfortable both with and without the chin bar. I had zero issues with peripheral vision. Removing the chin bar with the helmet on is very straightforward, and the MCR system makes it almost impossible to incorrectly put the chin bar back on—there is a fairly loud pop when the dials press into place correctly. The Fidlock magnetic buckle is easy to use with or without gloves and the visor adjusts to handle googles as desired. The coverage and fit without the chin bar gave me the confidence to ride hard knowing the helmet fit tightly in all the right places. Ride Impressions:
This was my favorite convertible helmet of the review. The half shell really stands out—not only does it look like a regular helmet, but it's quite stylish and it didn't make me feel like I had a modified bunker perched atop my head when the chin bar was off. Many of the other half shells are bulky or look like you're wearing a ski helmet. Not the case with the MCR!
This helmet is on the lighter side and the chin bar is just svelte enough when removed that it easily fits in a smaller riding pack. Testing, this helmet was on par with most the other full-face helmets as far as having enough venting to keep things cool while having the certifications and rotational impact protection that keep your brain as safe as a helmet can. While this helmet is on the pricey side, it checks all the boxes as far as comfort, protection, style, and weight.
MET Parachute MCR.
Half shell checks all the boxes+
Chin bar system is dialed
Leatt Helmet MTB 4.0 Enduro V21
• Actual Weight: 805g w/ chin bar; 455g no chin bar (size S)
• Tested Color: Sand
• Sizes: S (51-55cm)/ M (55-59cm)/ L (59-63cm)
• MSRP: $299.99 USD
The Leatt entry into this removable chin bar round up features a polymer construction with both EPS and EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) foams for high and low speed impacts, as well as Leatt’s proprietary 360° Turbine Technology (a rotational energy management system) to reduce rotational and concussive forces to the rider in the event of a crash. Rather than a flexible visor like the MET Parachute MCR to reduce rotational leverage, their adjustable visor has a breakaway function.Features:
• AS/NZS 2063/2008, ASTM F1952, EN1078, and CPSC certified
• Combination of foams for high and low-speed impact absorption
• Leatt's 360° Turbine Technology
• Adjustable breakaway visor
• Chin bar attached with stainless steel hardware activated by lever on either side of helmet
• Ratchet dial to adjust fit
• Fidlock magnetic closure
• 18 vents
• Moisture-wicking, washable inner linerFit:
I tested this helmet in size S. While the size chart on the website states the size small is 51 - 55cm (my head circumference is about 55cm), the helmet felt fairly loose and big on me both with and without the chin bar. I could dial down the boa to tighten it up enough for testing, but do note that if you have a small head, the Leatt small runs on the larger end of the sizing spectrum. Sizing aside, once this helmet was on it was super comfortable. Like the MET, the chin bar system is dialed and it's hard to mess it up: you know without a doubt when the chin bar's locked into place, and removal when wearing it is fairly simple. The Fidlock buckle and fit retention system work seamlessly while the glasses retention system is a cool feature that I used with chin bar off while climbing. Peripheral vision was great.Ride Impressions:
This helmet is rad! It's lightweight, well-vented, easy to use, and offers top-notch comfort. If the fit was a little more snug I would consider it as my go-to daily driver for big days with long climbs and fast, technical descents. While I can't speak to the difference between MIPS and 360° Turbine Technology and whether one is better than the other (as of yet there are no standards for rotational impact systems), it holds all the certifications that make me feel confident to ride hard. In fact both my 13-year-old son (pictured in the photo above) and my testing co-partner absolutely loved this helmet. And since the fit was a little better on them, the helmet had many hours of testing, some small crashes and scuff marks, but is holding up phenomenally well (i.e. no wear and tear on the chin bar system). If you are looking for a convertible helmet that runs a little cooler than the Switchblade and just a little heavier than the Bell, I highly suggest you take a look at this one.
Leatt Helmet MTB 4.0 Enduro V21.
Comfort and fit is stellar+
Chin bar system is easy to use
Sizing runs big-- not the best for small heads
About the Tester:
Nikki Rohan stands 5'5" and weighs 135 lbs with a 28-inch waist, 37-inch hips, and 35-inch chest and wears a size small helmet, size large gloves, and EU-41 shoes. She typically falls between a size small and medium, a US size 6, and a US 8.5 shoe. She resides in Hood River OR with her husband, Colin Meagher, her two kids, a dog, and a grumpy cat.