February 2017 Product Picks: Northwave, Bell, Silca, and Pearl Izumi

by James Huang

February 3, 2017

For this edition of Product Picks, U.S. technical editor James Huang is all about covering the extremities: Northwave’s radical-looking Extreme RR road shoes for your feet; Bell’s Stratus helmet, the less-expensive alternative to the Zephyr flagship model, for your head; and Pearl Izumi’s PRO Softshell Lite gloves for your hands. Silca’s novel Seat Roll Premio tool wrap perhaps doesn’t fit the theme, then, but its innovative Boa saddle attachment system could certainly be considered “extreme” for a saddle pack. Will any of them pass muster? Read on and find out.

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Bell Stratus MIPS helmet

by James Huang

The Bell Stratus is essentially the little brother to the flagship Zephyr model, sporting a nearly-identical look, the same fit and feel, and on this higher-end variant, the same MIPS low-friction liner that claims to reduce the incidence of closed-head injuries during a crash. Just like on the Zephyr, the Stratus’s height-adjustable Float Fit retention system is molded as one piece with the MIPS liner for a more even fit across your head (although this downgraded version omits the adjustable occipital pads).

At about two-thirds of the cost, there are some obvious omissions.

A MIPS low-friction liner (claimed to reduce the chances of closed-head injuries) is available on the Bell Stratus at a very modest upcharge.

Most notable is the single-density EPS foam liner, in contrast to the variable thickness dual-density liner that the Zephyr uses to help lessen impact forces. Although still admirably deep, the Stratus’s internal channeling isn’t quite as extreme as the Zephyr’s, either, nor does it sport the trick tabbed browpad that diverts sweat out in front of your face instead of down into your eyes.

Actual weight is 282g for a CPSC-approved sample (size small) — 15g heavier than the equivalent Zephyr.

Our Take:

The Bell Zephyr is one of the best all-around road helmets I’ve ever used, so I was quite excited to give the junior version a go. As I had hoped, it’s just as comfortable to wear, looks good while doing so, and despite the modest decrease in internal channeling, it ventilates nearly as well, too. One thing to note, though: for whatever reason, the Stratus is slightly roomier than the Zephyr for a comparable size, despite the same “52-56cm” rating.

The Bell Stratus offers the same styling as the higher-end Zephyr, but with a more conventional single-density foam liner.

Thinner webbing was once solely used in high-end helmets, so it’s nice to see the feature continue to trickle down to the mid-range. The Stratus straps remain soft and flexible — even when caked in dried sweat — and the trick No-Twist Tri-Glides do a good job of keeping the webbing tight against the side of your face.

Safety-minded riders will invariably be disappointed that the Stratus makes do with a single-density foam liner, but in fairness, the dual-density, helmet-within-a-helmet construction used on the Zephyr wasn’t likely to find its way down to this price point. That said, it is nice that Bell offers the MIPS liner on the Stratus at a modest $20 upcharge, and I see little reason to go without it.

The tabbed browpad that works so well on the Bell Zephyr at redirecting sweat away from your face is unfortunately not used on the Stratus.

What I find more perplexing, however, is that Bell also omitted the tabbed browpad of the Zephyr in favor of a more standard setup on the Stratus. On the Zephyr, that seemingly trivial extension does a remarkable job of keeping sweat from dripping into your eyes and sunglass lenses, redirecting it so that it drips harmlessly in front of your face instead. While I can appreciate that companies need to provide buyers with reasons to consider the products that sit further upscale, that ingenious browpad design works so well — and at such a minuscule cost — that I simply don’t understand why it isn’t being incorporated throughout the line.

Price: US$150 / AU$190 / £125