Words & Photos: Wil Barrett
Based out of Morgan Hill in California, Kali Protectives may not be the most well-known helmet and armour brand in Australia, but there are a number of compelling reasons why it should be. I first came across Kali Protectives last year at PressCamp, where we learned all about the innovative ‘Conehead’ technology, as well as getting the opportunity to check out the new Maraka XC and Road helmets. Although many helmet companies on the market claim that their designs are the ‘best’ or that they’re ‘constantly innovating’ in their quest to produce lighter and safer helmets, the reality is that a lot of technology and production techniques are shared across most of the big players. Save for the few examples out there such as the Smith Overtake and Forefront helmet, many helmets only differ largely in their external shape. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, as the modern mountain bike helmet has become the lightest and safest way of protecting our noggins while out on the trail. However, as with many things in life, there is always room for improvement.
Founder and head engineer at Kali Protectives, Brad Waldron, was back at Summer PressCamp 2014 to show us through some of the new helmet designs, including the brilliant Maya that we’ll touch on below. Aside from being a top dude, Brad doesn’t just have to tell you that he’s a passionate helmet maker, his infectious enthusiasm for improving helmet technology and safety bursts out of his skin. He has a critical eye for design, and is the driving force behind the companies investment into discovering new materials and construction methods to produce a better helmet. It would be easy to let the aggressive stylings of their products fool you – but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that there’s a lot more going on with their products than the angry-face-logo might suggest.
Ok, so there’s a lot to cover here, but first things first: the new Maya helmet. Up until this point, Kali Protectives have largely invested in the XC side of things with their open face helmets. That current range includes the lightweight Maraka XC helmet that we checked out last year, which uses an intriguing blend of soft memory foam inside the helmets lining to create a super comfortable fit. (Note: The Maraka XC helmet has just recently passed Australian standards and is slated for arrival in Oz later this year. We’ll be reviewing the Maraka XC helmet in an upcoming issue of Enduro, so keep a look out to see our final thoughts on its longterm performance.) For 2014 however, that range is set to expand with a new option pitched for the Gravity Enduro market, which aims to straddle the difference between a superlight open-face lid such as the Maraka, and a burly full-face helmet. Enter the Maya.
“We are proud to introduce the MAYA, our newest entry into the All Mountain Enduro category. At just under $100, the MAYA is the first XC helmet at this price point to feature our patented COMPOSITE FUSION Plus technology. With foam density at just 35 grams per cubic litre, the MAYA also features the lowest density EPS foam we have ever used in a Kali Protectives helmet. Softer foam allows the EPS material to give more easily and better manages energy during impact when compared to higher density EPS foam. In short, softer foam next to your head is a good thing. The MAYA will feature our Camera and Light Mount System featuring several different mounts: GoPro mount, universal handlebar mount, Light and Motion mount, and in the future, Serfas and Lezyne mounts. At just 300 grams, the MAYA represents our advancement into deep coverage helmets that offer maximum protection while still maintaining a reasonable weight.” – Kali Protectives
- Designed for XC/Trail/All Mountain riding & racing
- COMPOSITE FUSION Plus technology
- Low-density EPS foam
- Polycarbonate outer shell
- Dual Closure Fit System
- Adjustable visor w/GoPro Camera and Light & Motion light mount
- Claimed weight: 300 grams
- Sizes: S/M & L/XL
- Colours Solid Matte Black, Duo Matte White/Black, Duo Matte Blue/White
- MSRP: $100 USD
Before I go any further, I must point out that the helmet you see in the photos here is a T1 first generation sample helmet from Kali. That means that visor location, the fit system, and padding are still yet to be finalised. Brad also informed us that the Maya will only be coming in Matte finishes, rather than the gloss white shown in the photos. Otherwise, the external shape, construction methods, and the Composite Fusion Plus technology will remain for the final production version. Having spoken directly with Aussie importer for Kali Protectives, Red Hot Agencies, there will also be an additional layer of testing for the Maya helmet to pass certification to be sold in Australia. Brad was confident that this will happen, but it’s unlikely that you’ll see the Maya available in Oz until 2015. More updates as we get them…
With a pronounced drop to the rear of the helmet to increase protection around the base of the skull, the new Maya represents Kali’s first push into what they call a ‘deep coverage helmet’. As mountain bikes have progressed over the years, XC and trail riders are finding themselves travelling at faster speeds on far more technical trails than we would have ridden just 4-5 years ago. 29ers, smart suspension, and progressive frame geometry are some of the innovations that have seen a significant boost to rider confidence and the ability to tackle steep terrain with less of the hesitation and nervousness of XC race machines of old. With that increase in speed however, also comes the increased chance of doing yourself a real number if things decide to go rubber side up. Although hardcore racers still shield themselves in nothing more than a few millimeters of Lycra, us weekend warriors are beginning to look for some extra insurance in the form of lightweight body armour (such as the Troy Lee Designs Shock Doctor range) and helmets with greater coverage. The Maya presents a compelling argument to those new generation mountain bikers, and anyone from a 29er hardtail rider, to someone who’s riding a 6″ travel All Mountain slayer. It has a decent amount of ventilation to keep it cool on warm summer days, and at around 300 grams, it’s still pretty damn light too. Adjustability from the micro-fit harness is similar to existing Kali helmets, and I found the larger profile of the Maya to cup around noggin very comfortably and securely. If anything, it just ‘feels’ safer compared to a lower profile XC helmet.
‘Feeling’ safe is one thing though. Ensuring that the Maya is indeed as safe as Kali claim it to be, the innovative ‘Conehead’ technology is employed in the helmets EPS core. Developed in conjunction with Australian professor Don Morgan, the simple concept behind those little molded ‘cones’ in the helmets EPS foam is to assist with dispersing impact energy over a broader surface area. As with any crash protection device, a helmet’s purpose is to absorb the forces from a crash to avoid your skull from having to. Kali first employ softer density foam closer to the riders head, and a more normal-density EPS foam around the external walls of the helmet. They then mold in tens of thumb-sized cones into the EPS core, which are extremely effective at crumpling under impact, therefore slowing down and absorbing the impact forces. It’s all very clever stuff, but it’s also very difficult to produce. Those who are privy to the processes involved with building a helmet will understand the complexities involved with making a conventional helmet, let alone factoring in dual-densities and intricate internal shapes.
More examples of some of the ‘Conehead’ shapes you might see if you were to cut open a Kali helmet.
Outside of the new Maya helmet, Brad also a very cool new material tech that he wanted to talk to us about. “In moving helmet protection forward, we have researched and tested countless different materials, most of which have left us wanting more. Our need to find something bigger and better has led us to the development of a new material that we are preparing to introduce to market. Over the last few years we have been working closely with Italian chemists on the creation of a new material for use in our helmets. After months of trial and error, we are happy to introduce Kali’s NANO technology.”
Designed as an alternative building material to traditional EPS foam, NANO is heralded as the first true multi impact helmet material coming to market. Unlike EPS foam, which can survive one to two impacts, Kali have found that NANO has the capability of withstanding double digit impacts prior to failure. “The Holy Grail on the development side has been to find a material that is truly multi-impact and that manages energy better than traditional EPS foam”, Brad explained. “I believe we have found and are working with this material today and that we are just scratching the surface of this technology.”
Brad illustrates how the tiny green particles in between the larger molecules are able to add a ‘spring-like affect’ to the Nano material that allows it to absorb energy from multiple impacts.
Not content on just using a whiteboard, Brad and Kali’s marketing main-man, Bryan Mason, took me through the brutal test rig they had brought with them to PressCamp. Using various helmets with and without Nano Technology, they demonstrated how the new wunder-material could easily withstand heavy impacts multiple times. Where a conventional helmet would be rendered useless after a single hit, the skate helmet in the above photo was about 9 impacts in before it looked like it would need to be replaced. Currently Kali will be applying the Nano material to their range of dirt jumping helmets, due to the demands and idiosyncrasies of that market. Will we see Nano Technology adopted for XC helmets too? Time will only tell, but Brad sure is excited about the possibilities.
While the big story of PressCamp was with the new helmet range, we were also taken through some of the Kali Protectives body armour range, which includes knee, shin, and elbow guards. Using an Aramid weave over the top of the guards for durability, the guards utilise a hard plastic cap directly over the boney part of your knee/elbow to keep them shielded in the event of some unscheduled tree maintenance. Each model is built to be flexible for comfortable pedalling and moving around on and off the bike, with a lightweight mesh backing and dual Velcro strap retention. We’ve got a pair of the Veda elbow guards and the Aasiz knee guards on review, which you’ll be able to read about in an upcoming issue of Enduro Magazine alongside our test of the Maraka XC helmet.
For more information on the Kali range in the meantime, visit www.KaliHelmets.com.au for up to date pricing and availability.