Bike Rumor Exclusive Review: Kali Avita Carbon XC/AM Helmet

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The Kali Avita Carbon is the best mountain bike helmet you have never heard of. Well, maybe you have, but do you know someone who has one? Up until now probably not, and for good reason since Kali is one of the newest competitors in today’s helmet market. New, yes, but slow to gain a following they are not. Especially in the Motocross world, Kali is quickly becoming a well respected name, offering innovative construction, eye catching designs, and supreme comfort.

So what about this Avita? Almost hidden among the ranks of full faced brain buckets and full body armor that make the Kali catalog, it’s clear that this helmet is a well kept secret (until now). As the crown jewel of the XC/AM line of helmets for Kali, it is no surprise that this helmet is respectably light, easy to look at, and protects as well as any other helmet – after all the meaning of Avita is “to be protected.” What is most surprising though is finish quality. That is, until you try it on.

Full review with more pictures, weight, and construction after the break!

Company Background:

Testing a Helmet

Testing a Helmet

OK, so you’re interest has been piqued but you aren’t sure you want to trust your noggin to just any new company with a flashy helmet. A helmet is a pretty important piece of equipment that has a lot of forces that act upon it in the event of a crash. Fortunately for Kali, and you, Kali employs some of the best engineers and industrial designers in the world. How can they make that claim? Well one of the founders by the name of Brad Waldron was contracted to lend his composite expertise to redesigns on both the F-18 and the B-2 Stealth Bomber. After that he worked for a small company by the name of Specialized for a number of years, before setting out to help found Kali. Two other members of the crew, David Assyag and Mike Wilson, both have extensive experience with designing and creating the French Ski Company Salomon’s helmets along with other products. David went on from there to managing the complete helmet lines of Scott USA for both Moto and bike.

Rest assured, the guys behind the scenes have plenty of experience and are fully capable of producing a dialed lid.

How is this helmet constructed?

Kali Avita cross section

Cutaway showing the Contego EPS core

Most helmets these days are of similar construction, they have a hard outer shell which is attached somehow to a softer foam inner layer. The outer shell is there to prevent  punctures from sharp objects, provide abrasion protection for the foam core underneath, and to help disperse impact over a larger area of the helmet. The inner layer, which is usually constructed of EPS (Expanded PolyStyrene) is meant to absorb impact and to dissipate the energy before it reaches your head.

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Plenty of carbon used in the construction

A critical part of the whole construction process is how that shell is connected to the foam liner and how secure that bond will be in the long term. In the old days and on cheaper helmets today, the shell was constructed separately from the foam mold and the two pieces were later glued or taped together. This lent towards small air pockets between the shell and the EPS liner which is less efficient in transferring energy in a crash. Not to mention over time the glue or tape would break down causing the shell and the liner to separate ruing the helmet while simultaneously creating an unsafe product.

Kali uses a technique they refer to as Composite Fusion in which the shell and the Contego EPS liner are molded at the same time bonding the two together permanently. The process leaves no chance for air bubbles to form between the two and allows for a lighter and stronger overall product. The process seems to be very similar to Giro’s In-Mold for instance. On this particular model, the Avita Carbon, the outer shell is made with Carbon fiber, fiberglass, and polycarbonate material to keep the weight low and the strength high.

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Kali’s claimed weight for the Avita Carbon is 350 grams, and on my Park Tool scale it came in at a very honest 347 grams. This is only 4 grams heavier than my 4 year old Giro Xen, so for their first try at a full coverage XC/AM helmet in addition to all the extra padding, it’s not too shabby.

How does it fit?

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Everyone reading this right now, has probably worn at least one helmet in their life and should be wearing one every time you ride. No I’m not going to chastise anyone for not wearing a helmet, but it is generally a good idea. With that said, I feel the progress of helmets in general has become a little stale. Helmets are now seen as ubiquitous parts of cycling where as recently as 20 years ago, few people wanted to sport the white Styrofoam cooler atop their heads. Obviously helmets have changed drastically since, but for awhile now there haven’t been any news makers in the helmet game short of some lighter weight road helmets .

When you look at the Avita, it admittedly looks like a helmet, sleek, well ventilated, and strong. As you pick up the helmet, you think to yourself that it’s pretty light, but still nothing ground breaking. The next step is to slip it on…

WOW.

I have never had a helmet that fits this well. From the moment you put it on until the second you take if off you are enveloped in a blanket of comfort. This is my opinion of course, but I am not alone. Nearly everyone who I have had try on the Avita has been shocked, and the first words to leave their mouth have been “luxurious, soo comfortable, and amazing.” I will apologize in advance if I use the word comfort too much in this review, but it is only because I truly enjoy wearing this helmet due to it’s ridiculous level of comfort.

The Avitas ample padding

The Avita's ample padding

You may be asking yourself at this point what I am comparing this against? I have ridden many different helmets and have at least tried on most XC helmets from the various manufacturers but previously I was rocking a Giro Xen. I do tend to fit into Giros better than Bells, but I had a few friends who normally ride Bell, Limar, or Lazer note that they also liked the fit. I’m almost willing to say that the Kali is one of the most universally liked helmets that I have seen.

Now, what makes the Avita so much more comfortable than the Xen? My first inclination would be the fact that on the Avita, the entire retention system is padded. There isn’t a spot on the helmet where skull meets plastic. This is accomplished by way of two quarter inch thick foam rubber pads covered in soft fabric on the retention pads that allow a comfort fit while still allowing snug adjustment of the helmet. There are also two long soft pads that cover the sides of the retention system where the harness enters the helmet. Unlike other helmets on the market, the Avita uses a retention system that is not anchored into the back of the helmet, but instead utilizes two anchor points on each side of the helmet. With the creative use of some articulating plastic joints, the retention system is free to “self adjust” to the curvature of the user’s head. Due to this brilliant design, the retention cradle sits lower on my noggin offering a more encompassing fit that eliminates any of the play I have noticed in other helmets.

Close up of the excellent retension system. Note how how it sits, compared to other helmets.

Close up of the excellent retension system. Note how low it sits, compared to other helmets.

Surely this has to be some kind of “honeymoon” phase, and the helmet will undoubtedly become drastically more uncomfortable as time goes by, right? That, I’m not so sure. I have been doing my damnedest to accelerate any wear that the normal user would see, and so far the Avita is no worse for wear. Due to poor trail conditions, and a tight schedule I have only been able to log just over 150 miles wearing the Avita, but most of those have been on extremely hot and humid days that cause sweat to pour from beneath your lid. That kind of sweat will quickly wear down the padding in any helmet, and the salt from your sweat can further break down the integrity of the EPS foam. I also made sure to never take the helmet out of the back seat of my car (note: this was done for the sake of testing, never leave your helmet in extremely hot cars as  degradation of the foam can occur) and put away wet in my gear bag only to be brought just before the next ride. The pads are a little dirty and there are a few scuffs on the visor, but over all the helmet feels just like it did the day it came out of the box. It should stand to reason the the anti-microbial pads won’t start to stink any time soon, but if they ever do they are removable and washable.

Close up of the padding on the retention system.

Close up of the padding on the retention system.

Sizing is something I should make a note of as the Avita only comes in two sizes, small/medium and medium/large. I normally wear a medium Giro and my head measures 56.5 cm in circumference. I received the small/medium for the review, and it obviously fits me perfect.

Fit and Finish:

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There is no doubt to the quality of the helmet as soon as you remove it from the box. Retailing for $189.00 the Avita is clearly a high end product but seems somehow more expensive than it really is. The first thing you notice is the unique matte, almost rubberized finish the paint has. It feels really cool, and seems like it would be pretty durable in the long run. Looking over the helmet there are no sloppy mold lines, errant pieces of foam, or misaligned panels. The helmet just feels strong in your hands due to how well it’s constructed. All 22 vents are expertly finished ensuring proper airflow to keep you cool. If $189 is a little steep for your next helmet, Kali also offers a fiberglass sister to the Avita which goes for $139. Still a lot of bones, but I have a hard time putting a price on my head and if it takes buying a more expensive helmet to guarantee me wearing it, I’m all for it.

Final Thoughts:

Honestly, I went into this review with absolutely no preconceived notions. I had never tried a Kali product before, and being new to the industry I didn’t know of anyone who had. This helmet is going to earn a lot of fans in the future, but it will require people trying it on to realize its true value.

Is it perfect? No, but products rarely are. To me, the helmet could benefit from an adjustable or slightly different visor. I found myself at first thinking the visor was too low in my field of vision, but rarely thought about it once on the trail. Obviously, adjustable visors are great but can lead to self adjusting visors while riding and add weight at the same time. Perhaps with this level of helmet, 2 or 3 visors of different lengths and angles could be provided for a tailored fit.

For me the visor was the only thing that could really be improved. However, the helmet is a little more round and stout than the helmet designs that most of us are used to so there is a possibility for some dislike if you aren’t used to the way it looks. However after a few rides, I started thinking other helmets looked a little weird, so I think it is just a matter of perception.

Due to the fact that this is the best fitting helmet I’ve ever tried and it has the quality to match, it is a no brainer that it receives an enthusiastic 5 thumbs up.

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Comments

SnarlyMarley - 06/14/10 - 9:33pm

Retention system looks identical to my Fox Flux, just with pads on the retention clickers.

ZachOverholt - 06/15/10 - 1:47pm

It does look extremely similar, and may even be made by the same company but those pads are what makes the fit in my opinion. Also the Kali’s retention system sticks out and down farther than the Fox’s, and the Fox helmet routes the straps through the retention system. I have ridden with a Flux before, and i was never able to able to achieve anywhere near the comfort level of the Kali.

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