There was a time, a simple time, when one could throw on a pair of Stubbies, a T-shirt and some joggers, chuck a recycled Esky/Chilly Bin on your noggin and go have a ride. You didn't have to think about it at all. There were no choices. Then things started to get 'specific'. Dirt jumpers wanted BMX-style lids to look just right, XC riders favoured sleek and pointy road-style helmets, and downhillers were pulling out their older brother's (or dad's) moto full-face.
The bike helmet guys saw plenty of opportunity to expand their lines, and specify a helmet with features that would make every sub-genre of riding just right. The 'trail' helmet spawned a whole new category, and is now the biggest sector of the skid-lid market. They make sense; more protection around the back of the head, thicker shells with fewer vents, a rounded profile that doesn't scream 'roadie' and looks like a 'mountain bike' helmet.
But of course things in mountain biking aren't that simple, and when the emergence of a decades-old Euro form of racing made its way to the wider world and became the buzzword it is today, a new problem we never knew we had before reared its (not especially ugly) head.
Racing these 'enduros' required a bit more protection than even trail helmets could offer, but pedalling the uphill transitions with your head fully encased was not cool, neither metaphorically or actually. Riders carried their full-face strapped to their backpacks, then swap from the trail helmet for the fast and probably gnarly timed descent, where the risks are amplified.
Stay with me here. This all is relevant. Bottom line: a helmet strapped to your back isn't ideal when bouncing over rocks at speed, so you either put up with it or just tolerated a day in a full-face. There had to be a better way. And now there is. Enter the Bell Super 2R.
Since the first sightings of this helmet on the head of US buzzword racer Matt Slaven earlier this year, the 2R was one of the worst-kept secrets and most anticipated products of recent times. A trail helmet with a detachable chin bar? How awesomely convenient and rad, cried the perpetually-buzzing masses. Shit, even I was intrigued, even though I hadn't worn a full-face since my motocross days of the 80s and 90s. Wearing one on a mountain bike never crossed my mind; that was the domain of downhillers and proper enduro racers, there was no need for one while trail riding, surely?
Well, if you don't have to have full coverage all of the time, then maybe it could be a valid option for rides where more technical trails are tackled, or even for those who just want to ensure their pearly whites and perfectly unblemished facial dermis stay that way, and add a bit of confidence as well. While there's no hope for either my teeth or youthful looks, I was still intrigued and keen to get in before anyone else at Spoke Towers and give it a try.
The crux of it is thus: Take a Bell Super, one of the most popular of all the Trail/All-Duro helmets out there, and add a chin bar. This has been tried before with limited success and/or acceptance, with the Giro Switchblade probably the name that springs to mind immediately. Riders of my vintage will no doubt still be haunted by either tales of or actual experiences of hellish crashes where the chin bar would self-destruct on impact and end up doing more damage to the riders' face that it prevented. Obviously Bell, who own Giro, would have been fully aware and addressed these concerns before launching the 2R onto an innovation-hungry market.
The connecting system for the 2R is certainly a lot fancier than the bolt-on style of the Switchblade, and no doubt has been through rigourous testing and development. This thing is meant to stay where it is. Three buckles hold the chin bar to the shell; tabs on either side snap firmly into the lower rear vents, with the two side buckles snap down tight. The third buckle joins the ends at the rear and holds it all together. To say the buckle system feels solid is an understatement, and the resounding 'clack' when they engage is positively sounding and reassuring.
Without the bar, the 2R looks just like its chinless sibling. An updated harness and adjustment dial is added and can be set in three different height positions, and snugs up nicely. The visor can be flipped up to accommodate goggles if you feel the need to go full-duro.
So what's it like to ride in? As I said, I have never ridden a pedal-powered bike in a full-face, so I was feeling, if not apprehensive, a tinge of "am I gonna look like a tool" syndrome. The only thing to do was ride appropriately gnarly trails to justify the extra coverage, so it was straight to Deliverance. I detached the chin bar and lashed it to my backpack for the climb up to the trail head of one of Wellington's arguably most rider-claiming trails.
Removing the bar from the backpack was more of a mission than snapping it onto the helmet... both were a piece of cake. The bar is actually easier to fit while the helmet is on your head than off it, and after a few times fitting and removing becomes as intuitive as buckling up the helmet strap.
The feeling of seeing an extra bit of helmet in front of my face lasted about the time it took me to ditch myself into the rocks on the wet top section that's littered with baby-head rocks, if your baby had gigantism. Unfortunately for testing purposes, I didn't land face-first so I can't attest to the solidity and protection of the chin bar. Sorry about that, but self-preservation seems to instinctively override "I'll land on my face for scientific purposes" every time. Making it to the bottom of the trail while absolutely ruling it didn't yield any other crash data, but I can say I felt supremely confident to have the extra coverage.
Weight-wise, I didn't notice any detrimental addition in this department either. It just felt solid and secure. In fact, removing the chin bar I felt a little naked around the chops. The cheek pads can be easily adjusted for wide or narrow faces with the addition/removal of a foam insert that sits under the softer pad. The other padding inside the helmet does a good job of soaking up the sweat off my bald pate, which is welcome.
Overall, the Super 2R is a top bit of gear, and may herald a slew of other brands' versions on the format. That might not be a bad thing, as the extra protection offered will probably be welcome for the modern mountain biker who once thought that a helmet with a bit more on the rear and wearing knee pads on trail rides was unacceptable, but now embraces them without question.
The 2R will also be available in a MIPS version for even more peace of mind and innovative protection. They should be in shops by the end of October, and RRP for the non-MIPS is $319. We'll have a review in the December issue after a few more rides and hopefully no faceplants.