About this time last year, I was looking for a new road helmet. I did some research, and decided I wanted to get something that had some more ‘advanced’ protection than the usual helmets. However, I also wanted it to look like a normal road helmet. At that time, MIPS was really not available in a road helmet. However, my research lead me to discover Conehead Technology, which uses an advanced foam construction, shaped with cones and using dual-density foam to provide greater protection. I really liked the idea and the research seemed sound, so I began looking for helmets using the technology. Kali Protectives and SCOTT are the only two authorized users of the technology, and SCOTT (at that time) did not make a road helmet. I also closely investigated the POC Octal; although it doesn’t use Conehead Technology, it has increased coverage and protection and is safer than other helmets.
I was able to find a POC Octal to try on at a local shop, and despite it being very comfortable and light, I balked a bit at the cost… quite a bit more than I was hoping to spend, and the look, which–despite being popularized by Team Garmin, didn’t really do it for me! So I did some more research, and decided that it was worth the trouble to track down a Phenom from Kali Protectives.
Let me put this out there: they are very difficult to find in Canada. I emailed a bunch of shops that dealt with the distributor, and they either a) didn’t deal with Kali any more, b) didn’t have/couldn’t get a Phenom, or c) would have to special order and then ship to me. I then looked at the typical online stores, and only Art’s Cyclery seemed to have them in stock. Unfortunately, at that time, they only had black, and I wanted white. I then turned to Amazon, where I found a US dealer that would ship to Canada (most will not!) I ordered one for myself. My helmet arrived in time for spring riding.
My first impressions of the helmet were…just OK. It was nice and light, so that was a major plus. When I put the helmet on, wow! It fit me VERY WELL. The retention system comes very far down along the ears/side of the head compared to most helmets, but it allowed for the helmet to lock down rock solid. It didn’t move around at all on my head, and felt very solid. Awesome! On the first ride with the helmet, I noticed that it sits very low on the head, and actually becomes visible in the peripheral vision while riding. This is a bit of a ‘different’ sensation at first, but something I quickly blocked out and it didn’t become an issue.
By this point, Krystelle had tried on my helmet, and liked it so well (it also fit her perfectly!) that I ordered another one for her–this time from the only other vendor I could find that would ship to Canada. It also arrived in time for the start of her riding season; thus we both started 2014 with new Kali Phenom’s on our heads. I vowed to take good care of this helmet, as it was quite expensive, and I was putting more thought to protecting my brain. As such, I bought a helmet pod to transport the helmet, and was extremely careful with the helmet any time it wasn’t on my head to avoid any impacts, bumps, scrapes, etc. I wanted the helmet to be in perfect shape should it unfortunately be called into service to do its job of saving my brain.
So overall, my first impressions of the Kali Phenom were pretty good. However, there were some issues. Firstly, the helmet is advertised (even on the Kali website) to come with an ‘Included Aero/Winter cover’ – mine did not come with one. I wrote to the seller, who agreed to give me a bit of a refund to make up for it, but it was still a bit disappointing. I expected that when I ordered Krystelle’s helmet, it would come with said cover, and I could just use that one. Unfortunately, her helmet also did not come with an Aero/Winter cover. I suspect this cover does not exist (see below for more on this), and no Kali ever shipped has come with one. Please correct me if I’m wrong! This was not a deal breaker for me though, as it was only a ‘nice to have’ anyway–I would have only worn it on those rare cold and wet rides that I do maybe once or twice a year.
Some other, potentially more important issues, did exist though. Firstly, the overall construction of the helmet looked a bit ‘rough’ compared to the Giro helmets I’ve had in the past, and other high-end helmets I’ve tried on or inspected in stores. The foam was not nicely finished (rough along the edges, etc.) and it had a bit of a ‘cheap’ look to it. I attributed this to the different method that Kali has to use to mold in the ConeHead technology, and figured it was worth the tradeoff for the additional safety.
The other thing I noticed is that the straps were a bit thicker, stiffer, and heavier than high end helmets from other manufacturers. Not a big deal, and, as I mentioned above, the overall fit and feel of the helmet was very comfortable, so it didn’t really cause an issue so much as give the impression of a helmet bought in the late 90’s.
One other item that gave a poor impression was that the logo stickers were very cheap looking, and just kind of slapped on to the outside of the helmet, rather than nice printed logos like most helmets have. I suppose that’s good if you want to take them off, and probably looks OK from a distance, but from up close, it contributes to the ‘cheap’ feel of the helmet.
I must say though, that after all of this, I was still overall a believer in the helmet. It fit me fantastically, was nice and light, and (in theory at least) provided more brain protection than other helmets available. All good things! As such, I rode the helmet for most of the 2014 season (until about September,) putting in about 5000km while wearing it. Until one day, I was putting the helmet on before a ride, and it felt…kinda loose. Thinking that perhaps the adjustment dial got shifted or something, I took it off my head, and noticed that the retention system had actually snapped in two, leaving it broken and dangling. What the hell? This was a ~6 month old helmet, with only 5000km of use, that had been babied and carried in a helmet pod for transport. How could this happen, and when did it happen without me even noticing? Did it break while on my head on the previous ride? While I was taking it off? Or while it was stored between rides? All of those situations should be unacceptable for a piece of safety gear! Luckily, I still had an older Giro that was in good shape, so was able to wear it for the remainder of 2014. Below are some pictures of the break in the retention system. You’ll also see the foam, straps and stickers in the images below.
Broken retention system. Also note tacky stickers and rough construction of the foam portion.
Here is where things get messy. I still liked the Phenom, and, expecting the breakage to be a bit of a fluke, was willing to give them another shot. I did a quick search of their website for any warranty information. I found… nothing. Nothing at all about warranty on the website of a helmet manufacturer. Hmm.. not good! Finding nothing online, I took some photos of the break (those shown above,) and emailed Kali, asking about their warranty. Here’s the chain of emails:
Oct 24, 2014
To: Kali Protectives
Hi, I recently purchased two Phenom helmets (one for myself in May 2014, and one for my girlfriend in mid-June 2014.) I was quiet pleased with my helmet until it failed in early October, 2014. The failure has rendered the helmet unusable. Please see attached pictures of the failure in the retention system.I babied this helmet–it’s had only 5000km of on-road use, has never been dropped, and has been transported in a helmet pod when not on my head. In my opinion, this is an unacceptable failure for a helmet, and very disappointing considering the trouble I went to to obtain these helmets in Canada, not to mention the cost.
On an unrelated but frustrating sidenote, both your own website and the two websites I purchased the helmets from list “included aero/winter cover’ as a feature of the Phenom. Neither of my helmets came with an aero cover (only the mesh bug liner–which is most certainly neither a cover, nor aero).
I see nothing on your website about warranty, but I’m sure you have some protocol to deal with these situations?
The reply, a very fair three days later:
Oct 27, 2014:
From: Steve Hays Territory Manager, California – Kali Protectives
Hi Darren. Thanks for contacting Kali Protectives again. (note: I had contacted them earlier regarding Canadian dealers and availability) That just looks like the retention system broke. No problem. Please send me your email address, and I can get you taken care of.
Huh.. not the type of response I was expecting. Firstly (and to go with my point way up near the top) – no response at all to the inquiry about the aero/winter cover. Why ignore that question? Perhaps because the cover doesn’t exist! At the very least, ignore me, but quietly change your marketing material to not mention the non-existent cover! Secondly, and more importantly… ‘it looks like it just broke’ – as if that’s NO BIG DEAL in a HELMET. A HELMET which has one purpose in life–to save your head! A completely unexplained, critical failure to the retention system in a new model in your product line should perhaps deserve a more detailed response. Perhaps “we’ve never seen that before–please send it in for testing” or “We have noticed similar problems, and are addressing them by doing XYZ” or.. anything other than ‘yup, that’s a failure.’ ‘That just looks like the retention system broke’ is not a comfort-inducing response from a manufacturer! Honestly, it makes it sound like an everyday occurrence, which is really not what I want in a helmet! Also, Steve…you’re already emailing with me, so clearly you have my email address…hence my reply that same day (in retrospect, not as thorough of a reply as I should have sent):
Oct. 27, 2014
To: Steve Hays
Hi Steve,I assume you mean mailing address? I’m at:
MY ADDRESS HERE
At this point, I’m hoping that they just send me a new helmet (and still holding out a tiny sliver of hope that it would come with an aero cover). Then.. nothing….
From: Darren To: Steve Hays
Haven’t heard anything from you recently. How will you be taking care of this?
Brutal… but finally, a response!
Dec. 2, 2014
From: Steve Hays
Darren – Since you are in Canada, I can give you the contact point of the distributor in Canada. It’s Passion Sports. They do all distribution in Canada.
Huh.. so.. I assume that means that Passion Sports will deal with the warranty claim, and send me a new helmet. I mean.. what else could that mean? And I get it that Steve is a busy guy (?) and couldn’t, you know, just CC Passion Sports on the email and request them to deal with it. Or you know, at least provide a name, or a website, or an email address…. or something! But no. I had to Google them, find them (not the first hit, at passionsports.ca–that would be too logical. It’s the gang over at wearepassion.com I’m looking for…) and email their generic stupid ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ address. Thinking that these guys will be cool, I take the friendly tone (the previous emails are all in a chain below this one so that Passion Sports can see the history and context):
Dec 2, 2014
Hi there Passion Sports!As per below, I’m trying to get a replacement for a broken Kali Phenom. Steve at Kali said you could help me out!
And again… nothing. Queue next round of emails, this time CC’ing Steve at Kali, so he knows the Canadian distributor is dropping the ball, and that I’m still out a helmet.
Dec 31, 2014
CC: Steve Hays at Kali
Dear Passion Sports,
As per the below chain of emails, I have a warranty issue with a Phenom helmet. Steve Hays at Kali told me that, as you’re the Canadian distributor, you’d take care of things for me. I have not heard from you in a month, and am concerned that Kali‘s warranty support is non-existent. Please let me know how this issue will be rectified.
Note that this is for the helmet with Serial No: 2014/02 000150
And so here we are. It’s now Jan. 13, 2015, and there has been no response or resolution to any of these emails. I have a broken helmet, that was used for one summer. The company is unresponsive and unable to answer questions about their product, and advertise features that don’t exist. What do you think? Would you buy a Kali product? Should Krystelle even keep using hers, or it it unsafe? What do I do if I ever do get a replacement? Wear it? Or be scared of it? Can we trust Kali’s safety if their response to a critical failure is ‘it looks like it broke’? That seems unacceptable to me!
In the year that this has transpired, Kali has lost their advantage in the ‘higher protection’ helmet market. The POC Octal is still around, and its ‘look’ is much more accepted than it was before, while the price has dropped a bit. Smith and Giro both have road helmets with MIPS (Smith with the Overtake, and Giro with the Savant MIPS) It seems like perhaps Kali is no longer a contender, and quite frankly, maybe it shouldn’t be.
This post was originally published on Jan 13, 2015. As usual, I tweet and link to new blogs posts from Facebook, Google+, etc. I did the same with this post, and the same day I had a reply to my tweet from @KaliProtectives, saying:
Hey Darren, we just read through your review. Could you DM me us email and we will get you sorted (for real this time)!
Interesting. Public bashing seems to be the best way to get a response! I responded the next day, via DM: