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Review: Kali Phenom Helmet – aka Should you buy a Kali Protectives Product?

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.

Kali Phenom

Kali Phenom

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.

helmet1 helmet2 helmet3 helmet4 helmet5

Broken retention system. Also note tacky stickers!

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
From: Darren
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
To: Darren
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
From: Darren
To: Steve Hays
Hi Steve,I assume you mean mailing address?  I’m at:
Darren Cope
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….
Dec.1, 2014

From: Darren To: Steve Hays

Hi Steve,

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
To: Darren
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–that would be too logical. It’s the gang over at I’m looking for…) and email their generic stupid ‘[email protected]’ 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
From: Darren
To: [email protected]
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
From: Darren
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

Thank you,

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:

Kali; You’ve already got my email, right? But just in case, it’s ****@***** Would love some explanations…

Again, the same day, this reply from Saris Mercanti at Kali:

Hi Darren,

My name is Saris and I’m the marketing coordinator at Kali Protectives. I read your review yesterday and am very disappointed you had such a crummy customer service experience. Due to the way we have our distribution setup, we are not supposed to send product to Canada from our US office, but I want to make sure we get you (or any of our customers) properly taken care of.
Could you please let me know what size helmets you ordered? The Aero/Winter covers are size specific. I have your address from your email chain with Steve Hays, and will get covers and a new retention system shipped right away.
Regarding your issue with the broken retention device, we have seen it before – but it is not common. We’ve warrantied roughly one retention system for every thousand of those helmets sold.
If you have any further questions about our technology, please feel free to call the office at 888-Pro-Kali and ask for me.
– Sincerely,
Good! Someone with authority to do something! I’m not sure what the ‘normal’ failure rate is for safety gear like helmets, but 1 in 1000 seems…not ideal to me. However, at least it’s a response to the question. And it sounds like Saris is going to make things right, so, there’s that! My response, also on the 14th:
Hi Saris,

The helmets I ordered were both Small/Medium sized Phenoms.  I appreciate you sending me the covers, but am still curious why the covers were not included with either of the helmets I ordered?

As for the retention system; I assume if you are sending me just that piece that it’s replaceable? Is it easy to do? Do I need any specific instructions?


And finally an explanation re: aero covers. Weird that it took so much questioning…

HI Darren,

The helmets you received were from the first batch of helmets produced, which were shipped from our overseas factory without the helmet covers included. This issue was not discovered until some helmets had been delivered to distributors, who may not have verified that their inventory was affected. We have not (note: I’m assuming this is an unfortunate typo, and Saris meant to say “now”)  added an additional quality check at our warehouse, to verify that every helmet that ships now includes all of the listed components.
The retention system is very easy to replace. You just need to pull the old one out, and the new one will snap right into place.
– Sincerely,
Interesting. I suppose it would be difficult to later distribute the aero covers to everyone who purchased a helmet; but it’s definitely something that should have been caught before it even got to that point. To me, that sounds like a lot of folks got missed and will likely never have an aero cover.
Then, on the 25th of January, this shows up for me:
Handwritten letter

Handwritten letter

Two replacement retention systems. Two aero/winter covers (they do exist!) and a brand new Kali Maraka helmet in red and white!KaliDelivery

I responded:


I received your package today. Thank you kindly for addressing my issues re: the aero covers and retention systems. The inclusion of a Maraka ‘on the house’ was unexpected! Thank you!  I’ll be sure to update my website with this latest experience.



So, I’ve replaced the retention system on my Phenom, and have a backup in case of another failure (hopefully unlikely) and an aero shell for both Phenoms we own now. The addition of the Maraka was unexpected (and unnecessary!)  I’ve resumed use of my Phenom, and the winter cover has come in handy on some of our recent cold Snirt (snow covered dirt) road rides this spring. I will certainly continue using the Phenom until it’s old, and I think I’ll use the Maraka as my ‘around town’ helmet.


On September 29, 2015, I received the following email:

Hi Darren,

I am the owner of Kali Protectives. I am writing you because I just saw a review you did over a year ago about us. I was totally bummed. Not because your assessment of the Phenom helmet was inaccurate, to the contrary, it was accurate, the fit system is not what it needs to be on that level of helmet. I was bummed because of the lousy customer service you received. I am not writing you because you do a blog, I would (and do) write any customer that has had a bad experience. Thankfully there has not been that many. I strive to empower my people to “make it right”. The two people that handled your case where both reassigned earlier this year to things that fit their strengths.

I would like the opportunity to make it right with you. I do not care if you ever write about it, that’s not what this is about. Your assessment of the fit system on the Phenom was and is accurate. Our new aero helmet TAVA uses a BOA system. BTW, we put the Phenom in the wind tunnel, it didn’t do all that well with the aero cover, it works better as a rain cover. Next year’s Phenom will also have the BOA system and we are working on a retrofit for the ones we have in stock now. Anyone that currently has a Phenom will be offered the same retro fit.

Personally I hate it when things suck, but I hate it more when I am treated lousy. I offer my personal apology and request to try to make it up to you. I’d like to send you a retrofitted Phenom or a TAVA or both.

Thanks for your consideration.

Brad Waldron

Kali Protectives

I must say I was a bit shocked to receive this email, and to get such a generous offer, despite having already been ‘taken care of’ (eventually|!) After some consideration, I replied on October 13, 2015:

Hi Brad,

Thanks for this.  I appreciate the effort of you writing me. I’m pleased to hear that you’ve redesigned the retention system on the Phenom. I will say that I feel guilty accepting anything further from Kali at this point, as (eventually) I was well taken care of.  Your email and offer is much appreciated though! I certainly don’t think it’s fair to get another entire helmet. If you do come up with a retro-fit for the Phenom, you could send me one of those if you still wish (again–it’s really not necessary at this point!)

Darren Cope

Brad replied the same day:

No worries Darren,

I appreciate your comments on accepting “stuff”, I just ordered some items from Zoic, if I put that I am from Kali they know me as the owner and send it for free. I never want to be one of those swag grabbing industry people. So I ordered stuff and incognito. It just feels better.

The offer I gave you is an offer I would give anyone that has not been treated to my satisfaction. Maybe you’ll give me another chance someday. Otherwise, just enjoy the ride



That has been the end of our conversation, and I have not received any further product from Kali. I’ve been wearing the Phenom ever since, and have started wearing the Maraka daily on my commute to work. Luckily, I have yet to have to test them in a crash, and aside from the retention system issues I discussed above (which Kali has now apparently rectified) I’ve been happy with the helmets. I’ve attempted to give all of the facts, in the order that they occured to be as fair as possible. As such, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what to think here–clearly some things were dealt with poorly initially; however, is the follow up enough to rectify that? I was very impressed with the response in the end, but it sure took some fighting to get to that point.


This post was originally called “Review: Kali Phenom Helmet – aka Why to never buy a Kali Protectives Product” Some of the commenters below suggested it was perhaps a bit too strongly worded. After some more thought, I suppose they are correct. I’ve renamed the title of the post to make it more fair to Kali.


Comment from David Mansfield
Time March 8, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Mine broke today also. I’ve used it for, maybe 500 miles. But the cover over the adjustment wheel came off. I tried to pop it back on, but two of the tabs that hold it together, broke. Also, apart is missing since it will not stay adjusted. Which really doesn’t matter anyway since it the cover won’t stay on. I’ve also contacted them in regards to the winter /aero cover. They agreed to send me one but never did. I am fully disappointed in a helmet I did like very much.

Comment from darrencope
Time April 21, 2015 at 8:15 am

Sorry to hear of your experience David. It’s too bad they seemed to drop the ball on what otherwise seems like a great helmet!

Comment from Scott
Time April 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

Thanks for putting this out there. Kali was on my list but think I’ll pass. Not that I think they are unsafe or an unreputable company. It’s just that as I’ve gotten older (wiser?) I don’t need this kind of hassle, potentially. Happy Riding!

Comment from Wim
Time August 30, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Thanks for the thorough review. I’m willing to give Kali a try on my full face mountain bike helmet now. Mostly from the update, and from your satisfaction with the fit etc. from the start.

Comment from Loukia
Time December 16, 2015 at 7:08 am

Hey thanks for the great thoughts! I, on the other hand, had a completely different experience from Kali. They are fairly new to the market and they are still trying to set their distributors network around the US, so this is why you got some inconsistency on the replies last year. I was also trying g to try some helmets out ( I am located in Atlanta) and I contacted directly the company in California. I am a competitive athlete at the National level and I also work part time as a mechanic at a local bike shop. I have never experienced such a warm, supportive attitude from a helmet company before. They sent me out 5 helmrts, I kept the phenom and the Marka and gave the rest to my fellow coworkers. Kali listened to all of our feedback, and the interaction so far has been amazing! The helmets are awesome and the company really takes care of us! Best of luck,Loukia

Comment from darrencope
Time December 16, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Glad to hear of your experiences!

Comment from Fred
Time January 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

Hello Darren. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I must say I find the title of your article to be misleading. You start with the title “… why to never buy a Kali product” but you finish with a positive note and then you write that you will leave it up to the reader to decide. Your story is great to read because it ends in a positive note so if I were you, I would modify the title to give it a more positive (or neutral) twist because it doesn’t leave any freedom for the reader to decide. What do you think?

Comment from darrencope
Time February 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Hi Fred. Thanks for the comments. The title was written before all of the edits and follow up, hence the harshness. I am going to leave it as-is to avoid renaming the post. Cheers.

Comment from Fred
Time February 25, 2016 at 10:52 pm

Doesn’t seem fair to Kali… especially since your post pops first when you Google “Kali helmet review”.

Comment from Brett
Time March 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Gotta agree with Fred on this. The headline of this article should be updated so the reader can read from beginning to end without entering the review with a verdict, especially when that verdict is about 180 degrees different than how the original poster’s experience with Kali ended.

So, yeah dude, update the title. Your review clearly explains your experience, and helped me inform my own decision about whether to try the Phenom or not. But you also apparently got the first batch of the helmet, it wasn’t properly quality controlled, and Kali eventually went way above and beyond to resolve your problem. (And by the way, as a long-time user of Giro road helmets [e.g. Atmos, Aeon, etc], retention systems break regularly – not sure what your experience with road helmets is, but even the best modern retention system is fragile flexible plastic and usually requires replacement at some point.)

Comment from darrencope
Time March 30, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Brett: I’ve never heard of anyone breaking a retention system, Sounds like a weird thing to tolerate if it is happening that frequently to you. Imagine if you said “Oh ya, my car seatbelt breaks all the time. It’s no big deal…”

Comment from Mr. J
Time June 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm

Thanks, I won´t buy it either

Comment from Michael
Time June 10, 2016 at 1:56 am

My 13 month old Phenom retention strap broke in a similar place as yours today. I emailed Kali customer service this evening using their online form. Hopefully my experience with a replacement part will be more expedient than yours! I really like the fit of this helmet because, if not, I would move on from this brand due to the breakage I experienced and seeming fragility of this design.

Comment from darrencope
Time June 10, 2016 at 5:48 am

Sorry to hear that Michael. Hopefully they get back to you with a solution!

Comment from Michael
Time September 3, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Update – Kali got back to me quickly and sent me a new and improved retention system.

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