Excuse me, but aren’t helmets like this meant to cost much more? On price alone, the Kali Chakra Plus Mountain Bike Helmet is very attractive, and this is where Kali have made their mark in the industry. Beyond price, however, it’s still a very attractive helmet. When I first heard the name Kali and saw their prices, I wondered whether it was a Taiwanese brand who had taken knowledge gained from producing helmets for other brands and were releasing their own product. But no, Kali are in fact a Californian based brand (made in China) with helmets at different price points – the Chakra and the Chakra Plus are created specifically to hit the ‘reasonable price point’ of $50.
The Chakra Plus looks and feels like a more expensive helmet (i.e. you don’t have to look like a noob if you are on a tight budget), the design is edgy, there are plenty of air vents and there’s enough thoughtful details so that you look and feel good.
Both Chakra helmets feature what Kali call Composite Fusion which simply means that rather than a separate polycarbonate (outer) shell being placed and glued or taped onto the EPS polystyrene foam, the EPS foam part is moulded into the outer shell which gives it a stronger bond and makes it an integrated unit. Additionally, lower density EPS polystyrene foam is used which Kali argue is better in the event of impact.
The Chakra Plus version of the helmet has additional polycarbonate trimmings moulded in at the base of the helmet, which are a nice aesthetic addition and protect the foam when the helmet is placed on a table or on the ground. The Plus version helmet also has the ‘fit adjust’ system which I feel should be standard on any decent helmet.
The overall quality is good, however it doesn’t have the same attention to detail that you would expect from a $200+ helmet. The air-vents in the polycarbonate shell are ‘hand cut’, so close-up you can spot the tiny irregularities. In the composite fusion moulding of the EPS polystyrene onto the shell, the polystyrene sometimes slightly overlaps and the hot-glue which fixes some of the plastic straps fasteners is quite generous, even though it is mostly out of sight. None of these tiny details, however, are of any concern in the overall performance, safety or aesthetics.
The front visor is a much lighter shade of white (with a hint of pink) and fastens very securely. While I found the two white tones were a visual and unusual combination, there are also a black, blue and lime green helmet version to choose from. In comparing the S-M and M-L helmet I noted that the visor better fitted the M-L; though the sun visor didn’t perfectly align to the air vents on the S-M size helmet, it was pretty much a non-issue.
For the review I measured my head size and found myself between the Chakra Plus’ Small-Medium (52-58cm) and Medium – Large (58-62cm) sizes, so I opted for large as there is nothing worse than riding for hours with a helmet that is too small. The large size turned out to be too large however, so the distributor, Velogear, kindly send the Small-Medium size which strangely had plenty of room, so much so that in using the ‘fit adjust’ dial, I tightened it almost to the end of the range until the fit was snug.
The fit adjust dial has a mechanism that, once it reaches a limit (tightest or loosest fit), the dial simply turns and clicks, so you avoid over-tightening/loosening and destroying the mechanism.
The big plus point of the Chakra Plus in terms of fit is that the padding is well placed. On other helmets I often find myself removing or adjusting the padding on the front and side as these areas are typically too tight for me. The generous padding of the Chakra Plus is comfortable and the hard EPS foam sits away from my head. The padding is attached with Velcro and it can be removed and washed; the fit adjust works well in combination with the soft internal padding. The main soft padding is a broad one piece construction with integrated bug net and stretches from the forehead to the crown of the head.
My biggest criticism of the Chakra Plus is of the two tri-glide mechanisms, the plastic clasps on the left and right just below the ears that take in the fastening straps and feed it to the buckle. They are crap (am I allowed to say that?). The quality of the the helmet is let down by these as they open too easily (and therefore prone to accidentally opening) and when closed, the straps can still feed through (strap creep), which affects the fit as I will explain shortly.
The Chakra Plus Helmet is delightfully comfortable to wear, the sun visor is well placed and even after long and hot rides it felt good. The S-M sized helmet is 288 grams while the M-L is marginally heavier 292 grams. I found that while riding there was plenty of support on the left and right however, the helmet had a tendency to slip forward, meaning I was repeatedly moving it back. To fix this it’s simply a matter of readjusting the side straps. The strap needs to be firm and comfortable at the buckle underneath the chin; adjusting the straps with the ‘tri-glides’ clasps enables you to angle the helmet so that it is tilted further back.
In theory, this would be perfect…except for the strap creep, the movement of the straps in the tri-glide clasps. During long rides on technical mountain bike trails, repeated vibrations meant that the helmet started to tilt forward again. While it was never dangerous, I prefer a broader field of vision. To be fair, just like a bike seat, a helmet is very personal and if you have a different head shape, then this helmet may sit or fit more naturally on you without the movement that I experienced. When John Hawkins reviewed the Kali Amara Helmet with Integrated Camera Mount he said “this helmet is without doubt the most comfortable I’ve used“. The Amara however has a different fastening mechanism and a different tri-glide mechanism, so in my view the tri-glide clasps of the Chakra are a problem that should be improved.
Crashing the Kali
At the risk of disappointing my readers, I had no intention of putting this helmet to the real test and crashing on my head. While I did crash on one ride, during a technical fast section, I ended up thrown over the handlebars and, luckily, had a soft landing on the side of the trail. I naturally tucked my head and rolled. I’m getting too good at crashes.
Even in the event of an accident, the Kali Chakra Plus, just like any helmet legally sold in Australia, complies with the current Australian and New Zealand helmet safety standard AS/NZS 2623:2008. It means that the helmets have been tested and approved (at significant cost) with 2 helmets set aside for ongoing quality control and safety testing from every batch of 400 helmets. I did however spot that the sticker named the Amara helmet rather than the Chakra and my enquiry regarding this went all the way to the top.
A representative of Kali who works with worldwide distributors and also with the development team responded, “…this is a factory printing mistake. I can tell with certainty because they have used the correct factory reference number for the model (S167 – which is Chakra), but then they have printed the wrong model name: Amara“. The safety standards stickers are being reprinted and Kali have apologised to Aussie and New Zealand customers, for anyone who currently owns a Chakra model helmet, they will provide the corrected sticker on request.
When I have purchased helmets in the past, I have tried on every helmet in the store. Some brands just don’t suit me, though the Kali did. An otherwise excellent helmet was let down by the two plastic ‘tri-glide’ clasps, which meant I couldn’t get the perfect fit. If Kali would swap or improve this one part of the helmet, then it would be an absolute steal with rival helmets at over twice the price. With a different shaped head you may not have this problem at all, in which case it is excellent value for money at $49.95.
Kali Helmets are available in Australia from Velogear and can be purchased directly under extremely customer friendly conditions – 100% Satisfaction, which means that the helmet can be posted back and exchanged for a new size or a refund can be provided if you’re not happy.
Win a Kali M-L (58-62cm) Chakra Plus Helmet
Velogear are kindly providing the size M-L Kali Chakra Plus Mountain Bike helmet (which was too big for me) as a prize to a BNA reader. All you have to do is briefly let me know, in the comments below, what your favourite MTB ride or event is and why. The best answer wins and will be chosen and announced 7 days after this article is published.