It’s no secret that bicycle helmet technology has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Today’s helmets are lighter, more comfortable, and look a radically different than their predecessors. Some of the more recent technological advances aren’t so obvious, though. Since 1996, Stockholm-based MIPS has been working on improving how helmets protect against rotational trauma and angled impacts. In 2014, MIPS partnered with Bell Helmets to bring MIPS technology to a wider audience.
Bell currently offers sixteen MIPS-equipped helmets, which range in price from $60 to $240. With MIPS-equipped helmets available in road, mountain, lifestyle, and gravity models, Bell has something for any type of cyclist. I split my riding between pavement, dirt, and gravel, so I opted to test the company’s Stoker MIPS ($95 MSRP) and Gage MIPS ($195 MSRP) helmets.
From a very early age, I equated bicycles with freedom. With the aid of my two-wheeled companion, I was free to explore the seemingly endless collection of trails and dirt roads that were so plentiful in my youth. At the same time, that freedom instilled in me the importance of self-sufficiency. I learned firsthand that something as simple as a flat tire often meant a very long walk home. It didn’t take me long to figure out that carrying even the barest of necessities could eliminate those unplanned walks home.
As an adult, I’m surprised at how often I encounter stranded riders who are carrying no tools or spares. While they may have cell phones, their mechanical issues can usually be fixed in less time than it takes for them to be rescued by a friend or partner–if they had the necessary equipment. I’m not advocating that riders should be able to overhaul a cup-and-cone bottom bracket in the field, but carrying even a bare bones repair kit can mean the difference between riding and walking home.
After several years of fine tuning and experimentation, I’ve found that having two separate repair kits works best for me. I use a smaller kit for road and gravel riding, and have a second, larger setup for mountain and adventure-type riding. While each kit is a compromise of weight and size, I’ve never had to abandon a ride because I wasn’t carrying the necessary tools or spares. Having tools without knowing how to use them won’t do you much good, though. If you’re not sure how to fix a flat or adjust your bike’s brakes or derailleurs, see if your local bike shop offers maintenance classes or clinics.
Although gravel-specific saddles pretty rare, mountain bike saddles often work well for mixed-terrain riding. Ergon’s SMC4 (pictured above, right) offers a softer overall structure and more cushioning in the seating area. The WTB Volt features a slight whale tail and gentle drop to the nose, providing a platform to push against while not limiting riders to one seating position.