BELL GHISALLO cycling helmetHigh-tech simplicity

As the flagship of Bell's road-cycling helmet line, the Ghisallo is sported by pro peloton teams like Credit Agricole, CSC, HealthNet and others. I figured I was in pretty good company when I recently strapped on a Ghisallo.

In fact, when Tyler Hamilton hit the pavement in the pile-up in stage 1 of the 2003 Tour de France, he was wearing a Ghisallo. By his own account, the helmet saved his noggin (if not his collarbone).

Admittedly, that says more about the importance of wearing a helmet than about which helmet you should wear -- but as long as you have the choice, the Bell Ghisallo is a serious piece of race gear.

You may think, "What's to review? A helmet's a helmet's a helmet, right?" -- which is true to a certain extent with current cycling-helmet technology, but like other things that become familiar with experience, cyclists know a good helmet when they put one on.

The Ghisallo uses Bell's GPS ("Geared Positioning System") fit system to hug your head snugly and comfortably. The key to the GPS is a tightening dial, built into the helmet's interior webbing, that sits on your occipital lobe (the technical term for "the back of your head"). With the helmet on, simply push the dial upward and turn it either clockwise or counterclockwise, and the webbing snugs up or loosens around your head.

It's so simple, you can do this with one finger (probably your thumb) on the fly, almost without thinking. It was a revelation for me, coming from an older helmet with no such system. And during the winter, when you're more likely to wear skullcaps or other head covers under your helmet, the GPS is especially handy.

The chin strap adjusts via conventional sliding strap locks, and when you combine with the GPS, you're sure to be dialed in with a perfect fit every time. That's provided, of course, that you choose the correct helmet size.

The Ghisallo comes in Small/Medium (56 - 58cm) and Medium/Large (59 - 62cm). Like running and cycling shoes, the same size may vary among different brands. So if you can't try the helmet on before you buy it (i.e. online), it pays to whip out the measuring tape and double-check your size.

I suppose the sign of a good bike helmet is not noticing it's on. That's certainly true of the Ghisallo -- it's light (10.3 ounces, or 292 grams), and with the proper fit it's velvet-glove snug.

It boasts 17 large vents to channel air in and out around your head, to keep you cool during hot months. Speaking of which, I've found the pads lining the front-inside of the Ghisallo to be quite adept at sweat absorption -- something I've found lacking in other helmets where I've had to wear a headband to keep sweat out of my eyes.

With its aggressive flame-like modeled shape and eye-catching graphics (mine is the dark-silver-and-black "pewter"), the Ghisallo looks cool too. Other colors schemes include White, Titanium, Blue/White, and CSC and Credit Agricole "team" versions.

Bell's been in business for half a century, and the "50th Anniversary" version of the Ghisallo comes with an extremely spiffy heavy-duty (fur-lined!) carrying bag. While it's a great way to protect your helm from getting banged around the trunk of your car, an informal poll among my cycling cohorts was inconclusive as to whether many riders use such a case for everyday storage. But hey, if you want it, it's there.

The helmet by itself retails for $99 MSRP -- a good deal for a top-of-the-line helmet -- or $124.99 with the case.

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