Review by Johan Hjord // Images by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord
Established in 1996, FLY Racing began as a manufacturer of motorcycle handlebars and helmets, and they remain heavily focused on powersports to this day. They offer a broad catalogue covering everything from riding apparel to protection and even grips and handlebars, and the company counts a few high profile Supercross riders on its roster – Trey Canard and Andrew Short both ride for the brand. More recently, FLY introduced a mountain bike specific range of products, and we were keen to lay our hands on their bike-specific full face helmet to see how it stacks up in a competitive market.
A Word On Helmets
You sometimes hear, "If you have a $100 head, then run a $100 helmet," and while we certainly don’t think that protection is something you should skimp on, such generalizations are overly simplistic. The truth is that mountain biking remains a relatively accessible sport – buying second hand bikes and parts can see you up a hill on 2 wheels faster than you can say “overdraft” or “paper round”, and you need an option for buying adequate protection at a reasonable price before launching your new (to you) steed down said hill. This is where a helmet like the Default comes in – at $109.95 MSRP, it is not trying to take on some of the high-end helmets we’ve tested recently, but rather it’s aimed at riders on a budget.
From a point of view of protection, we’re not saying that the innovation that goes into the design of high-end equipment is negligible – because it’s not. Putting serious R&D effort into understanding how different materials and design aspects can be used to counter the effects of impact forces, developing features for easy helmet removal or specific compatibility with neck braces, or simply manufacturing to higher quality standards will all translate into better protection for the rider. At the same time, you are paying 4x the price for something that may not deliver exponentially better protection, at least not to the same degree. Or to put it another way – you get way more for your money, relatively speaking, when you upgrade from no helmet to a $100 helmet, compared to the $100 to $400 helmet upgrade. We can’t all afford cars with 8 airbags, even though it’s clear that they are more likely to save your life in a crash than your still street legal 20-year old car with maybe just the one.
To help us sleep at night, this is where standards come in. In North America, helmets must meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard for bicycle helmets, which basically ensures that the helmet will provide adequate impact protection, and will not come off in a crash (it is worth noting that manufacturers self-certify under this standard). The Default helmet we are reviewing here meets this standard, and as such, you know that it fulfils the basic requirements for personal protection. (Note that there are many other standards out there, some more onerous than others – but at present, this is the mandatory one). Now read on to find out what else we thought of it.
When you pull the Default out of the box, you’re met with quite an impressive looking helmet. The brand’s moto roots are obvious, the helmet would not look out of place at a SX race. The graphics (applied under clearcoat) are bold and the styling of the helmet is aggressive – looking at the helmet makes you want to go ride your bike. The helmet is not too heavy, especially given its bulky appearance – our size L sample weighed in at 1200 grams (which is competitive amongst non-carbon full face helmets of similar design).
Where the difference with more expensive helmets becomes obvious is in the general build quality. Our helmet was not very well finished off, there were a couple of noticeable flaws such as slight chipping of paint or poorly applied graphics in one area. Additionally, one side of the rubber guard around the facial opening was not properly glued on, something that was easily remedied with a drop of glue, but not something you feel happy about on a brand new helmet.
- Aerodynamic poly-alloy shell
- 21 cooling vents
- Removable and washable liner and cheek pads
- Padded chin strap with a D-ring closure
- Aluminum visor screws
- CSPC certified EPS foam liner
- Youth and Adult sizes available in four colorways
- $109.95 MSRP
On The Trail
The fit of the Default is on the snug side of “standard” sizing – in other words, true to your measured size just slightly tight when new. The liner is quite thick which gives the helmet a very padded-out feel, not dissimilar to moto helmets in general. The helmet works well with goggles - we tested ours with several models of goggles without any trouble.
You can feel the liner move around a bit when you pull the helmet on, but there is no unwanted movement while riding. The helmet stays put, regardless of what you’re hitting on the way down. Furthermore, the hardware that holds the visor (i.e. the two screws on the side and the screw used to adjust the visor angle) use rubber washers that help keep things quiet as well as secure – unlike certain other helmets we’ve ridden in, these screws don't require constant surveillance to make sure they stay snug.
The Default has 21 cooling vents. Despite the impressive number, none of them are the more advanced cooling ducts built into the EPS liner per se, and with a relatively thick liner it’s not the coolest helmet out there. You’ll probably be removing it on the chairlift a lot. Not to worry though, the liner and cheekpads can be easily removed and washed, and are easy to put back in again once dry.
The finish of the helmet is quite resistant to scratches and wear in general - ours still looks good after a couple of months of testing. We’ve managed to avoid any major dirt sampling exercises while testing the Default, so we can’t provide any real world feedback on impact protection, but we certainly felt safe while riding in it, and never thought twice about whether or not it would be up to the job at hand if needed.
If you run a neck brace, note that the Default works well with one, it is cut quite high in the back which allows for good range of motion with a brace on.
The D-ring system used to adjust the chinstrap works well, and includes a nice touch in the form of a snap button that secures the end of the strap, keeping it from flapping around.
Things That Could Be Improved
While the overall look and feel of the Default is quite nice, it is let down by somewhat poor workmanship. It could certainly earn a higher star rating based on looks and performance on the trail, if the general build quality was to improve. We realize it’s a helmet for those on a budget, but even so, at this price point there are several other options that offer higher build quality out of the box, although they may not look as flashy.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Can you buy a good helmet for $100? The answer is certainly yes. Can you buy one that really looks the business, is comfortable, works well, and offers a good set of basic features, still at $100? The answer is again yes. The FLY Default ticks all of these boxes, which is nice to see at this price point – we just wish they would pay a little more attention to detail on the assembly line. In short, we don’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but we have no real reservations either. If you want this look, there is not a lot else out there at $100.
More information at: www.flyracing.com.