Bell Z20 Review (Bell Zephyr)

We’ve been using this innovative, low-profile helmet throughout 2017 and will continue our partnership with Bell into 2018. Here’s my thoughts on how this helmet has performed so far.

When I was approached by ZyroFisher (Bell’s UK distributors) back in June 2016 I couldn’t believe our luck. One of the largest helmet manufacturers in the world had noticed our team and races and wanted to support us. Not only that, they wanted to provide us with custom versions of their latest helmet which hadn’t even been announced at the time. I had to contain my excitement and keep things quiet.

The weeks ticked by and eventually the 2016 Tour de France eventually came around. Finally I could get a chance to see what the helmet would look like as the Lotto-Jumbo NL team debuted the helmet during the Tour. It was a thing of beauty. I hadn’t been able to get any more information from Bell regarding the helmet at this point, but it looked great in comparison to a lot of the other helmets in the peloton and a video by GCN from Bell HQ about the new helmet a few days later confirmed my suspicions.

Not only was it a great looking piece of equipment, the technology was smart and understated too. Built in MIPS technology (not just an afterthought like on other helmet designs) and a clever float fit system got the reviewers purring and I found out the benefit of MIPS first-hand towards the end of summer 2017, but more on that later.

Eventually I got my hands on some templates to lay down a design to match our 2017 team kits and from there on it was a matter of waiting for them to arrive. In the meantime we were supplied with a standard colour way Zephyr (all black obviously) and we could really start to test out how good it really was.

Immediately I was impressed with the fact each helmet fit everybody, with no complaints. How many helmets can fit so many different head shapes and sizes? Then the low profile fit was also a bonus. I’ve tried many helmets in the past and the mushroom effect was often a problem for me. The clever MIPS integration and the multiple compound foam layers helps keep the Zephyr profile down to a minimum, which is important for me. This doesn’t claim to be an aero helmet, but I can imagine a good fitting Zephyr is an aerodynamic challenge for a poorly fitting aero helmet (or there won’t be too much difference in drag either way).

The helmet was so open and airy that, while the weather was so cool, I didn’t even feel like I was wearing a helmet at some points. I usually run quite hot and the heat build up in some helmets can feel uncomfortable, but not with the Zephyr. I tested this to my limits when I tackled the mountains of Hokkaido on my regular trip to see the in-laws in Sapporo, Japan. The design is open enough for hot and hilly training rides, light enough for high intensity cyclocross racing and aero enough for fast-paced criterium action.

As the season progressed the team raced and trained in their helmets time after time, thankfully very rarely needing the helmet to do its job, but when it was needed it didn’t let us down. The first test was when Jess unfortunately took a tumble at the beginning of the year causing an injury that would keep her from racing all summer. Her hip was fractured and her head had hit the floor but she hadn’t realised quite how much impact there had been until she checked the helmet a few days later and saw the damage. The multi-density EPS foam doing its job perfectly.

Then, in September, I was rushing through town in heavy traffic when I managed to unclip while putting some effort down out of the saddle. I lost my balance at speed and after fighting with the handlebars for a few yards, found myself flipping onto the pavement. I landed on my head, hip and shoulder (the same one I broke 18 months before). Thankfully I didn’t do myself any major harm, just some road rash and a heavily bruised hip (I did go and get an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t broken though) and I was back on the bike about 10 days later.

Checking the helmet out I could see that I hit the front right of my head on the tarmac during the dismount, but I had no head injuries or concussion from the accident. Again, the impressive Zephyr had done its job without any fuss or fireworks.

With 2018 around the corner and a new design already sent off to the factory, we can’t wait to continue working with Bell. There’s a lot to be said about being given the opportunity to use equipment of the highest quality that you have full confidence in.

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