Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is Your Protection Wearing Protection?

Regular readers (and a couple irregular ones) will know that my big dream in starting and maintaining this blog (other than just having a place to listen to myself talk) was to someday be graced by gifts from the Schwag Gods. I imagined that once bicycle manufacturers saw my dazzling prose and my rapt audience of dozens, free carbon and titanium bits would come tumbling from the Great Brown Truck like manna from heaven.

So far, that hasn't really panned out. But I'm proud -- nay, thrilled -- nay again, ecstatic -- to announce that
The Cycle has finally dipped its toe into the Fountain of Schwag. Thanks to the generosity (and perhaps the questionable marketing savvy) of inventor/do-it-yourselfer Blake Mills from San Francisco, CA, I've spent the last week testing The Helmet Lock.

Okay, so what's a helmet lock? Pretty simple, really -- it's a twist of steel cable run in a figure eight through a too-big-to-fit-through-a-helmet-vent hunk of metal and crimped at the end, with the whole works coated in a plasticky/rubbery stuff to protect whatever it comes into contact with. (There's also a well-placed URL that can't be missed when the product's in use... a practice that I find distasteful when TrekSpecializedGiantCannondale do it to wretched excess, but it works in this application.) To whit...

(quarter not included)

The idea is that you shove the fat cable loop through a vent in your helmet from the inside out, run your bike lock through the loop, and the central metal hunk (a fat nut, actually) can't be pulled through the vent, preventing evil-doers from waltzing off with your helmet -- and taunting them Nelson Muntz-style with the name of the product that's just thwarted them: "Haw haw, you're a failed miscreant!"

I confess, I have never been one to lock up my helmet with my bike. I have an irrational fear that a drunk, a dog, or -- horror of horrors -- a drunk dog will mistake my crash protection as some kind of styrofoam public urinal and anoint it with a golden shower. But, in the interest of journalism, I've been putting The Helmet Lock through its paces for over a week now. Impressions...

  • It's easy to use. Blake provides handy instructions with all sorts of caveats about how challenging it can be to juggle your bike, your lock, and your Helmet Locked-helmet, but I found that he doth protest too much. Just run the loop through your lid, start your usual lockup routine, and sling the loop over your lock before you close it up. Maybe it's tougher with a cable lock, but with my U-lock, I thought it was a piece of cake -- and this is from someone who likes to choreograph his lockup like a triathlete going through a transition.
  • Choose your vent carefully. My "beater" commute helmet (a not-terribly-expensive Bell from a few years back) has a few vents that allow the fat nut to slide right through, defeating the purpose of The Helmet Lock pretty handily. Since an expensive helmet (presumably one you'd be more interested in protecting) probably has even bigger vents, this is definitely something to keep in mind. Still, there are at least a half-dozen vents on that same beater helmet that work just fine, so I imagine you'd be able to find a small enough vent on about any helmet you choose. For example, my "fancy" helmet (a newer and more expensive Giro) batted a thousand, preventing nut pull-through at every orifice (Yeesh, that sounds bad. Let's move on, shall we?)
  • People will ask you about it. If you hang with "utility" bikers (who don't carry their helmets around in custom hard cases and display them proudly on a spotlit tchotchke shelf), they'll be impressed. Nobody (myself included) realizes that helmet-wrangling is a problem until they see this simple, elegant solution. Then, they have that forehead-slapping "Why didn't I think of that?" moment.
  • Light, cheap, strong: Pick all three. Very few things in bikedom get to contradict the original "pick two" dictum from former-human-turned-Trek-brand Keith Bontrager. The Helmet Lock pulls it off. It's forgettably light in a bag or hanging off the bike somewhere but more than strong enough for the intended purpose (because how much is a thief going to work for a stinkin' -- in my case quite literally -- helmet, anyway?) And at $13 for one or $20 for two (because it's nice to share), I'd call it cheap... er, inexpensive.
The bottom line: If you don't like carting your helmet around with you but don't feel safe just hanging it off the bike, this little gidget is what you didn't know you were looking for. Someday, the helmet manufacturers will wise up and put some kind of integrated cable loop into their commuter lids (unlike the bizarre collection of accessories -- earmuffs?!? -- available on Bell's supposedly-commuter-marketed Metro) just for lockup purposes. Until that day comes, we can thank Blake for The Helmet Lock.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I just saw a tipsy Doberman headed toward the bike rack...

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