The Abus Performance helmet (previously known as the Ecolution) is a curious beast. Abus claims its layer of cardboard makes it more shock-absorbing and therefore more protective than a conventional expanded polystyrene helmet. It has the rounded looks beloved of urban riders, clearly its target users. But its weight, lack of ventilation and some problem details swamp its appearance, and innovative technological and ecological features.
We've talked about this helmet design before and again when it was shown at Eurobike at the end of 2012. The brainchild of Anirudha Rao, who now runs Kranium Headware Ltd in London, the Performance uses wood-cellulose fibre board as its main shock-absorbing material. It was originally claimed to be three to four times better at absorbing shock that a conventional helmet, but Abus is now claiming an improvement of about 40 percent.
The board is coated with acrylic to make it waterproof and there's a layer of recycled expanded polystyrene on the inside so the edges of the board don't get rammed into your skull if you hit your head. There's also a thick layer of plastic over the whole lot.
It's quite similar to the construction of helmets in the 1980s and early '90s, which typically used an ABS plastic shell over their expanded polystrene cores. They were heavy compared to the polystyrene-only lids that followed them and that in turn begat today's helmets with thin co-moulded shells.
You really notice the Performance's weight when you first pick it up and you can feel it from the moment you put it on. You're always aware of the extra mass. You feel it whenever you turn or lean your head. Taking it off is a blessing.
Weight, then, is helmet's big problem. Even the heaviest first-generation helmet didn't match the Performance's 640g heft.
Six hundred and forty grams.
That's 130g heavier than the previous holder of the title of heaviest helmet we've tested, the folding Biologic Pango. It's twice the weight of a typical mid-price modern lid. It's over three times the weight of the 185g Specialized Prevail S-Works, the lightest helmet we've tested.
Ventilation is also an issue. There are just two slots fore and aft for air to enter and leave, and there are no internal channels to conduct air over your head. At cruising speed in cool weather it's fine, but if it's warm or you're in a hurry things get sweaty quickly.
I also didn't find the Performance very comfortable. It's the only helmet I've ever used where I couldn't get the rear of the fitting cradle to sit below my occipital protuberance with the helmet properly positioned on my head. The occipital protuberance is the lump on the back of your skull that most helmets use as an anchor point. The Performance's occipital cradle also houses an adjustment dial and I found the dial's housing dug in to my head unless I tilted the helmet back.
The straps throw up another comfort problem. They're attached to the outside of the helmet, the best part of an inch away from your head. That means they only contact your head under the chin, concentrating pressure there. Most modern helmets mount the straps inside the helmet so they sit snugly against your head all the way to the buckle, spreading the load. The Performance has a pad over the buckle, which helps a bit but not enough.
Abus deserves credit for trying something different, in using recycled or recyclable materials for the Performance, but the result is deeply flawed. Compared to similarly-priced conventional helmets it's very heavy, poorly ventilated and uncomfortable.
You'd only choose the Performance if you were extremely taken with its looks. The transparent shell and consequently visible cardboard inner is very distinctive, and it'll probably be a great conversation-starter in urban cycling cafes. But for me its practical disadvantages far outweigh the small benefit of its looks and eco-friendliness.
Innovative helmet with distinctive looks, but heavy, poorly-ventilated and uncomfortable
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Make and model: Abus Performance helmet
Size tested: Large
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Completely new, ecological and technical concept
Shock-absorption through dual layer wood-cellulose fibre honeycomb board
Significantly higher shock-absorbing properties (approx. 40 %)
Main part of the helmet separately fully recyclable or made of recycled material
Weatherproof and humidity-resistant wood-cellulose board
Removable and washable padding with a high natural fibre percentage for maximum comfort
Soft touch straps easy to adjust by practical sliders
Designed by Kranium Headware Ltd, London
Operation and use:
Adult and youth helmet for city, commuting and everyday use
This helmet fulfils the demands of urban cyclists and commuters
This helmet is a unique, exclusive world's first
Can't fault it here, it's tidily made and all the moulded parts are clean.
It meets CE shock-absorbtion standards, but in every respect - comfort, weight, ventilation - performance is poor.
Hard-shell helmets have the big advantage of lasting years, as long as they're not crashed, because the outer shell protects the compressible liner.
Heaviest. Helmet. Ever.
Between the weight, problems with straps and cradle, and lack of ventilation, it's just not comfortable for more than a few minutes' ride to the shops.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Innovative use of materials
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The weight, lack of ventilation and comfort problems.
Did you enjoy using the product? No.
Would you consider buying the product? No.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
The Performance has distinctive looks and innovative use of materials in its favour, plus various claims of improved protection over standard helmets. But none of that maters when the resulting helmet is so hot, heavy and uncomfortable that you'd never use it. Abus and Kranium Headware need to go back to the drawing board and see if their ideas can be incorporated to a helmet that bears comparison with similarly-priced conventional helmets.
Age: 48 Height: 5ft 11in Weight: 85kg
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding,
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.