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Helmet Test: Bern v. Nutcase

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I have two young and active boys, and part of my fatherly duty is to see that they keep their stunts reasonable and safe. This spring, I was tasked to search for multi-use helmets for the boys. We wanted helmets that would not only keep their noggins protected, but would also be cool enough that they would want to wear ‘em while riding at bike races or with friends in the alley behind our house.

Our local bike shop carried two brands — Nutcase and Bern — which both offer hard-shell, multi-purpose helmets. Both also offer many choices of color, design and size. I let my boys make their own choices and they each picked a different brand.

Nutcase and Bern helmets

My older son, Jack, beginning to think about his image and things being “cool,” chose the Bern Watts model, which sells for $60. I’ve got to agree with him, this helmet does look cool. With a built-in hard visor and edgy styling, it adds a little fashion to the function. Offered in 10 colors, plus a carbon-fiber shell, there’s a look for almost everyone.

But looks aside, the Watts offers a lot of versatility, too. EPS foam is tapered to allow the helmet to fit low but protect where most necessary. Out-of-the-box fit was great, and ratcheting adjusters in the back allow quick fine-tuning. Padding is well made and snapped in for easy, one-piece removal — nice when it’s time to wash. An optional winter liner is available with or without built-in speakers for your mp3 player. (Liners cost $25 for basic and $40 with speakers.)

Bern’s Watts

My only hang-up with the Bern is the poor venting. For more active summer rides, this is not an ideal design. Casual bike rides or skateboarding is fine. But for high-output sports, more vents would be best.

To sum it up, the Watts is a hit. It looks good, it’s well designed, and its multi-use nature will let Jack wear the Watts for several different sports and across all four seasons.

Boone, my younger son, picked out a Nutcase helmet in the “Superstar” motif, complete with Evel Knievel stripes, for $50. The Street/Skate model is available in a staggering 29 color/pattern choices. Nutcase helmets are definitely a statement on your head, with designs in classic, retro, cute or tough patterns.

The Nutcase was slightly lighter and offers one extra vent over the Bern. Perhaps more importantly, two of those vents are on the front, promoting more airflow through the helmet. The EPS foam’s thickness is pretty uniform, and the padding — two sets included — is basic foam shapes Velcro-ed throughout. Winter versions of the same helmets are available, but no conversions are offered for the street/skate model. The shape is more round and reminiscent of the classic Pro-Tech helmets.

Nutcase with Superstar graphics

The Nutcase isn’t a great hot weather helmet either, but with more vents it is better than the Bern. Its fit on the head is less adjustable, with only different-sized foam inserts to tailor fit. Strap material is a little too stiff and “scratchy” as my son would put it. Overall, the Nutcase is a more simple design, lacking the refined touches of the Bern.

For kids or adults, these helmets will easily meet priority No. 1 of keeping heads safe. While either the Nutcase or the Bern is a good choice, the Bern is tough to top with the extra options and a better fit. Its winter-use design really ups the bargain factor, too. For both helmets, since my sons like the looks, they actually want to wear the hard hats — a huge plus and a headache saved each time we head outside ready to play.

—T.C. Worley

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