The Kali Protectives Cascade is the brand's latest and greatest flagship trail and enduro open-face helmet and it's an incredibly cool bit of kit with plenty of innovative safety features. Kali has also sought to create the most environmentally friendly helmet available by integrating recycled materials into its construction, touting it as a great candidate for one of the best mountain bike helmets on the market.
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Kali Protectives Cascade - Technical details
The Cascade is constructed with recycled EPS, an Oceanworks adjustable visor made from reclaimed ocean plastic, recycled (PET) water bottle straps and sustainably sourced bamboo pads. Kali claims this 'Biodome' construction reduces the number of CO2 emissions by more than 58% over standard helmet production. Impressive and commendable stuff in this throwaway world we live in, let's hope rival brands take note and follow Kali's lead.
The Cascade is also jam-packed with cutting-edge safety tech including the fancy RHEON Low-Density Layer padding. In a similar vein to Mips, this is Kali's anti-rotational force solution. The small blue viscoelastic tubes are designed to deform on impact allowing the helmet to 'smear' slightly on the head to mitigate the rotational impact forces at play in the event of a crash by up to 25% and reduce low-g linear forces up to 30%.
They also provide a subtle final cushioning element to further prevent injury and add to the general comfort of the helmet. This is further supported by the proven ConeHead dual-layer EPS foam - Kali puts a softer low-density EPS foam nearer the head, with custom shaping that spreads impact forces over a larger area, which is claimed to dissipate the forces going directly to the head. Clever stuff.
To ensure a secure and comfortable fit, the Cascade also features Kali's height-adjustable Frequency Fit retention system and a fancy Fidlock magnetic buckle closure. Ventilation is taken care of by 13 good-sized vents that incorporate Kali's Super Vent technology - reinforced vent surrounds that are said to dissipate impact forces over more of the helmet's surface.
The Cascade passes CPSC, EN 1078 and NTA safety standards and is available in the stealthy matt/gloss Black combo on test here, or Feather Gloss Green for those that prefer a splash of colour.
Weighing in at a claimed 318g (although, 377g on my digital scales) the Cascade is a pretty good weight for a helmet in this category.
It is available in two sizes, S/M and L/XL - I'm testing the smaller of the two here which is supposedly suitable for 55-61cm heads and it fits my 59cm noggin nicely with a little room to spare.
Kali Protectives Casecade - Performance
My first impressions of the Cascade were very positive - with its purposeful flowing lines, stealthy matt/gloss finish and subtle branding - it's a flipping stunner of a helmet!
On the head, I was immediately impressed by the Cascade's snug hat-like fit. It reminded me of the Troy Lee Designs A1 in this regard, with a nice deep, planted, bonce-enveloping feel that inspired confidence from the off.
The polycarbonate shell fully in-wraps the bottom edges of the helmet, leaving no exposed EPS foam to nick or dent over time, and is proving to be pretty hardwearing, shrugging off foliage scrapes and being flung in the boot just fine.
Ventilation is also very impressive owing to the plentiful well-distributed vents that work in tandem with the deep internal cooling channels to draw cool air in and allow it to flow unhindered across the head to the six well-positioned ‘exhaust ports’. Additionally, the brow and temple vents align perfectly with the cut-outs in the visor offering unimpeded airflow with the peak in its lowest position.
In fact, I actually found the peak's clever design seemed to ‘supercharge’ the ventilation on offer by catching and directing cool air into the helmet. It's not quite as airy as my benchmark for breeziness; the original Specialized Ambush, but it's pretty darn close.
The Frequency Fit retention system is intuitive and highly effective at keeping things locked down in the rough stuff and it's a doddle to adjust, with a nice textured thumbwheel allowing for easy one-handed micro adjustment even on the fly. The cradle is height adjustable too, offering three positions to accommodate different-shaped craniums. However, I don’t know whether it's down to my particular head shape or not, but when cinched up tightly to prevent unwanted movement on super rough tracks I would occasionally experience an uncomfortable pressure point in the centre of my forehead.
This seemed to be due to the retention system pulling the helmet slightly rearward, causing the moulded central ridge dividing the two internal cooling channels to press into my brow. This was further compounded by the rather thin, low-density brow padding. In fairness to Kali, I only found this an issue on a couple of occasions riding rough DH tracks where I'd dialled in an extra click or two for ultimate stability, back it off a touch and it's a super comfy place to be. To be honest, I think a slightly thicker or denser brow pad would mitigate the issue entirely and hopefully, it's something Kali may consider for future iterations. Still, I would recommend trying before buying.
The addition of a smart magnetic Fidlock buckle is a cool touch and is a dream to use - However, due to its shape, I found the buckle a little uncomfortable as the front part protrudes slightly and would dig into my chin a little at some angles. By comparison, the more rounded Fidlock clasp on my Lazer Jackal is a far better design and is notably more comfortable in use. It is a shame Kali opted not to round off those edges, as it loses them a point for comfort thanks to this slightly odd design.
Now, I know it's something of a polarising subject, but being a contact lens wearer, keeping my eyes grit-free is a must and I do, sometimes, wear goggles with my half-shell lids, especially if conditions are particularly grotty or I'm racing. Additionally, watery eyes can make my lenses float on my eyeball at higher speeds, resulting in a blurry five pints of Punk Ipa sensation - not the best midway through a race run.
Thankfully, Kali has incorporated some neat goggle-friendly design features into the Cascade should you wish to use goggles. Firstly, the two-position visor can be shoved up far enough to easily accommodate goggles on the climbs and secondly, there's a nice moulded groove at the rear of the helmet for the strap to securely hook into. On the other hand, if the 'full enduro' look isn't your bag, you'll be pleased to hear the Cascade also plays very well with regular riding specs.
Kali has really pulled a blinder with the Cascade, seamlessly blending high-end aesthetics and an eco-friendly construction with absolutely no compromise from the use of these recycled materials.
The recycled water bottle straps are nice and soft, and although not as thin and wispy as some, they are comfortable and don't seem to absorb too much in the way of sweat. The Slide Fix strap dividers are a doddle to adjust and stay put once set to taste.
The reclaimed 'ocean plastic' used for the visor is seeming of high quality and is actually one of the best I have come across, with a nice flush fitting integrated look and perfect 'goldilocks' dimensions - big enough for meaningful 'spray and ray' protection, but not so big as to obscure the view of the trail ahead, even in the lowest position. It was also set and forget and remained wobble-free on even the rowdiest of trails. The only downside of that gap-free integrated design is the visor does scuff the matt finish a little where it articulates, it's not hugely noticeable, but a bit of a bummer on an otherwise well-thought-out lid.
The sustainable bamboo pads are also rather good if a little skimpy around the brow region - a little more meat in this area would really add some extra comfort to an otherwise great-fitting lid. Bamboo is renowned for its moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties and as such, is a great choice of pad material as they don't seem to emit that telltale helmet stench after a few sweaty sessions like standard pads can. They also seem to be wearing very well - although I tend to hand-wash my helmet pads rather than bunging them in the washing machine, as I find they last much much longer that way.
Thankfully during my time with the Cascade, I haven't had to put Kali's safety features to the test in a real-world crash scenario. However, Kali Protectives' pedigree is exemplary and their pioneering safety technology has been proven effective. This, combined with the extended coverage and that super secure fit, I had no reason to doubt Kali's claims and felt confident my brain was in safe hands when pushing on in difficult terrain.
To quote Kali - 'you crash it, we replace it. It's that simple’ - Like all Kali helmets, the Cascade comes with a lifetime crash replacement policy. This gives some peace of mind should the worst happen, and since all helmets are inherently disposable in the event of a significant 'dirt nap', this is something that should be applauded. This is especially valid with the super spendy Cascade and makes the eye-watering asking price a little more palatable knowing it will be replaced for free in the event of a crash.
Kali Protectives Cascade - Verdict
While there's an awful lot to like about the Kali Protectives Cascade, it’s not without a few niggles and this is disappointing, especially in a helmet of this price. Speaking of price, at £210 the Cascade isn't cheap and is up against some stiff competition from all the big players.
Coming in at a slightly more sensible £150 is the newly redesigned flagship trail lid from Specialized, the Ambush 2. Not only is it a good chunk cheaper than the Cascade, but it also trumps it in the airflow game with class-leading ventilation - (although it’s not quite as breezy as the original Ambush.) It also sports innovative sunglasses storage and the minimalist MIPS SL system where the MIPS is incorporated into the pads themselves. However, the fixed position peak is less versatile than the Cascades, and its Klingon aesthetic is a little bit 'Marmite' - I much prefer the styling of the Cascade.
The Lazer Jackal is another Mips-equipped contender in the open-face enduro sector, and it's visually quite similar to the Cascade, perhaps a tad more angular. With 19 vents it's a nicely airy helmet, it also pairs brilliantly with goggles, has the lightest and comfiest straps I've ever tried and has a supremely snug and secure fit thanks to the Active Turnfit retention system. It also comes with a nice drawstring bag and a GoPro/headlight mount included in the £150 price. It's a little weighty at 396g and the MIPS system impairs the ventilation a touch compared to Kali's less obtrusive Rheon System. The Cascade does have a slightly better quality feel about it, but then it is 60 quid more expensive.
Though the real competition comes in the form of the Troy Lee Designs A3. It's a tenner more expensive but it's luxuriously comfortable and its sleek silhouette is nothing short of cool. However, the A3 isn't as breezy and it doesn't carry the eco credentials of the Cascade.
While the Kali Protectives' Cascade is an undeniably well-crafted helmet, and Kali’s eco-friendly design philosophy is hugely commendable and quite the achievement, it isn't without its flaws - and, at over 200 quid, it really should be pretty much perfect. However, with a couple of minor design tweaks to the padding and buckle, it could be a real contender for the top spot in the trail/enduro sector, but as it stands, it just falls short and is hard to recommend over some better value and equally well-performing options from rival brands.