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The Nutcase Vio brings ventilation to the urban helmet market

Can a kids bike helmet brand crack the adult urban helmet code?

Nutcase Vio
(Image: © Josh Ross)

Our Verdict

You wouldn’t pin Nutcase as being a brand to add performance to an urban helmet but that’s exactly what you get with the Nutcase Vio. There’s a removable peak and lights plus full coverage but there’s also excellent ventilation and a little less weight. This is a helmet that will serve you well on the weekday commute and occasionally transition to the weekend.

For

  • A bit lighter than most urban specific helmets
  • Excellent ventilation
  • MIPS
  • Fidlock buckle
  • Lots of colour options
  • Removable plastic peak with no Velcro

Against

  • Rear cradle isn’t vertically adjustable
  • Charging port uses micro-usb
  • Only two sizes won’t work for everyone

Riding in an urban landscape requires specialised gear just like any other type of riding. In some ways it's a style thing but there's also a specific need when you regularly interact with city traffic. Finding the right helmet for that situation is actually very difficult and to help we've put together a list of the best commuter helmets. Despite that, we always continue to evaluate and evolve what's best. 

The Nutcase Vio is a relatively new entry to the commuter helmet market and I am just getting a chance to take a look at it. The brand has a reputation for creating skate style, full coverage, helmets with wild designs. For a lot of people that means kids helmets but they are also a frequent sight on the heads of fun-loving adults all over. The Vio takes things in a totally different direction and I've decided to put it to the test. Having spent time with it I am ready to share the details and let you know what works and what doesn't. If you are looking for a new commuter helmet with a bit of performance mixed in, keep reading to see if this is the perfect option for you. 

Design and aesthetics 

In Portland Oregon, Nutcase helmets are a frequent sight. Cyclists here love to take themselves less seriously when cruising around town and there's an outsized, for an American city, portion of riders who see the bike only as a transportation tool. The full coverage, skater style, helmets seem to strike a chord and show up on the heads of cargo bike riding parents and young people with regularity. Part of seeing them often is that they are so easy to spot. You can't miss the wild designs and Nutcase helmets are instantly recognizable. The Vio is a departure from those helmets but not completely. 

You can see the connection to Nutcase but, at the same time, the Vio stands apart. Instead of exterior options like a watermelon, which brings my son such joy with his helmet from our list of the best kids’ bike helmets, the Vio takes the style proposition in a more sophisticated direction. You can still pick your favourite from nine colour choices but if you want yellow it's gone from a bight "Sunny Day" to a darker golden honey "Resin" and there aren't any graphics available. 

The shape is also new although, like the colour, squint and you'll recognize the DNA. The standard Nutcase style is that of a skater helmet and the Vio again takes that starting point and refines it a little. Looking at each option separately you'd think the two shapes were very different. Holding them next to each other and what you'll find is that the shape is incredibly close. The Vio has a little less height at the top of the head and cuts a little closer in the rear three-quarter area. They come down to about the same point both front and rear and even at the side, the only difference is a tiny bit of extra coverage in front of the ears. 

The reason the two styles look so different isn't because of the slightly different shape. What really changes things is the venting. The skater style helmets don't have many vents while the Vio has more than enough to handle hard riding. There's a front brow area and just above that the three, large, main vents start. Each vent cuts a long slice into the helmet shell and runs towards the rear. At the point where each opening ends, it's a "U" shaped design that scoops air into the interior of the helmet and the channel endures all the way to the rear.

At the rear, things open up again. The channel changes from an inlet to scoop air into an outlet where hot exhaust can flow out the back. The exterior structure briefly interrupts the venting with a horizontal strip before giving way to more venting. The last bit of venting includes three small holes positioned well in the lower, rear, of the helmet. 

All the venting might mean room for thermal control during spirited riding but this helmet keeps an eye on city riding at the same time. Bolstering the extended coverage is a series of lights. The front brow hosts a logo that might only look chrome with a quick glance but is actually a 200-lumen white LED light. As you head to the sides, that's where you'll find a strip of orangey red lighting that starts before the ears and follows the edge of the helmet as it dives towards the rear corner. Immediately after making the turn towards the centre of the helmet in the rear the strip changes colours slightly. It drops the orange hue and goes to a fully red colour. Both side and rear lights hit a max of 65 lumens. 

In the centre of the rear is where you'll find the control button. A long press turns on the lights and they start with solid illumination. A single press changes to a flashing light all around. One more press and the fast flash starts to slowly pulse. If you want to turn it off, you'll need another long press. 

When it's time to charge things up, there's a cover to the right that mirrors the style of the control button. Pull it open and you'll find a USB port that hasn't yet gotten a modern update to USB-C. No USB-C means no fast charging but there is a reasonable 2.-5hour runtime. Extending it longer would require a bigger battery and Nutcase has chosen a little lighter weight which at 423 grams does keep the whole system under the weight of the competition. 

Nutcase Vio MIPS sticker

There's MIPS for rotational impact and there's also lighting visible from every side (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Safety features

With helmet reviews I like to call out some of the specific safety features on board. Often that means discussing rotational impact protection and that is the case here as well. There's no clarity that one technology is a winner while others aren't but there is clarity that rotational protection is helpful for reducing brain injury. Nutcase has gone the same direction as a lot of manufacturers and chosen to lean on MIPS for their expertise in building a rotational impact system. To that end, the Vio uses a MIPS liner under the padding which allows for slippage of the skull within the helmet during a crash. 

In parallel with the MIPS liner is another technology designed to help protect the skull from the inside of the helmet. While MIPS allows movement, Nutcase also uses a dual density foam to help dissipate energy. The Vio uses an in-mould construction like most modern performance helmets but sitting below that outer layer is a second layer with the same construction and a softer foam. It's a design that sometimes leads to integrating the MIPS layer but in this case the two layers are firmly attached.

The effectiveness of these two strategies is, unfortunately, not something that's been independently tested so far. Specifically, the Nutcase Vio has not found its way into a Virginia Tech test. The similarities to the Street MIPS, and it's five-star rating, are a good sign but for now there's no Vio rating to report. 

Performance

When I suit up for long rides in my favourite kit I have no problem donning all black and a single rear light. I spend those rides far from the thrum of urban traffic, and the many intersections that come with it, and I feel safe just making sure I am visible from behind. When I head out in street clothes on a city bike, I prefer to be as visible as possible and with that in mind, adding lights to a helmet makes a lot of sense to me. It's for this reason that I keep testing urban helmets with built-in lights. 

As I've spent time looking at so many different options, I've started to see some trends. There are purely urban helmets and most of what Nutcase makes falls into that category, but there are helmets that look to go beyond a single category and the Nutcase Vio is one of these. The Vio is very much an urban helmet but the marketing video also shows it in use as a gravel helmet and it really does work in that context too. 

The features that work in a performance setting are also the features that elevate a helmet in any setting. More than anything, that means a lot of ventilation and that's what the Vio has. No one wants to feel like they are cooking on a hot summer day and that's true if they are pushing a kid in a cargo bike or a heading up a hill on a gravel bike. The Vio does an excellent job of keeping air moving across the top of your head by pulling air in and using exhaust tricks to keep it moving at high velocity. 

On the other side of things, there are some features from commuter helmets that end up translating well to a performance helmet. Lights are among those although the trade-off is weight for that safety feature. The magnetic Fidlock buckle offers no trade off though and ends up being a lovely addition whatever use you have for a helmet. 

What actually ends up being the biggest challenge when a manufacturer is looking for a cross-use helmet design is style. Depending on your particular thought on the subject, you may find this silly but it can be important. Most people prefer not to wear a helmet with a performance look when cruising around town on a city bike. The Vio manages to accomplish a style that works for both situations by keeping the design sporty but not angular. It's a look that works in a lot of different situations. 

Beyond a nicely balanced look, there are also a couple of smart choices. Aiming for gravel riding works because the gravel aesthetic is more forgiving of a helmet with more coverage. The extra coverage adds safety in situations where the road surface is slick and there are rocks to contend with so it works for style and safety. Then there's the simple trick of a removable brim, or peak. 

Urban helmets tend to have a peak while road and gravel helmets don't. The Nutcase Vio splits the difference by making their peak removable but it does a bit better job than the competition. Instead of a soft peak with a Velcro attachment, the Vio uses a stiff plastic and attaches via pegs. It's not fiddly and it always sits in the exact spot it's meant to. Pop it in when heading to the store and remove it for a day on the gravel bike. Or leave it off all the time, the style still works in both situations. 

Verdict

The Giro Escape MIPS, Bontrager Circuit WaveCel, and Unit 1 Faro are all commuter-specific helmets with lights I’ve looked at somewhat recently. The Giro and Faro are not designed to do anything beyond weekday commuting. They aren’t light and they have a style that’s not very flexible. The Bontrager and the Nutcase Vio are a little different and they both try to find a design that works for different situations. They also both go at it from different ends of the spectrum. The Nutcase Vio is a commuter helmet that will work for some light performance riding while the Bontrager WaveCel is a performance helmet that will work for commuting duties. The differences are subtle but they are there and you’ll have to decide what works best for you. 

If the Nutcase Vio with its multiple colours and integrated lights sounds like the better choice, the one thing you’ll want to think about is sizing. I have a small head and I tend to wear a size small in helmets. The Nutcase only comes in two sizes, not three, and while the S/M fits me the extra space allows the front to come up more than I’d like. I’d have been able to fix it if the rear cradle had vertical adjustment but unfortunately, it does not. If you also have a small head size, the Vio might not work for you. 

Testing scorecard and notes
ComfortAs long as you’ve got a bigger head, this is a helmet you are going to like. The straps are easy to adjust and the pads aren’t sophisticated but they are comfy. Adjustability is never a bad thing though and it’s lacking on the rear cradle.6/10
SafetyThere is a MIPS liner and a double density shell design. There’s also integrated lighting. Only a small loss of points because MIPS Spherical is an upgrade that’s exclusive to Bell and Giro helmets.9/10
VentilationA standout feature in the commuter helmet crowd and doing well to match the options for a performance helmet.10/10
StyleA really nice balance between commuter and performance. Plenty of colours is a nice feature in this category also.10/10
ValueThere are more expensive helmets but it’s a stretch to call this a great value. 8/10
Overall88%

Tech Specs: Nutcase Vio

  • Price: £119.95 / $149.99
  • Battery Capacity: 2.5hr runtime
  • Charging Port: Micro USB
  • Sizes: S/M (55- 59cm) and L/XL 5(9- 62cm)
  • Weight: 432g as measured in size S/M

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