When it comes to bike helmets, what makes one better than another? Objectively, maybe safety features. Subjectively, maybe fit. With the advent of adjustable helmets, fit is a bit easier. But, safety features don’t adjust. You either have them or you don’t. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II helmet has them.

Sweet Protection is known for helmets that choose engineering and safety over price points. You’re going to spend more on one of their lids, but you’ll also get (they claim) a safer helmet. We know their ski helmets include tech no one else has, including differential foam density and shell thickness. But, the Bushwhacker II is our first introduction to the bike side of their line.

Design and Construction

The Bushwhacker has always been an enduro/trail-focused helmet. It offers extended coverage at the temples and across the occipital bone and mastoid process. While the general shape of the helmet hasn’t changed for 2017, Sweet Protection tells us that only four parts have been continued from the previous design.

Improvements include new STACC ventilation designed to channel air across your temporal artery to cool your head faster. Sweet Protections Occi-Grip (the adjustable retention system) is smaller and lighter than before. The straps are lighter and softer.  Visor is updated for the Bushwhacker II, but retains the ability to pivot up so you can rest goggles on the helmet brim.  Unchanged is the five-piece inmold shell that uses different thicknesses to move protection where it needs to be and lighten things up where possible.

Sweet Protection’s inmolding is absolutely on point. There are no shell placement issues, no uneven gaps, no foam squirting out. The Bushwhacker II looks like a Porsche while some other companies look like a 1970’s Dodge pickup. Sure, it’s an aesthetic issue, but it also contributes slightly to safety. If some company can’t get their QC under control, can you trust the helmet to save your dome in a crash?

The Bushwhacker II is available with or without MIPS and with or without carbon fiber.  It retails for $220 base, $260 MIPS, and $320 Carbon MIPS.  MIPS is MIPS; Sweet Protection claims the Carbon version offers 15% greater protection.  The Carbon also weighs 15g more than the normal MIPS and 55g more than the non-MIPS version.

How does it perform?

I’ve been riding the non-MIPS Bushwhacker II for three months or so.  While it may seem odd to be testing bike helmets during ski season, we’ve had some stupidly unusual weather here, including a run in February of 70-80° days when riding made more sense than turns.  The helmet has been on both trail rides and gravel grinds.  It performs well. Its features are functional in that they do work. I didn’t test its crashworthiness.  There are limits to things I’ll do to test gear and slamming my head into rocks is one of them. Sorry.  All that said, I do want to massage the design just a little bit.

The Good

STACC venting seems to work, though no helmet is going to vent enough to keep me from sweating. During downhill section and in headwinds, I can feel the air channeled over my temples.  Here’s the kicker, though – STACC isn’t going to actually cool you any more than other venting systems, says science.  What it may do is reduce your perceived temperature and keep you going faster for longer.  For you super-geeks, it’s called thermal alliesthesia – the perception of pleasure or discomfort based upon how the body is experiencing temperature.  There’s some evidence behind it – you can read about how cooling areas of the body reduces perceived heat levels and how the head is one of those areas.  Geek-mode off.

Padding is firm but comfortable and contributes to the helmet mostly disappearing on my head. I found that the Bushwhacker II seems to fit rounder than other helmets I’ve tried. I had more room on the sides than usual, but the Occi-Grip system cinched down and retained the helmet perfectly.

I love the coverage of the helmet. It sits perfectly on my brow and interacts well with my shades on the front. On the rear, it comes down and offers comfortable protection in case I manage to rack the back of my head in a rock. The brow pad sits over some vent gaps which allows air to flow over your forehead. Someone less sweaty than me would likely find that they get less sweat in their eyes than with other helmets.

And, it looks good too. Sure, that’s totally subjective, but it counts for something, right?

The Bad

Compared to some other adjustment systems, Occi-Grip still feels clunky. It’s a solid mechanism that presses on the back of your head. Compare to Giro’s latest Roc Loc system, which has a sort-of-hammock of flexy plastic that suspends its adjustment dial off your skin. I found myself cycling through Occi-Grip’s vertical adjustment day to day to find a comfortable spot. Some days it seemed too high; others too low.

Also, the Bushwhcker II is expensive. Like $100 more expensive than a comparably-featured helmet from Giro or Bell.

The Ugly

Naw…nothing ugly about the Bushwhacker II.

Final Thoughts

I can tell you that the Bushwhacker II is a better-engineered helmet than its competitors. I can tell you that it’s comfortable and fits. I can tell you that Sweet Protection has ideas about how to keep your skull intact that no other company has. And I can tell you that those ideas make sense to me.

Can I tell you the Bushwhacker II is safer than helmet X? Empirically, no, but my impression is that there are definitely situations where a Sweet Protection lid will do things other helmets can’t.

Can I tell you that you should spend more money on the Bushwhacker II? I don’t think that’s my call. What’s your head worth?

Bonus Round

If the Bushwhacker II is a bit to wallet-murdering for you, Sweet Protection also dropped their Dissenter helmet this month.  The Dissenter features the same coverage as the Bushwhacker II.  It still has Occi-Grip and STACC venting but skips the five-piece differential shell for a single piece so it can come in at a better price point.  $150 regular, $190 MIPS.