When shopping for a new helmet, there is one part of the helmet that is almost always overlooked – the buckle.
Nevertheless, it is an important part of the helmet’s effectiveness in a crash. It is also the part that you interact with the most when putting on the helmet.
Fortunately, over the past few years, the buckle has received increased attention from helmet makers, leading to some innovative new designs. The buckle is now something you would be smart to pay attention to when shopping for a helmet– a bad one could really detract from your cycling experience.
This post will cover the different types of buckles you may find on a new helmet these days, including the pros and cons of each. I’ll pay special attention to buckles that are found on foldable helmets, since we are, you know, Things That Fold.
Fastex Side Release Buckles
Most likely, when you think of chin straps on a helmet, this is the buckle that you think of. This buckle has been around since ITW Nexus invented it over 40 years ago, and until recently has been the standard on most bike helmets.
This Fastex-style pinch release buckle is a plastic clip attached to each of the two chin straps. Typically, the right side of the chin strap will end in a part consisting of protruding plastic prongs (called a “latch”), and the left side will end in a buckle that the latch goes into (called the “body”).
[Images taken from ITW Nexus catalog: na.itwnexus.com ]
As you’re probably already quite familiar with this type of helmet clip, I won’t get into the details of its usability other than saying they’re pretty simple to learn and use. Unless of course you are my in-laws, who once caught my wife’s chin in one of these buckles as a child. Yea, she’s still a little traumatized, and her chin is still adorable.
However, the last thing to note about these buckles is that the quality does vary a lot. Some of the cheaper ones might end up breaking on you. If that’s the case, you will most likely need to buy a new helmet, as the buckle is specifically designed to work on that particular helmet’s chin strap.
Fidlock Magnetic Slide Release Buckles
Fidlock came out to improve the fastener system, combining a magnetic and mechanical mechanism to make a buckle that’s both convenient and strong.
The buckle is specifically designed so that one motion is used to fasten it and then a different motion is used to open it.
[Images taken from BioLogic: thinkbiologic.com/products/pango-folding-helmet ]
Fidlock’s helmet buckle (which it calls the SNAP) has a protruding bit which goes into a notch, and is then held in place by a magnet. The motion used to open it is to slide the latch up along a groove in the buckle.
You can see the motion in the video below.
Having used the Morpher, I have one complaint about the chin strap buckle:
Opening and closing the magnetic buckle is not as easy as it looks.
It took me a long time just to figure out how to open or close the chin strap properly. And even now I still sometimes struggle with it. Despite the magnetic buckle being touted as easy to open with one hand, I found this to be untrue– it’s actually pretty hard to open the magnetic clip with one hand.
Furthermore, it’s practically impossible to open it with one hand when you’re wearing winter gloves, unlike the ordinary pinch release clip. Not to mention when you are buckling something beneath your chin, you can’t quite see what you are doing, unless you have a mirror.
Although it’s designed to snap into place, there are two reasons why the magnetic buckle is actually hard to close:
- For starters, you have to align the two sides of the buckle so that they’re facing each other, unlike the plastic clip which can clip together even if one half of the buckle is twisted.
- The second reason it’s hard to close is that the latch has to go on top of the body, rather than be pushed in from the side. Often there are parts of the chin strap that get tangled on top of the buckle, blocking the latch’s path to it, hence the problem. The Fastex side release buckle does not have this problem– if a piece of chin strap is covering the buckle, you can easily brush it aside to close the buckle.
These problems aren’t so visible in the video. But, once the magnetic buckles are on the chin strap and below your line of sight, you’ll notice it right away.
[Images taken from Strapworks: strapworks.com/Plastic_Magnetic_Slide_Release_Buckle_p/fms000.htm ]
Therefore, in terms of convenience, I would rank the traditional plastic helmet buckle above the magnetic clip.
The magnetic buckle is strong.
From a durability standpoint, however, the magnetic buckle does seem sturdier than what you’ll find on an ordinary helmet chin strap. I can’t imagine the magnetic buckle breaking off that easily.
And of course, it seems a bit less likely that someone’s chin will get caught in the magnetic one, as my wife is eager to remind me.
Comparison of magnetic vs regular side-release chinstrap buckle
|Magnetic Buckle – Fidlock||Plastic Clip – Fastex|
|Ease of Opening||Hard||Easy|
|Ease of Closing||Medium||Medium|
Hedkayse Quick-release Adjustable Ratchet Chin-strap (QARC)
Hedkayse’s website states “our patented Quick-release Adjustable Ratchet Chin-strap (QARC) allows quick and easy removal no matter what you’ve got on your hands.” Hedkayse posted onto their Facebook page on May 21: “Continuing with our technology today, we have designed our very own buckle, no longer the traditional buckle which you see on the regular cycle helmet. Our design makes it a lot easier to undo with the quick [release] system but also makes it easier to tighten up your helmet when on the move!“
The Hedkayse quick release buckle is designed and patented by Hedkayse and is not found on any other folding helmet. It is designed to open with one hand quickly and easily. There is a tab that, when pulled, instantly unfastens the buckle.
Here are some photos of it from Hedkayse’s website:
We think the main advantage of this kind of buckle is that you can open it while wearing really thick winter gloves. That’s the one big drawback to the other kinds of buckles– you need some minimal level of dexterity to open them. The quick-release buckle barely requires any: you just pull on a tab and it opens.
The other advantage to this kind of buckle is that it has a built-in length adjustor. Although that’s really just a feature of the Hedkayse helmet— it’s generally very customizable.
Other Types of Bicycle Helmet Buckles
That just about covers all the kinds of buckles you’ll find on a folding helmet. But if you’re curious about what else is out there, here are the two other buckle types we know of.
This kind of buckle has one part slide into the other, and releases with a push-button. You can adjust the chin-strap length by setting how deep the parts slide together.
There are other kinds of quick-release ratchet buckles out there, but aside from the Uvex, none of the others we found are used on bike helmets. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute mentions one by Abus, similar to Uvex’s, but we couldn’t find it used anywhere.
Older Cycling Helmet Buckles
Older bicycle helmets might have a different buckle on the chinstrap. For example, D-rings were used at some point. Helmets with D-rings basically use two metal loops– similar to metal washers– to fasten a chinstrap. They’re cheap, simple, adjustable, and strong. Despite that, they are no longer common on bike helmets, due to the inconvenience involved in using them.
Do you know of any other kind of chin strap buckles used on bicycle helmets? If you see one that’s not on our list, please let us know by posting a comment below!
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