You know, I can be a real dimwit sometimes. For too long, I’d dart around on short trips without bothering to slap a helmet on my head. It was a couple of close calls—both in the same evening—biking through New York City at dusk that caused me to wise up and start wearing a brain bucket every time I took out the bike.
Around the same time, I was griping about having to move headlights and taillights from one bike to another to another for ebike testing. Then the Nutcase Vio came along. It’s not the first helmet with integrated lights, but thanks to its wide distribution—from outdoor behemoth REI to small bike shops—it’s one of the most visible on the market.
Lights, More Lights, and Action
There are lights for seeing and lights for being seen. The former tend to be brighter, as you use them on dark roads, and the latter are more of an alert to other cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers to visually shout, “Hey, I’m over here! Don’t run me over!” The Vio’s forward-facing LED lamp casts 200 lumens, which puts it squarely in the “being seen” camp. That’s not to say it’s weak. Many handlebar-mounted headlights and integrated headlights (often found on ebikes) are less bright than the Vio.
If you’re riding on dark, unlit country roads or a racing bike at high speed, 200 lumens won’t be enough to light your way. But in the city and on an ebike typically going 20 miles per hour, I had absolutely no problem seeing where I was going with the Vio’s headlight—it performed better than I expected from 200 lumens. Even when I’d turn onto a deserted street and ride the dark stretches of road between streetlamps, it cast enough light for me to spot potholes in the dark.
There are red and orange 65-lumen LEDs spread around the back and sides of the helmet. That’s as bright as most stand-alone taillights, and it gives the Vio 360-degree coverage, so you can be seen from any angle.
There are three light modes that you set by quick-tapping the power button on the back of the helmet: on, flashing, and slow pulsing. When the lights are off, the Vio looks like a regular helmet. Unless someone were to inspect it very closely, it’d be hard to tell that it’s covered in LEDs.
Feeling So Seen
There are a few advantages to mounting the lights on the helmet rather than on your bike. For one, you’re more visible. Handlebar-mounted headlights and under-seat taillights are at roughly the same height as cars’ fenders, door handles, and trunks. A driver can’t see you if your lights are blocked by other cars.
With the Vio’s lights on top of my head, high above car fenders, I’d never felt more visible. Even pulling up next to a pickup truck at a red light, I knew the driver and the rest of traffic would see my lights, because they were higher than the windowsills and hood.