Of the many investments you can make in aero equipment, there’s little that can beat the aero helmet in terms of dollar to speed. Truly, only shaving your legs offers as great a gain for less money. There’s been one significant difference between leg shaving and aero helmets, though. Unlike shaving your legs, aero wheels, pro-fit kit or aero frames, the aero helmet has carried a geek factor—even among dedicated riders. So while leg shaving was as accepted a practice as using clipless pedals, the aero helmet was tin-foil-hat crazy.
As if you need proof, I submit these two stills from the John Hughes classic, She’s Having a Baby.
Moments later, Jake Briggs (played by Kevin Bacon) watches as his neighbor unleashes a primal … yodel … and pushes off for his Saturday ritual. But not before Bacon let’s slip this little look.
Boys and girls, I know this look because it’s the same look I give any time someone shows up on a group ride with a helmet twice the length of their head. It’s embarrassing—not the helmet (well, yes, the helmet)—but the fact that even I see that as weird, and I really try not to be a cycling snob.
But let’s be honest, the look we’ve come to accept, even expect of helmets is one that has evolved over many iterations of design. What looks normal to our eye now would have been beyond freaky in 1990.
There’s been a move afoot in the last few years to make helmets more aerodynamic without resorting to variations on the teardrop theme, kind of the helmet answer to the aero road frame.
Now that there are a few of these on the market, plus some plastic covers for existing helmets, there’s design feature we’re seeing repeated: the largely smooth front, devoid of vents.
The Bell Star Pro was unveiled last season and I got my first up-close look at it at Interbike. In addition to a solid frontal area to smooth the airflow over the helmet, it also included a truly innovative touch—vents that close with the aid of a slider. The idea is that in the open position you’ve got a quick helmet. With the vents closed—something that’s easy to accomplish on the fly—you get an even faster helmet, turbo mode, if you will.
I expect that in hot weather you won’t be closing the vents much, maybe just the final few kilometers of a hard ride or race. However, in cool weather, you can leave the vents closed for the whole of the ride as an alternative to needing a cycling cap under your helmet.
The standard Star Pro is $240, but for another $40 you can get it with a shield—that is, lens. In incorporating your eyewear into the helmet, the shield does four things, and three of them are definitely good. The first is that the shield cleans up the airflow at the helmet, making it even more aero. It also gives you a broader field of view than you’d get with ordinary eyewear, plus by eliminating an eyewear frame at your forehead you end the possibility of sweat running down the lens and obscuring your view. It does, however, kick up the Billy Blastoff Quotient. Honestly, as much as I liked the performance of the shield, I felt more comfortable wearing regular eyewear with the helmet most days. I should add that the inability to scratch or wipe my brow above my glasses made adjusting to the shield an unusual transition. At least sweat never ran down the lens.
Should you need to remove the shield mid-ride, it’s easy to pull out and slip into an empty jersey pocket; a small, center-mounted magnetic dock holds the shield in place while riding. The shield isn’t just any see-through plastic, either. It’s a piece of Zeiss optics, the same quality of lens that Giro used in their short-lived eyewear program. Both tinting and clarity are excellent with the shield.
The Star Pro comes in six colors with the shield; without it only comes in two. Like other Bell helmets it comes in three sizes—small, medium and large.
Out of the box I found the fit to be almost unnaturally perfect, like helmet gnomes had measured me in my sleep. I didn’t even need to adjust the length on the chin strap.
Construction of the Star Pro had to be two pieces in order to allow for the vent slider. Engineers at Bell took that opportunity as their cue to use a high-density EPS in the outer shell and a lower-density EPS in the inner layer nearer your head. We’re seeing this sort of design more and more. Testing has shown the lower density foam slows the head (and brain) prior to impact, reducing the likelihood of a traumatic brain injury. Short of MIPS, this helmet has more premium features than an S-Class Mercedes Benz.
I’m going to level with you. I’m not likely to use the shield very often, definitely not if I’m showing up for a group ride. But the Star Pro is going to remain in rotation for those days when I want a bit more speed.