If you had asked me, one year ago, which topic would garner more interest from RKP’s readers, the Giro d’Italia or the new Rapha Sky Kit, I’d have laid my lira on the Giro. Rapha’s general nattiness notwithstanding, it would have been hard for me to foresee the conversation-inspiring value of a single kit, especially as compared to a Grand Tour, a GRAND TOUR people!
But this is a different time. As Padraig noted the other day, pro cycling might be stuck in a sort of purgatory after the hell of the EPO-era. Many fans, myself included, feel far less passionately about the races than we once did. These are days when dedicated cyclists are retreating a bit into the deep pleasure of their own riding, including a renewed interest in the ephemera of the cycling life, the bikes, the stuff.
So, folks who want to talk about the Giro can step back to last week’s Group Ride. Please do. This week we’re going to talk about helmets.
I am in the market for a new noggin hugger myself, and I seem to be surrounded by riders in the same market. Helmets are a funny old thing to buy really. Very few people would say their helmet is fun. And of course, the helmet is one of the few cycling products you hope never to learn how well it works. That leaves fit, form and style as the chief criteria by which to evaluate.
Then we get into shape and ventilation, the form of the helmet, whether or not your sunglasses slot neatly into the holes in the front or tuck neatly into the back. This too is subjective and random. You have awful taste in sunglasses probably.
Finally there is style. There is no accounting for style. Have we discussed your sunglasses?
Here’s what I will tell you about my recent history with helmets. I wear a Giro Prolight. It’s light, like its name implies. It fits me well. I like it. There is a high likelihood, because I tend to be brand loyal, that I will get another Giro, probably the Aeon, but I am also somewhat suggestible.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What are you wearing? Do you like it? Why? What would you consider switching to? There are so many choices now, from the conventional to the esoteric. Has any of them saved your life? Let’s not get into the larger helmet debate. Let’s assume, for the sake of the discussion, that we need to wear helmets, and we just need to pick one. Thanks.
In the early 1990s, I could count on one hand the number of helmets that fit me. Actually, I didn’t need all of my hand. I only needed two fingers. Even among those two, one fit better and it also stayed in place better. This wasn’t a matter of comfort; back then there were serious issues to just getting a helmet to stay put.
A lot has changed since then. I can wear more brands and all of those helmets not only fit better, they stay in place. However, that doesn’t mean I can wear just any helmet. I’d look like a fool if I wore the new Catlike helmet because my name doesn’t have an “X” in it and my blood doesn’t run Basque orange. There’s also something vaguely crab-like in appearance that makes it rather unsettling. Style issues aside, though I love the look of Bell helmets, and they fit comfortably on my head, I haven’t been able to wear one in years because the fit is so deep that the helmet hits any eyewear I don. I couldn’t wear Specialized helmets for the entire 1990s.
Giro is the only brand of helmet I’ve been able to wear without fail for the last 20 years. It’s an interesting distinction. That said, I’ve had my favorites among their helmets. The Helios (circa 1996) was the first helmet that I thought was so attractive that it constituted a style improvement over the bare head. That was also the helmet that first introduced Giro’s Roc Loc, a device that has been copied in one form or another by every other helmet manufacturer. The Roc Loc was the first device to wrap around the occipital lobe, that bump at the back of your head and it spawned an industry-wide A ha!
And while I liked the helmets that followed the Helios, it was the Pneumo that I thought significantly improved the look of a helmet and also happened to improve fit. Models that followed added carbon fiber and in a twist you won’t encounter anywhere else—I can guarantee it—the folks at Giro admit that while it increased their helmets’ strength, it also increased their weight.
Consider that the Giro Ionos—still one of the most popular helmets around—weighs in at 285 grams (if you wear the small size, that is). We’d have killed for a helmet that comfortable, stylish, light and safe in 1991, right? In an effort to remove as much weight as possible from the helmet, without rendering it unsafe, Giro introduced the Prolight.
While I don’t have sales figures (and it seemed impolitic to ask), there seemed to be some pushback on this product from the helmet-buying public based on comments I saw on the Interwebs. Some were worried that the Prolight, which lacked the Roll Cage, didn’t offer the same level of protection as the Ionos, while others complained that it wasn’t as well ventilated. Perhaps it’s enough to note that I see many more Ionos helmets on the road than I do Prolights. That the Ionos seemed to remain more popular than the Prolight is surprising given that the Prolight was 104g lighter. That’s a noticeable chunk of weight.
So this spring Giro introduced the Aeon. To say it splits the difference between the Prolight and Ionos is an oversimplification, but that’s its DNA in a nutshell. The Roll Cage is back and the vents are much larger than those found on the Prolight. The stripped down Roc Loc found on the Prolight is replaced by the Roc Loc 5, arguably Giro’s easiest-to-adjust version of the device so far. It’s as minimal in execution as it is comfortable in fit.
The carbon fiber found in the Ionos? Also gone. Only someone working for a helmet maker can tell you, “Carbon fiber is heavy,” and say it with a straight face. And while the Aeon may split the difference in design cues between the two helmets, I’m told the Aeon provides the same level of ventilation as the Ionos. Maybe the Aeon’s tag line should be “all the air at two-thirds the weight.”
After riding in this helmet for several months I can say it feels like the least helmet I’ve ever worn. It weighs a mere 207g (again, I wear a small); that’s only 26g more than the Prolight, so yet another way it didn’t just split the difference is in weight. Perhaps a better way to describe the Aeon is to call it the best of both worlds.
It’s also, to me at least, the best-looking helmet I’ve seen or worn since the Pneumo. Key in this regard is that the helmet can’t position too much mass above the top of the head. The helmets with the best visual proportions have been those that minimized the amount of helmet above the head and instead concentrated more mass around the head. Visually, the effect is exactly the opposite of a stocking cap.
Part of the key to the Aeon’s ventilation has less to do with the number and size of holes in the helmet than it does the amount of helmet that actually contacts the head. Look inside the helmet and there aren’t many pads and the pads that do exist don’t rest on much. This helmet come closer to giving me the perception that I’m not wearing a helmet than any other; it’s the particular combination of ventilation and low weight that result in the less-than-a-cycling-cap perception I’ve experienced.
Smaller buckles and Tri Loc adjusters help with the perception that there is less helmet, but not as much as the thinner webbing. This is the same webbing that was used on the Prolight and at the end of a long day it may get a bit crusty, but it doesn’t hold as much water, nor does it get as stiff.
As to the all-important question of how well it functions as a glorified eyewear perch, I can say it scored well with this judge. I’ve tried Oakley (Radar and Jawbones), Giro’s unfortunately discontinued Havik IIs, Smith Pivlocks and Spy Alphas. They all fit well in the third vent up. People wearing other sizes may have a different experience; I can foresee that folks wearing the large may not enjoy as much success.
Is $250 a lot to spend on a single-serving item? I don’t think so. I’ve always been protective of my head and combining great protection with a piece of apparel that makes me look more fashionable rather than less so is easily worth an upcharge. That it comes in eight finishes in the year of its introduction just increases its appeal.
The Aeon does beg a question: With a helmet this light, this well ventilated and this attractive available, what could possess anyone to argue against their use?
Top image: John Pierce, Photosport International