If there was a truism about reviewing a Giro helmet it’s that readers expect you to review the latest, greatest of their road offerings. So maybe the thing to do is to start with the elephant that isn’t in this particular room—the Giro Air Attack. I’m not going there. At least, not this time. They’ve taken some knocks for that design, fast or not; it may be that after it’s on the market a bit longer we will become a bit more accustomed to its look.
I bring the Air Attack up for two reasons. One is to demonstrate that Giro is unafraid to push boundaries in design. The other is to point out how Giro isn’t afraid to reach back, either. The Air Attack was the name given to the helmet that Greg LeMond endorsed at the height of his career. And what is the Reverb but a riff on that old design. With its nine vents, solid sides and vaguely cereal-bowl shape it looks a bit like the first-born of the original Prolight and the Air Attack because, to be perfectly accurate, the original Air Attack had a bit more of a tail to it.
Even the name of this helmet, the Reverb, carries some underlying meaning; reverb is a bit like an echo. It’s a number of very short echoes, too short to give a separate repetition of the original sound. It’s reaching back, but not too far back.
So why review a helmet that looks like it’s old enough to vote? Well, it answers a question friends of mine keep asking. As more and more of us ride bikes with our kids and for errand-running, more and more of us are asking the question, “What helmet can I wear when on a beach cruisers/three speed/bakfiets without looking like I’m wearing jeans and an air filter?”
You get my drift.
Three years ago, there weren’t many options. You either wore your Ionos or whatever, or you wore something that looked like a skateboard helmet, but not that skateboard helmet. And frankly, the skateboard helmets and whatnot that were available looked like Moe’s haircut from the Three Stooges. By that I mean uglier than the sound made by kids in a garage with the sheet music to Stairway to Heaven.
I could go on about tech this and fit that, but I’m going to spare you. I
like love this helmet for two reasons. First is the simple fact that it goes with jeans. My Aeon doesn’t do that. Hell, I don’t have a another helmet that is remotely compatible with cotton. Second is how I have an emotional connection with my own past thanks to this helmet. I wore the original Air Attack and recall to this day how I had a conversation with my parents about the wisdom of a someone in grad school spending $60 (my price with shop discount) on a helmet. My answer included the terms “bike race,” “descent,” “guaranteed 50 mph” and “feeding tube.”
They laid off.
I really liked that helmet. When I’m out riding with Mini-Shred, this thing gives me a chance to fly my freak flag without anyone knowing. To the rest of the world I look as normal as an adult can hope to look while wearing a bicycle helmet, which I respect is as easy as training a cat to vacuum. (We’ve tried.) But the thing is, because that helmet speaks to something of my past I cherish (did you dig the old-style logo?), I feel cool every time I put it on. Now here I have to admit that getting me to feel cool is a good deal harder than training a cat to vacuum. Or cook. Don’t ask.
The Reverb comes with an interesting extra; a small visor can be added in case you’re going to be riding around in the sun without the aid of sunglasses. It’s a nice touch, especially as it’s short and fabric-covered, which makes it look like the brim of a cycling cap.
While I did my best to gloss over any technical features of the Reverb, there really are a couple of features that makes it notably better than any skateboard helmet, not to mention its predecessor. It includes an occipital device that needs no adjustment; they call it Autolock, and the helmet is features in-mold construction which makes it both lighter and more durable than skateboard helmets. That’s not why I use it as my skateboard helmet, but I tell myself I’m smart for doing so.
The Reverb comes in a whopping 11 color combinations to give anyone a fair shot at looking cool. As most folks don’t suffer my particular setbacks in hipitude, your results are likely to be more successful.
The Reverb retails for a measly $60. Given the original Air Attack carried a suggested retail of $90, it’s nice to know that today you can get a safer helmet for 33 percent less. Despite all it’s retro appeal, that’s progress.
At some essential level, I’m a geek. For most of my life it was considered an essential personality flaw. These days, because I work in the bike industry, I can do things like walk into Interbike, see friends at the Ritchey booth and get excited about a tiny little stem. Now, this forged beauty shown above weighs a mere 105 grams. It features reversed out bolts and a 260-degree opening in its 31.8mm clamp diameter to maintain strength.
My buddy Spencer at Ritte is something of a style factory. I had a pretty technical conversation with him about all the ways he’s working to improve his bikes and grow his business, but it’s touches like the stuff above that attract people to his work. Gorgeous sells. For good reason.
I meet people from time to time who are unwilling to wear (what they think are) the garish designs of many clothing companies. They ask me about stuff that’s calm without looking dorky. Honestly, I rarely have an answer. And while Hincapie is doing lots of stuff that’s right up my alley, what most stood out this year was this jersey because it made me think, “At last, I have an answer.”
I’ve been learning a lot about BH bike lately. I’m not sure who they are working with to actually produce their bikes, but they are using some very cutting edge technology. BH, if you don’t already know, is a Spanish company, but Chris Cocalis, the visionary behind Titus Titanium and the carbon/ti technology called Exogrid, is the mastermind behind BH’s new products and the engineering for this new frame was done here in the U.S.
What I’ve learned from a variety of engineers has led me look for certain design cues when I see a new frame. Small chainstays (like so small you can’t get the can’t get the camera to focus on them), square shapes used sparingly and round shapes used plenty.
The Ultralight is the bike I’m most excited to ride of everything I saw this year. BH claims a weight of 747g for the bare frame.
If I’m going to run an errand on the bike, I wear a helmet, but I fully admit that I positively feel like a dork if I wear something like the Aeon or Prevail with cotton clothing. The new Giro Reverb does several cool things. First, it gives me a basic lid perfect for errands. Second, it’s safe enough to be worth wearing. Finally it gives a nice dollop of nostalgia for a helmet I was wearing back in the mid-90s. That may be the most impressive achievement of all; I don’t get nostalgic for the ’90s.
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