The last three years have seen a spate of new aero road helmets introduced; we’ve reviewed three of them here and that’s less than half of what’s out there. One question and one comment punctuate each conversation about these helmets, whether I’m on a ride or here in our comments section. The comment concerns the helmet’s looks, whether it looks fast or slow, stylish or lame, safe or weak. Aero helmets draw comments like magnets draw iron filings. They seem to provoke opinions with the verve of chumming shark-infested water. I feel for the manufacturers. There’s no winning. No one has produced an aero helmet that has enjoyed the same sort of mass appeal that Garmin GPS units have. People simply aren’t saying, “Ohmigod! I must have that now!”
That’s not to say they aren’t selling. They are. But the wagon big enough to hold a band has yet to stop for this market. So it goes.
All that said, of the many aero road helmets on the market I’ve yet to see any adopted to the degree that the Giro Synthe has been. There could be a couple of different factors contributing to this, but I’m going to make two sweeping observations. First, the Synthe, of the many aero models out there, bears a look most in keeping with how we expect a cycling helmet to look. That counts for something—more than we may think. The other big observation is self-evident as cash. Any time someone looks at a helmet with four tiny vents they begin wondering just how hot the thing will be when the sun arcs overhead. With the Synthe, the vents are plentiful enough that no one asks whether it will bake their noggin like a bacon-sprinkled spud.
Of the helmets I’m currently riding, the Synthe is the unit I turn to any time I know the temperature will rise above 80 degrees. It’s the one option among aero road helmets that doesn’t see people immediately ask, “How hot is it?”
While it’s one thing to own a helmet for road riding and another for mountain biking (visor, yo), I don’t know too many riders who own both a standard road helmet and an aero road helmet; they might have an old, backup helmet, but I’ve not heard anyone suggest that the proper number of helmets is n+1. That remains true even when you consider that it’s way easier to buy a helmet than a bike.
That little detail may prove to be the Synthe’s greatest advantage. It’s a normal enough helmet in both look and cooling that it can serve as an everyday helmet, while also providing a level of aerodynamic advantage not found in traditional helmets. If those priorities sound misplaced, you might have a point. The goal is dork minimization. I know most of the world thinks I look like a dork. I don’t want to complete the impression by making sure my fellow cyclists think I look like a dork as well.
The Synthe also features an “eyewear docking port”—a place to put your shades. The interface between helmets and eyewear, once a coordinated mating of two different species, has all but stopped, uh, hooking up, so to speak. Every piece of eyewear I own fits, even the Assos Zeghos, a pair of shades as averse to being perched on a helmet as my cat is.
The new Roc Loc Air Fit System is part of the genius of the helmet in that it suspends the helmet just above the head, which performs two functions. First, it helps smooth the airflow over the head for improved aerodynamics. Second, that airflow is that keeps the head cool. Let’s not forget that Roc Loc also refers to Giro’s patented helmet retention system (Roc Loc 5, these days), which remains arguably the lightest and most easily adjusted system out there.
The in-mold polycarbonate shell, once a peculiarity to Giro, is now and industry standard, but I have to say, I don’t think anyone does it quite as well as Giro. This is a thing of beauty. From the use of color to the precision of the fit of the shell and the way it accents and emphasizes the shape and design of the helmet, this is why people fall in love with industrial design. I want that thing on my head.
There’s been plenty of discussion about whether or not MIPS really increases a helmet’s ability to protect the head in low-velocity crashes. Even Giro was skeptical at first, but they worked with the founders and made a huge investment in development and testing. I’ve hit my melon in enough different ways that I’m willing to give MIPS the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping I don’t pound myself into something that gives me a first-person perspective on this, either. That’s testing of a sort I try not to do.
The Synthe MIPS features a thinner and better-ventilated liner than I’ve seen elsewhere. It increases the weight of the helmet from 238 grams to 275g—a negligible 37g. Rather than a mini-shell with holes polka-dotting its surface, this liner is ventilated in line with the openings of the helmet itself. It might be a tad warmer on baked-asphalt egg days, but for most of us it will be no sacrifice to our comfort.
There is one important feature of MIPS helmets of which to be aware—sizing. In every instance I’ve encountered so far, moving from a standard model to a MIPS-equipped has required me to go up one size. Also, compared to previous Giro road helmets, the standard Synthe is a slightly smaller fit. The small just barely fits in the standard, while I absolutely need a medium with MIPS. Both versions come in three sizes: small, medium and large.
My arsenal of helmets is numerous. I have to admit that since the Synthe with MIPS arrived, the only time I don’t put it on is when I need a visor for off-road riding. Best all-around is a category that still needs winning.