i have the dubious distinction of being the first person on islay to own a cycle helmet. since helmet design in the early nineties was hardly state of the art (though admittedly it may have appeared to be at the time), i can assure you that my desire to be so attired was not for sartorial reasons. those were the days when cycle helmet wearers were still regularly referred to as mushroom heads. my attitude then, as now, i'd rather be a fungus than a vegetable (if you catch my drift).
anyway, at the time, i was still intent on emulating the suffering artist in his hebridean garrett, cycling in all weathers from bowmore to sanaigmore to scare myself to bits ambling along the sea cliffs for that rugged aspect of the island landscape. getting there involved riding over the hill at boraichill, a route that offered a short, sharp climb with a disaster of a road; bendy, potholed, gravelly. the descent (which formed the ascent on the return journey) was every bit as crap, but with the added frisson of an inevitable herd of cows standing in the middle of the road.
if you've ever encountered a resident cattle herd anywhere proximitous, you will be well aware that they rarely, if ever, clear up after themselves. plays havoc with the tyres.
cycling is meant to be fun, and as one who not only enjoyed the steep(ish) ascents as well as the thrill of the descents, the relative obscurity and remoteness of the road meant that, were i to come off on a gravelled bend, i could spend an inordinate amount of time lying in a ditch at the roadside, seen by no-one. the options were either to slow down a tad, or, as i saw it at the time, wear a helmet to offer at least minimal protection should the worst ever happen.
though modern helmet design has advanced in leaps and bounds, involving computers and wind-tunnels, in the early nineties, the modern cyclist was rewarded with a minimally vented, substantial dod of polystyrene. in order to make this less onerous to wear than my description would suggest, the model that i purchased wore a stretchy, removable lycra cover. this was also intended to maintain a modicum of structural integrity should the helmet ever have to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed.
it was only a short matter of time before the principal helmet purveyors developed the ability to create a polycarbonate shell to replace the lycra cover, initially simply pinned in place, but ultimately bonded to the expanded polystyrene (eps). as the materials developed, often incorporating a mesh structure to offer strength and shell integrity, it became possible to reduce the surface area of the eps and increase the ventilation. the ultimate versions of this development recently prompted me to point out that the additional reason i wear a helmet these days, is the fact that it makes me look faster than i truly am.
i'd be lying if i said i knew which came first; the chicken or the egg. the racing cyclist's obsession with lightweight components meant that this was ultimately pursued by the helmet guys, but whether this is as a result of an increasing number of vents for ventilation or vice versa, it might be hard to pin down. ultimately, however, the purpose of a helmet is less about style, cooling or light weight, more about saving the owner from serious injury to the head. it's the one part of my reviews i'd rather not test too thoroughly.
rather contrarily, time-trial helmets were originally all about aerodynamics; there was often little pretence that hitting the ground while wearing one of these dan dare look alikes would ever offer much in the way of protection. however, eager to plug a rather iniquitous gap in rational thinking, the uci encompassed the necessity for head protection into their diktat regarding these space-age time-trial helmets. doing so may well have brought about the helmet industry's equivalent of the unified field theory; development could now benefit both styles of helmet, rapidly heading (pun intended) in similar directions.
close observation of the airflow around the less slotted time-trial helmets demonstrated that, if the pointy bit at the rear were chopped off, the airflow was fooled into thinking that the pointy bit still existed. thus it was now possible to design less gladiatorial headgear that still offered the portent of greater speed for similar effort.
the big, and highly visible problem was all those vents that infested the cycle helmets produced by pretty much everybody. though they were readily able to scoop up vast quantities of air to cool the panache-riven cyclist, aerodynamics were not first and foremost. and i think you would agree that, carbon fibre reinforcement notwithstanding, there often seemed to be very little expanded polystyrene between head and ground. thus a problem that would seem to equal that of the balance between a jacket's breathability and its waterproofing.
however, giro helmet engineers, as a result of the blurred lines between time-trial and road helmets, developed perhaps the ideal method of offering a substantially increased polycarbonate surface area, while retaining or even increasing airflow across the head.
the giro air attack helmet features only two front and two top vents, supplemented by another couple of transverse slots at the rear. in this respect, the air attack bears more than a passing resemblance to that lycra covered dod of polystyrene from about twenty years ago. (except it's a darned sight better looking, and a good bit lighter). there, however, the similarity ends. by suspending the eps shell above the x-static, roc-loc webbing, giro have carved deep air channels that draw high pressure air from the front lip of the helmet as well as from the vents, and direct it up and over the rider's head before exiting via the two rear slots.
though there's no way i am fast enough to offer any valid comparison between my ride from home to debbie's wearing the air attack and the same route capped in a giro aeon, giro's numbers contend that the former would have me arriving several seconds sooner. while this is of little import to me, or perhaps even you, there's no doubt that the world tour's marginal gains will welcome those seconds with open arms. perhaps in something of a tautological, yet unconsidered observation, wind noise seems to have been at least slightly reduced in the process of incorporating all the helmet's other features.
as is incumbent on even the least competitive of classics riders, i always wear a casquette under whichever helmet i wear (peak down, since you asked). this, rather obviously, reduces the effect any helmet induced cooling might offer, but it's a burden i'm willing to bear. in a normal hebridean climate, it is all but unnoticeable. the recent bout of warmer weather however, almost coincided with the review period for the air attack, and coincidentally or not, i'm pretty sure my head was a smidgeon warmer than that engendered by the aeon.
but truly not so that i've had mentioned it under less onerous conditions.
wearing a this is cambridge merino cap under the air attack, probably the hottest combination i have, though undeniably warmer, couldn't possibly be said to be uncomfortable. however, though giro have substantially raised the bar with regard to helmet integrity, air-flow and head protection, including the roc-loc retainer, i can't help but mention that the strap webbing seems to have remained firmly in the 1990s. while others have introduced leather chin straps and augmented padding, giro's straps still refuse to lie flat or offer any additional comfort around the neck and chin.
and if i'm being very honest, the fastener has taken a slight backward half-step, its new minimalism making it harder to open and close. and while the roc-loc dial at the rear of the helmet allows fine tuning of the fit, and works with impeccable precision, the dial seems a bit on the small size in comparison to one or two of giro's competitors. it may well be the case that the professional rider is less than troubled by such superficialities, but giro must surely be aware that more of these will be purchased than will be handed out to world tour team riders.
however, minor gripes aside, that much polycarbonate topped eps has to offer a great deal more head protection than its antecedents. and if we can cast our minds back to the 1990s, that was the original purpose of wearing a helmet while cycling in the first place. yet it manages to do so without appearing any heavier than those comprised of tens of vents surrounded by eps. whether you have need of improved aerodynamics or not (no harm in pretending), there's every possibility that giro have either done the right thing for the wrong reason or the right thing for the right reason.
either way, we win.
bizarrely the giro air attack sells considerably cheaper than its predecessor, the aeon. the latter originally sold for a list price of £170, while the former retails for only £120. a veritable bargain. giro helmets are distributed in the uk by zyro.
tuesday 20th august 2013