Smith Optics officially announced its entry into mountain bike helmets yesterday with the debut of the Forefront. Before you start with the, “Oh brother, another bike helmet?” exclamations—as we did initially—Smith’s new lid is a breath of fresh air in an admittedly crowded market.
It’s rare for a big company to enter the fray with an all-mountain helmet rather than an XC model. But Smith says that since safety was paramount in their considerations to enter the bike market, the additional drop-down coverage in back just made sense.
“The testing standards for bike helmets are one-dimensional,” Blair Clark, senior VP of Marketing and Sales at Smith, said at the unveiling of a prototype helmet at Bike Press Camp. “We wanted to make a helmet that was high-performance but also something that improved safety over what is out there.”
To accomplish that, Smith turned to a proprietary honeycomb-style polymer called Aerocore, which it used for the first time last year in it’s top-shelf ski helmet. Smith says the material is 30 percent stronger than EPS foam, the standard protection in bike helmets. Thanks to that added strength, the Forefront has huge cutouts for airflow, with the honeycomb design providing all-over venting.
Aerocore is also extremely lightweight relative to EPS, and though the Forefront is reinforced on the exterior with standard foam, it still tips the scale at a svelte 285 grams. That puts the Forefront in the same weight class as many XC helmets on the market—but with the added protection on the sides and in back.
In short, the Forefront seems to deliver a sublime helmet trifecta: increased strength and protection, highly ventilated, and lightweight. There are lighter XC helmets on the market, but compared with other enduro offerings out there, the Forefront is remarkable. It is over 100 grams lighter than the Bell Super, for instance.
That weight is more exceptional considering that the Forefront has a full array of features, including a retention system with vertical adjustment, a built-in camera mount, an adjustable visor, and clip-on integration for goggles. And though it looks unusual, we found the unique styling refreshing and much better looking than it might appear in photos when we tried the Forefront at Bike Press Camp.
Innovation doesn’t, however, come cheap. The Forefront will be available in 10 colors and three sizes when it hits stores next spring, and it will sell for a hefty $220.