Up this week in our series of head-to-head reviews are helmets. With more and more manufacturers jumping into the head-protection fray, the options are enormous and often overwhelming. And with top models going for $250 and up, it's easy to wonder whether you need to spend a lot of money for a lid. The answer is no, with a caveat.
As with most gear, extra money buys lightweight and more refinement. For instance, we absolutely love the nonexistent feel of the Giro Aeon, especially in endurance events that require the extra weight of a helmet-mounted light. It's crazy light (190 grams), the fit system is one of the best out there, and the ventilation is superb. Having said that, it's no safer than any other helmet, so if crash-protection is a higher priority for you than nuance, other helmets will serve your purposes for a lot less cash.
Rudy Project Windmax ($295)
It's the most expensive helmet we've worn, and at 254 grams it's not even close to the lightest out there. So what's to like about the Windmax? Plenty, actually.
With 21 vents, including a huge port front and center, it breathes better than Ryder Hesjedal in the Alps. The plastic head retention seems burly—it has stood up to months of stuffing in and out of race bags—and the spin-wheel fit system has worked well except for a few early misfires, which we chalked up to the preproduction model we initially received. The heavily padded chin strap is super comfy, and we like all the extras: a removeable bug liner, and not one but two different sized detachable visors. The latter adds lots of value since it makes the helmet useful in every condition, both road and trail.
Bottom Line: The Windmax is definitely a high-performance helmet (check it on Peter Sagan and team Liquigas-Cannondale), and it's arguably the best looking in this bunch. Whether all the bells and whistles merit the price is a personal choice. If you decide it is, shop smart as we've seen the Windmax a lot cheaper online.
Louis Garneau X-Lite ($170)
With almost double the number of vents of some other helmets—count 'em: there are a whopping 37 air ports—the X-Lite looks as perforated as a round of Swiss cheese. The irony is that, while it vents just fine, in fact other helmets seemed to get more airflow to our heads using fewer but larger holes. Still, it's not like we were ever stifling in the X-Lite, even on the hottest days, and the design yields an incredibly light helmet: just 218 grams. That puts this in the relam of other superlight lids such as the Giro Aeon and the Specialized Prevail, but at about 75 percent of the cost. One downfall of the design: the small holes make it pretty tricky, if not impossible, to mount a light. The fit system struck us a bit puny, with plastic retainers that punch straight into the webbing, but it proved more comfortable than we expected. Our biggest complaint: The round shape and diminutive size made more than one tester look like a pinhead.
Bottom Line: This is an incredibly light, if a bit underdesigned lid for the cost of a mid-range helmet from other manufacturers.
Uvex Xenova Race ($90)
We raved over last year's Boss helmet from this German company for packing tons of high-end features at an incredible value. Now comes the Xenova Race, which is just as dialed and even cheaper. With two settings for the fore and aft and seven settings up and down, its retention system is the most adjustable in this test. The spin-lock fine adjustment is one of the easiest we've found to grip and locks in the fit for the duration of a ride. The interior padding is minimal, but it proved comfortable for numerous testers with varied head shapes. There are 23 vents, with a handy bug screen on the front three, which provided average, though not amazing airflow. And though the tongue-and-groove chin strap works just fine, it's a bit tricky to get used to. Our favorite feature: the webbing anchors atop the helmet can be replaced with LEDs (purchased separately; $16), so you're never caught out in the dark.
Bottom Line: Given all the features, the Xenova Race would be a good buy for 50 percent more. At this cost, it's a steal. An additional $10 gets you a matte finish and a removeable visor.
Cannondale Ryker ($80)
Most inexpensive helmets look and feel, well ... inexpensive. Not so the Ryker, which is as stylish and well designed as many high-end lids. It has only 21 vents, but that number is deceptive since the large size and smart placement of the holes made this one of the cooler helmets we tried. The retention system is pretty basic but quite comfortable thanks to the squishy EVA occipital pad and the heavy helping of anti-microbial padding. And every single tester who tried it loved the fit. Best of all, it looks great, even with the visor removed (which is not the case for many lids, which seem denuded without their visors). The only drawback is its weight: At 313 grams (290 grams without the visor), it's not exactly heavy, but you'll definitely know you're wearing it.
Bottom Line: It won't please weight weenies, but this is one of the best values in a quality helmet you can get. Though it doesn't have as many gewgaws as the Xenova, it's even cheaper.