As a cyclist, the search for newer and better gear is constant — there's always something else out there. Premes, Picks, Promos will highlight both the next big thing and the sleeper deal.
When I was in my early teens, I started exploring the rural roads around my hometown in north-central Iowa. I had just a small water bottle and no idea whatsoever about how to properly use the gears on my bike. Also, I had no flat-changing tools (or knowledge) and no way to call for help should trouble arise. I didn't even know I needed those things.
And, of course, I had no helmet. You know, because I was invincible and all. Actually, I did have a helmet — and I never wore it. It was bright white with two vents and looked dumber than dumb. Plus, I wasn't doing anything tricky — just riding straight out of town. Who needs a helmet for that?
But now, viewed through the prism of not actually being invincible (total bummer), I know that helmets are needed. I wear one on every ride — even when I'm riding very, very slowly with my 4-year-old son. If he has to wear one, I'll wear one, too.
Thanks to the work of helmet designers over the last 20-plus years, wearing a helmet isn't the awful experience it used to be. They're lighter, more ventilated and more comfortable. And it's possible now to maybe look sort-of cool with a helmet on. That's in the context of being kitting up and on a bike. Get too far from a bike and you still look pretty dumb.
But let's focus on that on-bike setup. There are two new helmet offerings that I've been checking out over the last week or two — the Giro Aeon and the Bontrager Oracle.
The Aeon was introduced for the Tour of California last summer and is priced at $250. It has the qualities of a pair of older Giro models. It vents like the Ionos (which was heavy) but weighs little more than the revamped Prolight (which didn't vent well).
Upon picking up the Aeon, it's clear right away that it's a premium helmet. The materials and finish all look great. The straps are lightweight and soft — much like on the Prolight or the Lazer Helium. The Roc Loc 5 adjustment system in the back is trimmed down and easier to use, too.
Upon trying it on, it fits great, too. There are no pressure points, even on my alien-head skull. But there is a big issue. I didn't take a picture, but this one from Mt. Baldy will illustrate my point:
The Aeon is a wide helmet. Upon trying it on, it made me look like a mushroom from Super Mario Bros. (Michael Creed had the same problem last season with his Lazer Helium.) I realize that I look ridiculous regardless of which helmet I'm wearing, but there's no way I could wear the Aeon. Yes, I'm vain. No, I don't care that everybody knows it.
That said, if you have a more round head or face, it'll probably do just fine for you. It's a nice helmet — for the right person.
The Bontrager Oracle is another top-end lid that spent the 2011 season on the head of pro riders. Leopard Trek wore the Oracle in its debut season, and the merged RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team will wear it this year. It's priced at $179.99, which is comparable with the Bell Volt ($175) and the Lazer Genesis ($180).
Like the Aeon, it's lightweight and comfortable, with huge vents throughout. The straps are soft, too — they debuted in the mid-level Circuit helmet last spring. The Headmaster retention system is basically a big dial — easy to find, easy to use. But the wheel turns hard, and it doesn't click or otherwise ratchet to let you know it's going to stay put. I don't see it not being effective, but it doesn't give the feedback we've come to expect.
When I tried on the Oracle at Trek World in August, it didn't fit particularly well. There was a pretty apparent pressure point on the back of my head. But between then and now, the Oracle fit has been refined. Could that be the difference between prototype and production versions?
Maybe, but it actually fits now — no Dremel work required. Unfortunately, it also suffers from mushroom syndrome. Where the Aeon is lower on top and wide at the sides, the Oracle isn't super-wide but it looks super-tall.
Once again, if you have the right head for it, I have no doubts the Oracle will perform admirably. The materials and finish are all worthy of its billing as a top-level helmet. But, like the Aeon, it's not the right lid for me.
I'd be lying if I said looks didn't play a huge role in helmet choices for me. Fit is important, of course, but not at the expense of looking like a tool. But considering our get-up, I suppose that's all relative, isn't it?
In addition to publishing GamJams Midwest, Bryan Redemske has managed the Trek Bicycle Store of Omaha (Midtown), is a professional writer and a Cat 3 racer. He drinks a lot of coffee.
Sheesh, some of that stuff is expensive. Good thing you get your frames and wheels at Pro Deal pricing. Wait — you don't? You might want to look at November Bicycles. They've got a new racer-specific model designed to strip unnecessary pricing out of the cost of your new bike. It's like a Pro Deal for everyone.
November Bicycles. Race Smart.