Whichever distance of triathlon you compete in, eventually your training and nutrition will get you up to a standard, and then you’ll hit the dreaded plateau, and be left wondering what you can do to get those race times down even further. Once you have found a way to fly through the transitions without fuss, and if you have a great tri bike which is light as a feather and so aerodynamic it is practically invisible from the front, maybe it’s time to look at yourself and your own aerodynamics. This can mean playing around with your ‘shape’ in the saddle to minimize wind-resistance, or it might mean switching from a standard cycling helmet to a more aerodynamic aero helmet.
Aero helmets were once the preserve of track and outdoor time trial cyclists, but increasingly they have gained in popularity among the triathlon community in all distances from sprint to ironman. They do usually cause a fair amount of polarization though, as some triathletes prefer to use road helmets and claim there are no speed benefits to the pointy aero ones. It must be noted that all the pro teams at the Tour de France use aero helmets for the time trial stages so there must be some benefit! The speed advantage of wearing one is described in various ways by different people, and according to Todd Spain at Delta Triathlon, Specialized have carried out wind tunnel experiments and claim that a rider could save two-and-a-half minutes over a 40K time trial.
There is a major difference between time trial cyclists and triathletes however. A time trialler does not have to get off the bike and start running once the ride is completed! What many triathletes have found with aero helmets is that they are significantly warmer than well-vented road cycling helmets. Some claim that this means more energy expenditure, but the real problem is fatigue due to overheating, and that perceived exertion can be higher when you are warmer on the bike. And although there are air vents on aero helmets, often it is difficult to get cold water poured in to cool down effectively on a long ride. Therefore, many triathletes tend to wear an aero helmet for the shorter distances or cooler courses, but opt for vented road helmets if they are competing in an ironman or in very hot and humid conditions.
In other words, it is a balancing act between better speed and faster times with the more aerodynamic helmet, versus the downside of feeling overheated and then failing to compete effectively in the run. It should also be noted that some athletes are perfectly fine with aero helmets despite them being warmer, whereas others simply wither under the heat. The best option is to test, test, test!
Best Aero Helmets For Triathlon
|More info about Giro Advantage 2||More info about LG Rocket Air|
There are two main helmets worn by triathletes at the moment, although many others have probably been tried. But the popular ones are the Louis Garneau Rocket Air and the Giro Advantage 2. If you need some sales patter and a list of the features, click the two photos – I’m not going to regurgitate that here. What I will do is talk about how the two helmets compare, to give you an idea of the pros and cons.
First off, and very obviously, they are both aerodynamic cycle helmets; they will protect your head to a degree in the event of a crash. Do they both help you to increase speed in racing? Yes, they do, compared to wearing a standard road helmet. Perhaps the most important aspect, once you know they will perform, is whether they are comfortable to wear. And there’s nothing worse than having your equipment detract from your concentration and performance during the heat of battle.
So comfort-wise, a majority of triathletes prefer the LG Rocket Air, and this is something that will definitely depend on the size and shape of your head! For many, the Giro Advantage 2 is way too narrow. It was built that way in order to increase its aerodynamic ability. But think about trying to get it on your head in T1 without slicing your ears off. Actually it isn’t that bad, but the trick is to stretch the earpieces out slightly. It’s also noteworthy that some riders are perfectly fine with the Advantage 2, so it pays to try them out for yourself before deciding which one is best for you. The Rocket helmets are slightly heavier, but have the benefit of being easier to get into and out of, and generally feel more comfortable on the road.
One of the failings of both helmets in the frantic rush during transitions is that the ear flaps can crack; this is more common on the narrower Giro helmet, but the LG one is not immune to the problem. On the Rocket Air, you may wish to get a little sandpaper to knock off some of the sharp edges around the vents and tail, the latter having been accused of being rough and grinding away at the wearers’ backs.
Now onto the weighty matter of cooling. Both have decent air vents, but the Giro seems a cooler helmet despite being a lot tighter fit. Compared to other brands of helmet, and older ones, it is easier to get water into the vents to cool down when needed. This also applies to the Rocket Air. But many consider the air flow through both to be great even in ironman competitions. If you are up for an experiment, then it might be worth looking into a third helmet choice: the Louis Garneau Vortice, which has a huge air vent in the front, designed to propel air through the helmet for cooling, but also the positioning is at the high pressure zones, and is claimed to provide even better flow through the air while riding. It also has ‘golfball’ dimples around the front of the helmet to create better laminar flow.
So the conclusions here are kind of sketchy, as everybody is different. Some (like me) just get hot whatever the weather, and some don’t. Different people have different sized heads, so it’s certainly worth finding somebody who has one of these helmets and getting their views and seeing if they’ll let you try it on. But unquestionably, the most used aero helmets for triathletes are the Louis Garneau Rocket Air and the Giro Advantage 2. At least you can narrow down your choices, and get one which will actually enable you to post better times than your cooler but slower road hat!