Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You've Won This Round, Specialized

I hate it when companies that annoy me make products that I like... but every once in a while, someone from my fecal roster puts out something that even I, curmudgeonly grudge-holder extraordinaire, must grudgingly judge acceptable, nay, even (choke) "good."

Case in point: Inexpensive Specialized helmets. I don't know how those lawsuit-happy jerks are doing it, but the lids they're putting out at the lower price points are just killing it. Maybe they've sued everyone else for using the term "bicycle helmet" or something.

I started my season due for a lid (having done some destructive testing on my old one) and decided to stick with Bell or Giro this time around. I went with a Bell Piston, as seen here:

 "Blue Steel"

MSRP about $45, comes with a visor (not shown), shape seemed right for my melon, bonded shell, decently vented, not terribly ugly, done and done, right?

Not so fast, Sputnik-head. See, not long after I bought my Piston, I accepted the fact that I'm a geezer and plunked for the Oakley prescription shades shown above (another company I'm supporting with my dollars even though they're on my fecal roster, but let's not go into that now) -- only to find that the retention doohickey in the back of the helmet didn't play nicely with the combination of my fat head and the temples of my snazzy new glasses. I tolerated this for a few months (since it seemed stupid to replace an almost-new helmet), but my patience wore thin in a hurry.

So, off to the store I went, in search of a new lid. Still stubbornly resisting the Big Red S, I tried on a Giro Revel. Same price point as the Piston... and guess what? Now that Giro and Bell are under the same corporate umbrella, the Revel has the same stupid retention system (just rebranded) that doesn't agree with my glasses. Ugh.

Finally, I broke down and put my melon-head into a Specialized Chamonix (which, like most Specialized product names, is an actual place, one which -- I can only assume -- was chosen so the legal department could sue all makers of chamois cream for near-trademark infringement):

"Le Tigre"

MSRP about $50, visored (shown this time), fit my melon, and didn't squish my shades. But the thing is, for that extra Abe Lincoln, the ol' Chammy crushes its Bell competitor on vents, as shown in the "how see-through is your helmet?" test:

I wanted to hate the non-adjustable under-ear strap junction on the Chamonix too, as that's usually the mark of a really chintzy department store helmet, but somehow, they figured out a way to make it work well -- and eliminated the double strap through the chin buckle that always gets out of whack.

Just to run up the score, Specialized also put a bunch of reflectivity on the Chamonix that the competition lacks, both in sticker form on the helmet itself and sewn into the straps:

The longer shiny stripes are black reflective tape, so they blend into the foam until light hits them. I left out the comparison shot, since it was a just a black helmet on a black background, which is (barely) more boring than the rest of this blog. Really, there's no excuse for that from anyone -- how much does it cost (both in dollars and grams) to add reflective stuff? Is racer chic so pervasive that we can't even have a tiny bit of reflective tape on our already silly-looking styrofoam mushroom heads?

You're thinking, "Big deal. Maybe you're a cheapskate, buying a $45 Bell and expecting it to compete with a $50 Specialized." Well, I also tried on the $40 Specialized Align, and guess what? Other than being a little less vented than its Chamonix sibling (but still more vented than the Piston), it ticked all the other boxes... nice retention system, simple straps, and reflective stuff. I just spent the extra $10 for vents because I have the dubious superpower of being able to sweat like a man twice my size.

Bottom line: If you're shopping for melon protection on a budget, see if a Specialized helmet fits your noggin. I may not be entirely enamored with the company, but I can't deny that they're making a good lid. And, the usual disclaimer: I paid for all this stuff on my own dime, and was not compensated, threatened, cajoled, or canoodled for the opinions expressed within this blather.

(Astute observers may also note that I've changed my tune on sunglasses over/under helmet straps. What can I say? I'm fickle. I can go back and do some Orwellian revisions on that old post if you'd like. "Our sunglasses go over our helmet straps. Our sunglasses have always gone over our helmet straps. Our sunglasses will always go over our helmet straps.")

No comments: