Giro Advantage 2 Helmet
Testing the Giro Advantage 2 Time Trial helmet allowed us to act on one of our fixations: Cheap speed. We're entranced by the idea of cheap speed. More time on the drops, skin-tight jerseys, quiet upper body, smoother lines through turns, proper tire pressure, etc. Stuff that will make us faster just by putting it on and doesn't cost the price of a bike just to use. This quest for cheap speed extends to helmets. An aero helmet has the potential to offer the cheapest method of reducing serious drag, much in the way the right seat post is the cheapest way to drop weight from your bike. Even in tests done with older gear, an aero helmet had the potential to shave 47 seconds in a 40k time trial.
We've heard about people putting shrink-wrap plastic on their helmets to smooth out the airflow and function as cheap aero. This information gets rehashed periodically on racing and tri forums. We've never tried to see if this really makes a difference, but there are certainly riders who have used it. A roll of plastic packing tape is indeed cheap, but the time laying down the strips and the effort it takes to remove deter us from trying this on any helmet that is in regular use.
For the first few months of the 2004 season, pros were time trialing in their standard-shape road helmets with what seemed to be shrink-wrap plastic; this was inspiration for some and confirmation for others. What we saw were actually clear plastic covers made by companies like Bell and Giro for their sponsored riders. The reason for these covers was that in 2004, the UCI made it mandatory for pro racers to wear protective helmets in time trials. This rule change was great for working stiff competitors, as it meant every helmet manufacturer had to have an aero lid to satisfy their pro riders.
There is some evidence that taping can work. John Cobb, an aerodynamics guru, has tested it out. He's the guy who designed the "Tomahawk" time trial shell in 1999 that Lance Armstrong rode with Giro logos until the protective helmet rule took effect. Cobb designed the shell to work with Armstrong's rounded-back time trial position. There are few with Cobb's skill and not many of them have the wind tunnel time or backing of a top rider, so the TT fairing was probably among the fastest in the world. Though the Tomahawk probably doesn't work as well for those with flatter backs, the design caught on and there have been knock-offs ever since.
Giro had a demanding customer in Armstrong. Before he won the tour in 1999, he had gone to the wind tunnel with Cobb and had gotten the Tomahawk out of it. In 2004, the new helmet rule was reason to go to the wind tunnel with Giro and see if their engineers could come up with something better. He was going for his sixth Tour and had been on his suppliers to bring him better and better equipment. The Advantage tested faster than the Tomahawk. The Advantage has been used by Giro-sponsored racers in Europe since 2004.
One drawback of the Giro Advantage is that it wasn't designed to pass the United States' CPSC tests. It passed Europe's CEL testing standard, but without CPSC approval, it couldn't be used for racing in the US and couldn't be sold here. Originally, USA Cycling wasn't recognizing the CEL standard, though they did revise their policy in 2006 and the revision is good only until 2010. It seems that American Tri' federations did not revise their policy. That's why the Advantage 2 debuted in 2007.
The Advantage and Advantage 2 are different. It appears from pictures that the tail is more dramatic on the Advantage. We can't tell if the Advantage 2 is faster and Giro is mum on the subject, but it did pass a stricter test. Cobb told us he believes the Advantage to be faster than his Tomahawk.
While we don't have a wind tunnel handy, nor do we have an anvil or impact gauges, we do have years of experience with helmets and plenty of opportunities to test them in riding and racing conditions. We had seen the Giro Advantage 2 from the outside in countless pictures. We had no idea what to expect of picking it up or what it looked like on the inside. We weighed the helmet at 424g. Our first viewing yielded some surprises. Some time trial helmets have an enclosed tail. The Giro does not. While the shell is a single piece of plastic, the earflaps are held by softer pieces of non-impact-resistant foam. The foam is glued into place both against the expanded polystyrene helmet material and the plastic shell and is covered with a synthetic felt. There is thin padding in the front of the lid and everything is held in place by a RocLoc 4.
Putting on the helmet entailed squeezing our ears and carefully flexing the helmet flaps out so it could slide down. This never felt simple or easy, but for time trialing, ease of helmet donning is not a concern. It is, however, a serious matter for triathletes. Practicing putting on this helmet before using it in a race makes good sense. The bottom of the earflaps gently pressed against our head. We asked Giro if we should have gone with our road helmet size. They responded that we had sized right; the snug fit helps with the aerodynamics.
The earflaps make this helmet a bit delicate. We're keeping the box it came in so we can store the lid there and don't have to worry about inadvertently bending the ears or dinging the tail.
Adjusting the helmet straps took a bit more effort than with a regular road helmet. The adjustments work with the same way, with a locking cam on the juncture of the two straps, but working below the earflaps made adjustments slow. Once adjustments were done, we squeezed tight the RocLoc and were ready to ride. After starting our inaugural spin in the helmet, we were greeted with another surprise. Not all sunglasses work with this helmet. When we had the helmet positioned as we wanted, our Oakley Radars couldn't sit on our nose thanks to earflap interference. Not everyone will have this experience thanks to different shaped heads, ear positions, and noses, as well as differing helmet position philosophies. Regardless, we think glasses with narrow temples that fit close to the head will probably work for most.
The earflaps created an interesting effect. The world seemed quieter because the flaps were blocking road noise. Some people have reported hearing a jet-like whooshing thanks to the flaps, but this wasn't our experience. Getting used to the flaps sitting on the heads.
The helmet is warmer than a road helmet. How much this matters is up to debate. It was still sufficiently comfortable in the low 80s Fahrenheit, but we didn't get to race it in 90+ heat. There is a belief that regulating the head's temperature is the essential criteria for staying comfortable in all temperatures. We doubt this, but know that people can get distracted by both cold ears and sweat dripping down their faces. The helmet was sweaty, but not distractingly so. The lactic burn of a time trial was greater on our minds in race conditions.
Even if it was warmer, the helmet is certainly more comfortable than other aero lids we've tried. Giro helmets fit well, and this one was comfortable and stable with the straps adjusted properly and the RocLoc tightened into place.
The brochure for the Advantage 2 came with a drawing of how a road helmet should fit. We'd call the road position "square on the head." Protecting most of the forehead, but high enough so the rider can see over the front edge in the drops. This is not how many wear their time trial helmets. Many push it back on the forehead until the helmet tail is sitting on the shoulders when assuming the time trial position. There is some proof that this is faster -- look at all the wind tunnel tested riders like Armstrong, Cancellara, and Zabriskie. This may or may not be that important. For one thing, these riders are so forward and low that they are covering most of their forehead with the helmet and can barely look over the leading edge of the helmet in their time trial positions. For another, these guys have helmets that probably aren't race-legal in the US. Finally, Cobb believes that the difference between tail-up and tail-down isn't so great. To him, the most important thing is smoothing out the airflow around the head; anything is better than a naked head.
We used the "square on the head" helmet fit. The tail came close enough to our shoulders in the TT position when we were looking up the road, but came away when we viewed our instruments to check on our effort. We'd like to think our head form was like Greg LeMond's; while he did a fair amount of wind tunnel work in his day, he raced time trials like a swimmer. Head down, head up, down, up. Today, many top TT guys seem to be able not to move their head at all, which is probably from training after wind tunnel testing.
From everything we can tell, worrying about how close the tail is to our shoulders is splitting hairs. While we can't prove that the Giro Advantage 2 is the fastest helmet on the market, we're certain it is faster than our road model. In terms of the drag reduced per dollar spent, the Advantage 2 has the potential to be a great deal.