While the mountain-side of cycling is no stranger to contentious gear issues, we’ve found that road cycling’s debates tend to lack relevance, or at the very least, strong substance. For example, mountain biking has three wheel sizes contending for top honors, all claiming sweeping devotion and superiority. Meanwhile, road cycling is obsessed with the position of tan lines and whether or not black socks are acceptable in a post-Lance world. Frankly, we haven’t seen a valid gear argument since the surge of the carbon clincher—that is until the Giro Air Attack surfaced earlier this year.
Yes, over the course of the Spring Classics, the Air Attack became a lightning rod for debate. Arguments ran the gamut from regressing design back to the Eighties, to overheating the delicate heads of our favorite racers. Our favorite argument came in the form of an assault on the Air Attack’s likeness to that of a skate helmet, which led to our favorite corporate rebuttal of 2013, Giro having Ty from Golden Saddle Cyclery carving a pool with an Air Attack Shield and a Cervelo S5. But, nonetheless, the results of the riders wearing the Air Attack were, and continue to be, stacking. Ultimately, this is what calls all of Air Attack’s surrounding contention, well, into contention.
Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t know good marketing when we see it. Giro is easily one of the largest helmet sponsors in the peloton, and with a hot new product hitting the shelves, it means that a large percentage of professional racers are contractually bound to wear an Air Attack. So, by stacking the playing field of races that are won through marginal gains, with a product that’s very intention is to deliver marginal gains, the outcome is fairly predictable—Giro is able to accredit victory to the Air Attack. However, it’s for this very reason that the Air Attack elicits such curiosity. As we write this, Joaquim Rodriguez is snagging second in Worlds with an Air Attack. And, on top of professional victories, the data, and the openness of which it’s provided, is quite compelling.
We find it interesting how much time and money is spent on aerodynamic wheels and frames in order to lower one’s aerodynamic drag profile. However, while the bike nerd in all of us loves this, we do find it difficult to reconcile with the plain truth—around 80-90% of overall resistance on the bike is caused by aerodynamic drag, with the major culprit being the human body, not the bicycle. Think about it, this is why the science of time trialing places a focus on the rider’s positioning and drag profile. But, you’ll also find that this focus often comes at the expense of comfort. The body positioning is unsustainable and uncomfortable, the skinsuits are stifling and hot, and the helmets are flat out obnoxious. So, we only find it welcoming to see some of these advantages crossover to where we spend the majority of our time—the road.
According to Giro’s data, the Air Attack provides an 11% increase in aerodynamic efficiency over the Giro Aeon, and it comes in around 166 grams lighter than the Selector. Impressive. In real world application, we found a noticeable difference in our descent and flat course times. In fact, on our backyard Cat.3 descent, Royal Street, we increased an average speed of 32.7mph to 34.3mph—a gain of around 15 seconds over 4.7 miles. Again, impressive. In terms of climbing, we didn’t experience any obvious benefits, but more importantly, we didn’t experience any obvious overheating. Again, we’ll reference Giro’s data and say that the Air Attack is supposed to have 97% of the Aeon’s cooling properties. However, that remaining 3% does lead to a slight stifling sensation through climbs that are above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Was it the end of the world? No. Were the marginal gains worth it? We say yes.
Overall, we found that the hardest part of riding in the Air Attack wasn’t the heat, but adjusting to its aesthetics. Yes, it does seem like an odd amalgamation of the contemporary Reverb and the archaic Prolight, but on a personal note, we have no problem letting form follow function. After all, every bike helmet is still a bike helmet, and compared to the Il Pirata Pantani aesthetic, they all look ridiculous. However, helmets perform a very necessary function—saving our lives. Recognizing this, we’ve all willingly evolved our eyes to look past the awkward shapes until helmets became as commonplace as fluo kits in the peloton. And, assuming that the Air-Attack-inspired, new wave of aero helmets persists, we know that our eyes will adjust to accept the function of aerodynamics, too.