Sunday, April 29, 2012

The aero helmet debate

I'm still riding in the original Bell helmet I bought at Dick's Sporting Goods about three years ago -- just before I got my road bike from Craigslist. The helmet fits great, is very comfy and well vented. With the switch to the Q Roo tri bike last year, I'm clinging to this final artifact that says "recreational rider" and "I'm here to have fun."  Looks like the going price is about $40.

Ever since Nationals last year, I've been intrigued by the supposed benefits of aero helmets. I walked past the old Virginia Tech wind tunnel a thousand times (that sucker was LOUD when it was on) and I can appreciate what the teardrop shape could do. The engineer in me is like heck YEAH aero helmet!

So began the debate - go aero or not?

Don an aero helmet and you might as well put a giant sign on your head that says "I am serious about racing" and paint a target on your back. I am serious, in that I want to do my best, but I have no delusions of racing grandeur either.

A few days ago I was in the local bike shop (the one most aligned with competitive cycling). I stopped in solely to get new tubes with long valve stems (DISlike valve way to get an accurate pressure reading) and next thing I know, we are talking aero helmets. The two shop folks are saying of course you are at a point in racing where you really need/should have an aero helmet. Excellent sales tactic!! Normally this type of approach makes me dig my heels in and respond with a resounding NO, but hear myself say, yeah, OK, sure!

They ordered one (Bell, same brand I have now) for me to try with no obligation to buy. It will come in this week. Will I/would I/should I take the plunge? I acknowledge a helmet is no substitute for good coaching, training, hard work, and nutrition/weight, but if those are in place, does it make sense to squeeze out that last bit of speed in this way?

  • potential time savings - up to 30s on a sprint, a minute on an Olympic (source)
  • the whole "seriousness" factor
  • greatest benefit if you keep your head up and tail down...not sure if I do that. 
  • greatest benefit at higher speeds
  • less venting
  • expensive
My mom will tell you I've always liked accessories -- not in the classic girly sense, but in the sporty sense. I have half a basement of horse stuff to show for it. So there's a precedent for my interest in the uhhh..."peripherals".

Maybe I should go the total opposite direction, and cram my head in this cool kid's helmet (they get all the great designs).
So -- aero or no? What to do, what to do.


  1. Let's try again. Just get one already. When you wear it, it makes you think, "I'm wearing a fucking aerohelmet I better stay in the aerobars," and you DO. Also it sounds all like an airplane in there if you put your head in the wrong position. Of course, you will see losers with one that don't stay aero, and they are just dumbasses. But you aren't!

    1. LOL! I appreciate the vote of confidence ;-) Now if only I could ride at your speeds...!

  2. I feel your pain. I bought my friend's aero helmet when she got a new one as a gift. It fits great and was dirt cheap. Seemed like a no-brainer at the time. Now, I am not sure if I will ever be brave enough to put the sucker on in public!

  3. lol... love this post. I say go for it! Cycling is your strong event, and you ARE at that point/speed where it will make a difference. There's definitely somewhat of a placebo effect -i.e. "I'm wearing this crazy thing I better ride my a$$ off to prove I'm worth it!" hehe

  4. Ha my Dad always said that you have to have the speed to back up any 'fancy tri gear' ... I say you go for it! I'll stick to my target helmet and hybrid bike :)

  5. I'm so not a cyclist at all but I'm fascinated by this post! I've heard people talking about them before but I've never really understood what the debate was but it makes sense now. Is it terrible that I want you to be the guinea pig and get one just so I can experiment through you and see how much of a difference it really makes?!

    1. Charlotte, funny you should say. I almost wish someone would GIVE me one so I have to wear it and see. It's quite the divisive subject, very heated!

  6. I've got no experience with an aero helmet, but I wonder what it is like when it is windy. If the wind is coming at you from the side, it certainly wouldn't give you a speed advantage. But that's probably less of a problem if you are already going fast, like >20mph (?).

  7. Listen up, kids. The aero helmet is for someone who will commit to remaining in the aero position 95% or better of the time, at least on a flat to moderately rolling course. People who wear one and don't stay aero are just laughable.

    It also helps if you have a perfect bike fit. Nothing worse than seeing some dork on a bike that doesn't fit and they have an aero helmet. In order to be fully aero, your bike must FIT you.

    Also, if you are fat, no aero helmet for you EVER. First off, if you have a gut, you are not aero--that belly is destroying any advantage you have with your $10K bike.

    How fast do you need to be to earn the right to wear an aero helmet? Let's just say you should be up there in your AG--at least MOP, or FOP. A person who can only ride 15-16 mph in a race does not deserve an aero helmet.

    Maybe some of this sounds elitist, and perhaps it is. Really, if a person wants one, go ahead and wear it. I still remember a day when I was just doing a training ride and I saw some girls wearing them and I was like, huh, why am I gaining on them so fast? And I blew right past them and thought why are they wearing aero helmets if they are so slow?

    Now then you have the issue of "practice." Yes, you should wear the helmet in training at least once to get used to it. Be sure you are able to ride fast that day or else you will look like a loser dork.

    As to wind, an aero helmet in cross winds is no big deal. It's not like the wind is going to catch it and rip your head off! The most important equipment when it comes to managing wind is your wheels. Even up to 15mph winds, a disk wheel on the back is still a good idea, provided you have the muscle to move the thing, because they do add weight to the bike.

    The whole thing with aero helmet wearing is you keep your head in the proper position so its tail is nearly resting on your upper back. Whenever you deviate from that position, either to look to the side or look down, you are destroying your aerodynamics. So don't do that as much as possible.

    For whatever your race distance is, if you can't stay in the aero position for that length of a training ride, don't bother getting an aero helmet--it will be a waste of your money. But if you CAN stay in that position (except for climbing and nutrition breaks), you can ride 16+mph for 60+ miles at a pop, you have a good bike fit and you don't have a big gut hanging over your top tube, step up to the aero helmet. Like I said before, if all it does it keep you in the right position, then it has paid for itself.

  8. Ultra Crackhead has the most helpful post I've seen on this issue. We've all read the studies on the advantages of an aero helmet (contrary to the OP, the greatest benefit in time is for MOP riders since they are on the bike longer). But no one wants to be "THAT GUY." You know the one. More money than ability. Kinda hard to know when you are ready for an aero helmet, but should be the first purchase since the cost/benefit ratio is so high.

  9. I found your blog while debating the helmet decision myself. I'm dying to know...did you get one?

    oh and I also LOVE my Kinvaras...