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Specialized S3 Helmet – First Ride Report

So, we arrive in Australia and I commence riding. Little did I know but the helmet I wear – a Giro Aeon – is not approved for use here. Bugger.

Now, I could just carry on regardless. After all, stories of being asked to change helmets at races have been known, but it’ll be a while before I’m fit enough to race anyway. No hurry then. Except for the small factor of health insurance. Stack the bike wearing my Aeon and I might not be covered. Sure, they’d have to check, but better safe than sorry in my book – consequently I now find myself the proud owner of a shiny white Specialized S3.

Why did I go for this one?

Quite simply a combination of a well-fitting helmet that looks good. I actually set out to get a Catlike Whisper, but in the end it looked massive, didn’t fit as well and seemed fiddly. I tried all the alternatives I could find – the next best of which was probably the Kask Mojito, although I’m not keen on the look of it and whilst the plastic band and adjuster at the back of it sat really nicely and worked really well when I moved my head it creaked. That would drive me bonkers (the Vertigo might have been a good alternative, but that’s nearly $500 out here!). The Specialized felt good, is nice and light (it gains only 25g over the top-end Prevail), is really easy to adjust and didn’t look too bulbous. Winner.

Now, it might surprise some that I didn’t just buy the top end Prevail helmet ‘just because’. I must admit it’s something I’m prone to as – not forgetting this is The Bike Tart talking here – I do like to have the best stuff and I openly confess to having bought top end kit just to have the top end kit in the past. At the moment though I’m not working and am back to paying full retail for bike kit. With that in mind I had to be a bit more frugal. That aside, the truth is compared to the Prevail I genuinely think the S3 is almost too good. It uses the same adjustment system, carries only a 25g weight penalty, looks better and is (here in Sydney at least) $60 cheaper. For me the Prevail just didn’t justify its premium.

So how is it on the bike?

To put it bluntly, not so great. Which is a real shame. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it – but it’s not as nice as my Aeon, or even the Giro Prolight or Met Sine Thesis I had before. Let me try to explain why…

The issue is in the ‘Mindset’ adjustment system, coupled with the positioning of some of the pads and contact areas. Like most helmets it has a forehead pad, but unlike most helmets the front portion of the helmet that this pad would be attached to doesn’t touch your forehead – the idea being that this makes up some of the so-called ‘4th Dimension Cooling System with Mega Mouthport’ (marketing waffle anyone?). Initially this feels weird, but you do get helmet-bonce contact above the forehead and above the temples.

In the shop the ‘Mindset’ adjustments felt like they should be in position 4 or 5, meaning the adjuster at the back sits on your ‘Median Nuchal Crest‘, otherwise known as ‘the bit where your head starts to curve at the top of your neck’ (or something like that). Tucking the Mindset straps and adjustment dial into that curve makes the lid feel really comfortable and secure. However, on the bike having the Mindset in this position seems to pull the contact patches above your forehead against your head really hard, and loosening the adjuster to alleviate this makes the helmet feel loose (to my mind this is because of the lack of forehead contact). I found myself backing the Mindset to position 3 which felt less secure at the back of my head, but was more comfortable at the front – and in the end was actually a perfectly good compromise.

Going back to that lack of forehead contact, the other issue this causes is really poor sweat control. You’d think with that ‘4th Dimension Cooling System with Mega Mouthport’ would keep sweat at bay, but in reality it offers no cooling benefit over my Aeon or Prolight, and actually prevents sweat being caught. This means a constant stream of sweat pouring down my forehead and dripping over my sunglasses, either resulting in constant wiping and cleaning (a pain in the arse with Oakleys where you’re only supposed to use their bag to do so), or just carrying on with obscured vision. In short, if you sweat a lot (as I do) it’s probably a lid that’s better used with a cap, skull cap, bandana or beanie.

What else?

One thing that used to really bug me about my Aeon was the ability to quickly and easily deposit my sunglasses on it somewhere. I’m not particularly confident at riding no-handed and as none of the ports at the front were in the right position I often resorted to fumbling around trying to use some of the rear ports (this was less of an issue on my Prolight, for what it’s worth).

With my Oakley Radars, getting them into the front ports of the S3 is an easy job and they quite happily stay put – a great relief (frustratingly though, my Jawbones are still an issue as the arm design allows them to slip out).

Size-wise, before my two Giros my helmet of choice was the Met Sine Thesis. For me it was the best looking helmet on the market and fitted really nicely. Mine developed an issue that was never resolved under warranty though, and on deciding to try it again I discovered Met have decided to change their sizing. This meant the medium no longer fitted, but that I was right at the lower end of needing the large. Consequently it looked MASSIVE on my head. By comparison, I can even get the small S3 on quite easily, but the medium felt better (for reference, I also wear a medium Giro). What I’m getting at here is don’t buy a helmet without trying it on as it could be a big mistake.

And whilst I’m at it, if you’ve spent time trying on a shop’s stock of helmets don’t then go home and buy it online – that’s just flat out rude, not to mention unsupportive.

Lastly, and again unfortunately, the issues noted above contribute to knowing the helmet is very definitely there, compared to the Aeon and Prolight – both of which you very nearly forget about.

In summary?

It sounds like I’m dead against the S3. I’m not at all really – it just has a few issues that I wasn’t expecting having found it so comfortable in the shop. Much of this could be down to my own head shape and the fact that I’m ‘a sweater’, if you’ll excuse the term. Yes, I was expecting it to be better, but I have come from a string of three very good lids. I’m just going to have to use a light weight cap or skull cap to stop my glasses constantly getting sprayed with sweat.

If it fits you and you don’t sweat much it will be a very good option (as I’m sure with the more expensive and slightly lighter Prevail), but if you know you sweat heavily I’d suggest you go with something else.

One thing’s for sure, I have to get those World Chump stripes off of it…

Followup…

I wrote about the new Specialized S3 helmet I’d picked up after wearing it for just one ride – hardly a glowing review, but how has it faired for the riding I’ve done since?

To be fair, it’s been bearable. Mostly. But the tail end of a recent ride put paid to that.

As I suggested in the previous review, I have been wearing it pretty much since that first ride with a skull cap – partly as a sweat control thing, partly as a comfort thing. With the skullcap on it seems to be a perfectly comfortable helmet, and it certainly makes it more bearable to use. As the Sydney weather has cooled the skullcap has been a help for temperature control anyway, particularly for the 5-6am starts. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword though as some days the skull cap makes you overheat but without it the sweat would be running down your face (honestly, that ‘big mouth’ vent at the front and the lack of contact with your forehead is a real problem), and at times I can’t help thinking I’d be sweating less if I didn’t have to wear the skull cap in the first place.

Why was that ride such an issue? Well, after a coffee stop towards the end of the ride I decided to ride the 15km home without the skullcap. That proved to be 15km of constant fidgeting to try and make the helmet comfortable – the damn thing just felt horrid! It was a combination of the issues I’d highlighted on that first ride report where the contact areas at the front felt all wrong whilst the ‘Mindset’ settings at the back didn’t seem secure enough. It made me want to conveniently ‘accidentally drop’ the damn thing or even purposely fall off and hit my head so that I could justify replacing it.

Another issue I’ve noticed is that if the helmet isn’t tipped far enough forward the straps behind the ears go slack. The extent of this will no doubt vary by person, but for me it feels like I’m tipping the lid far too low at the front to maintain taught straps, and it certainly does nothing to enhance the comfort of it. Additionally if the helmet slips back at all whilst you’re riding and those rear straps do go saggy again they make an awful noise at speed – very bloody annoying when they’re so close to your ears, believe me.

The only positive I can draw is that it looks alright, and that the tension adjuster on the Mindset strap at the back is a very solid, positive system. I managed to find a location where my Oakley Jawbones stay in place too, although it can be a fiddly spot to find and getting my Radars into the front vents is a significantly easier option.

For the moment I’ll continue to use it, but purely because I’m still not able to work and therefore simply cannot justify another $250 on a replacement. I reckon a new helmet will be one of the first things I buy when I do have a job though – I’ve only had it six weeks or so, but I’m not sure I can put up with this thing much longer…

Rich [@RichTheRoadie]

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