Finding A Cycling Helmet, Giro vs Lazer vs Catlike
I’ve been in the market for a new cycling helmet for quite some time now, I actually started researching a new helmet in earnest last fall. I’ve recently had my eye on a few different options including the Giro Aeon, Lazer Helium, and the Catlike Whisper Plus.
I’m currently sporting a Giro mountain bike helmet circa 2001 with all original parts, including the pads … I know I know, kinda gross. I can’t find replacement pads so I don’t really have many options here unless I cut out and rig my own internal padding replacements. That doesn’t sound like much fun.
Combine the old helmet pads and retro mountain bike look with the fact that it’s like wearing a space heater on my head … in other words it’s damn hot and has little to no ventilation … and you can see why I need and want a new helmet!
Some of the things I’m looking for in a helmet are:
- Great ventilation for those long summer training rides I have coming up
- Easily adjustable retention system for a perfect fit
- Simple yet effective internal padding with replacements
- Stylish and if possible a distinctive yet aesthetically pleasing look … yea, I’m a visual snob sorry
- Hard shell option in the event I want to use it as a TT helmet or in the rain perhaps
So here’s the thought process I went through for each helmet and how they stacked up to my helmet wish list. If you want to skip my extensive banter you can also scroll to the end (down a ways) to see the actual helmet I chose.
My biggest challenge in purchasing a helmet has been finding one to try on. I’ve never been someone who just goes into a store and buys whatever they have lying around. I usually research it endlessly and then pull the trigger only after I’ve bored my friends and family to death talking about it.
With the Giro Aeon the problem of trying one on was never an issue because Giro’s are everywhere. They’re the Wallgreens or Starbucks of helmets, they’re in almost every bike shop. The shop might not have your color but they’ll have one of each model to choose from.
After trying one on at the local bike shop (LBS) I was able to find a size (L) that fit but unfortunately I hated the retention system. For a high end helmet they put a cracker jack feeling retention system on the Aeon.
It just looks cheap I think, one drop the wrong way from my seat or handlebars and I swear it’d break. Every time I adjusted the retention strap to my head I thought I was going to break it. Combine that feeling with the fact that every other box on the shelf had a mangled or disconnected retention system required reconnecting it into place.
One other thing I also didn’t like while adjusting the retention system was the feeling that it’s just squeezing my head and not really centering the helmet off my head. Ideally when you adjust a retention system it does tighten against your head but also makes the helmet centered on your head and not pulled off to one side. This will improve airflow and ventilation while riding so you don’t get a hot side of your head.
So how did it do on my other wants from the list?
- According to the forums people seem to like the ventilation but I am concerned about how it was pulling against my head instead of centering it. Will one side get hotter than another?
- I hate the retention system adjustment on the Aeon, it felt cheap and easily breakable and many of the helmets had their retentions unhooked on the shelves.
- Much like my 2001 Giro there were a bazillions pads inside this thing and they all seemed to be laid out precisely to require frequent replacements.
- It has a boring visual look to be honest. I challenge you to call it out from any of their other helmets or say a Bell for that matter.
- I can’t find a hard shell to use with the Aeon anywhere.
I was less than impressed with the Giro but it’s certainly a popular and highly mainstream brand you can find anywhere. On to the second helmet!
Until a few months ago a had no idea who Lazer even was. I happened to be at my LBS and a sales person mentioned Lazer as an option because he loved the retention system. Needless to say this immediately peaked my interest so I started researching them.
Funny thing about Lazer, Performance Bike (one of my LBS) has them for sale on their site but none of the stores have any … frigging maddening. This only adds to my previously mentioned problem of finding helmets to actually try on. I did however venture out to a local EndureIt to try on a Lazer Genesis which has the same retention system. I really liked the easy retention adjustment though I found the padding a bit sparse and based upon online reviews the Helium also seems to be sparsely padded.
After digging into the reviews of the Lazer Helium online it seems like everyone loves the retention system. It does exactly what you’d think a retention system should do, encompass your head uniformly while unifying the airflow around it by centering the helmet. It also has a nice easy to adjust roller on top of the helmet so you can get a quick easy adjustment and perfect fit every time.
To top it off they have other cool features like the “Magic Buckle” which is really just a chin strap that uses a magnet to draw it into the slot and then the clasp holds is securely once in the slot. A few people online reported that the buckle was kinda clunky but they were reviewing pre-release versions. The Helium also has optional bug netting you can get for the helmet to keep those pesky little critters out of your helmet and hair.
So given that I can’t actually find one to try on, the following is based upon online reviews, opinion, and trying on the Genesis.
- I certainly didn’t find anyone raving about the ventilation but I didn’t read about anyone slamming it either.
- The retention system looks amazing and is perfectly designed
- The padding seems well laid out, only a few parts, and is antimicrobial so it doesn’t stink over time. But based upon reviews and trying on the Genesis, the padding is sparse and isn’t always comfortable.
- Pretty boring aesthetically, just like the Giro. Don’t actual humans engineer these things? I bet none of the engineers are women … otherwise they wouldn’t look this awful.
- It has an optional snap on aeroshell which is buce. I’ve found them for $20 – $25 online depending on if you want clear or a lion design.
If I look beyond the actual look of the helmet (weird I know) then this one actually stands up quite well.
Catlike Whisper Plus
I’ve had my eye on the Catlike Whisper Plus helmet for quite some time now. I remember seeing Cervelo wearing them the first time and oogling over their distinctive look. You certainly can’t mistaken a Catlike Whisper for any other helmet in the peleton.
The unfortunate thing about this helmet is that it’s only available at a select few retailers in the US, none of which are anywhere near where I live. Add to that the fact that I’ve never seen one on anyones head in real life, ever. I can’t very well ask anyone how they like it if I never see one now can I?
Despite these drawbacks there are tons of great reviews online for the Catlike Whisper. Sites like Competitive Cyclist, road.cc, Wiggle, PezCycling (awesome photos here), and others love the distinctive looks, rave over the ventilation, and find the overall comfort to be bar none.
A few interesting things to note about the Catlike is that it comes with a protective case to store the helmet in when not in use. The Catlike has 30 vents which is pretty crazy awesome and they line up in ideal ways. Check out the PezCycling review I mentioned above for some great photos of the Catlike ventilation holes lining up as well as the padding layout.
Here’s a cool little shot I stitched together of all three angles available for the helmet in matte black.
While researching the Catlike Whisper I came across a forum posting about a new retention system in the 2011 models. Upon further digging I happened upon this video showing it off:
Fast forward about 50 seconds in to see the new retention system in action. It looks pretty slick and easy to use, that’s for sure. After seeing it I immediately wanted to know if this was the version that was available for sale at Competitive Cycle or whether it was last years model.
To answer this question I did what any online consumer would do, I asked their online support person, Josh. I explained what I was looking for and even though he ensured me that it was the new system I still wasn’t at ease. To quell my concern he offered to goto their warehouse and take a few photos of the helmet. Really? Now that’s cool, I’ve never had a support person offer to personalize the service that way so I said sure.
After about 5 minutes or so I received two emails containing camera phone shots of the helmet. I’ve added them on the right so you can see what I’m talking about.
So how well did the Catlike Whisper Plus stack up against my list of desires from a helmet:
- The ventilation is supposed to be hands down the best out there and with all those vents I can see why.
- While not as easy as the Lazer people have said it’s easy to adjust while riding. It looks easy enough in the video, that’s for sure.
- The pads look simple and well aligned to where your head needs them, it’s hard to tell without trying one out though.
- The Catlike Whisper Plus has styling and aesthetically in spades.
- I haven’t yet found a cover for the Catlike.
All in all it did pretty well, and who needs a cover am I right?
Which Helmet Did I Choose
When you start your helmet shopping at the top of the list of helmets you get a lot of weight weenies chattering about a few grams here and there in their helmets. Once you weed through those you get people raving or clawing about the ventilation and then they move on to retention.
After I weeded through all of these posts and opinions I found this nice general helmet overview. If you’e looking for a good general review of ventilation, retention, weight, and sunglass retention then check it out.
Anyhow, to me another huge category is the aesthetics of the product. That’s one of the key reasons why I’m a Mac fan. Sure the software is great but beyond that it’s pleasing to use and the hardware products are a pleasure to use and interact with, they just make sense. I wanted that same sensibility of design out of my helmet.
I almost feel like the competition wasn’t fair going in because I really loved the design of the Catlike Whisper Plus. I was kinda hoping that someone would knock it off in terms of other features and I’ll admit that the Lazer came close. If only it didn’t look and feel like every other helmet in the peleton. I have to strain and pause the DVR every time I try to find a Lazer in the field and even then I can’t.
Because of the amazing features and aesthetics of the Catlike Whisper Plus I chose to purchase it in Matte White. Yes, I took forever to choose the color as well … my wife can vouch for that While this choice is a sight unseen purchase I have an ace up my sleeve because Competitive Cyclist has a no questions asked return policy so that aids in making this choice.
Thanks for reading this writeup and I look forward to writing a nice long review after using it for a while.