By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
You know an aero helmet will make you faster, but they look so… weird.
Garneau has released their newest version Vorttice helmet to improve aerodynamics and ventilation at all head angles and look less like an alien. Garneau introduced the first legal, approved aerodynamic time trial helmet in 2002 and carved a niche out of the aero category. They also lead development in aerodynamic triathlon race apparel.
The Vorttice helmet uses a truncated airfoil shape in addition to golf-ball dimples and wake-disbursing strakes. While this sounds like so much techno-jargon each of these technologies have been used before in other industries. The golf ball dimples disturb the flow of air around the helmet, called the boundary layer, to make it easier for the object to move through using less energy. As with golf balls, this increases travel with given energy, especially at low speeds. The truncated shape has been adopted by Trek, Cervelo and other manufacturers to make shapes more effective over wider yaw angles. The “strakes” or raised, sideways “V” protrusions on the helmet are oriented where the helmet’s laminar boundary layer begins to “depart” or detach, potentially creating drag. These strakes prevent the resulting vacuum from boundary layer detachment by keeping the flow of air turbulent at lower pressure.
Whether a volume of aerodynamic techno-speak is relevant to you or not the unique features on the Vorttice likely have benefit and certainly do not hurt. They don’t appear on any other aero helmet.
The proven fact is that aero helmets make cyclists faster. Another reality of using some longer tail aero helmets is the rider must keep their head in an upward orientation to hold the rear fairing horizontal. If they lower their head the tail goes up. The Garneau design avoids this issue with a truncated tail. The truncated tail also works better in crosswinds and facilitates ventilation out the back of the helmet.
Truncated tail helmets are not a new idea. Greg LeMond used a truncated tail aero helmet in the pivotal final time trial stage of the 1989 Tour de France to win the Tour by 8 seconds. His victory over race leader Laurent Fignon emphasized the importance of technology like aerobars and an aerodynamic helmet, neither of which Fignon used. In 1989 the chopped tail on LeMond’s aero helmet was mandated by UCI regulations governing helmet length, not by any aero insight. LeMond may have benefited from the design though, as he frequently lowered his head during the Stage 21 time trial into Paris.
The Garneau Vortice also uses a nicely designed visor that can be raised and lowered while riding. Some visor designs are snap-on, snap-off designs you can’t raise while riding. Non-retractable visors make drinking from a large water bottle more difficult since the bottle hits the visor. With the Garneau helmet you can quickly raise the visor to drink in an aid station, then slide it back down like a fighter pilot.
The Garneau visor provided with the helmet is a color neutral gray tint. It has vents cut into the upper surface to prevent fogging.
The visor can also be removed by unthreading the mounting bolts at either side of the helmet. A clear visor is available for $44.95. There are ear covers that extend downward on each side of the helmet and are flexible enough to pull the helmet on quickly in T1. The ear flaps are well designed since the chinstrap, when adjusted under the ears, nearly disappears under the ear fairings.
The tail is faired underneath below the rear vent, another aerodynamic que. The chinstrap is Garneau’s Spiderlock SL, a wheel-adjustable strap and harness that can be snugged up on the fly riding out of T1 with one hand. Garneau used “Sealed Ice Padding” on the inside of the helmet. When wet the padding produces a cooling effect. The pads are removable and washable.
When I pulled on the Vorttice the first time I was impressed by how easy it went on. It also does not feel like an aero helmet, neither bulky nor long. The two vents, one at the front in the area of highest pressure at speed and another in the rear feed three “evacuation channels” to move cool air through the helmet. They work. Even with a black helmet in Arizona afternoon heat I was absolutely comfortable with the visor down. I like having an aero helmet that works well in crosswinds and that I can move my head around freely in without worrying about putting on the airbrakes when the tail goes up.
The new version of the Garneau Vorttice weighs 507 grams in a size Large. Considering all the helmet features this is a reasonable weight. The Vorttice is $259.95 and is sold in Small, Medium and Large.