By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
A paradigm shift is when our established belief set is shifted to a new perspective. Triathletes accustomed to pointy-tail aero helmets may be entering a paradigm shift with aero helmet design as several helmet brands, including KASK and Giro, are showing “bobtail” or short tail aero helmets for the 2013 season. The helmets have already had exposure and competitive success in professional cycling events like the Olympics and the Tour de France. Some bobtails have shown up in pro triathlon as pre-production samples make their way to the U.S.
U.S. Sales reps for KASK helmets, including Jason McCormack of Velo Persona, are showing samples of the new KASK Bambino aerodynamic helmet now. The Bambino is a departure from long tail aerodynamic time trial helmets. It’s smooth design and largely vent-less outer shell are claimed to offer an even greater aerodynamic benefit than longer pointed tail designs. While brands will always argue their own test data and protocols, it may be arguable that a tail-less design like the Bambino could offer practical advantages. For riders who move their head a lot on the bike, the bobtails may be particularly appealing.
The Bambino uses a smooth, egg-shaped shell with a unique, dual internal and external ventilation system. There are six small shark-gill slits in the front and four miniature slits in the rear under the tail. Although the vents appear to be minimal from the outside they are actually an efficient, sophisticated design according to Marc Katz, Cycling Sales Manager for KASK. Part of the cooling system is internal, using channels that manage airflow between the head and the inner helmet to remove heat. Another ventilation system removes heat between the polypropelene inner shell and the polycarbonate outer shell, cooling the shell in addition to the rider’s head according to Katz. The net result is a helmet that remains cool despite an outward appearance of few vents. The external vents are positioned at high pressure areas on the front and rear to optimize their effectiveness according to KASK while the internal channels help exhaust warm air near the head. We didn’t get a chance to ride in the KASK Bambino on a hot Tucson day so we can’t offer a perspective on its hot weather performance but this concept sounds promising.
The Bambino helmet covers your ears almost entirely, another claimed aerodynamic feature. The ear section was moderately flexible so the helmet can be donned quickly in the swim to bike transition. There is no rotating/ratcheting adjustment for hatband fit inside the helmet. Instead, a hook and loop system facilitates custom fitting to head circumference and shape but cannot be adjusted on the fly.
The chin strap on the Bambino is typical KASK luxury and attention to detail. The strap harness is entirely hand made in Italy along with the rest of the helmet. Based on our use of similar strap design and material on KASK road helmets this strap will not irritate your chin even in extremely hot weather. It is designed to maintain secure grip and angle without feeling too tight.
Adjustment and buckling hardware are easy to use and feel durable. The entire inside of the helmet uses temperature and moisture management textiles including proprietary 3D Dry fabric made by a well known Italian automotive marque to dissipate heat in Formula 1 and high end sports car cockpits. These textiles also resist odor from perspiration and wick moisture.
The fit and finish on the KASK Bambino is very good, even in our short test. Comfort is exceptional, especially at the chinstrap and forehead. The helmet was stable and did not feel bulky, it has a trim, compact fit in contrast to astronaut-like full size aero helmets. It’s reduced profile means you’ll look less alien-esque in your race photos.
At 349 grams the KASK Bambino is relatively light weight. It is sold with a padded, zippered carrying case for airline carry-on or packing inside your bike flight case.
The KASK Bambino is slated for “late September 2012” release to the U.S. retail market with a somewhat bracing $499 price tag. When I challenged KASK on the price they listed the unique materials used in the helmet construction along with new design aspects of the helmet that are so utterly unique, some are patented.
Production helmets will ship with a proprietary clear magnetic visor for claimed improvement in aerodynamics and easy installation and removal that was not available with our test helmet. It has been used by pro teams and sponsored athletes. Five different tint visor options will be available in the future according to KASK’s Marc Katz.
It isn’t difficult to imagine that the Bambino will sell well in a sport of $1000+ wetsuits and $10,000+ bikes. If a customer has the discretionary income and the technical knowledge to appreciate the features and benefits it’s actually a logical purchase since competitive wind tunnel tests all suggest an aero helmet provides a tangible time savings.
KASK Vertigo Tri.
Another new KASK bobtail aero offering is the KASK Vertigo Tri, a more aerodynamic version of their conventional KASK Vertigo road helmet. The Vertigo Tri has the same shell as the standard Vertigo but without the cut-outs.
The Vertigo Tri also uses a vent system that shows promise for keeping the helmet cool on long climbs when forward speed decreases and heat needs to rise out of the helmet to keep the rider cool. Four distinct ventilation ports on top of the Vertigo Tri allow warm air to rise and escape even at low climbing speeds. These ports also allow a rider to dump water on their head without it running forward over their face, but down the back of their head and neck according to KASK.
The interior of the KASK Vertigo Tri is as luxurious as other KASK models. KASK has become known as a high-end helmet leader partially for this reason. KASK helmets are hand made in Italy and KASK is known for their industrial, ski and mountaineering helmets along with their high end cycling line. The unique attention to detail starts with the hard outer shell wrapping under the helmet rim for improved durability and protection compared to brands where the hard shell ends at the rim of the helmet leaving the expanded polystyrene foam exposed and prone to wear and damage.
Chin strap detail remains typically hand-made Italian KASK quality with the addition of reflective trim on the Vertigo Tri strap. The helmet weighed in at 293 grams measured weight total for a size labelled “M”.
Further details included a set of blue polymer “grippers” inside the hinged helmet stabilizer that help the helmet stay in place on your head. These grip well but did not pull our tester’s hair.
The KASK Vertigo Tri is slated for “late 2012” release according to KASK and will retail for $299. Another version of the KASK Mojito helmet with an aerodynamic, drag reduction shell is in the works for later in 2014 and was seen on riders during 2012 suggesting development is in the later stages.
Both new offerings from KASK join the increasing design theme that trends away from pointy tail aero helmets. The KASK versions enter at the high end with features, quality and price point that make the KASK models aspirational and likely to spearhead the category. Subsequent brand introductions will be the “trickle down” from these ideas. Giro also plans a bobtail aero helmet release with their Air Attack as seen at this year’s Tour de France. Given these releases for late 2012 it seems logical other popular helmet brands like Louis Garneau and Giro stablemate, Bell Helmets, may show bobtail designs.