Bike helmets are no longer meant to be purely for protection. Modern helmets are stylish and technologically sophisticated. Especially the ones used in professional races.
In the long, mettle-testing race like the triathlon, a wisely chosen helmet will prove to significantly boost your chances to go over that finish line ahead of all others. So the question is:
What kind of helmet do I get for a triathlon?
The primary analytic we should be looking at is speed. The triathlon bike helmet specializes in speed by sacrificing its ventilation and some of its weight. On the other hand, the aero road bike helmet provides better comfort with more ventilation and also affords good speed thanks to its aerodynamic design.
Other factors come to mind when talking about helmets, like:
- Budget. A helmet meant for races will have a decent price tag with all its features on top of safety.
- Safety. Racing helmets will definitely provide some of the best safety technologies, Like MIPS.
- Longevity. Manufacturers ask to replace your helmet 3-5 years into use, given that you have not crashed in it.
All of this considered, let us now jump into some major talking points to give you a clearer picture and hope to help you make the right choice.
Important Factors to Consider for a Triathlon Helmet
In any race, especially in a triathlon, the weight of a helmet is a factor that you simply can’t ignore. The weight of the helmet adds a legitimate impact on your performance.
Naturally, helmets designed to be used in a triathlon are made to be reasonably light. But in the scenario of a professional race, a decimal point of change may impact your time.
The balance, safety, and fit of your helmet may also be impacted by its weight.
If the weight of the helmet is unevenly spread on the front or the back of the helmet, then you might find your helmet slipping off as you ride. Or if the weight is properly spread in the right places, it will help balance your helmet on your head (fit) and keep it in place, even in an event of a crash.
Heavier helmets tend to be a bit safer as the added weight usually means more protective foam or padding.
➥ To know more, when, it comes to the ideal fit for bike helmets, have a look at the size & fit chart, based on the age group.
Overheating during the biking leg of the race is a justifiable concern. Sometimes it may even lead to a heat stroke. To remedy that, helmets must provide sufficient airflow through it, in other words, ventilation.
You must also keep in mind that more vents equal more drag (air resistance) that your helmet experiences. Getting a helmet with plenty of ventilation will see you go a tad bit slower. So you must understand the factors that may make you heat up during the race and choose a helmet for that level of ventilation requirement.
And last, but not least, we have aerodynamics. The whole point of aerodynamics is to make you go faster. The design, the material, the weight, all contribute to the aerodynamics of your helmet.
It accomplishes this by reducing drag to make you reach a higher speed with low effort (energy expended).
A common design feature of an aerodynamic helmet is a large front, to help blunt the drag, ending with a sweeping tail at the back of the helmet.
To summarize, all of the three factors discussed are interconnected to each other.
A higher weight will impact the aerodynamics of the helmet. So engineers are looking for a way to reduce, if not completely remove, the length of the tail in favor of a lighter helmet.
Ventilation is inversely proportional to the aerodynamics of the helmet. Helmets favoring a better aerodynamic design will have very few vents on them. Vents increase drag.
Type of Helmet
Whether it be for speed, balance, or overall comfort, there are plenty of design choices available for you to choose between when it comes to a helmet for triathlons.
For argument’s sake, we have chosen not to include the road bike helmet. Advances in engineering and design innovation have seen the Time Trial (TT) helmet and the Aero Road Bike helmet be head and shoulders above the standard road helmet in terms of competitive edge.
So how well do they stand against each other?
The Time Trial (TT) Helmet
The triathlon is a race, and the essence of a race is speed. The Time Trial (TT) helmet is a super-specialized helmet manufactured to achieve one thing: speed. Its long-tailed design coupled with a large rounded head provides for maximum drag reduction.
That said, it has very limited venting. Two to five small or narrow vents can be observed in the front half of the helmet. Ventilation increases the drag experienced by the helmet, which simply defeats the purpose of a speed helmet.
On top of that, the TT helmet takes a huge weight and comfort penalty due to its unique design.
Even though the TT helmet helps you achieve speeds that other types of helmets struggle to get even close to, you have to be a particular kind of biker to make this choice. The type of rider that expects to make an exceptional time during the biking leg of the race.
Keep in mind that this is the heaviest type of racing helmet available, and combined with its low ventilation options, you might be seeing this helmet sap your stamina as fast as you would chug a glass of cool water on a hot day.
The Aero Helmet
The aero helmet is often seen as the hybrid of the traditional road helmet and the TT helmet. It has an aerodynamic design that helps the aero achieve a greater speed than the standard road helmet but falls short, though not by much, against a TT helmet.
The aero is free of the weight and ventilation penalties that are often tied with the TT helmet. It has a small tail making it quite light and less awkward. It has ample ventilation to encourage airflow keeping the user from overheating, at any leg of the race.
This is a much friendlier and comfortable type of helmet available.
To the Wind Tunnel!
The head accounts for 80% of the drag experienced by the body when riding a bike. So what better way to analyze the effectiveness of a helmet to limit drag than to put it through a wind tunnel?
Many organizations have performed multiple tests in the wind tunnel, and the results are almost always the same: the TT helmet takes the cake when it comes to achieving higher speeds, but the difference compared to the aero is really not that high. [For in-depth test results, confer to the following site.]
At the end of the day, it all really comes down to preference.
Big names like British Athlete David McNamee have fully converted to the aero, while many still prefer the TT for its higher speed.
If the race takes place in warmer weather, it is always better to take the aero over the TT for its better ventilation.
If it’s a high-stakes race where every second counts, who better to take you over the finish line than the TT?
Other Helmet Features to Consider
These features aren’t nearly as important as the ones discussed previously but will give you an edge and impact the price if budget is your concern.
- Carapace: The hard outer shell that protects the helmet in case of a crash. Can be in-molded polycarbonate or a composite hard-shell of carbon fiber.
- EPS Lining: The protective foam that crumples to absorb impact in case of a crash. Varying structures will give varying levels of protection.
- Retention: Refers to the style of strapping the helmet has on its rear. An important feature in races with multiple legs, like a triathlon.
- Impact Protection System: Whether the helmet provides MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) or SPIN among others.
Most helmets of higher quality, regardless of type, have similar features with negligible differences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How much faster is a TT helmet?
Ans.: With a test done in a wind tunnel over a distance of 40 km, a TT helmet saves 60 seconds when compared with a standard road bike helmet, and 20 seconds when compared to an aero road bike helmet. [Source]
Q2. Is an expensive bike helmet worth it?
Ans.: If you are talking about racing scenarios, like a triathlon, then the answer is definitely yes. A higher price tag usually equals more and better features. You will need all the edge against your competition you can get. But if you are a casual or beginner, you can go for more budget options.
➥ We suggest you think carefully if you’re at crossroads when it comes to choosing between an economic or pricier model of a bike helmet.
Q3. Is a MIPS helmet necessary?
Ans.: Yes. Safety should not be compromised when you plan on riding fast, especially in a triathlon. The MIPS safety technology currently provides the best protection your helmet can give. Other helmet safety options you can look to are the SPIN or WaveCel if MIPS doesn’t fit your bill.
➥ To know more, we suggest you have a look, whether, if, MIPS certified helmets are worth investing in.
The type of helmet does not depend on the race but the racer. No two helmets will satisfy the user the same way in any race, especially along and grueling one like the triathlon.
The triathlon, in essence, is a race. It all boils down to which helmet gives you that competitive edge in seconds saved. To that end, both the Time Trial (TT) and the Aero helmets are close competitors with their own strengths and weaknesses.