04 February 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Giro Athlon helmet

Wait! This is just our initial review- check out the whole story here.

While it was, from most riders' perspectives, and excellent all-around mountain helmet, there's no denying that Giro's E2 was getting a bit long in the tooth. For a time, the E2 set the standard for cross country lids- it had plenty of coverage at the rear, rakish mountain styling and plenty of effective vents and internal channeling. The 2-position visor was in just the right spot and the RocLoc retention system light and secure (if not always easy to adjust).

After five or six years, though, it was time for a change. For 2009 the company has replaced the E2 (of which I've personally owned three) with the Athlon. Anyone looking for a radical change will be... disappointed. The company has for the most part stuck with what works in creating what's looking to be a worthy successor. After cracking my last E2, I popped down to the local bikeatorium and placed an order for the helmet Athlon you see here.

While the Athlon sits slightly closer to the head than the E2, two out of two people here at bikefix HQ (one of whom is a stylish non-cyclist) prefer the angular (non-road) look of the E2 to the slightly more generic looking Athlon. Most of the early Athlon photos were from the rear (where it shares a certain family resemblance with the Ionos, and now it's easy to understand why. The Athlon is hardly a unique looking helmet. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the company has seemed to have dropped the mountain design language shared by the Hex, E2 and Phase. Maybe it's because they felt like a change was in order or because many XC racers have been turning to road helmets, but we feel like it's a bit of a shame. The guys at the shop were visibly underwhelmed- it looks like a road helmet. The Athlon's hardly unattractive- it just isn't distinctive in the way its predecessor was.

On the head, the Athlon feels like an E2. If you like the old helmet, you'll like the new. The helmet sits a bit further off the ears but maintains good rear coverage. According to the stickers inside each, the Athlon (330g) is 40g heavier than the E2 (290g)- a surprise given the amount of weight road helmets have been dropping lately. That said, the 40g probably isn't really noticeable to anyone but the most discerning rider. Maybe they're saving the cool tricks and light weight for a higher-end mountain helmet? So far, I only have one complaint with the Athlon. Giro's POV breakaway visor mounting system gives the rider two visor positions (high and low). In the E2, they were near perfect- the high position didn't block the rider's view but still kept the midday sun off the face. The lower position was perfect for the times that rides run into sunset- just a bit lower but enough to see the trail with out going blind. In the Athlon, the lower position seems to be about where the E2's higher was and the higher position? Sort of goofy looking and pointless for all but the most head-down riding position. It's a shame, but the lower position will be fine for the vast majority of riding.

At $130, the Athlon holds the same price point as its predecessor. When I heard that the company was coming out with a new range-topping XC lid, I was hoping for something sexy and exciting. The Athlon is a very good helmet, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot setting it apart from its competition (either from other companies or from down the Giro range). While the RocLoc system is very good, newer systems like Uvex's or Lazer's Rollsys seem to be a bit more secure (though with added heat/weight/complexity). There could well be some distinct safety or technical improvements over the E2, but the company certainly isn't communicating them very well. I don't expect any problems with mine, but wonder if just being very good is enough to create the sales that Giro no doubt is expecting.



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