06 July 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Lazer Genesis RD helmet

While a product generally has to stand out in some way in order to catch my eye, what I value more than anything else, when riding, is the ride. Products that draw attention to themselves mid-ride almost always do so for negative reasons. Brakes squeal, clothing is too itchy, too hot or too cold, glasses slide, and tires slip. The best gear draws attention only in its absence of foibles and annoyances. The very same products that had to jump out at me in the store or trade show or in print should fade immediately into the background when on the bike.

While Belgian company Lazer's has been building helmets since 1919, the brand has yet to gain much of a foothold in the United States. With more and more bike shops looking to set themselves apart with interesting, high-quality product, however, uber-distributor QBP is making a push to raise awareness of the brand. If what we've seen at Interbike and in person are any indication, they have the product to match their ambitions. After retiring my latest helmet due to bizarre fit issues and persistent mid-ride headaches, I contacted Lazer's brand liaison Chris, who sent out their workhorse Genesis for us to test.

What sets Laser's helmets apart from others on the market is the company's Rollsys retention system. Rather than a band running below the occipital protuberance (bump), Lazer have created a head-holding basket that is tied, using thin stainless cables, to a band that runs about 3/4 of the way around the rider's head (similar to the one used by Uvex in their helmets). The basket is split to accommodate long hair as well as to clear the weird tendon that connects the back of the skull to the shoulder area. Adjustment of the basket and circumferential band is made via a single roller on the top of the helmet, which takes in and lets out stainless cable. It's complicated to describe and was probably more so to execute- but very easy to use. The hardest part to remember is that the action of the roller seems backwards for us right-handers- a minor issue that's easily overcome.

The rest of the helmet would seem very standard if not for the way it sits on the head. The Genesis has to be the lowest-profile helmet I've ever worn. While it meets all government-required safety standards, Lazer have managed to work in a good number of vents and channels without maintaining a minimum shell thickness, reducing the mushroom-head look that most helmets bring. Weight- and cost-wise, the Genesis is competitive for what I would consider a high-end helmet: 280g and $150-180 depending on options (5g heavier than Giro's $225 Ionos).

The Genesis comes in only two sizes: XXS-M and L-XL. I was initially put off by this fact, feeling that high-end helmets should fit well and that three sizes were needed to do so (Lazer's $220, 220g Helium does add a third, intermediate size). Of course, being a someone with a medium-sized (57cm) head, I was a bit disappointed that the company didn't seem to make a helmet for me. Given my head size, Lazer sent out a L-XL helmet. When it arrived, it felt a bit big (not surprising, given that I was at the bottom of its size range). As a nice bonus, the Genesis comes not only with a soft helmet bag but also with both thick and thin pad sets. Being at the low end of the size range, I swapped out the thin pads for thick and was quite comfortable. With that done, the retention system and straps easily adjusted to make it fit well, with minimal movement, on or off road.

On the bike, the Genesis all but disappeared from my conciousness. Like the Uvex Supersonic, with which it shares a wide brow pad, bottom 1-2in of the helmet felt a bit warmer than I felt it should- but Lazer have used better pad materials than Uvex (one of my recommendations when I reviewed the Supersonic) and that helps. Above that level, the large amount of air flow is noticeable: well above average at low speeds (~10mph) and competitive with or slightly better than the competition at road speeds (up around 20mph). The Genesis' ventilation is great on the road bike and even better off road (temperatures here have been hitting the mid-90s lately, so I'm appreciating it more and more). The large brow pad has the capacity to absorb a good deal of moisture and seems to evaporate it reasonably quickly too- only on the hottest and most humid days has sweat leaked from the pad and dripped on to the inside of my glasses.

I liked the Geneis so much that I decided to ask my local shop to order up a medium Genesis to see how it fit. I also ordered up a matching white visor to see how that fit. When they came in, the difference was clear, and my already high opinion of the Genesis was bumped up a few notches. The XXS-M helmet (which I bought) fit my near-hairless head better than the large and felt even more secure. I don't need to wind the Rollsys as tightly as I do with the larger shell, which meant that the Geneis was even less noticeable while riding. With no movement whatsoever, even while mountain biking, I all but forgot the Genesis while riding. I was initially concerned about the Rollsys loosening over the course of the ride, but that hasn't been the case at all.

My quibbles are few. A road helmet by design (Lazer have a mountain-specific helmet, the Nemesis, coming soon), dirt-oriented riders might be able use a bit more protection than the Genesis offers in the rear. Also, while the visor (included in MTN Edition Genesis helmets or available separately for ~$15) integrates nicely from most angles, it's sort of weird looking and angular from others. While well-placed, it's also non-adjustable. At $150 or $180, I would have liked to see three sizes available, but seeing as the Genesis fit me pretty well in two different sizes, I don't think that it's essential. It seems as though Lazer might be able to improve ventilation along the bottom of the helmet, but above that point, the Genesis is easily among the best I've tried.

Given my initial experience, I think that the Genesis is one heck of a helmet. The fit (in my correct size) is as near to perfect as I've found. The retention system is low-profile and unobtrusive. It even allowed me to continue wearing a pair of glasses that I'd written off as painful- it turns out that their discomfort was coming from the helmet I was wearing them with. On long rides, I'm getting fewer headaches than I was with my previous helmet. It looks good, is available in a wide range of attractive colors and the price is not unreasonable for it's quality and weight. For anyone who spends a good deal of time on the bike, the Genesis would certainly be worth looking into. Most any shop in the US should be able to get them (and probably should- they might be surprised). It feels like I've found my new helmet. I'll keep riding the Genesis and report back in a few months.



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