01 February 2010

bikefix Exclusive Review: Giro Saros helmet

After the drubbing I have Giro's Athlon helmet last spring, it's taken me a while to look at their Saros objectively. A handsome helmet, the Saros is a replacement for the venerable Pneumo. Despite not looking particularly airy, ventilation was improved over the Pneumo by way of improved vent (23, for anyone who's counting) design and interior channeling. My problem with the Athlon was it, claiming to be the successor of the equally venerable E2, is the same helmet as the Saros. OK, mostly the same- the Athlon costs $10 more and comes with a visor. Given that mountain biking and road biking have decidedly different protection and cooling requirements, the Athlon seemed to me far from optimized for the dirt (as an E2 successor should have been). The question is, if the Athlon isn't a particularly good mountain helmet, is the Saros a good road helmet?

On inspection, the Saros' details are quite nice. The narrow pads are comfortable, wick well and are made using X-Static, which uses silver ions to kill things that you probably don't want want living in a helmet. The RocLoc 4 retention system is fairly skeletal in appearance, with rubber-covered straps and is nicely color coordinated with the helmet's exterior colors. At 295g, my medium Saros isn't startlingly light when handling, but sits lightly on the head and in no way feels fragile in the way that some superlight helmets can. Lacking the flashy carbon fiber inserts or strange Euro look of higher-end helmets, there's visually little to distinguish the Saros from Giro helmets costing half as much- conspicuous consumers will have to shell out a bit more to make a statement. While its sighting on a club ride won't send lusting riders to the shops, for the $120 asking price, it's a well put together package.

Having purchased (and liked) a succession of E2s, I generally consider my head to be Giro-shaped. The fit of the Saros' shell is quite good. As is my preference, the Saros comes in three shell sizes, which minimizes the amount of fitting slack that the retention system is asked to take up. With a ratchet strap at the back of the neck, the Roc Loc 4 system can be a bit harder to adjust for varying hat thicknesses than other companies', but with practice can be done one handed. The side portions of the retention system attach to pivots just above the rider's temples. From there, they work their way back and down to the large-ish ratchets. The ratchets are also tied to the helmet at the back, by way of a pair of 3-position slots. Adjusting the retention system via these slots (something few seem do) moves the bulk of the system ratchets up and down. On the road, with a chin-up riding position, I find that the middle or highest setting suits me best and keeps the ratchets from digging into the area where my neck meets my skull and the helmet level on my head.

While riding, I can't say that I find the Saros to be noticeably cooler than other helmets I've ridden recently. Don't get me wrong- modern helmets are much better ventilated than those from 5 and 10 years ago. It's just that the Saros isn't noticeably cooler (or warmer) than comparable helmets. My complaints with the Saros all stem from the Roc Loc retention system. While it's possible to finish thee-four hour rides without thinking about the helmet at all, on other rides I have found myself cursed with pressure-induced headaches that simply won't go away. These seem to come from one of two places: the ratchet assembly and eyewear interference.

While the Roc Loc 4 system is well-evolved and its appearance is attractively rakish, the plastic enclosures that house the ratchet mechanisms seem to me to be larger than they need to be. Made out of hard plastic, each has a pointy bit at the bottom that can dig uncomfortably into the back of the neck. Raising the system up using the 3-position slots helps, but doesn't cure the problem completely. I can't help but think that a pared down enclosure, possibly co-molded with a soft-touch material, would help there. It's also no secret that Giro's retention systems can interfere with sunglasses' arms. Rather than introducing short-armed eyewear to correct the problem, it seems that a bit of a dogleg int the forward part of the system would go a long way toward fixing it. Having used the Saros with both Rudy Project and Smith glasses, interference isn't particularly consistent. When it does occur, however, it can be extremely uncomfortable and cause glasses to move all over.

Given its performance on the road, it's clear to me that the Saros/Athlon was really developed with road use in mind. That's not a surprise, given the number of road helmets one can spot on the start line of most NORBA races, but it's not an excuse- building a helmet well suited to off-road use requires a bit more protection at the rear of the head as well as vents and retention systems oriented toward mountain biking's lower speeds and different riding position. With that said, Giro don't pretend the Saros is a mountain helmet and it is to me a good, solid mid-priced road helmet. It's attractive without being flashy and riders who haven't had problems with Giro's retention systems in the past shouldn't have any here. Unlike higher-end helmets, it's not really an object of desire and certainly won't draw many questions at the car park (unless you pick up the ladies' light blue as I did). Riders who have ridden the Pneumo seem to agree with Giro's assertion that the Saros offers better ventilation than its predecessor. Still, I've ridden other helmets that offer noticeably better cooling (albeit at a higher price). At this point, with better-fitting and more adjustable retention systems gaining ground, it seems time for Giro to spend some time reworking their Roc Loc system. It has worked reasonably well for a number of years and it seems that a few minor tweaks could keep it nearer to the front of the pack.

marc

www.giro.com

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