19 May 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Louis Garneau Diamond helmet

Forty vents. Forty. In the ever-escalating ventilation arms race, Louis Garneau have thrown down the gauntlet with their first "pro-level" offering. While the number of vents are what draw attention to Garneau's Diamond helmet, there are other, frankly better reasons to consider the Québécois lid.

When it comes to helmets, it is important to remember their primary function: protecting the rider's head in a crash. Sure, they should fit well, be cool and look cool, but at the end of the day, a helmet is a piece of safety equipment. The point with safety equipment isn't to see how little one can get away with- it's to keep the rider from becoming a vegetable. While it's not heavy at 300g (about the same as a Giro Saros and 50g heavier than an Atmos- far from a burden), when first handling the Diamond, it's hard to escape the helmet's solidity. For some reason, the helmet's relatively compact size, external and internal shells and carbon fiber detailing reinforcement make it feel more solid than competing helmets. And seeing as it's a helmet, that's probably not a bad thing.

In order to puzzle those headline-grabbing forty vents into the Diamond, the company had to come up with an extra solid structure. Garneau use what they call "Super Monocoque Structural Base" technology (essentially a second hard shell at the base of the helmet) to reinforce its perimeter, spread the force of impact, and protect it from handling damage. Similarly, the "Exi-Inserts" are bands of reinforcing shell running front to back about 1/3 of the way to the top of the helmet. Unlike competing helmets, the Diamond does not use reinforcing ribs inside the foam itself.

Garneau's Spiderlock Elite retention system uses single dial to keep the helmet stable and is independent of the straps. It's nothing particularly novel, but it does work well and a wide pad actually makes it the most comfortable of its type that I've tried. The closed cell foam pad can flap around a bit when pulling the helmet on and looks a bit too cheap to be on a $190 helmet- but it is comfortable and height-adjustable. The dial itself is rubberized and easy to use even with bulky winter gloves, making adjustments for different winter and spring hats quick and easy.

When worn, the Diamond sits a bit closer to the head than some helmets. This keeps the wearer from looking like a mushroom, but has a couple of disadvantages. First, it seems to have reduced the amount of space available for internal air flow channels. Second, it may have limited the stylists' ability to make the helmet look sleek. Seeing as the helmet follows the shape of the forehead, the front is pretty round or even blunt looking from some angles. The shape isn't really an issue (all helmets look silly to some extent), but the lack of internal channels seem to keep the Diamond from living up to the promise of its many vents.

Though Garneau claim to have wind tunnel data validating the effectiveness of what they call "Venturi Vents," most of these would have trouble comfortably passing an apple seed by the time they reach the rider's head- making me more than a little skeptical. On one snowy road ride last winter, I did make it home to find the ten front Venturi Vents packed with the white stuff, suggesting that there they are at least drawing some air. Now that temperatures here are up into the low 80s, I'm finding myself wishing for a bit more effective ventilation, especially at the forehead. The Diamond is far from a hot helmet- I just don't find it noticeably cooler than anything else I've ridden in the past couple of years. Breaking up the brow pad seems to help in this department but can let sweat sneak into some riders' eyes.

Though it's not sexy to say so, the Diamond is a very well made, confidence inspiring helmet. It's not going to win any weight competitions- but is that really what we should be looking for? For the next go-around, it might be nice to trade the tiny Venturi Vents for improved internal channeling. With a bit more coverage than other companies' range-toppers, it offers plenty of protection and the Diamond seems like it should last a good long time with normal use. The lack of a visor'd version seems like an oversight- I'd have no qualms about recommending the Garneau for dirt use and would be tempted to make it my full-time XC helmet if it had one. In a neat touch, the black/white version comes with a full sheet of different-colored decals, in order to better coordinate with team kit. At $190, the Diamond isn't cheap, but that's less expensive than a brain injury and the market seems able to bear quite a few helmets in that price range. It's not especially well suited to the hot desert, but in its price range, the Diamond is probably the helmet I'd most want between my head and the pavement.



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