If you read any cycling tips or spend time at races you will notice quickly that having an aero helmet is highlighted as a way to improve your cycling times. But is an aero helmet really worth the cost?
It is widely accepted that an aero helmet is one of the most effective pieces of gear available. Granted you have to wear it correctly and stay in an aero position, but there are multiple studies that show the impact of aero helmets over regular ones (Study 1, Study 2, Study 3).
After hearing about this we personally went out an bought one of the lowest cost aero helmets available on Amazon. While there were tons of other factors involved, this one one of the new pieces of gear worn in a recent Olympic distance triathlon which resulted in a 23 minute bike leg improvement over past attempts on the same course.
You do NOT need an aero helmet to enter a cycling race or triathlon. We’re big fans of not overthinking your first triathlon anyways. Read our article on how to approach a triathlon with minimal gear and training. That said, they look fast, function well, and can be an easy way to make riding more efficient.
Riding with the SLS3 was fine. The helmet straps are easy to snap on and putting it on in transition did not add any time compared to a regular helmet.
One nice feature of the helmet was the included face plate that attaches via magnets. Since most aero riding is done of less bumpy terrain this also worked great. We never had an issue with the face plate falling off. Compared to wearing sunglass we also much prefer the face plate as there is no room arms of the lenses to try to cram under helmet straps.
From a padding and fit perceptive the helmet also melted away once on for a few minutes. The sign of a good helmet is that it shouldn’t hinder movement or really feel like you are wearing anything. If you notice rubbing or spots on the helmet they can become an issue over the 1-5 hours of using a helmet in a triathlon. For the SLS3 there were no issues.
Issues with Aero Helmet Fit – Lenses for SLS3
We only had one small issue with the SLS3 helmet, and it is one that another reviewer called out as well. The issue is the tinted lens. Coverage provided by the snap on lenses is significant, but this also means you need to get precisely the right fit over the bridge of the nose. Any problem here gets worse as the edge of the plastic cuts into your nose. We fixed this with a small piece of electrical tape.
The other problem was on the coloring, or rather the tint which is great in sunlight but in foggy or low light conditions does impact visibility. Unfortunately although the magnetic snap on design would lend itself to having other options that you could swap out on demand, SLS3 does not make any other styles or colors currently. It is possible to fashion one on your own, maybe by taking a non tinted lens and adhering magnets in the appropriate place, but unless you want to go full DIY you are stuck with the tinted option.
If you do want to avoid the provided lenses, then you can simply leave it off and instead opt for your own riding glasses. This is a great option though admittedly may have some impact on the aero benefits.
How Much Difference Can an Aero Helmet Make?
Aero helmets are designed to reduce drag, which can make a significant difference in your speed, especially when riding into a headwind. In a wind tunnel test, an aero helmet can reduce drag by up to 15% compared to a standard road helmet. This can translate into a speed difference of up to 30 seconds per kilometer at 40 kilometers per hour.
Quite simply, a helmet is one of the most effective pieces of aero gear you can get.
Of course, the amount of benefit you’ll get from an aero helmet will depend on a number of factors, including your riding position, the wind conditions, and the type of helmet you choose. But if you’re serious about cycling performance, an aero helmet is a worthwhile investment.
We assume for these purposes that the helmet actually does it’s primary job of protecting in a crash. In the US at least there are standards of manufacturing that sellers have to adhere to in order to make safety claims. But as with anything, make sure you are actually getting a helmet from a reputable manufacturer. Speed gains will not matter if the helmet fails when you need it to do it’s primary job.
For the most part the benefits of an aero helmet are singular:
- Reduced drag: Aero helmets are designed to reduce drag, which can make a significant difference in your speed, especially when riding into a headwind. The average speed of a ride will increase the impact of improved aerodynamics. At
There are of course some drawbacks of using an aero helmet that should also be considered
- Increased weight: Aero helmets can be heavier than alternate helmets. This should make less difference on a flat course (where an aerodynamics matter more) than on a climb.
- Reduced ventilation: Some aero helmets have less ventilation than others, this is because the ventilation changes the flow and aerodynamics. Since internal body temperature can increase heart rate and effort, on a hot day the differences in being aero may be outdone by the impact in effort.
- Increased cost: Aero helmets typically cost more than standard road helmets. For riders who are on a budget too, an aero helmet may not be practical since it can be less comfortable or viable for day to day riding.
- Fit and Comfort: As with any helmet the way it sits on your head and the position you must keep your head in can be annoying on a personal level. We had no problems with the SLS3, other than the above notes about the face shield.
If you’re concerned about weight, ventilation, or cost, an aero helmet may not be the best option for you. For anyone who only wants to have a single helmet, the benefits of an aero one may be more of a drawback in day to day training and riding. So, if you only get one helmet a semi-aero road helmet will have many of the same benefits without much of the drawbacks for daily riding. But if you’re looking for a helmet that will help you go faster, an aero helmet is a great option.