A Tale of Three Helmets

From Left to Right: The old standby Trek Sonic Elite, the Rudy Project Sterling and Rudy Project Windmax. Also shown are my well-loved Specialized optics and the sweet bag Rudy ships the helmets with.

Trek Sonic Elite

My favorite helmet of all time is the Trek Sonic Elite I bought several years ago.  Somehow, despite its relatively mid-range price and performance, it was perfect for me.  It fit right, it looked good, it was adjustable enough and seemed to last well.  It will be my standard against which all of my future helmets will be judged.

Two years ago, I joined the Red Jacket Cycling Team, and we are sponsored by Rudy Project.  Since I love my Specialized optics too much to replace them (even with a sweet team discount, a replacement pair of photochromic optics are well over $100), I picked up a Sterling helmet.

Rudy Project Sterling

The Sterling has a very different fit than the Sonic Elite.  Rather than sitting on your head, it seems to fit around your head.  It’s a very secure-feeling helmet.  It looks pretty good too.  For two years, it kept my melon nicely protected.  The fit was never quite as great as the Sonic Elite, but it was pretty close.  The exposed frame bits that are apparently structural elements are supposed to be a place to stick your glasses when they’re not on your face.  They don’t work very well to hold the Specialized frames, but if you stick the glasses in the vents, they are very secure.  On really hot days, I would end up with sweat just pouring down my head, because the pads were very absorbent (until you squeeze them).  Other riders with that helmet occasionally complained that the bug net was too hot, but I never felt that way.  In general, I really liked the helmet.  It was fun to wear the same helmet as the Liquigas pro cycling team and to wear something different than the huge number of Giro and Bell helmets that largely populated the heads of most of the riders in the area.  I don’t know if I smacked my head during a crash in a cyclocross race  or not, but I figured the two years of heavy use made the Sterling ready for replacement anyways.  (It may get retired as my commuting helmet instead.)

One complaint many reviewers had about the Sterling was its weight, especially given its price.  For a helmet that clocks in at $230 retail, 349 grams is pretty chubby.  The $250 Giro Aeon only weighs 222 grams.  I seem to recall reading an article by someone at Rudy suggesting that many of these new helmets may be sacrificing safety to achieve low weights.  It seems odd that they would subsequently come out with a lightweight helmet in the Windmax.

Rudy Project Windmax

For its introduction, Rudy Project was offering a tremendous deal for sponsored athletes ($120 for a $300 helmet!).  After four years of white helmets, I got one in black instead.  It arrived just in time for CX Nationals and I got to wear it then.  It’s hard to judge the weight and airflow characteristics of a helmet when you’ve got a hat on underneath it.  I didn’t ride much again until mid-March, but then got some chances to ride without the hat.  There have been a couple of 90 degree days that I’ve gotten to wear it and it’s fantastic.  It feels like you’re not wearing anything.  It’s definitely lightweight and very well vented.  I think it looks a little better than the Sterling.  It fits more like the Sonic Elite in how it sits on your head.  In terms of sizing, it’s much more similar to the Sterling than the Sonic.  I’ve heard a few people complain about the adjustability of the straps, but I found them to be very easy to adjust to a better, more comfortable fit than I’ve found in any other helmet, ever.  I only have one complaint about the Windmax: it’s pretty much impossible for me to stick my sunglasses in the vents comfortably.  Cycling News has a picture of Ivan Basso at the Giro with his Rudy Project glasses stuck in the vents of his Windmax and they stick out the same way mine do.  If you push them in farther, they poke into your head.

Ivan Basso and his Windmax at the 2012 Giro

So the Windmax isn’t perfect.  It’s lighter and more comfortable than the Sonic Elite, but the whole sunglasses thing is a bit of a downer for a $300 helmet.  Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault with it.  (It even lacks one of the ridiculous Rudy Project names.  Seriously, the youth helmet is called the “Fyol.”)

Three Helmets

So there you have it.  Three helmets over the last 5 years.  The Trek Sonic Elite, a fantastic budget helmet that remains my overall favorite, at least when you take cost into account as well.  If I wasn’t a Rudy-sponsored athlete, I would almost certainly be looking into some of the new Bontrager helmets.  The Rudy Project Sterling is a great helmet for people who want a secure, “all-over” fit that works for both road and mountain riding.  It’s only flaw is that it’s a bit portly.  The Windmax is everything a $300 helmet ought to be: lightweight, good-looking and incredibly well-ventilated.  If you usually stick your glasses in the vents, you might need to figure something else out or settle for some imperfect solutions.

It’s always worth noting that the fancier Rudy Project helmets come with a sweet bag for the helmet too, which is a neat bonus.

I’m super happy and proud to be a Rudy Project athlete.  I just bought a Rudy visor for the triathlon I’m training for so I can be a Rudy athlete during the run too.  The only reason I’m a little hard on the Sterling and the Windmax is that they are so close to being 100% awesome.  But I’ll take a 95% awesome helmet that actually exists as opposed to a mythical 100% awesome helmet.


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