If you want to shave 30 to 60 seconds per hour off your duathlon time, the aerodynamically obsessed say to invest in an aero helmet. An aero helmet smooths the airflow from the front of your head over your back, making you slice through the wind a little bit easier.
But to get those time savings, the helmet has to fit properly for your riding style and bike position. The long-tail helmets, like the Rudy Wingspan (which I have, purchased at a big discount on eBay), work great if you ride in a super-aero position with a flat back and your head positioned just so. (Which I don’t.)
Why? Because the tail has to effectively sit on your back for max aero benefits. If you look down at your Garmin every five minutes or ride with your head tilted to one side, you lose most of the aero benefits. Suddenly, the helmet’s tail becomes a sail. You don’t want a sail in your race.
Another downside: lack of breathability. In a hot race, you have little ventilation, sort of like riding in a car with the windows rolled up. And if you travel to races and plan to ride in the days pre- or post-race, you’ll have to either pack a road helmet or ride around wearing that silly helmet.
The new TT helmets
To mitigate many of the downsides to long-tailed space alien aero helmets, helmet manufacturers started issuing lids without a tail. Using computer technology to analyze airflow, helmet experts found ways to produce comparable aerodynamic benefits without a tail.
These newer helmets still smooth airflow over the head. They also help reduce drag in crosswinds caused by long tails. And they eliminate drag caused by neck fatigue or Garmin obsession. Bonus: they don’t look as silly when you’re on a sightseeing recovery ride the day after a race.
Here are a few new aero helmets that have gotten positive reviews. Since I haven’t worn them, or reviewed them, I’ll leave it to you to do your own research.
The poor man’s TT helmet
If you aren’t worried about a few extra seconds or don’t want to spend a bunch of money on another helmet, you *could* tape the vents in your road helmet. (I’ve done this.) The forums say you’ll get at least a fraction of the benefits of an aero helmet. Maybe you’ll get some funny looks, but so what?
What’s your favorite helmet? Give us your pick and why you like it in the comments below!