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First Ride: Bell’s new Zephyr helmet

WILDHAUS, Switzerland (VN) — Sharp eyes saw LottoNL  – Jumbo riders sporting a new Bell helmet at the 2016 Tour de France, and now it’s coming to market: The Zephyr is Bell’s top of the line road helmet, and it’s packed with some pretty impressive features from a new MIPS system to a bifurcated construction that consists of an outer shell and an inner shell. Best of all, it’s comfortable, vents exceptionally well, and has more adjustability than any Bell helmet we’ve tried before.

Perhaps the most notable feature of Bell’s new road helmet is the Float Fit Race retention system, which is integrated directly with the MIPS system. That essentially means the retention system snugs up around your head more comfortably, and with less material coming in contact with your noggin. It’s a pretty wispy harness; the Float Fit Race retention system allows for plenty of venting. The occipital pads — the parts that comes in contact with the back of your head — are adjustable too so you can customize the fit even further.

The dial micro-adjusts snugness, and there are a full 22 millimeters of up and down adjustment, indicated by four stops. And the dial is separated from the occipital pads so it doesn’t press up against your head, a nice comfort detail that eliminates a possible pressure point.

The other big design change is the bifurcated construction. There are essentially two helmets in the Zephyr: The outer piece is a high-density EPS foam with a polycarbonate outer shell, and the inner piece is a lower-density, softer EPS foam, also fitted to a polycarbonate shell. The two pieces are then mated using both a cutout and tab, and 3M epoxy. Sean Coffey, category manager for Bell, said, “In terms of energy management, this is the best helmet we can make.”

If you’ve ridden Bell helmets in the past, you’ll find the Zephyr’s fit to be mostly familiar, but the aesthetics are a departure. Bell is using a new head form to create the Zephyr to make the helmet lower-profile and rounder. It weighs in at 280 grams for a size medium, and at $230, it’s priced similarly to its high-end brethren. Lazer’s Z1 helmet is one of the lightest MIPS helmets we’ve worn at around 200 grams, but it is about $310.

First Ride

Bell wasn’t shy about putting the screws to us on our test ride — 75 miles in the mountains of Switzerland were more than enough to give me a feel for this helmet, and as a sworn Giro guy (Giro’s helmets tend to fit my head better), I was impressed with the Zephyr’s head-hugging fit. The best helmets are the ones that disappear from your consciousness while you’re riding, and the Zephyr comes close to that.

I adjusted the dial several times during the ride because it felt like it was loosening, but keep in mind I have a lot of hair. It’s possible my hair was just getting flatter as the ride went on, so a quick click of the dial took care of things. I ended up adjusting the occipital pads outward before the ride, then clicking each one inward about halfway through the ride. I didn’t think about them again for the rest of the day.

Aesthetically, the Zephyr reminds me a lot of Giro’s Synthe, which is a good thing. It’s super-sleek without looking aero-dorky. The vents are plenty large, and airflow through the helmet was noticeable.

Bell added a nice touch to the forehead pad, which extends forward as a tab toward the nose of the helmet. That tab collects sweat and helps it drip away from your face so it doesn’t hit your sunglasses. I didn’t notice this until about mile 70 while I was grinding up the final 20-minute climb of the day; lo and behold, the sweat was dripping off the helmet in front of my glasses instead of on them. Cool.

The Zephyr may not be the lightest lid, but for an all-day ride, especially in hot weather, it is a great choice.

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