Giro Vanquish MIPS aero road helmet first-ride review

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Giro kickstarted the aero road helmet movement when it resurrected the Air Attack moniker in 2012. The smooth exterior, close-cut tail, and nearly vent-free design was unquestionably polarizing back then, but five years later, it doesn’t look nearly as odd amidst the growing sea of similar aero-inspired lids.

With more powerful development tools now in hand, Giro is addressing the shortcomings of the Air Attack with an even more aerodynamic — and far better ventilated — model called the Vanquish MIPS. The BMC Racing Team has been using the Vanquish MIPS for much of this season already, and CyclingTips US technical editor James Huang can now give his firsthand impressions of Giro’s latest creation, too.

Riding off a cliff

The new Vanquish MIPS shares a number of characteristics with other aero road helmets, in particular a mostly smooth exterior, a close-fitting and highly tapered profile, and a short, squared-off tail. What Giro says sets the Vanquish MIPS apart, however, is its “aerodynamic cliff”: a small step that runs across the width of the helmet, and supposedly tricks flowing air into thinking the helmet is nearly as long as a full-blown time trial lid (but without the need to maintain a perfect head position to retain that aerodynamic performance).

In terms of wind tunnel testing, Giro claims the Vanquish MIPS is not only more aerodynamically efficient than both the old Air Attack and the Synthe MIPS — to the tune of 5-10 seconds and 18-20 seconds, respectively, over a 40km-long time trial — but Specialized’s ultra-slippery S-Works Evade, the MET Manta, and the Bontrager Ballista as well.

Giro Vanquish MIPS
The back of the Vanquish MIPS is sharply squared off. According to Giro, the small step that runs across the width of the helmet makes the helmet behave like a much longer helmet in the wind tunnel.

Perhaps more importantly from an everyday-use standpoint, Giro also claims that the Vanquish MIPS handily beats the Evade, Manta, Ballista, and Air Attack in terms of cooling efficiency, trailing the Synthe MIPS by just a hair in the company’s in-house testing. Whereas the old Air Attack had just a couple of small slits in the front of the helmet, the Vanquish MIPS not only doubles that number, but increases the size of the vents, too. Deep internal channeling helps guide incoming air across the rider’s head before exiting out the back through six exhaust ports.

Four generously sized indentations are also positioned on the underside of the front of the helmet — in between the expanded polystyrene liner and your forehead — to help bring in more cooling air, especially around the browpad to help prevent sweat from dripping down into your face.

Like the Air Attack, the Vanquish MIPS also incorporates an integrated shield, which conveniently attaches via an array of embedded magnets (and can be stored up and out of the way by a second set of hidden magnets). The so-called Vivid Optics tint — developed for Giro by Zeiss — filters out “bad” wavelengths of blue light to enhance contrast and color definition. Not surprisingly, Giro says that wearing the shield marginally improves the Vanquish MIPS’ aerodynamic performance. However, what is surprising is that ventilation performance supposedly is better with the shield installed, too. Of course, the helmet works perfectly well with standard sunglasses, too.

Giro Vanquish MIPS
The shield attaches with embedded magnets. Optical quality on the Zeiss-designed lens is superb.

Riders these days are paying more attention to safety than ever before, and it’s refreshing to see that Giro hasn’t merely glossed over that aspect in developing the Vanquish MIPS. As the name suggests, a low-friction MIPS liner is included as standard equipment, with the claimed benefit of reducing rotational forces transmitted to the brain — and, thus, the chances of a traumatic brain injury — during an impact. That MIPS liner is molded as a single piece with the Roc Loc Air retention system to improve fit quality and airflow.

Additionally, Giro builds each Vanquish MIPS helmet with a dual-layer EPS foam liner, with a softer-density foam next to the head and a harder, more durable foam further out near the four-piece polycarbonate shell. According to Giro, this double-layer design is better at absorbing impact energy from a wider range of crash severities than any single-density design.

Other features include lightweight webbing with low-profile tai-glides to keep the straps neatly tucked against the side of your head, eyewear grippers to help secure sunglasses that are stashed into the forward vents, and antimicrobial padding.

Giro Vanquish MIPS
The shape of the Vanquish MIPS is compact and highly tapered toward the rear.

Six colors and three sizes will be offered when the helmet begins shipping in December, and claimed weight on a medium sample is 305g (plus another 50g for the shield) or 273g for a size small — about 35g heavier than a current Synthe MIPS.

Retail price is US$275 / AU$TBC / £250 / €300, plus US$55-60 / AU$TBC / £TBC / €55-60 for additional shield tints.

Riding up a mountain

I’ve only been able to sample the new Giro Vanquish MIPS helmet on a single ride so far, although with 130km (81 miles) of distance, a substantial 1,200m (4,000ft) of climbing — nearly all of which came in a single ascent at the ride’s halfway point — and warm, humid temperatures that hovered around 29°C (84°F), there was still opportunity to get a good feel for how it would perform over a longer period.

While it’s impossible to judge a helmet’s aerodynamic performance during a single ride like that, there’s little question that the Vanquish MIPS is far better ventilated than the old Air Attack (and, at least in my opinion, much better looking, too).

Giro Vanquish MIPS
The Roc Loc Air retention system is molded as a single piece with the MIPS low-friction liner. The design supposedly retains the MIPS liner’s ability to decrease the incidence of traumatic brain injuries while also improving airflow through the inside of the polystyrene liner.

As I anticipated, there was a steady — and generous — rush of air streaming into, through, and out of the helmet and that proved supremely effective at keeping my head cool. What I didn’t expect, however, was how well the helmet worked when going much slower. Despite a low speed of about 16km/h (10mph) and strong sunlight for the lower sections of the climb, exactly one drop of sweat dripped down on to the inside of the shield, and I stayed surprisingly comfortable temperature-wise throughout.

True to claims, ventilation performance seemed better with the shield in place than stowed, too (perhaps due to the fact that doing so partially obscures the forward-facing vents).

Speaking of the shield, it’s perhaps worth noting that this was the first time I’d donned a helmet-mounted lens that I actually liked. The field of view is expansive both above and off to the sides, there’s almost no distortion — my biggest complaint with other shields I’ve tried — and the fancy Zeiss tint seemed to work as advertised. Lighting conditions that day ranged from bright sun to heavily overcast skies, and the standard grey tint was perfectly agreeable throughout.

Most impressive was the fact that the inside of the lens didn’t fog at all, with credit likely going to the two vents at the upper edge of the lens (and another two on the sides) that let plenty of air through to keep things clear. In fact, I found that aspect of the shield’s performance to actually surpass standard sunglasses. But on the flip side, I also felt more air on my eyes (which could create some problems for sensitive contact lens wearers), and I never quite got over the feeling that I was standing inside a polycarbonate bubble.

There’s also the matter of the shield’s aesthetics: fast or not, the look certainly takes some getting used to, and it remains to be seen if the style becomes less radical-looking over time.

Either way, I’m not ready to hang out my sunglasses just yet.

Giro Vanquish MIPS
When not in use, the shield can be stored upside-down with a second set of embedded magnets. Doing so partially blocks the forward vents, though, and has a noticeable negative effect on airflow through the helmet.

In terms of general comfort, the Vanquish MIPS is a win. The neatly integrated MIPS liner adds no extra bulk to the inside of the helmet as compared to other small-sized Giro helmets I’ve worn in the past, the Roc Loc Air retention system holds securely without clamping down too tightly on your scalp, and it was only toward the end of the 4 1/2-hour ride that I noticed any strain in my neck from holding my head upright.

I can’t say yet whether the Vanquish MIPS is sufficiently cool and comfortable for me to use it as an everyday helmet in all conditions — and in fairness, Giro characterizes it as “part of an arsenal” as opposed to an ideal do-everything lid — but initial impressions suggest that it may come closer to filling that role than most other aero road helmets I’ve tried in the past.

In the meantime, riders in the market for a new top-end aero road helmet who have historically fit well in Giro head forms may want to wait until December before making a decision. Time will tell if the Vanquish MIPS is truly as good as Giro claims, but at the very least, it certainly seems well worth considering.

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