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by James Huang
February 13, 2018
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
The Lazer Bullet is the Transformer of the aero road helmet world. Multiple snap-on top panels allow users to configure the ventilation characteristics as needed, there are a slew of add-ons available (including an optical heart rate monitor and head position sensor), and you can open and close vents on the fly. Unfortunately, all of those whiz-bang features can’t hide the fact that the Bullet is not only heavy, but also much warmer than it should be.
Lazer has, up until now, lacked a proper competitor in the aero road helmet market. While the Belgian company says its Z1 all-rounder can reduce drag relative to some other helmets when the snap-on Aeroshell is attached, UCI technical rules require that the shell essentially be a permanent fixture; it cannot be rider removable.
Given that the Aeroshell seals off all of the Z1’s vents, that means Lazer-sponsored riders would either have to switch helmets in the middle of a race if things get hot, risking potential disqualification under UCI rule 18.104.22.168.3, or just deal with the heat for the duration.
The Bullet instead aims to be the best of both worlds, built with a slippery teardrop-like shape, a handful of vents in strategic locations, and a smooth exterior free of sharp edges and just-for-show filigree. The trim profile sits close to the rider’s head (at least in terms of the frontal view), and Lazer has passed over its long-standing Rollsys retention system design for a more conventional setup that moves the hardware to the back of the head, safely out of the wind.
Lazer had already made some aero claims on its Z1 all-round model (at right), at least when the optional Aeroshell cover was installed. That snap-on cap obscured nearly all of the Z1’s 31 vents, however, and UCI rules dictate that riders in sanctioned events cannot legally remove the cover if conditions warm up.
Up top are two plastic panels that can be interchanged as needed. The vented options are recommended for everyday use, with a nifty “Air Slide” front section that can be opened and closed on the fly. For maximum aero effect, there are two other panels that are completely devoid of openings; all four panels are included.
The claimed aerodynamic benefits are certainly enticing. According to Lazer, the Bullet’s vented configuration saves 7 watts of rider effort at 45km/h as compared to the Z1, or up to 10W in a full sprint. With the two solid panels in place, that advantage increases another 5-6 watts. Sound too good to be true? Perhaps, but keep in mind that the Z1 is fully vented, and certainly wasn’t designed to minimize drag. Horses for courses, or something along those lines.
The forward “Air Slide” panel can be moved up and down as necessary, revealing a big vent right up front.
Aero claims aside, the Bullet’s designers have clearly gone to lengths to ensure that it’s no one-trick pony. A pocket inside the front of the helmet accommodates LifeBEAM’s neat optical heart rate monitor, and matching sockets at the rear of the helmet are in place to hold the requisite electronics box with its rechargeable battery and Bluetooth wireless transmitter. If you’re more keenly interested in helping maintain a properly speedy head position, those rear sockets can instead accept Lazer’s novel Inclination Sensor, which will emit an audible alert if you stray too far away from your designated helmet angle — sort of like having Marc Madiot in a follow car to keep you on track, but without the yelling.
Racers competing in UCI-sanctioned events should keep in mind that such add-ons aren’t technically legal, however. While Lazer has confirmed that the LifeBEAM heart rate sensor has been used in competition before, UCI article 1.3.031 states that “The use of mechanical or electronic systems in or on the helmet is also prohibited.”
Lazer offers the standard Bullet in eight different colors and four sizes, and further aesthetic customization is available by purchasing additional plastic panels. A MIPS-equipped version is also available in three colors. Retail prices are US$260 / AU$400 / £200 / €250 and US$290 / AU$430 / £220 / €300, respectively.
I didn’t take the Bullet into a wind tunnel or do any extensive real-world drag experiments to verify Lazer’s aerodynamic claims, so for now, I have no choice but to take those claims at face value. With that said, the company-supplied numbers alone will be enough to pull some riders into the fold, especially for those that are already fans of other Lazer helmets. The Bullet is comfortable to wear, the height-adjustable retention system holds tight, and the helmet sits close to your head for a pleasantly low-profile look.
However, I don’t find any of that sufficiently compelling to choose the Bullet over other aero road helmets currently on the market.
The Bullet is a good-looking helmet, with a trim frontal profile and a mostly smooth exterior. Photo: Caley Fretz.
Lazer makes a big deal about the ventilation performance of the Bullet, and while there’s indeed a difference in airflow when the Air Slide is opened or closed, the change is subtle at best. The Air Slide’s clever louvered design presents a big vent right up front — a location most helmet companies agree is most effective — but there is a complete absence of open channeling behind it. It’s akin to the window screens on a house: air can obviously get through the meshy material on the outside, but if the windows are still closed, the house isn’t going to cool down.
The Air Slide panel itself is also hard to operate — there’s too much friction and nowhere for your fingers to consistently grab hold. And when swapping between the different panels, I never got over the sensation that I was about to break something.
The front vent of the Lazer Bullet is pretty big when opened, but without any internal channeling behind it, incoming air has nowhere to go.
Curiously, Bullet’s side vents have some internal channeling behind them, but that doesn’t do anything for the front and top of your head. And even stranger is the designated airflow pathway for the uppermost vent. That air clearly has a way to flow through and out of the Bullet, but it’s wholly encased within the helmet’s EPS foam liner; that air never actually comes into contact with the rider.
I’ve used various Lazer helmets for years, and for whatever reason, the concept of internal channeling has consistently escaped the brand’s designers despite the fact that every other major helmet brand has overwhelmingly proven its worth. Even the flagship Z1 all-rounder isn’t nearly as cool as looks would suggest. There may be a whopping 31 ports on that model, but without channeling to promote flow-through ventilation, they’re much better for passive convective cooling (i.e. letting heat escape at lower speeds) than actively funneling air across your head.
There’s a similar lack of channeling up around the forehead area. It doesn’t take long at all before the area gets saturated with sweat and starts dripping down into your sunglasses.
Airflow around the forehead area of the Bullet is particularly poor. Even in cooler conditions — such as a recent ride I did, where it was barely above freezing — sweat readily accumulates, and then unceremoniously drips down into your face and glasses once the pad becomes saturated, which doesn’t take long.
“The Bullet is designed to provide as much aerodynamic benefit without totally sacrificing the ability for airflow through the helmet,” explained Chris Smith of Lazer Sport USA. “When installed, the top vent is there to provide the ability for heat from the head to escape out the top of the helmet rather than creating an airflow opportunity.”
Adding insult to injury is the fact that there’s no good place to stash your sunglasses if you want to keep them dry. The lower front ports aren’t positioned well for the purpose, and the bulky retention system cradle makes for less-than-secure stowage if you try to place glasses on the back of your head.
Speaking of the retention system, it does an excellent job of keeping the helmet from moving about, but it’s also bigger than necessary. No matter how I adjusted it, the edges of the cradle come too far forward on my head, interfering with many of the sunglass models I tried during the test period.
“The Lazer ATS retention system does interfere with some long temple eyewear; we have also seen this issue with our ARS system used on the Lazer Z1 as well as the retention system used on other helmet brands,” said Smith. “Our feeling is that many eyewear companies that make general sport eyewear have not taken into account how their eyewear might be used with a bicycle helmets, and therefore have not made an adjustment in the length or shape of their eyewear temples. This is something that we have taken into account when we designed the Lazer eyewear line.”
The retention system is very comfortable on your head and the dial is easy to adjust. However, the cradle comes too far forward on your head and often interferes with sunglass arms.
It’s a good thing the cradle holds tight given the Bullet’s bulk. Actual weight on my small-sized, CPSC-approved sample is a chunky 346g — 93g heavier than a Bontrager Ballista of the same size, 78g heavier than Specialized’s new S-Works Evade II, and 73g heavier than the Giro Vanquish. It’s not a huge difference in absolute terms, but a big increase percentage-wise. More importantly, that extra heft is genuinely noticeable, especially on longer rides as your neck fatigues.
It almost seems overly nitpicky to even bring up my final complaint, but given the Bullet’s other shortcomings, it’s almost fitting that it punctuated every single ride. For whatever reason, the buckle is stubbornly resistant to release, and requires an unusually firm squeeze before the two halves part ways. Lazer insists it’s the same buckle used on the Z1, so I’m at a loss to explain the discrepancy.
I really wanted to like the Bullet. I admire the company’s Belgian roots, there are people that work there whom I consider friends, and the concept has a lot of merit. But while other companies have continued to advance forward, I can’t get over the feeling that Lazer is stuck in the past. The concept of the Bullet holds a lot of promise, but it’s heavy, hot, and expensive in practice. Given how many other truly excellent aero road options are already out there, it’s hard for me to find a compelling reason to choose this one.
The upper panels are interchangeable to suit the desired ventilation (and drag) needs.
Unlike the Kask Infinity, which uses a similar sliding-panel concept, the Lazer Bullet’s Air Slide mechanism opens up the entire front of the helmet thanks to the novel louvered mechanism.
All of that extra plastic adds a lot of weight, however, along with added cost and complexity.
For maximum aero gains, there are also two solid panels included for when ventilation isn’t as big a concern.
The rear of the Lazer Bullet leaves the back of your head quite exposed, which raises questions about how effective it might be in certain crash situations. Photo: Caley Fretz.
The side vents are left open all the time on the Lazer Bullet, but they’re only modestly effective at keeping your head cool.
The pocket at the front of the helmet is sized for LifeBEAM’s optical heart rate sensor.
The rear of the Lazer Bullet has ports for plugging in the electronics box of LifeBEAM’s optical heart rate sensor. You could also attach Lazer’s Inclination Sensor here, too.
Some channeling is featured around the side vents, but the design isn’t very sophisticated. Overall, the Lazer Bullet feels very warm.
I found this area of the Lazer Bullet to be especially curious. When the vented top panel is in place, incoming air is channeled through these two ports…
…but there’s no opening to rider’s head so there’s no cooling effect as a result. It perhaps helps to reduce drag, though.
Lazer equips the Bullet with slimline webbing, but the sliders don’t lock in place and the buckle is oddly stubborn to release.
The concept of internal channeling eludes most of the Lazer range. The top-end Z1 all-around road model is riddled with vents, but the incoming air doesn’t really have anywhere to go.