Rudy Project Spectrum helmet review: Moving closer to the big leagues
Rudy Project was long known as a discount brand. Although its catalog of helmets and sunglasses has always been impressively large, everything was also always on sale. Moreover, its products seemed to suffer from that bargain reputation with odd styling and overall performance that lagged behind the competition — count me as one of those who was rarely impressed.
Those perpetual discounts and BOGO deals are thankfully now gone, and in their place sit more logical price points and a product line that looks decidedly more mature.
Included in the rebirth of the brand is the Spectrum, a helmet that Rudy Project bills as an aero model, but doesn’t provide any data to support the claim. Nevertheless, it looks the part, built with a snazzy-looking three-piece polycarbonate shell and in-molded expanded polystyrene liner. Fifteen “flow through” vents are strategically positioned so that incoming air can, well, flow cleanly through the interior of the helmet and then out the rear exhaust ports for efficient cooling at speed.
Out back is a dial-operated retention system with height adjustment, and inside is Rudy Project’s trademark bug-net pad set (with a second set of non-netted pads included). Thinline webbing is used throughout, and the sliders have simple locking hooks built into the design.
Actual weight for my medium sample is 290 grams. Rudy Project offers the Spectrum in three sizes and up to eight colors, depending on region, but none are offered with a MIPS low-friction liner. Retail price is US$260 / £208 / €230. The Spectrum is not currently offered in Australia.
On the road
I should first mention here that this is not only one of the best-looking Rudy Project helmets I’ve come across, but a very good-looking helmet, period. Indeed, the company’s design has clearly matured recently, and the Spectrum looks and feels like a more premium lid.
It’s very good comfort-wise, too. The overall shape is slightly more on on the round, rather than ovoid, side of things, but it’s still a pretty neutral shape that should agree with most riders whose heads sit reasonably within the meat of the bell curve. Both pad sets provide a cushy and luxurious feel (the bug net-equipped version a bit more so), the retention system is nicely shaped and decently soft, and the thin webbing sits nicely against the sides of your face. Good marks all around here.
Ventilation performance is pretty good, too, with plenty of air noticeably passing through the upper sides of the interior at medium-to-higher speeds. The brow vent actually seems to work, too. Low-speed ventilation leaves something to be desired, although that’s to be expected given the partially covered exterior — the two vents up top help, but not enough in that situation. Riders in particularly hot and humid climates that regularly tackle slow and steep climbs will invariably want to use something with a more open design.
Without any obvious mechanism to keep sweat from pouring down the front of your face, I expected the Spectrum to perform pretty poorly in this area, but I was somewhat surprised here. The Spectrum is hardly one of the best helmets I’ve experienced in this department — the Bell Zephyr/Z20 is still tops in my book by a long way, followed by the Specialized S-Works Prevail II — but it’s better than I’d expected, and oddly enough, it was the bug net version of the padding that I ended up preferring.
I normally pass over bug net-equipped padding when given the option; bugs aren’t that big of a deal here in Colorado, and for helmets that have better interior channeling, I usually find that the ones that do find their way in are more likely to get shot out the other side, anyway. But in this instance, I found that the netting seemed to help pull moisture away from the main part of the padding for more efficient evaporation. It was generally only at lower speeds and higher exertion levels that I was bothered by perspiration dripping on to my sunglass lenses (although once the padding became saturated, it was definitely game over).
Is the Spectrum actually aero? Who knows, and as mentioned earlier, the company doesn’t provide anything to support the claim other than the usual marketing spiel. Regardless, I picked up on a bonus feature that I typically only associate with models that are more keenly focused on saving watts. Whereas I’d normally be bothered by persistent wind noise on the longer and faster descents that litter this area of Colorado, the Spectrum was refreshingly quiet, which not only helped with my sanity, but also made it easier to hear motor vehicle traffic coming up from behind.
Downsides on the Spectrum are few in number, but unfortunately noteworthy. The biggest negative is that Rudy Project doesn’t offer the Spectrum with a MIPS low-friction liner, or any sort of equivalent. Although there’s still hardly universal agreement that those sorts of things reduce the incidence of traumatic brain injuries, there’s at least more supporting data than anything that refutes it, and perhaps more importantly, low-friction liners have rapidly become practically must-have features for a lot of buyers. Get on it, Rudy Project.
Another challenge is the Spectrum’s price. Although hardly outlandish, Rudy Project has plenty of company at this price range, with many of those competitors making a more compelling argument. At least in the US, the Giro Synthe MIPS and Specialized S-Works Prevail II are both within spitting distance of the Spectrum in terms of cost, and both offer significant advantages in various areas of performance and/or perceived safety.
The Spectrum still stands out what with its more distinctive styling, and depending on where you, the availability of a bug net will be a major draw. But while Rudy Project has clearly made some big strides recently, just being good isn’t quite good enough these days.