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by James Huang
November 17, 2020
Photography by James Huang
Giro made a big splash two years ago when it introduced its Aether flagship road helmet, together with its innovative MIPS Spherical safety technology. That helmet was light, airy, and looked good, but also sat at the very upper end of the pricing spectrum. With the release of the new Helios, though, Giro has now brought that same safety technology down in price so that it can be accessed by more riders. It still isn’t cheap, but it’s a very good helmet all on its own, and certainly the beginning of a trend we’d very much like to see continue.
First and foremost, why should you care about MIPS Spherical, anyway? MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, originally consisted of a thin layer of yellow plastic that sat in between your head and the helmet. According to MIPS, that layer allows the helmet to rotate a little more independently of your head during a crash to reduce the likelihood of a closed-head brain injury. The system has evolved significantly since it first hit the bicycle market in 2013, but every version still sat between the rider’s head and the helmet liner.
The MIPS Spherical concept essentially comprises two helmets nested one inside the other.
With the Aether, Giro moved that MIPS shear layer to the interior of the helmet, essentially creating a nested helmet-within-a-helmet design and a ball-and-socket layout that the two layers can rotate around. Because the boundary between the two layers doesn’t change with rider head size or shape, the theory is that it should help the system work more consistently and predictably in a crash. And by removing all that extra complication next to your scalp, Giro says it was also able to improve helmet comfort and ventilation performance. Riders with longer locks will be happy to hear that MIPS Spherical eliminates the risk of snagging your hair, too.
Such a design obviously adds a lot of complexity, though, and a lot of cost. Aether retails for US$325 / AU$475 / £269 / €299. But the new Helios? US$250/ AU$399 / £229 / €250.
Giro obviously wasn’t just going to toss some different clothes on to the Aether and then toss a lower price on it; there are some fundamental differences, too.
Not surprisingly, while both helmets are still more complicated to produce than a more conventional lid, the Helios Spherical is much simpler to manufacture than the Aether. Whereas the former uses a single polycarbonate shell for each of the two helmet layers, Aether is built with six separate pieces for the outer shell alone. Helios Spherical also does without Aether’s fancy “Aura Reinforcing Arch” polycarbonate bridges that help tie the whole exterior together, although it shares the Aether’s dual-density “progressive layering” EPS foam liner concept that supposedly does a better job of handling both slow- and high-speed impacts.
The Giro Helios Spherical is a fair bit less expensive than the Aether, but I’m not sure you can make the blanket statement that it isn’t as good.
Out back, Giro equips the Helios Spherical with a Roc Loc 5 retention system that offers four height positions and a convenient knurled plastic knob to tune the circumference. For most people, it’ll feel the same as the Roc Loc 5+ cradle used on the Aether, but some might miss the lateral adjustment on the occipital pads.
Also omitted on the Helios Spherical are the little gripper pads Giro adds to the forward vents of the Aether to help keep stashed eyewear in place. Truth be told, though, I’m not sure how many people will actually miss them since I never found them to work that well, anyway.
Helios Spherical actually has more vents than the Aether — 15 instead of 11 — but that doesn’t really tell the full story. One consequence of the Helio Spherical’s simplified construction is that the internal channeling is less comprehensive than on the Aether. Air can still flow through the interior of the Helios Spherical, but the pathways are smaller and more constricted than they are on the Aether.
The Giro Helios Spherical has more vents than the Aether, but there’s a lot more to how well a helmet keeps you cool than how many holes are in the shell.
Helios Spherical has an advantage in terms of its padding design, though. Borrowing a page from sister brand Bell, the browpad on the Helios Spherical has a tabbed extension that wraps slightly around the helmet’s forward lower edge. In hot conditions, sweat will eventually pool there — the lower point on the pad — and then harmlessly drip down in front of your face instead of down into your sunglasses.
Aether may be safe, airy, and comfortable, but it sure isn’t light, with a medium CPSC-approved sample coming in at a relatively hefty 284 grams. Interestingly, Helios Spherical is actually lighter at 258 grams for a comparable version.
Giro is offering Helios Spherical in three sizes and five colors: matte black fade, matte white/silver fade, matte black/red, matte warm black, and matte black fade / highlight yellow.
I should say right up front that given when this helmet was introduced, I haven’t had a chance yet to test the Helios Spherical in midsummer conditions. I can say, however, that while it’s noticeably not quite as well ventilated as the Aether, it’s not a huge way off, either. Prior experience with the Bell Z20 MIPS has demonstrated that the Helios Spherical’s new tabbed browpad will be a godsend when the mercury soars, though, and I can only imagine Giro will continue to incorporate it into the rest of the range.
This extra little bit of fabric may seem insignificant, but previous experience has shown it to be a game-changer in terms of keeping sweat out of your eyes.
Comfort-wise, the Helios Spherical is excellent. The shape of the helmet features the same semi-oval fit Giro is known for, and the interior is more generously padded than the Aether so there’s less bare foam in contact with your head. And personally, I don’t miss the adjustable occipital pads on the Aether’s slightly fancier Roc Loc 5+ retention system.
Visually, the Helios Spherical is clearly a close cousin to the Aether, with the same overall profile and similar lines. It’s a subdued shape that looks good, although it’s a bit more generic and less distinctive than what you get with Aether.
I’ll reserve final judgment for when I’ve managed more time in the Helios once the northern hemisphere starts tilting back toward the sun again, but for now, it seems likely that Giro will do well with this one. Maybe the technology will continue to trickle further down the price range, though? Let’s hope so.
The new Giro Helios Spherical brings the most advanced version of MIPS down to a lower price point than before.
The Giro Helios Spherical is anything but inexpensive, but it still costs a lot less than the top-end Aether.
Even without the contrasting colors, the Giro Helios Spherical’s swooping lines makes for a distinctive-looking helmet.
A closer look reveals the ball-and-socket design of the Giro Helios Spherical.
Giro adds some color-matched reflective elements to both the front and rear edges of the Helios Spherical.
The polycarbonate bridges on the Giro Aether (right) allow for wider and deeper internal channels than what you get on the Helios Spherical (left).
The Roc Loc 5 retention system omits one or two features of the higher-end Roc Loc 5+, but it’s unlikely most people will notice the difference.
The forward vents are well placed for storing your eyewear.
The rubberized texture on the adjustment dial is a nice touch.
The retention system is height-adjustable in four different positions.
Interior padding is more generous on the Helios Spherical than it is on the Aether.
The strap sliders are a little more basic than I’d prefer to see at this price point, but they nevertheless seem to stay put.