Lazer Sphere MIPS helmet review: 5 stars and great styling at a fair price
A more affordable helmet with good looks and top-rated protection
A more affordable helmet with good looks and top-rated protection
Few helmet companies seem to have figured out the secret to nailing Virginia Tech’s testing protocol quite as well as Lazer. Its latest model — the Sphere MIPS — is more affordable than more premium models while still offering top-rated protection, a high-end look, very good ventilation, and it’s very comfortable to wear, too.
Lazer’s new Sphere and Sphere MIPS helmets are designed to make a compelling case for the Belgian brand at the highly competitive mid-range segment of the road market. The clean styling ignores any claims of aero gains, instead concentrating on a more classic and elegant aesthetic combined with a comfortable and highly adjustable fit, lots of ventilation, and a reasonable weight.
Overall, the construction is quite conventional, with an expanded polystyrene foam liner co-molded with a multi-piece polycarbonate microshell. Lazer’s long-running Rollsys retention system is once again alive and well, with five indexed height positions and a ponytail-friendly cradle, the straps are pleasantly thin with easily adjustable sliders, and it’s offered both with and without a traditional MIPS low-friction liner, which is claimed to reduce the incidence of traumatic brain injuries during a crash.
Lazer offers the new Sphere in four sizes and up to six colors, and both with and without a low-friction MIPS liner, which is claimed to reduce the incidence of traumatic brain injuries during a crash. Retail price for the MIPS version is US$160 / AU$250 / €160, and US$140 / AU$210 / €140 for the standard one. Optional is Lazer’s Aeroshell snap-on plastic cover, which obscures most of the vents for protection from rain and cold, and — as the name suggests — presumably makes the helmet more aerodynamic if you’re perhaps interested in shaving a few seconds off of your local time trial and don’t feel like splurging on a dedicated lid.
Aeroshell aside, the new Sphere might come across as just another me-too helmet option in what is inarguably an already crowded field. But as is often the case, the basic statistics don’t tell the whole story.
Lazer hasn’t exactly always been at the forefront of helmet performance, and even its flagship models have rarely been able to compete head-to-head with top competition in terms of traditional performance metrics like weight and ventilation. Simply put, the Belgian brand’s helmets have often just been heavier or hotter (and sometimes both) than what you might find from the likes of Giro, Specialized and others.
Whether by design or happenstance, though, Lazer’s managed to pivot its focus somewhat toward what is arguably a much more important yardstick: safety. Of the 48 helmets currently earning a top five-star rating from independent test lab Virginia Tech, nearly a quarter of them are from Lazer — a giant lead over other brands — and its flagship G1 MIPS also occupies the top spot for any road helmet. As for the new Sphere MIPS model? That earns Lazer its eleventh five-star lid (although it’s perhaps worth mentioning that the non-MIPS Sphere isn’t included in the list).
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that Virginia Tech is but a single testing organization, and there’s some debate as to the ultimate value of its testing protocol as the be-all-end-all. Nevertheless, as what is indisputably the most widely recognized, transparent, and prolific independent test group currently in practice, Virginia Tech’s rankings certainly hold a lot of weight, and if safety is your top priority when it comes to shopping for a bicycle helmet, it’s one of the only objective rankings available.
As for the more traditional attributes commonly used to judge helmet performance, the Sphere MIPS does pretty well, although some of the shortcomings I’ve noted in previous Lazer helmets I’ve tested are still present.
Even the safest helmet won’t do much good if it’s so uncomfortable that you’re not likely to use it, but Lazer — in typical fashion, I should point out — has done a good job on that front. The middle-of-the-road shape falls more on the rounder end of the spectrum and should work on most people’s noggins, Lazer’s excellent Rollsys retention system is very accommodating otherwise what with its highly pliable cradle and ultra-fine circumference adjustment, and there’s also a decent amount of soft padding on the interior.
The low-profile straps sit nicely against your face, too, and the traditional sliders are easy to move around to get things just where you’d like them.
Ventilation performance is a strong point for the Sphere MIPS, too. Although there isn’t nearly as much internal channeling as I’d like to see — meaning airflow through the interior of the helmet isn’t as good as it could, or should, be — the channeling that does exist is at least mostly placed right along the center and rear areas of the helmet, where it’s most effective. The vents are also generously sized and intelligently placed for good heat evacuation on low-speed climbs, and generally speaking, I’d characterize the Sphere MIPS as being a very good option for keeping your head cool.
Lazer has even done a good job of shaping the outer forward vents so that you can safely tuck your sunglasses away in them when you don’t feel like wearing them — a common oversight that I’m happy to see addressed here.
Weight-wise, the Sphere MIPS is actually better than claimed, at least for my tester. Claimed weight for my CPSC-approved sample is 310 grams, but mine came in at 296 grams — a pleasant surprise, but still on the heavier side of things, although I can’t say it particularly bothered me on longer rides.
As good as the Sphere MIPS is in a lot of ways, the places where I often have found Lazer helmets lacking unfortunately still carry over.
One area of improvement is sweat management. While the interior padding is soft and comfortable, the browpad is rather sparse and it doesn’t take long before it’s saturated and starts dumping perspiration down your face. Further worsening the issue is the old-school MIPS liner, which sandwiches the browpad between your forehead and a solid piece of plastic that doesn’t provide for any airflow at all to help dry the area out. And speaking of that MIPS liner, it may very well help keep your brain from getting rattled in a crash, but the little rubber bits that are used to attach the liner to the foam shell are just as prone to snagging your hair as they’ve always been.
Eyewear compatibility is an issue as well. While I appreciate that Lazer has provided a place to stash your sunglasses (which you’ll likely want to do unless you want the lenses smeared with sweat), it’s a little disappointing that the Rollsys cradle still interferes with many brands of eyewear that I tried. Granted, this will be more of a problem for riders with smaller heads (I’m usually between a small and medium for helmets), but it’s something to keep in mind regardless, and something I wish Lazer would figure out once and for all.
I also find it surprising that Lazer still doesn’t use locking strap sliders, and as I’ve noted on several Lazer helmets I’ve tested in recent years, the buckle still requires an unusually firm squeeze before you can separate the two halves. Is either a big deal? No, but I also don’t like having to constantly readjust my helmets, nor do I need to be annoyed at the end of every ride that I can’t get my damned helmet off my head, especially when wearing full-finger gloves.
If I really want to nitpick, the Sphere MIPS is rather loud in terms of wind noise, too. Although I’m perfectly fine with Lazer not pegging the Sphere MIPS specifically as an aerodynamic helmet, one of the benefits I’ve always noted with models that are designed with lower drag in mind is that they also tend to be quieter at higher speeds. There’s perhaps some benefit to that long-term in terms of hearing damage — and it’s also easier to hear approaching traffic when wearing a quieter helmet — but mostly I just find louder helmets to be a little irritating over time.
Taking all of this together, Lazer’s Sphere MIPS might be a little heavy, and I think the company still has some work to do on a variety of smaller details, but it nevertheless offers excellent protection and very good performance overall.
Could it be better? Sure. But all in all, I suspect that most people who end up buying one of these will be quite happy with it.