TRAIL HELMET SHOOTOUT: THREE TOP HELMETS GO HEAD TO HEAD
Clash of the titans
MEET THE CONTENDERS:
6D ATB-2T ASCENT TRAIL
6D’s ATB-1T EVO helmet was way ahead of its time with its ODS rotational impact protection technology. However, it was bulky and didn’t flow air all that well. That all changes with the introduction of 6D’s all-new ATB-2T. The ATB-2T has improved ventilation, increased coverage, and a much lower profile than its predecessor. 6D’s Omni-Directional suspension system utilizes an EPP/EPS dual-liner suspension design that was created to manage impact energy from multiple angles, velocities and different types—angular and linear. The ATB-2T is offered in three sizes: XS/S, M/L and XL/XXL. It is available in seven colors: Matte White/Black, Matte Black, Matte Black Camo, Matte Grey, Matte Hi Viz Yellow/Grey, Matte Sand/Black and Matte Slate Blue.
LAZER JACKAL KINETICORE
Lazer’s all new Jackal mountain bike helmet features a newly developed rotational impact protection system called KinetiCore that is completely different from other systems currently on the market. Instead of creating a slip-plane-like MIPS, KinetiCore utilizes specially shaped blocks and channels that are molded into the EPS foam to create crumple zones that not only provide linear impact protection but rotational as well. The Jackal KinetiCore comes in sizes small, medium or large, and is offered in five colors—Matte Full Black, Matte Dark Grey, Matte Turquoise, Matte Blue Green and Matte Light Blue.
SPECIALIZED AMBUSH 2
The sequel to Specialized’s popular Ambush helmet features dual-density EPS foam and a MIPS SL rotational protection system that is integrated with the helmet’s pads to create a slip plane against the EPS foam and plastic retention system. Specialized says it used a computational fluid dynamic design to create the maximum volume of internal channeling for optimal airflow. The Ambush 2 is available in small, medium or large, and in four colors—Matte Black, Satin White Mountains/Gunmetal, Satin Oak Green Wild and Satin Redwood/Gunmetal.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Two of these three helmets are some of the best ventilated helmets that we have ever tested. The 6D is leaps and bounds better in this department than its predecessor, but it’s just in the very good category overall. The Lazer and Specialized are like having wind tunnels on your head. They are so good that you really have to be aware of cold days and cover your head accordingly. As much air as they flow, they do it in different ways. The Specialized relies on huge ports to flow large amounts of air across your head, but they seem to be more localized in nature, with warm spots and cool spots. You really notice this in cold weather where the frigid air is really cold in certain spots. The Lazer offers more of an overall cooling effect that covers more of the head, thanks to its raised EPS KinetiCore shapes that let air flow all over. Between the cooling effect and air flow, test riders also seemed to build up less sweat in this helmet, too. The Lazer just wins this category over the Specialized with the 6D trailing in third.
Few things are more subjective than style, but each of these helmets has its own flair and the wrecking crew’s opinions on what looks best. The 6D is much smaller than the previous version, but it’s still a bulkier helmet than the other two. It really looks noticeable on narrow-faced riders. Other than its size, the overall styling and looks are top-notch. The Specialized has a really unique look to it with more flowing lines than the angular look of the other two. For this reason it was polarizing among the riders; they either loved it or hated it, and there was little in between. The Lazer has a traditional yet stylish look to it, which is somewhat ironic because there was a time when Lazer made straight-up ugly helmets. The Jackal hits a home run in the style department, taking an easy win here.
Without expensive testing machines or the knowhow to even use them, we have to rely on the safety certifications that come with each helmet. All helmets have some sort of rotational impact protection system and meet U.S. CPSC standards, but it’s worth noting that the 6D is offered in one version for all global standards, while the other two have specific versions for each market. Specialized offers its ANGi crash sensor that works with a phone app to notify your designated contacts when a crash is detected. Without any actual crashes or tests, judging safety is even more subjective than style, but everybody who used the helmets felt that they would prefer to take a header in the 6D. Maybe it’s the more solid feel or the Omni-Directional Suspension mechanism that you can see and feel working in your hand, but they all felt that way. Since all three helmets get five-star Virginia Tech safety ratings (their highest), where they actually test the helmets and not speculate, we call this one a draw.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you’ve got a 10-dollar head, wear a 10-dollar helmet,” but cost is a factor on something that becomes trash with one crash. At $180, the Specialized Ambush 2 takes the win. The Lazer follows at $220, and the 6D takes the crown as most expensive at $230.
FIT AND COMFORT
All three helmets are exceptionally comfortable and fit a wide range of head shapes. The 6D and Specialized seemed to please oval-head-shaped riders the most, while the Lazer has a very slightly rounder fit, but it still accommodated oval heads well. The Specialized has the plushest-feeling pads, followed by the 6D, and then the Lazer, which is still very comfortable but less pillow-like on your head. The Specialized takes this category by a hair.
All three helmets have large full-coverage visors that look good and integrate into the helmet well. The Ambush 2 is the only helmet of the three with a fixed visor. It is in the perfect place for most riding, just above your field of vision. The Lazer and 6D visors have three detented positions that make the visors easy to adjust on the fly while riding and stay in place once set. Most of the wrecking crew prefers adjustable versions for when we are riding into the sun or when it’s raining and beneficial to lower it. For that reason, 6D and Lazer tie for the win in this department.
Stability has a lot to do with a helmet’s weight and retention system, and the one that moved around the least on our heads was the Lazer. Its TurnSys retention system not only cradles the lower head really well, but it is adjustable up and down for a perfect fit. The Specialized is right behind it with similar features and almost as good stability. The 6D trails behind with a heavier weight and lack of up-or-down retention-system adjustment.
All three helmets offer what we consider above-average eyewear compatibility and clearance. They all have lots of room above and behind the ears for glasses. Plus, all three play nice with goggles, too. The Lazer even has rubber goggle-strap grippers on the back of its shell. Although glasses can be stored for climbs in the vents on all three helmets, only the Specialized has dedicated air ports for storage with rubber-gripping flaps to tension and hold the eyewear. Specialized’s large vents also play nice with the broadest range of glasses, so Specialized takes the win in this department.
Although lighter than its predecessor, the 6D is still on the heavy side in this category at 474 grams. The Specialized is next at 349 grams, while the Lazer just beats it out, weighing in at 341 grams. This is very light for a helmet with a rotational protection system.
The devil is in the details, and all three have their strengths in this category. All of them feature adjustable strap splitters, and we like that. The Specialized has the nicest ones in terms of looks and ability to spread the straps far apart. The 6D and Lazer come with Fidlock magnetic closures that make that operation super easy, especially with gloves on. We prefer the position of the Lazer’s closure on the bottom of the straps compared to the 6D’s position on the side, because you can feel its weight on occasion. The Lazer has the softest- and thinnest-feeling straps, making them the most comfortable of the three. Lazer is also the only helmet in this group to come with a light and GoPro mount that is designed in conjunction with the helmet shell to not intrude into the helmet on impact. We give Lazer the win with a lot of really cool and noticeable features in this sector.
WHAT WE REALLY THINK
All three of these helmets are superb examples of 3/4-trail-style head protection that are pushing the boundaries of protection, weight, ventilation and style. None of these helmets are losers, but there can only be one winner in this shootout. That winner is the Lazer Jackal. It puts the head-protection puzzle together like no other and is one of those pieces of gear we are always happy to be wearing.