Hands down, switching to one of the new aero helmets on the market is the most cost-effective equipment upgrade any cyclist who wants to go faster can make. Traditional bike helmets have long put a premium on lightweight and ventilation—and penalized cyclists’ aerodynamic efficiency. However, today’s high-tech aero helmet designs for time-trial events and triathlons are more ventilated and comfortable than ever. At the elite level with a time-trial or tt helmet, this efficiency translates to shaving 30-60 seconds off an hour’s effort as demonstrated in a 2020 study out of Portugal.
And a new class of aero road helmets combines all-day comfort with proven efficiency gains over traditional lids. The result is a generation of helmets engineered to deliver free speed to any rider who wears them. But which helmet—aero triathlon or aero road—works best for you? Below we break down two offerings from Rudy Project: the Wing and the Nytron.
Aero TT Helmet
Ever since Greg Lemond shocked the world with his come-from-behind, final-stage victory in the 1990 Tour de France, time-trial helmets have been required equipment for any such race–and they quickly became adopted by top triathletes looking to shave minutes off their Ironman-distance races. But for the helmets to work, they required the rider to hold their head up and position the teardrop rear as close to the rider’s back as possible. They also sacrificed ventilation for reduced drag, making them hot. This limited their use to shorter races.
The designers and engineers at Rudy Project thought there had to be a better way. Working with the aerodynamic specialists at Swiss Side to test their ideas in the wind tunnel, Rudy Project developed the Wing aero helmet to work in a variety of conditions and riding positions. The massive rear and front exhaust ports ensure a constant airflow inside the helmet. The scientific combination of helmet geometry and air ports accelerate the internal ventilation to cool riders head while enhancing the sweat evaporation process. This allows a competitor to enjoy better ventilation during hotter and longer events or switch to full aerodynamic efficiency for shorter, more intense competitions. According to Rudy Project’s calculations, closing the front vent reduces effort by 12.6 watts of power at 28 mph. Impressive!
Aero Road Helmet
At first glance, an aero road helmet appears to have more in common with a traditional road cycling helmet than an aero helmet like the Wing. There’s no teardrop tail and considerably more cut-outs for venting heat and facilitating airflow. But aero road helmets incorporate aerodynamic efficiencies where it counts to produce that free speed. Take the Rudy Project Nytron helmet. Like the Wing, the Nytron was developed with SwissSide and underwent wind-tunnel testing. It uses strategically placed air vents to channel air into and through the helmet instead of creating turbulence and drag. In a half-Ironman triathlon, the Nytron should shave almost 30 seconds off your bike time according to Rudy Project’s calculations.
In longer multi-hour bike legs in longer triathlons that invariably take place in hot conditions, the Nytron has its appeal. The trade-off of keeping your head cooler and body temperature better regulated versus pursuing maximum aerodynamic efficiency tilts decisively toward an aerodynamic road helmet over a TT helmet.
Which Aero Helmet Is Right For You?
Aero TT/Triathlon Helmet: Best for serious competitors entering Iron-distance triathlons and time trials on the road or velodrome where the length of the bike leg and split seconds of time saved add up to minutes. These helmets are appropriate for shorter Olympic and sprint distance triathlons, although the all-out intensity and shorter time on the bike place a premium on ventilation and cooling over marginal time gains from a full aero helmet. Half-Ironman distance competitions if the weather conditions are favorable. A versatile helmet such as the Wing can even be considered for training rides.
Aero Road Helmet: Best for sprint triathlons where ease of putting on the helmet in the transition area matters. Also more comfortable for full-Ironman distances where ventilation and staying cool are critical. And aero road helmets are ideal for training rides.
Road cyclists can also benefit from aero road helmets as their versatile shape doesn’t penalize wearers for looking up, around, and changing body position throughout a group ride or race.