Free Speed: Why You Want an Aero Helmet for Cycling

Aero helmets have been mainstays at the top levels of bike racing and triathlon competition for decades, often seen as the last element to a personal best, a win, or a national or world record on the bike. And why not? Wind-tunnel testing by 220Triathlon have shown that, all things being equal, an aero helmet with its smooth front and long rear tail will shave an average of a minute off a 40km/25mi ride versus a more conventional road helmet. For Ironman triathletes powering through the 112-mile bike leg, that works out to an astonishing 4:30-minute advantage. Just by wearing the right helmet.

At Rudy Project, our research on the Wing Aero Helmet determined that wearing it can save an average of 12.6 watts of power, a sizable decrease. For a relatively fit cyclist, that’s roughly the difference between being able to go all out for 40 minutes or more versus 20 minutes in a traditional road helmet. 

The Aero Helmet is the Best Value in Cycling Performance

Nothing beats the value of an aero lid in terms of performance gains. Dedicated triathlon and time trial bikes and a set of aero wheels cost thousands of dollars and deliver far less of a performance boost than the few hundred bucks spent on an aero helmet. In fact, a traditional, well-ventilated road helmet may protect your head when you ride, but it delivers a time penalty due to its lack of aerodynamics. If speed were your only concern, you’d be better off simply wearing a baseball cap backward on your head — or no hat at all. (Of course, we don’t recommend either of those options. Always wear a helmet when you ride).

Why Doesn’t Everyone Wear Aero Helmets?

So if aero helmets are so great, why doesn’t everyone wear one when they ride? Historically, aero helmets traded performance for comfort and were thus relegated to competition, where every second — and split-second — counts. The OG aero helmets trapped heat due to a lack of ventilation holes. And the hotter the body feels, the harder it works to cool itself down. The more the body works to cool itself, the less energy it can spare to push the pedals.  

Another big drawback was that to see these performance gains, riders had to keep their bodies low in their aero bars and hold their heads up. For the entire ride. It takes months to years to develop the neck strength to hold your head up for the duration of an Ironman bike leg. Looking down (and sending the helmet’s long tail up into the air like a sail) or, worse yet, turning to the side instantly negated any positive effects of wearing it.

Enter the Aero Road Helmet, the Everyday Hybrid Answer

Fortunately, today’s aero helmets have entered the hybrid era, where wind-tunnel-tested designs optimize ventilation yet still slice through the wind. Vents are placed where they can produce maximum airflow through the helmet without hindering its slipstream effect. For example, the massive rear vents on the Rudy Project Nytron helmet work to pull air in through the smaller front vents and out the back. The same principle helps the much more aerodynamic Rudy Project Wing helmet keep riders cool despite its distinctive full face shield. Some helmets even feature sliding ventilation hole covers. When you want full aero benefits, close the vents. When you need max airflow on a hot day or long, slow climb, open them. The results are helmets that can function as a year-round training lid and go-to helmet on event or race days. 

In the testing cited above, hybrid aero road helmets have been shown to shave 20-40 seconds off your pace over 40km/25mi and reduce the effort needed to cover that same distance. They’re more forgiving when turning your head sideways or looking down. Granted, these helmets won’t match the boost provided by a dedicated aero helmet, but the comfort and versatility of an aero road helmet make it ideal for every ride. And over the course of thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on your bike in a season, that choice could save you hours of cumulative time on the bike.

Browse Rudy Project Aero Helmets