Over the years I’ve owned lots of helmets – Giro, Lazer, Bell, Specialized . . . I currently strap a Smith Overtake (gravel), Forefront (MTB), and Vantage (snow/cold) to my skull when venturing out on two wheels. I’ve been riding Smith helmets for several years now and I love the way the Smith helmets fit — the added protection from the Koroyd with MIPS, and the overall finish is top notch. However, their biggest drawback is ventilation. All that Koroyd and MIPS liner make for a warm helmet. With that said, the pursuit of helmet nirvana is always a journey I’m willing to further explore. Enter the Bontrager Specter.
When shopping for helmets, there are really three main things that most buyers consider – Protection, Fit, and Ventilation. Sure things like cost (MSRP of $150 on the Specter if your wondering) and aesthetics come into play but these three things are really where its at when it comes down to picking a new skid lid.
The Specter is part of Bontrager’s new WaveCel line of helmets. WaveCel is a new helmet technology that Bontrager claims significantly improves the impact safety of helmets. WaveCel is a “collapsible cellular liner” that is built into the inside of the helmet and “moves independently and flexes until the cell walls crumple and then glide, actively absorbing direct and rotational energy, and redirecting it way from your head.” It’s similar in function to what both MIPS and Smith’s Koroyd look to accomplish — a liner that slips inside the helmet during impact (like MIPS) and a crushable material to absorb impacts (like Koroyd). Bontrager claims WaveCel has been shown to be 48% more effective in protecting your head than traditional EPS foam helmets and can help prevent concussions in 99 out of 100 crashes. To simplify, it’s basically a 15mm thick plastic mesh liner built into the inside of the helmet that moves/flexes/crumples better with your head during impacts resulting in less of a chance of injury to your brain. Along with all this protective technology, the helmet also comes with a free crash replacement warranty for the first year of ownership, which is great since the WaveCel helmets are a bit pricey.
All that tech talk is great and all but when it comes down to it, most judge a helmet by how well it fits and how well its ventilated.
Right out of the box, this helmet was super comfortable. Surprisingly so. On the bike, it disappears. Easily one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve ever worn. Bontrager claims that since WaveCel is more flexible than Koroyd, that it makes for a more comfortable helmet. I’m not sure how much more flexible it is since its built into the helmet just like Koroyd and neither helmet flexes noticeably when you put it on. With that said, the WaveCel does slightly give when pushing on it whereas the Koroyd doesn’t. What I do know to be true is the Specter was much more comfortable than my Smith Overtake, which as previously mentioned, I considered an extremely comfortable helmet. Of course, fit is subjective so try before you buy is always a good mantra but for me and my noggin, the Specter is about as comfy as a helmet can get.
Fit adjustment is via a dial (in this case, BOA), which has become the standard for any helmet worthy of your dollars. There are also cam locks for fine tuning strap adjustment. As with any helmet, one of the biggest issues is sizing. I measured my melon so I knew I fell into what Bontrager said was a Medium. Of course, you never know if medium is medium. I am near the upper range of Bontrager’s medium and the helmet has just a little extra room but not much to spare so I’d say that the Specter fits true to size. Out of curiosity, I tried on a large and it was indeed large. Too large. So unless your going to take measurements, you may want to try before you buy. Another thing worth mentioning is the Fidlock magnetic helmet buckle – why everyone isn’t specking these on their helmet is beyond me. Helmet buckles can be a source of irritation but not so with the Fidlock. One handed, secure bliss. Yeah, it’s a little big but once you have the helmet on you don’t even notice it.
My only issue with my current Smith helmets are ventilation or lack thereof. While that Koroyd and MIPS may add an extra layers of protection, it also hinders airflow. It’s a warm helmet. The main reason I was interested in testing the Specter was to see how the ventilation stacked up against Smith. After riding this helmet for a couple months in some pretty hot weather, even switching on and off between the two helmets mid-ride on several occasions (yes, I brought both helmets with me on rides), I can say without a doubt that the ventilation on the Specter is so much better. Is it the best vented helmet I’ve ever ridden? No (that honor goes to a Specialized S-Works), but it’s pretty darn good.
The helmet has 8 vents up top and 6 out back. Due to the WaveCel, there are no real channels like a traditional helmets would have to aid in air flow. However, there is a gap between the EPS foam and the WaveCel layer. That combined with the openings in the WaveCel allow for air movement.
Overall, I can’t find a single fault with this helmet. You put it on and it kind of disappears into the background. It fits exceptionally well. Doesn’t let your head get too hot. Keeps you from having a serious head injury (hopefully). You get the idea. I think the biggest testament to how much I liked the Specter is that I’ll be purchasing the MTB version (the Blaze) as soon as I get the funds and retiring my Smith helmets.