Thursday, November 23, 2017

Casco Speedster

A few things led me to write this review of the Casco Speedster semi-aero helmet (that’s my term for it, not the manufacturer’s). Last year, I wore the Kask Bambino helmet (review here) and for the most part I thought it was a pretty good lid for triathlon. The biggest drawbacks were getting it on in T1 (I messed it up as often as I got it right) and fogging of the lens in humid conditions (resulting in me losing a £40 tinted visor at the tri world champs last September). But the Bambino is comfortable and there is no doubt it is aerodynamic.

While many had criticized the Bambino as too hot (i.e. lacking ventilation) for triathlon, I felt that it was okay. Yes, I sweated more than I’d expect to with a ‘normal’ road helmet, but it didn’t seem so bad.

However, a sweat test with the chaps from Precision Hydration changed my view somewhat. It turns out I lose a lot of sodium when I sweat; far more than average. To my logic, this means I really can’t afford to sweat any more than I have to during a middle-distance triathlon (loss of sodium is associated with cramps and other performance-limiting factors).

new2And so eventually we get to the subject of this review, the Casco Speedster. The idea is that this helmet combines many of the properties of the new style of ‘short tail’ aero helmets, but with ventilation more akin to a road helmet.

Originally I had been looking at the Casco SpeedAiro – in my eyes a much more visually appealing alternative to the Giro AirAttack and Kask Infinity – but at £200-plus, it’s not a cheap helmet. A quick conversation with Richard at FreeSpeed brought the Speedster to my attention.

Essentially the Speedster an ‘entry-level’ version of the SpeedAiro, with slightly cheaper materials and a different cradle system. But it’s a lot cheaper, at around £130-150 for a model with a single visor. And best of all, it comes in a ‘special order’ bright green colour! Perfect to match my 2014 race kit!

The green helmet comes with a clear (in reality, it has a slightly tinted/mirrored appearance) visor; so I opted to pay the extra £40ish to get the darker visor for sunny days. It’s the visor that supposedly makes the bulk of the difference in terms of aero properties for both the SpeedAiro and the Speedster. The wrap around visor apparently channels air around the head far more effectively than the smaller visors used on other helmets, or indeed a pair of sunnies.

There are a lot of vents in the Speedster, the very front ones are protected by a mesh to stop bugs getting impaled into your scalp.

The clasp for the helmet strap is a bit different to normal, but works just fine once you’ve spent a couple of minutes practicing (I had no problems using it in the heat of my first race). Unlike the Bambino, the Speedster is easy to get on in a hurry (the slightly slimmer visor and higher tail make for a wider aperture to get your head into). You can both fine tune the fit with a dial as well as adjust the cradle. I found the uppermost position was perfect for when I was down in an aero tuck, but I would lower it if I were riding a normal road bike where the neck angle is different.

The visibility through the visor is superb – at least a match for the Bambino and if anything, the optics feel just slightly better. The visor certainly feels more substantial on the Speedster – and the fit onto the helmet is very secure, with an elastic coupling (rather than the magnets used on the Kask lid). As well as forward vision, sideways visibility is also very good with the visor. Inevitably, if you work hard enough to sweat, some of it will trickle onto the inside of the visor (just as with the Bambino), but this was never really a problem and (fingers crossed!!!), the pre-drilled air holes in the Speedster visor have so far prevented any fogging.

In place, the Casco Speedster feels very different to the Bambino, but it is very comfortable and, on the go, you forget it’s there. Because your ears aren’t covered as with other aero helmets, you get more of a sense of speed and wind rushing past your head (but you can also hear what’s going on around you better).

new3It probably goes without saying; but you sweat a LOT less in the Speedster. The multitude of good-sized ventilation holes do a great job of letting air in and around the head. Of course, the downside of this has to be that the Speedster can’t possibly be as aerodynamic as the Bambino.

Wearing it on a 25-mile course in similar conditions with very similar HR and power outputs, I recorded a time around 20 seconds slower than with the Bambino. Now that’s not scientific, but I do think it’s representative. But let’s remember the balance to be weighed up – do you finish the bike leg a few seconds quicker having sweat a lot more, or do you take the hit on the bike in hopes of arriving in T2 in better shape for the run ahead?

Conclusion

For me, on a 10-mile or 25-mile TT, I’d take the Bambino. I honestly feel that it is the ‘faster’ helmet for time-trialling. But I can guarantee that in all but the coolest conditions, you WILL sweat more in the Bambino. In a time trial, where reaching the finish line as quickly as possible is all that matters – take the Bambino.

The equation becomes a lot more difficult to calculate when you have to run a 10km, half-marathon or full marathon off the bike. In those circumstances, I think it’s probably a good compromise to take a slight hit in the aerodynamic properties of the helmet in order to arrive into T2 in a better shape to tackle the run.

With that in mind, I think I’m happy with the Speedster as a sensible choice for middle-distance and long-distance racing. The fit is very good, the visibility is very good and it is noticeably cooler to wear. If that means I can avoid cramping on the run, or arrive in a fit state to run a sub 1:30 half marathon, I’ll take a one-minute hit on the bike time…

Pros
* Great fit
* Superb visibility and optics on visor
* Easy to get on in T1

Cons
* Not a fully aero helmet
* Still £200 with an extra visor
* A little heavier than top-end road helmets