The modern bicycle helmet is a marvel of engineering and compared to those offered just a few years ago, are exceptionally light, well-ventilated, and many have protective features none of us would have ever dreamed of. The most recent development comes in the form of a proprietary technology called MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System.
Founded in 2001 by five biomechanics specialists from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, MIPS is a simple yet potentially life-saving breakthrough. Their product was developed to mimic the protective layer of fluid surrounding the brain by replicating its properties within the inner layer of a helmet. Their thin plastic liner is affixed to the inside of the helmet with floating attachment points, allowing the helmet to rotate slightly against the wearer’s head on impact, thereby reducing the harmful forces imposed on your gooey grey matter.
Now that MIPS has become ubiquitous, more people are retiring their old lids for new models fitted with a MIPS liner. With so many choices, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the market offerings to see how they stack up against the competition.
Smith Forefront MIPS Mountain Bike Helmet, $260
You can count me amongst the many people not surprised when Smith Optics released a mountain bike bike helmet. With several years of experience within the snow sports segment, their transition to wheels was a short hop. What immediately impressed me about their introductory helmet was the level of innovation injected into its development. The most interesting attribute of the Smith Forefront is the use of their proprietary Aerocore in-molded liner wrapped in a carbon fiber-reinforced EPS outer shell. All of those advanced materials are made visible throughout the helmet, adding to its futuristic appearance.
The Aerocore liner is unlike anything I have ever seen, and I must admit, I was initially skeptical of its performance. Not that I doubted its ability to absorb 30% more impact force than EPS foam, but it looked like it could stifle airflow, and to some extent, it does. The Aerocore liner has the appearance of a thousand drinking straws glued together. Despite the outer shell’s extremely large vents, air must pass through those small air channels to get inside the helmet. Although it works well to allow heat to escape, it seems no amount of wind speed can effectively force cool air into the helmet. As such, the warm weather performance of the Forefront is not stellar, but it isn’t a deal-breaker, either.
The other elements of the Forefront, like the two-position adjustable visor, dial-assisted retention system, and full coverage shape, cement its place within the rarified air of premium lids. The quality of materials and construction is superb, which it should be given its MSRP of $260. The fit is accommodating of a wide variety of head shapes and feels like it has deep and complete coverage of my head. The overall weight at just 331 grams for our medium sample is impressively light. All of this combines to make the Forefront one of my favorite mountain bike helmets on the market.
Smith Forefront Bike Helmet, Matte Reactor Split, Small
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- Great aesthetic design
- Low weight
- Excellent fit and comfort
- Adjustable visor
- Poor air flow in warm temps
- High purchase price