It’s beyond the scope of this writer’s intention to provide helmet buying tips, but there are a few questions you should answer when deciding on a mountain bike helmet under which to light up the trail: Does it protect? Does it fit? Is it and will it be comfortable? And, of course, how do I look?
When considering full face mountain bike helmets, protection and fit are at the forefront of the decision process due to the nature of the riding you’ll engage in and the lack of adjustability in this genre. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Giro Cipher – the full-faced fledgling in its second year of production, designed and marketed for downhill (DH), BMX, freeride, and enduro mountain bike riding.
A fiberglass shell embodies the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner followed by a plush X-Static® anti-microbial padding. The Cipher adheres to CPSC and ASTM F1952 standards required for downhill racing allowing you to, in good faith, get down and dirty. Giro compliments this measure of strength with ample peripheral vision that may prevent users from personally testing federal standards out on the trail. The jaw is lined interiorly with vinyl nitrile – a squishy piece of foam that cushions, dampens vibration, and absorbs shock.
If it does not fit, it will not likely protect! Due to the lack of tensioning systems and adjustable features among most full face helmets designed for DH riding, fit is paramount to ensure protection. The Cipher comes in four sizes (XS, S, M, L) covering domes as small as 51cm to as large as 63cm. At 59cm, my bean never bothers with anything less than a large, but I found myself between sizes according to Giro’s chart. I ultimately opted for the more snug feel of the medium that, within an hour of riding, broke in for a stellar fit.
Each size comes stock with 40mm-thick removable cheek pads that can be swapped out for 36 or 44mm sizes (sold separately through Giro). Bearing in mind that not all heads are created equal and different manufacturers may use different molds, it would be a mistake to think that because the Cipher fits me, it will fit you. Always try before you buy and take any comment regarding helmet fit with a large grain of salt.
Comfort and fit are virtually synonymous in this context, but the comfort I want to address is beyond the bike shop or riding your couch. Besides looking cool, the D-ring buckle system works really well on a few levels. First, it seems to have just the right amount of width to disperse a firm, but non-asphyxiating pressure when tightened adequately. Second, the excess strapping snaps back on itself keeping things nice and tidy. And third, the overall mechanism is just bulky enough to strap up with gloves (call it lazy, I call it efficient).
In the Northwest, temperatures are fairly mild throughout the year so concerns of ventilation are typically not of top priority. With that said, if you’re riding in sub 30° F temps, you will not want for anything warmer, as I learned on a cold, gusty ride last January.
On the other end of the spectrum, in 65° F I strapped the Cipher on for a 45 minute fire road climb. It wasn’t my hardest effort up and I definetly worked up a good lather before getting to the goods. While most riders considering the Cipher (and any other full face mountain bike helmet in its class) accept the compromise of a cool head for higher standards of protection, I would question the marketing of this helmet for enduro. Enduro-type riding, yes. Enduro racing, questionable. Of course, depending on the terrain of your enduro race of choice, unless you are able to haul a second helmet during transition, I would opt for a better-ventilated helmet for strict enduro mountain bike racing.
While ventilation inherently has its limits in this class of helmet, the Cipher packs some serious comfort. One of my local shops carries more helmets in-store than most online dealers, so I took the Cipher down for a little comfort showdown. Among four other major players in the full face game, I couldn’t find a more comfortable fit than the Giro. Again, your mileage may vary…
My high school football coach once said, “If you look good, you’ll play good.” Given my mediocre mountain biking skills, I’ll be darned if I’m not the sharpest-looking shredder out there–and for that, the Cipher takes the cake. But if it’s a gloss look you want, you’re out of luck, as Giro is all-in on 8 different matte finishes for 2015–from all-black to glowing red and yellow.
What modern mountain bike helmet would be complete without a few other knickknacks like the Cipher’s integrated POV camera mount? The folks at Giro understand our fondness for DH videos, and it won’t surprise me when this feature becomes the new standard.
There’s nothing easier on the ears than blowing up berms, but if you insist on getting downhill to the beat of your own playlist, the Cipher comes ready with TuneUps™-compatible speaker pockets and O-Snap™ to manage cord control.
One thing I wouldn’t mind seeing is a little extra “umph” (metal) in the visor hardware on this caliber of lid. The Cipher’s brim is equipped with tool-free plastic bolts that, while possibly being more susceptible to breakage under the right type of stress, does drop some weight while adding convenience.
Giro Cipher Comfort Liner
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The Giro Cipher full face mountain bike helmet is a great option for your DH and freeride needs, although I have some hesitation recommending it for enduro racing. That said, it’s “enduroble” enough (couldn’t resist). The sizing seems to run on the larger end of the spectrum so I would consider rounding down if you’re between sizes. The Cipher meets required standards, is very comfortable, and Giro nailed it on the color schemes. What else do you want? POV camera compatibility and some space for your tunes? Well, it has that too!
The Giro Cipher is stacking up to be one of my favorite mountain bike helmets in my rotation. In fact, I own a lightweight XC and an all-mountain-style helmet and still find myself reaching for the Cipher even when the day’s ride doesn’t exactly warrant that much protection.