I’ve been riding three different road helmets from Limar for the last few weeks. The Air Pro MIPS, the Air Speed and Air Master each fulfill the mission of being a helmet but dial their duties with varying priorities.
Let me be frank: Until very recently, European helmet companies have seriously trailed American helmet companies in every design aspect. It’s something of a miracle that MIPS is a Swedish company. From the industrial design that defined a helmet’s look to its cooling ability through vent positioning and the aerodynamics that determined whether or not your bare head was faster, every Euro company failed in one or more of these respects. Most looked like they’d been pilfered from the set of some low-budget sci-fi flick. And any time someone’s hair poked up out the top vent of their helmet that was a real-world wind tunnel announcing that air was shooting straight up and slowing the rider down.
Then a few years back designs from Lazer and Limar turned some corner where aesthetics and function met in a way that didn’t sear pupils.
Helmet design is likely the purest expression of industrial design in cycling. If a frame design gets too creative consumers reject it (exception: triathletes). But as long as a helmet passes the required safety certifications, they can look as understated, science-y or ridiculous as a company dares. One of the things I really dig about Limar’s designs is how they reflect the work of a sculptor actually working in clay and refining those designs with wind tunnel research. As a result, each of the helmets I’ve worn has a more organic look than many of their competitors.
The Air Speed ($170) is Limar’s most aerodynamic design. It’s what the pros wear during time trials and any occasion where a watt saved is a watt faster. It includes 12 vents and air is channeled so that what enters the front is directed out of rear vents to disrupt air flow as little as possible.
The Air Master ($150) is a slightly different take on the aero helmet. Because some aero designs are dynamite until the temperature hits 90 and some horror-movie miracle transforms them into head-shaped ovens, the Air Master employs 15 vents to strike an optimal balance between speed and saline-optic drain.
The Air Pro MIPS ($230) is a more traditional take on a cycling helmet in that it emphasizes ventilation and weight ahead of all concerns save safety. It employs 20 vents with length-running channels to direct air to move over the head and out the rear vents. Two carbon fiber-reinforced braces join the length-running ribs and thanks to the carbon fiber, those braces are thin enough to allow more airflow. Traditional MIPS designs have been faulted by some for reducing the cooling by disrupting air flow; in response, the Air Speed Pro uses the new MIPS slip pads. In this design the helmet’s pads are backed with plastic to give them a firmer structure and then small anchors at the fore and aft of the pad are molded into the helmet. In effect, it’s a MIPS helmet that doesn’t appear to be a MIPS helmet.
The Air Pro and Air Master have a rounder shape than some helmets I’ve worn; the Air Speed is a tad narrower. I encounter riders from time to time who have complained about Giro and Bell helmets possessing a fit that is too narrow for their heads; folks, this is the helmet line for you. For the rest of us who don’t suffer so, the retention system provides a fit that is secure without feeling tight.
Limar’s site says the fit on their helmets runs small, a caveat I can echo; unless you’re at the small end of the sizing range, go up one size.
In one of the sexier dimensions of product review, one Indian summer afternoon here in Northern California (sometimes spelled “November”), I rode some two-mile laps through my neighborhood, switching between the Air Speed and the Air Master, curious to see at what point I might prefer the Air Master over the Air Speed. While I could feel the difference in ventilation between the two helmets, 85 degrees was insufficient to make me prefer the Air Master over the Air Speed. And in a strange reversal, while I usually like the look of the semi-aero helmet over the look of the full-aero helmet, I actually prefer the look of the Air Speed.
The Air Pro is my favorite of the lot. I welcome the re-imagined MIPS and the ample ventilation. I also like that the polycarbonate shell wraps around the bottom of the helmet, offering protection to an area of a helmet that I’ve seen dinged to death more than once.
There was a time when I’d despair that a line like Limar would languish here in the U.S. because shops would look at a wall full of Giro, Bell and/or Specialized helmets and tell the sales rep, “I’m out of floor space.” No more. Limar’s U.S. infrastructure is a solid operation built on the backs of industry vets I trust and anyone desiring one of their helmets can order it online and it ships from Southern California (sorry Vermont).
Final thought: I always look sharp when I wear Italian.
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