Bontrager Specter XR helmet review£109.99

Lightweight cross-country lid

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Bontrager pegs the new Specter as a lower-priced close cousin to the company's Oracle cross-country helmet flagship. In most respects, it's accomplished that goal. It's extremely close in appearance and weight, ventilates nearly as well and offers a similar fit but with a price that's up to US$40 / £20 cheaper.

At first glance, onlookers might even struggle to tell the difference between the Specter and Oracle, with their very similar outward shape, vent locations, and fiber composite reinforcements. The lower cost does sacrifice a few ports on the Oracle, and it's also a tad smaller, but the difference in ventilation and airflow is impressively negligible.

The big forward-facing ports swallow air, while the moderately deep array of internal channels and generous allot of exhaust ports keep things moving across the top of your head. 

Even at lower speeds in direct sunlight, we still felt a healthy breeze on our heads, with our one complaint being the lack of space between our forehead and helmet liner. It tends to result in sweat building up in the solid browpad until it begins to get into your eyes.

We found the fit comfy, though, with a middle-of-the-road headform that falls somewhere between the very ovoid shape from companies such as Specialized, Giro, and Bell and the distinctly rounder shapes offered by many European brands. There's plentiful padding, too, although there are lots of smaller bits and the hook-and-loop anchors could use some additional muscle.

The newer, height-adjustable headmaster ii fit system on the specter xr is much better than the original version on the upscale oracle lid. the second-generation version is smaller and more comfortable, plus the ratcheting dial feels far more positive :
The newer, height-adjustable headmaster ii fit system on the specter xr is much better than the original version on the upscale oracle lid. the second-generation version is smaller and more comfortable, plus the ratcheting dial feels far more positive :

The Headmaster II retention dial on the Specter XR helmet

Bontrager equips the Specter with its latest Headmaster II retention system, which is impressively comfortable and compact. The ratcheting dial feel is notably more positive than the rather vague action of the Oracle's original Headmaster. It's also height-adjustable in three steps and easily operated with a single hand.

Durability is another strong point for the Specter XR. The bottom of the helmet is fully protected with an additional in-molded shell and there's a generally solid feel to the whole structure (something many dual-density lids we've tested lack). The Headmaster II retention system is flexible enough that it won't break in transit – even when stuffed into luggage, as was this case on several occasions during testing.

The Specter XR still isn't exactly an Oracle copy with a lower price tag, though. While the styling is a close copy, the shell is noticeably bulkier on the Specter, and the profile not nearly as sleek. 

In addition, the included visor (a US$10 upcharge from the otherwise identical standard Specter) is reasonably effective but isn't adjustable. The straps are generously long and come neatly finished with molded ends, but those caps can't be reinstalled if you have to cut them (which we did).

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Age: 40
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 70kg / 154lb
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

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