We were smitten when Smith Optics first showed us the striking Forefront mountain bike helmet back last summer. We've since managed several months of saddle time with the innovative lid and, while we're still impressed with many of its features, the lack of cooling makes it a so-so choice for hot summer weather.
There's no denying that the Forefront is different in several key ways, and refreshingly so. The bold styling looks like nothing else out there yet still manages to attract plenty of compliments, and the innovative Aerocore liner used for most of the interior dispenses with conventional expanded polystyrene materials in favor of a open and honeycomb-like plastic structure called Koroyd that supposedly absorbs up to 30 percent more impact energy to help protect your grey matter.
Smith Optics says the Forefront's Aerocore material absorbs up to 30 percent more impact energy than a conventional expanded EPS liner
This may be the first trail helmet from Smith Optics but the company has done an excellent job nailing the key requirements. Despite what look to be numerous sharp edges from the exposed Aerocore liner, the Forefront is remarkably comfortable, even on a shaved head. Credit goes to the smart shape (Smith does have ample experience in snowsports helmets, after all), relatively ample padding, wispy-thin nylon webbing, and the easy-to-operate, low-profile VaporFit retention system.
The VaporFit retention system is easy to operate and comfortable
To go along with the Aerocore liner's claimed impact benefits, the Forefront also offers very good coverage around the back of the head – not as good as some competitors such as the Bell Super, for example, but definitely better than any XC-oriented lid we've used. Actual weight is distinctly XC-like, though, with our medium-sized sample coming in at just 333g.
Smith has sweated the details, too, incorporating a fair bit of modularity into the Forefront's shell (which is offered in a whopping ten hues). Up top is a socket for an optional light or GoPro mount, while there's a spot out back to secure goggle straps. The visor is adjustable for angle and there's a slot that runs around the back of the shell also conveniently provides a perfect resting spot for sunglasses (provided they use straight ear stems).
Real carbon fiber is used to reinforce key areas
You'll unfortunately need to tuck those glasses up there fairly regularly if you plan on riding in warm weather, though, as the Forefront exhibits some curious ventilation characteristics, not all of which are good.
If you were to cut up a few hundred drinking straws and glue them to your head radially so as to resemble a giant Koosh ball, this would give you a fairly accurate representation of what it's like to wear a Forefront in terms of breathability. As the name suggests, the Aerocore liner is effectively almost entirely air and any excess heat coming off of your noggin has countless paths to escape. This open architecture is boosted further by the 21 vents in the Forefront's carbon-reinforced outer shell, some of which are far bigger than would typically be possible in a conventional EPS helmet.
Not a fan of neon orange? Don't worry – Smith Optics offers the forefront in ten different shades
As a result, the Forefront can feel positively chilly in even moderately cool temperatures. We found ourselves reaching for a hat to tuck underneath the shell when it was still a rather reasonable 7°C (46°F) outside. But while the Forefront is exceptionally good as letting heat escape, there are times when what you really need is good old-fashioned airflow – and it's here where the Forefront unfortunately falls flat.
The outside of the Forefront has lots of generously sized vents, but the underlying Aerocore liner's multiple tubes aren't aligned with incoming airflow – so those vents are effectively blocked when you're moving. Moreover, the Forefront lacks a big, centrally located, and forward facing vent that other helmet manufacturers have shown to be pivotal for good ventilation. As there is no internal channeling whatsoever, any air that does manage to make its way into the Forefront has nowhere to go, either.
Despite the seemingly sharp edges of the Aerocore liner and relatively sparse padding, we found the Forefront to be fantastically comfortable
For us, this meant that even moderately warm temperatures of around 16°C (61°F) left us dripping with sweat, especially on slower and more demanding climbs – and it's worth mentioning that this was in arid, desert air. Rarely did our scalps feel a cooling breeze.
Bear in mind that this was our only significant complaint on the Forefront – but it's a pretty big one.
So did we like the Forefront? Overall, yes, and there's some really exciting technology embedded within that we would love to see developed further. As things stand, though, we have a feeling that we'll like the second-generation version even better.
The new Smith Optics Forefront boasts a fresh aesthestic and some innovative thinking underneath its bright shell