Giant probably isn’t a brand that comes to mind first when you think of trail helmets. If this new Rail model is any indication though, that’s going to change pretty quickly.
Giant’s first serious foray into the hotly contested category is supremely well ventilated, competitively light, and feature packed. Best of all, it’s a relative bargain with a high-end look that belies its appealing price tag, making it my favorite trail helmet to date.
Generous coverage and generous airflow
As is pretty much required for trail helmets these days, the Rail covers more of your head than models that are more intended for cross-country riding. The rear of the helmet extends down past your occipital lobe and the sides even dip down a bit in front of your ears to provide more protection for your temples. Despite the additional coverage, I haven’t found any sunglasses yet that don’t play well with the shape.
There's almost more air than shell on the exterior of the Giant Rail trail helmet
That extra coverage doesn’t at all come at the expense of ventilation, either - and in fact, I’ve found the Rail to keep my head cooler than many road helmets I’ve tested over the years.
The external vents are positively enormous and also well placed, scooping up air at higher speeds and offering up plenty of surface area to let hot air escape at slower ones. More importantly, super deep internal channeling gives that air room to flow – the key factor in helmet ventilation that all too many companies overlook.
The unusually deep internal channeling greatly contributes to the Rail's superb ventilation
If you have issues with sweat dripping into your eyes, you'll also be happy to hear that Giant has carved out big gaps between the inside of the front of the helmet and your forehead. The resultant airflow helps quickly evaporate the sweat (and keeps that area of your head cooler than usual) – and there isn’t a huge browpad where perspiration can build up excessively, either.
Comfort to match
The Rail accompanied me on countless all-day rides this summer, including the grueling Breck Epic six-day stage race in the Colorado high country. At least for me, I found it gloriously comfortable for hours on end.
Stitched splitters are more comfortable than traditional plastic hardware
A nice side effect of the Rail’s deep interior channeling is that it reduces the amount of contact on top of your head but without creating undue pressure points. In effect, the helmet is almost suspended atop your noggin instead of resting on it. What contact remains is cushioned by generous antimicrobial padding – and Giant includes two thicknesses to help fine-tune the fit.
The slim webbing doesn’t absorb much sweat, either, and therefore doesn’t tend to stiffen up over time. Fixed anchors in the bottom of the shell mean less fumbling when you go to put the helmet on, while stitched webbing splitters create more room around your ears, too.
The coverage is generous but the helmet is still barely noticeable on your head
Out back is Giant’s excellent height-adjustable Cinch Pro retention system, made of pleasantly flexible plastic and with a convenient one-handed adjustment dial. Try as I might, it’s virtually impossible to destroy, even when carelessly stuffed into a suitcase.
Add in the Rail’s 279g actual weight (size small, CPSC-approved; 317g for medium) and it’s easy to forget you’ve got anything on your head at all.
The Rail is packed with nearly all the bells and whistles expected of modern trail helmets, including an adjustable visor that’ll go up high enough to park your goggles, a goggle strap on the back of the shell, and a flat section for standard stick-on GoPro mounts.
Can't bear to live without your GoPro? Just slap a standard stick-on mount to the flat section on the front of the helmet
Down below, Giant has even reinforced the lower edge of the helmet with a clear shell to keep the Rail looking newer longer.
Complaints are few in number and minor in nature.
Although the GoPro mount is placed intentionally low so as to produce a more agreeable camera angle, it’s so low that it restricts the range of the visor if you actually have a camera attached. Speaking of which, it’d be nice if the visor were made of a more rigid material and rotated on an indexed pivot for faster adjustments at the top and bottom of runs.
I’d also like to see Giant add a MIPS version for enhanced protection along with an expanded range of colors.
Close enough to perfect for me
These really are little niggles though, and the faults seem even more trivial when you remind yourself of the Rail’s otherwise stellar performance. The superb ventilation, excellent coverage, low weight, and impressive features alone would be enough to make this helmet a winner but add in the fact that it’s also priced less than the competition and it’s a slam dunk for me.
Until something else comes along to topple it from its throne, the Rail is the best everyday trail helmet I’ve ever used.
For more information, visit www.giant-bicycles.com.