Specialized claims its new Evade II aero road helmet is faster and cooler than the original. We can't quantify either point, but we can say that the helmet is light, very comfortable and offers noticeably more ventilation than its predecessor. Further, it's our favorite aero helmet for how it feels and looks on the head (well, maybe not in this particular colorway).
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Making a fast helmet is relatively easy (elongated with no vents), but making a fast helmet that is comfortable and well ventilated is — as several designs including the original Evade have shown — something else entirely. According to Specialized, half of the time spent designing the Evade II was focused on ventilation.
Specialized has its own wind tunnel near its headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. For this project, engineers tinkered with numerous internal shell pieces to experiment with channeled air flow. They also built a new measurement tool on a head form with 12 heaters and sensors, trying to recreate and measure a human experience inside the helmets.
The end result is a helmet that “cools as effectively as not wearing a helmet at all — when moving at a somewhat reasonable rate of 20mph,” said Specialized R&D/Tech Director Chris Yu.
That's a huge claim, and impossible for us to quantify. On the road, though, the helmet does feel much more like a normal, well-ventilated road helmet than an aero race lid.
In addition to the wind-tunnel-designed vents and deep, sculpted channels, a big part of the ventilation design is the nearly wide-open back end of the helmet.
"Vents are useless if you don’t have anywhere for the air to go," said Yu, a Stanford PhD who has led the company's wind tunnel work on bikes as well as this helmet. "A rule of thumb is that you have to have almost more exit volume than intake volume to effectively cool something. For helmets that is tough, as you want to taper that back end for aerodynamics."
If you subscribe to the 'narrow is aero' philosophy, you might appreciate the relatively slender head-on profile. For us, we just like how it looks from the front, sitting close to the temples. The helmet (size medium shown here) can touch the arms of some sunglasses, as it sits low right in front of the ears.
Why we love the feel of the helmet
Head shapes vary, but we find the internal shape very comfortable for a couple of reasons.
The forehead pad sits a small distance back from the shell, which offers both ventilation and the elimination of a non-malleable piece of foam pressing against your head. With this design, the pad conforms to your head and evenly distributes what little pressure the 287g helmet produces. There is no MIPS liner — which Specialized curiously won't comment on — but the absence of the hard plastic immediately behind the forehead pad makes for a softer, more malleable surface.
Specialized loves to name things, and its so-called Gutter Action brow pad does perform as claimed, pulling sweat away from above your eyes to the temples.
The elongated shape is just noticeable when riding head down and looking up — you can see the front edge at the top of your vision, similar to some sunglass frames. This is similar to Giro's Vanquish.
The tailored feel of the Evade also comes thanks to the Mindset HairPort II micro-dial system. It anchors very near the front, pulling your head gently into the brow of the helmet. The minimal dial system is also adjustable vertically, making it easy to accommodate long hair, different head shapes, and hats.
The straps on the Evade II sit flat against your temple and cheek, which keeps the straps from flapping in the wind. There is no under-ear adjustment whatsoever, but we never felt the need to change where the junction sat, even with a cycling cap or winter hat underneath. They are slimmer than the traditional snap closure, and cause the straps to lay flush against your neck. For us, the design works well; it's comfortable and you never have to mess with it. The Mindset HairPort is also minimal enough to keep it from interfering with sunglasses.
Despite a minimal number of vents, the new Evade uses what Specialized is calling its “4th Dimension Cooling System” (the company names everything) that involves large front vent that force air through deep internal channels and eventually to good-sized exhaust ports at the rear of the helmet. No matter the dimension involved, the system works well.
The no's: traditional buckles, MIPS and shield lens
Specialized added a magnetic buckle that our testers have mixed reactions to. Nick loves it. Ben isn't entirely sold on it. It works well enough and is easily operable with one hand, which is a plus if you need to pull a headband off while riding. But the weight of the buckle overwhelms the flyweight strap, which caused Ben's chinstrap to loosen slightly while riding.
So about the absence of a MIPS liner. Many companies have gone all-in with the plastic rotational liner that is claimed to reduce brain trauma in the event of a crash by allowing the skull to pivot slightly within the helmet. For legal reasons, companies can't claim that a MIPS helmet is safer than a non-MIPS helmet. But that, of course, is the implication, and Specialized does have a few MIPS-equipped helmets in its line. As for a MIPS Evade II, Specialized's Yu just said "more info to come soon."
Another thing other helmet brands are doing on aero road helmets is integrating sunglass shields or visors. Yu said Specialized experimented quite a bit and found that "the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze."
"We never found a case when it was faster than glasses," Yu said. "Further, you would have to compromise on shaping elsewhere. We have found with other helmets we benchmark, that shields are the same as glasses."
Speaking of sunglasses, the Evade II doesn't have the same handy sunglass-arm ports that the Prevail and the Airnet do. You can still stick the arms into the vents, but the Evade II doesn't have the same rubber grippers to keep the glasses secure.
About this colo(u)r...
We have to talk about the color scheme on the Specialized Evade II helmet. While we dig some of Specialized's zanier designers, like the high-vis green Specialized calls Hyper Green, this so-called "Acid Lava" doesn't do it for us. It looks like a helmet from the ’80s; not a retro style, but an actual helmet from four decades ago that has faded over time. Then again, no one ever accused us of being fashion forward. In any event, Specialized also offers the Evade II in black, white, and another wild fade.
Bottom line: An airy, aero helmet that fits well
After a few months of riding and racing, we are sold on the look and feel of the Evade II. This particular color scheme might not be everyone's favorite, but there are black and white options, too.
The substantial channeling works well to move air across the head, and the suspended pad design across the forehead makes for a very comfortable fit.
The Evade sits right on the average price for helmets in this category. Weighing 298g (CPSC medium), it is lighter than many other aero road helmets, though not the lightest we’ve tested.
While those figures point towards an average result, the Evade is greater than the sum of its parts. It shows how an evolution of a design can bring both improved performance (according to Specialized, the Evade II is the fastest aero road helmet the California company has tested) and better comfort in the form of refined pads and enhanced ventilation.
For us, the only question is, can you rock that Acid Lava look, or will you settle for traditional black or white?