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Review: Specialized Tactic 4 Helmet

The brand's mid-priced trail helmet gets a full redesign

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The Specialized Tactic has been around for about a decade and has been updated a few times since its first appearance as the brand’s mid-level mountain bike helmet offering. But fashion moves fast and the previous version had become a bit long in the tooth. Trail riding continues to evolve as well, and the protection we use needs to keep up. The forth version of the Tactic features a whole new shape with improved styling, increased coverage around the ears and back of the head, as well as an e-bike approved test rating. It has also received a 5-star rating from Virginia Tech’s independent helmet rating test. Actually, of the nearly 140 bike helmets tested, the new Tactic currently has the best score of 8.6 (the lower the number, the better). Impressive for a helmet that costs just $110.

Specialized Tactic Mountain Bike Helmet

Fortunately, I’ve not had to test the Tactic’s impact protection myself, but I have gotten to know the helmet’s fit and features. The size small Tactic fits my tiny 55cm skull well and the retention system secures the helmet nicely in place. Specialized equipped the fourth-gen Tactic with what is essentially the same 360-degree, height-adjustable retention system found on the pricier Ambush helmet, making it a huge upgrade from the previous version. Fit-wise, it’s just as comfy as the $200 Ambush, and at 350 grams for the size small, it’s only about 30 grams heavier.

I’m also a big fan of Specialized using a single thin piece of webbing for the chin strap and soft plastic Y-splitters to allow the webbing to wrap cleanly around the ears. The ear gap isn’t adjustable, however, making it a deal breaker for the inevitable few for whom it doesn’t fit. For me, the minimalistic chin strap has always one of the biggest draws of the Specialized Ambush, so it’s great to see the same setup make its way onto the Tactic.

MTB helmet

The Tactic doesn’t sport the same quantity of vents as the Ambush does, but the quality of them is arguably better. The five main front facing vents are larger and scoop a ton of air, and the brow vents are segmented in a way that makes for perfect glasses storage. There are plenty of holes for heat to escape out the back of the helmet as well.

As for the fixed visor, I can’t say that it bothers me. Normally I’d be deducting points for the inability to make visor adjustments, but in this case I think Specialized put it in just the right spot. It’s high enough that glasses and goggle fit underneath, while also being large and low enough to actually reduce sun glare. Having a fixed visor also means fewer parts to break or lose, which is always a plus. Just like with the non-adjustable webbing around the ears, Specialized’s chosen spot for the visor might not vibe with everyone. The helmet’s simplicity might reduce it’s ability to have a more universal, personalized fit, but it’s a huge benefit for the (hopeful) majority of riders that it works for.

My only criticism after about a month of riding with the Tactic is that sweat is prone to dripping off the brow and onto the inside of my glasses. It’d be nice to see some sort of gutter, kind of like what’s found on the Oakley DRT5. I’m otherwise not a big fan of the DRT5, but the sweat solution they came up with for that helmet is really nice. All and all though, I’m really happy with the new Tactic. The previous version didn’t come anywhere close in fit, function, refinement and comfort to the Ambush, my longstanding favorite helmet of all time. This one is almost indistinguishable from it—for half the price. It looks better, too.

Here’s a little video that Specialized made about the new Tactic:

Photos: Ryan Palmer