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First Impressions: Troy Lee Designs A3 Helmet

It's the little differences


-Low-speed protection in EPP liner
-Clean, comfortable approach to Mips
-Ample but comfortable padding


-No non-Mips version




Troy Lee Designs

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It’s so nice when a helmet review is just a helmet review. I won’t have to share any finite element analysis or quote any independent test results. I’ll be talking about the brand new Troy Lee A3 helmet and what it’s like to wear it. In fact, I might not even have to do that for very long. It’s so good, it’s unremarkable.

That may be understating it a little. The A3 is absolutely a cutting-edge helmet. It improves upon the A2 everywhere it needed to. Most notably, it uses a more comfortable Mips system that is now called Mips Evolve, where the injection-molded plastic material used for retention serves as the slip plane, instead of the thin yellow sheet (now called Mips Essential) that was used in the A2. The A3’s plastic liner is not as broad and does not interrupt the venting nearly as much as classic Mips Essential systems. It also makes for a more whole-head fit, as the component that contacts your head is actually one continuous flexible object instead of a mobile sip plane combined with a stationary retention system.

Also, the visor works far better with goggle storage. This was a feature sorely lacking in the A2, whose visor wouldn’t lift far enough out of the way to stow a proper set of eyeball-aquariums when you don’t happen to be inside them. The A3 achieved this with a clever notched three-position system that is meant to be pushed well past its highest position to make room for goggles.

The ventilation is also noticeably better than the A2, and not just because there’s less surface area taken up by Mips. There is a maze of channels connecting vents in all directions. It seems to reflect the reality that, despite what mountain bike helmet designers seem to think, we are not roadies. Most of the time that we’re sweating, it’s because we’re on a steep but slow climb, not hammering a flat straightaway. Our heat needs to radiate as well as evacuate. But look inside the helmet, and it may not look that way. The padding is pretty substantial inside the Troy Lee A3.

The antimicrobial liner is actually designed to be snipped apart at strategic points to accommodate slightly different head shapes or to make for better air flow. There are enough spots that the pad can hold on to the Mips liner that you can skip a few specific panels and it still stays put, but Troy Lee also includes extra Velcro in the box if you need it. They also include an entire extra pad. Presumably because they want you to have this helmet for a long time. And at $220, hopefully you will (though the $180 A2 will still be available). But in my case, that spare pad meant I could experiment with customizing it, realize I liked it better when it was fully intact, and then set things right again. There’s also a spare Sweat Glide System, spare visor screws, and of course, a helmet bag.

One thing that hasn’t changed from the A2 is the combination EPS and EPP foam construction. EPS is the stiff foam we know from just about every other helmet out there. But EPP is a softer, higher-rebound foam that we saw on the A2 and Stage full-face from Troy Lee, and has since popped up on a few other helmets. The idea is that the EPS takes care of high-speed impacts and the EPP takes care of low-speed. The science of brain injuries is still in its infancy, but one new frontier is those low-speed impacts. In a way, they can be more dangerous because they happen more frequently. And because helmets are designed for (and often brag about) saving your life in a catastrophic crash, they are, by nature, less effective in non-catastrophic crashes. Those walk-away-from sorts of crashes usually aren’t forceful enough to deform the EPS foam, so your head doesn’t have anything to slowly decelerate it. EPP, on the other hand, doesn’t take much to compress. It’s a feature that makes sense, intuitively. It’s why I felt so good wearing it. At least, part of why.

The Troy Lee A3 is just a damn comfortable helmet. The rear coverage isn’t too overbearing or too deep, though the multiple height settings for the retention system allow it to feel as deep as you want it to. The Mips system feels like it disappears into the helmet, and it’s light enough that there wasn’t enough Mips-Jiggle for me to notice. But I’m not especially sensitive to the dreaded Jiggle so your results may vary. The straps maintain the flat-mount junction below the ears that I never felt pressing against my cheek, and never had to re-adjust after some careless hanging and packing. The sweat gutter, which I don’t see often enough  on helmets, did its job beautifully. Unless I really tried to wring sweat out of the pads, the drops would slide unnoticed down my temples.

If I hadn’t gone with my full-sized-pad configuration, I probably could have turned up the A/C inside the A3, but I happen to have been testing this over a rather chilly late winter and early spring. Those sweaty moments have been rare since early February, and I liked how the generous padding spread the load across my entire head, helped by the also-full-coverage approach to Mips.

The three-position visor setup worked far better than I expected. There’s no insert or thumbscrew holding the center of the visor flush to the helmet. Just three deep divots and a corresponding tab on the visor. In the highest position, it was not in my field of view, and it did not look ridiculous on my head. And if I wanted it any higher, it’s clearly meant to go there to stow goggles, but only temporarily. There’s a protective film just above the highest divot to prevent the tab from damaging the helmet and to give it a little extra grip. But don’t leave it up there for too long. I left my goggles tucked under the visor overnight, and it stressed the tab enough that it didn’t spring back to hold onto the divot until the plastic rested for a few minutes. Storing glasses in the A3 is a bit of a puzzle, but no more than with other helmets.

Well, so much for it being unremarkable. But maybe that’s the point. It takes a lot of effort to make a helmet feel so effortless. The Troy Lee A3, like all good design, disappears once you put it on your head.

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Photos: Anthony Smith