ANNECY, France (VN) — The aerodynamic gains to be made from a bit of dome optimization should not be underestimated. The helmet is, after all, one of the first pieces of a rider to hit the wind, and presents to the wind both leading and trailing edges — two big opportunities for a bit of free speed.
With this in mind, Lazer has debuted two all-new aero offerings this Tour de France: the Wasp time trial helmet, seen in the prologue and during Monday’s long TT atop Lotto-Belisol stars Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen Van den Broeck, and the Smooth Aeroshell, worn to two stage wins by André Greipel.
The new Wasp (which stands for WAtt Saving Performance) has been in development for over a year and, unsurprisingly, Lazer claims it is the fastest commercially available TT helmet in the world.
The two notable design features are a “trip wire” across the top, intended to induce small vortices to help avoid large ones, and a downward-facing tail, intended to help keep the back end of the helmet flush with a rider’s back.
The tripwire is intended to “help direct air over the tail and avoid the development of larger air vortices which can negatively affect aerodynamic performance,” according to Lazer. It is similar in concept, then, to the dimples used on the tail of Lazer’s current Tardiz model, or Louis Garneau’s SuperLeggera. Garmin-Sharp also experimented with tripwires in its skinsuits back when the team was Garmin-Slipstream, before the UCI banned such modifications.
The downward-facing tail, which gives the helmet a distinctly wasp-like look (how handy), is most reminiscent of the old Uvex FP2, the iconic helmet of none other than Jan Ulrich over a decade ago. The rounded shape of the Wasp is quite different than the angular Uvex, but both helmets had the same concept in mind: keep the tail flat against a rider’s back to keep the head-to-torso transition as smooth as possible.
The design bucks the recent trend towards snub-tailed or bob-tailed helmets, as used by Bradley Wiggins and his Sky squad, and quite a few others, in Monday’s time trial. Specialized’s recent S-Works+McLaren helmet release comes with the shortest tail the company has ever put out; Koi and Kask have brand new snub-tailed models; Giro has been on the bandwagon for some time. The idea is to keep the helmet fast across a variety of head positions, including when a rider looks straight down.
Lazer’s Chris Smith explained to VeloNews that the Wasp, as shown, is indeed designed around a specific position. “The Wasp tail, as seen, was designed to allow for as minimal a gap between the tail of the helmet and the back as possible, but this does require the rider to keep their head in the ideal position in order to achieve the extra aerodynamic benefit from this design,” he explained.
However, he also let loose that the helmet has a hidden feature not included in the company’s early press release: the tail shown here at the Tour is not the only one that will be available.
“The tail of the Wasp is easily removable and replaceable,” said Smith, via email. “Separate tail sections will be available for riders looking for a shorter tail, or a more vented tail, in order to account for other head positions or for triathlon or hot weather use.”
The Wasp also features an integrated visor, a nice big front vent, molded airflow channels inside, and exhaust vents out the back.
According to Lazer, testing with the STAPS Institute for Aerodynamic Performance has shown a gain of two-to-four watts over other high-end TT helmets at 45 kph, and up to 12 watts over poorly-performing TT helmets. Lazer won’t identify its benchmark helmets.
Lazer says the Wasp will be available in two size options (53-56cm, and 57-60cm) and will retail for $399 when sold with a visor, or $299 without. Availability is set for January 2013, and we’ll get a few more details, including a look at those other tail options, at Eurobike this year.
The big news here isn’t that Lazer is offering aerodynamic helmet shells; they’ve been at that for quite a while now. Rather, we’re happy to see that they have ditched the old grooved and bumpy covers that mimicked the standard, uncovered Lazer Helium outer in favor of a completely smooth external surface. That means the cover should be just a tiny bit faster — and if you’re going to look like a rolling mushroom, you might as well be the fastest mushroom possible.
In fact, Lazer says the covers save between four and 10 watts at 45 kph over a standard Helium, which is nothing to scoff at. Greipel was wearing the new covers as he rode to both of his early-Tour stage wins, in fact.
The UCI bans removable helmet covers, though. So how did Lazer and Lotto get around the rule? A bit of superglue.
“We comply with this rule by permanently gluing an Aeroshell on to the Helium helmet so that the shell is no longer removable. We have discussed this solution with the UCI and they have stated that this is in compliance with their rule,” said Smith.
The new cover will still snap on and off a regular Helium helmet easily, and will retail for $20 starting in January of 2013.