KASK – Versatility Meets Performance
KASK Cycling helmets are now in Australia! Well, that’s not to say they haven’t been available in Australia before now, but they have now set up an office right here in Melbourne to look after their growing market share and to showcase the full range of helmets available to the public. In fact, this is only KASK’s third office, with one in Charlotte, USA and the home office in Italy. This shows just how important they view Australia’s triathlon and cycling community.
To say this young family company lives and breathes helmets is an understatement, and to be honest, we had no real idea how expansive their range of helmets was. KASK have helmets to cover not only cycling and triathlon but mountain biking, horse riding, skiing and snowboarding, and also a full range of construction and safety helmets. It’s very impressive just how comprehensive the KASK range is.
Born in 2004 in the Italian city of Bergamo, the European hotbed of cycling brands, KASK is probably best known for equipping the SKY cycling team. It is this association with SKY that has seen the rapid development of the cutting edge helmets that have put KASK at the forefront of the helmet industry. They pride themselves on meticulous development from design, aerodynamic testing and a classic Italian flare.
They genuinely want their helmets to be not only the best performing helmet on the market but also the most striking and classy looking. Impressively, all KASK helmets are still manufactured in Italy, which allows for a greater level of quality control and, equally important, higher safeguards over intellectual property. While it does mean the prices are higher than some other brands, there is no doubt, when it comes to protecting your head, the piece of mind in knowing that the quality of your helmet is top notch means the world.
From a triathlon point of view, the helmet that first got our attention was the Bambino TT helmet, now called the ‘Bambino Pro’. It was the first helmet that brought ‘snub tailed’ time trial helmets to the masses. While other brands were making them for their ‘Tour’ riders, they were impossible to buy. As such the Bambino became the hot helmet to have and we rated it number one in our tt helmet shoot out from about four years ago. We still use our Bambino to this day, and it would be five years old by now.
Getting the chance to view the full range gave us a great insight into the helmets available and those relevant to the triathlon market. While, once it was solely the Bambino, now there are no less than three time trial helmets and three aero road helmets, which would suit triathletes. The Bambino Pro, the soon to be released Bambino Pro Evo and the just-released Mistral are the traditional time trial style helmets, and these are the helmets that will appeal to the non-drafting Ironman 70.3 and Ironman athletes amongst us. However, with the ITU now making all sprint triathlon and duathlon world championships draft legal the very aero Protone, Infinity and just released ‘super aero’ Utopia are perfect options.
For now, though we are going to look at the newly released Mistral time trial helmet, which was developed in cooperation with the AIS Australian track cycling team. And for those of you with a keen eye, variations of the Mistral could be seen on the heads of our track team over the last few years. Development of a helmet can take a couple of years with lots of real world and wind tunnel testing to go through before it even makes its way to market. The final product was on show for all to see at the recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where pretty much every Australian track rider and time trial cyclist wore one. And, we might add, to great success. A few special edition models were also on the heads of sponsored triathletes as far back as Hawaii Ironman last year, but it’s only now that we are getting our hands on them.
Getting hold of the Mistral in person, you get a real feel for the quality of the helmet with its tight welds and sleek edgings. Add in the 3D padding and adjustable retention system, both vertically and `horizontally, and you have one of the most comfortable fitting TT helmets going around. Then finish it off with a little bit of Italian class, in the form of a leather chin strap, and you have the new KASK Mistral.
So, what makes the Mistral different from the Bambino Pro? It might not look it at first glance, but there are quite a number of differences. While the visor fits both helmets, this is really where the similarities end. On the outside of the helmet, the ear flaps are more flared, which is a good thing for triathlon as it makes the helmet much easier to put on. The back of the helmet tapers around the shoulders and continues down to a short tail with an exhaust port. So, while it is longer than the ‘snub tail’ of the Bambino, it is by no means as long as the old style time trial helmets. Interestingly, we were told one nickname for the Mistral is ‘the talking helmet’. This refers to the noise it makes when you dip your head too low, and the wind starts to catch the tail, and while it certainly makes you want to correct straight away, you actually have to dip your head quite a long way before the Mistral makes said noise. This is pretty reassuring, as it would seem to indicate that it is quite hard to dip your head into a bad aerodynamic position.
Another feature of the Mistral that makes it a lot more attractive to triathletes than its older brother, the Bambino Pro, is the supposed improved ventilation. To be honest, if you were basing this solely on the front-on profile, you would be hard-pressed to see how this is possible. The Mistral essentially has the exact same configuration of six tiny vents. It also has very similar internal channelling, however, the rear exhaust ports and side channels are much bigger and seem to draw the air through the helmet better than that of the Bambino. This, in turn, feels like hotter air is expelled faster and more efficiently.
As we mentioned earlier, the visor, which comes in clear, orange or silver, is interchangeable between the Bambino and the Mistral, so we think that there hasn’t been much development in this area. While it’s nice to know that if you already have the Bambino, you won’t need to buy a new visor for the Mistral, we were really hoping that the Mistral was going to have a new visor, which helped the fogging in some conditions. Even a few ventilation slits along the top of the visor would probably help that situation. Either that or provide such a visor as an option. Having said that, we like having the visor on as it completes the spherical front-on shape, which should be more aerodynamic, even if just marginally. As on the Bambino Pro, the Mistral visor snaps into place via three strong magnets, which keep it firmly in place. Having the previous iteration of the visor, we can say the new design is definitely better at staying in place, as the magnets sit into a magnet shaped groove on the helmet’s rim, as opposed to the old version that was just a flat rim. Another benefit of both the new Mistral and Bambino Pro is the ability to remove the visor mid-ride and flip it, so it sits on the top of the helmet but still attaches firmly to the magnets to ensure it’s not lost.
KASK: Rear helmets are the Protone, Infinity, Utopia. Front helmets are the Mistral and Bambino.
This option is perfect for those really humid days where the choice of the visor might not be best for an entire race, or to momentarily allow some more air flow through before you put it back in place.
Now, there is no doubt that with the visor on it is hotter than with it off. Having said that, in the majority of conditions we think you should be able to wear the visor on the Mistral, as it is definitely cooler than the Bambino, which could end up a hot box in certain conditions. Still, it was worth giving it a good test without the visor on and to our surprise over three runs we barely saw any difference to wearing the visor. What we did notice was the obvious – a little better air flow through the helmet and over the head, without the visor on, but with sunglasses instead.
We took both our current KASK Bambino and the new Mistral to the velodrome for Craig to test against each other and it quickly became apparent that the Mistral was a much better fit for him. It eliminated the gap between his neck and shoulders and smoothed out the transition from head to back, while allowing him to hold his head in a comfortable, neutral, position. For this reason, Craig never really dipped his head into the zone where the Mistral makes a noise.
While all of this doesn’t necessarily mean the Mistral is faster, it did appear, over a number of runs at the same power, that the Mistral was slightly faster. Taking into consideration that this was not in a controlled environment and was, of course, dependent to Craig’s position, we still think that unless you really struggle to hold your head position and/or look around a lot, the Mistral will be one of the fastest time trial helmets you are likely to wear. Of course, if you do move your head around a lot, then the Bambino is probably the best option available.
One other major plus of the Mistral over the Bambino is the ability to hear a lot more around you, like a normal road helmet. In the past using the Bambino we noted how snug the earflaps are giving you a “cone of silence” type feel when riding. The Mistral, on the other hand, with greater airflow and room around the ears provides more auditory information, which is a safer option when around more traffic or fellow athletes in close proximity. As we inferred earlier, that extra space around the ears can also save precious time in transition with a much easier to get on in the frantic rush of T1.
In our opinion, this is the best TT helmet for multi-sport athletes given its versatility over a pure TT helmet. We love the fact that KASK has designed this helmet to take into account the needs of bike racers who do more than just ride.
With a price of approximately $530 for the helmet and $100 for the visor you want to be sure that you are going to get plenty of use out of this helmet, but should you decide that it’s the helmet for you expect to get years of use out of it.
Our five-year-old Bambino is testament to the fact that a helmet with top quality construction will last the test of time. For those of you who think that the full TT look is not quite up your alley at this stage, remember that KASK has a range of helmets that can meet all your needs as a triathlete, road racer, mountain biker, etc. If you are looking at a helmet to suit you for both training and racing the Utopia, Protone or Infinity are all great options and offer great aero benefits over normal road helmets. We’ve personally tested both the Protone and the Infinity and can say they are also some of the most comfortable helmets tested. While we can’t vouch for how fast they are, the fact that Team Sky helped develop all of these means they must provide more than a marginal gain.