Belgium. Cyclocross Worlds were just in Ostend. And we are all anxious awaiting the Spring Classics season in Belgium: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, De Panne, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Flèche Wallonne, and La Doyenne (Liège-Bastogne-Liège). It wouldn’t be cycling without Belgium, so it’s only fitting that PEZ got its hands on the newest helmet from Lazer. A storied Belgian helmet brand that’s been around for 100 years and worn by modern day cycling heroes like Wout van Aert.
Lazer Sphere MIPS Helmet – $159.99US / $209.99 Cdn
Full disclosure: I am a Lazer helmet fanboi. I’ve previously ridden the Lazer Helium and currently ride a Lazer Z1 (their former flagship model) Flanders special edition — befitting of a Belgian helmet company that’s been in the business of protecting your noggin’ since 1919.
Fast forward to 2021 and Lazer’s newest helmet is the Sphere MIPS, which is a mid-range helmet price-wise but with features you’d find in a lot of higher end (and much more expensive helmets). The Sphere MIPS (Lazer also makes a non-MIPS Sphere) comes in five different colorways: Matte Stripes, Red, Matte Black, Blue (appropriately, a lot like the blue of the Belgian national team jersey), and White. PEZ got the Matte Stripes, which is a matte black with pink accents. (NOTE to the EF Education-NIPPO team: this helmet would look great with your kit if you ever lose POC as a helmet sponsor!) PEZ readers know that one of my “trademarks” is pink handlebar tape, so while pink might not be a color a lot of guys feel comfortable wearing, it works for me. #realmenridepink
Notably, the Sphere is one of 11 helmets in the Lazer lineup that have earned a 5 out of 5-stars safety rating by Virginia Tech’s independent testing facility. For road style helmets, the Lazer G1 MIPS ($249.99) is currently the top rated helmet and the Sphere MIPS is number 5 on the list. That says a lot about the Sphere MIPS and Lazer helmets in general.
The details of their testing methodology can be found here. Without going into the nuts and bolts of it, it’s essentially a helmet drop test at different velocities with measurements at six different locations to represent body-driven impacts, in which the head leads the body; skidding-type impacts; and an impact from flipping over the handlebars. It’s not too unlike the independent Snell Foundation testing done for motorcycling and motorsports helmets. (When I was sportbike motorcycle riding and knee dragging on the track, a Snell-approved helmet was at the top of my list of safety equipment.)
It’s important to note that all helmets sold in the U.S. must meet Consumer Product Safety Commission certification standards, which require protection against catastrophic injuries in extremely severe impacts, which are rare. So it’s not that other helmets that are CPSC-certified are un-safe. But helmets ranked higher by Virginia Tech may offer better protection that those that are ranked lower and their independent testing results offer an additional perspective on any purchase decision. As Virginia Tech points out:
No helmet is concussion-proof. Any athlete can sustain a head injury, even with the very best head protection. The helmet ratings identify the helmets that best reduce your chances of sustaining a concussion.
Ultimately, it’s your head so your decision.
I’ve known about MIPS technology for a while now, but none of my helmets have it. So I was excited about being able to review the Lazer Sphere MIPS to see that it’s all about.
One of the reasons the Lazer Sphere rates so highly in the Virginia Tech tests is because it uses MIPS, which stands for Multi-Directional Impact Prevention System — a technology that was invented in Sweden in 1996. Today, almost every helmet manufacturer has at least one model that incorporates MIPS (Lazer has 14 across their entire helmet range).
There’s no mistaking the MIPS liner
In a nutshell, MIPS (essentially a plastic liner attached to the inside of the helmet) provides 10-15 mm of motion in all directions — which helps to reduce rotational motion at impact to prevent against concussions. According to the folks at MIPS, this is important because:
- Injury statistics show that when you fall and hit your head, it’s most common to fall at an angle, compared to a linear fall.
- Falling at an angle creates rotational motion and science has shown that our brains are very sensitive to rotational forces. In an angled impact, these forces may transfer to your brain, which can cause severe injuries. The MIPS BPS can reduce the rotational motion and reduce the risk of brain damage.
- During an angled impact, rotational motion can cause strain to the brain tissue, which may lead to severe brain injuries. When you have suffered a concussion or even more serious damage to the brain, rotational motion to the brain is the most likely cause.
- When the rotational force is redirected, the risk of strain to the brain tissue is reduced. After conducting more than 31,000 tests, and moreover being validated and confirmed by third party testing, we know that the MIPS BPS adds protection at certain types of impacts.
Again, a helmet without MIPS doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. But a helmet — like the Sphere MIPS — with MIPS provides additional protection. Yes, it costs a little more (the Lazer Sphere without MIPS is $139.99). Is it worth spending $20 more for MIPS? It’s your head, so you decide.
Hopefully, I don’t have to find out first hand about the effectiveness of MIPS, but the Lazer Sphere MIPS provides some additional peace of mind
Lazer doesn’t say so outright, but there’s no denying that the Sphere MIPS styling is derivative of Lazer’s top end G1 and Bullet 2.0 ($269.99) helmets worn by the likes of the Jumbo-Vista and Sunweb boys (as well the Sunweb women’s team and the women’s FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team). It may not be a razor sharp Euro pro look, but it’s sharp enough that you won’t look out of place on your local group ride wearing a Sphere MIPS.
Lazer helmets in the pro peloton
There’s no mistaking the Lazer lineage: (L) G1 MIPS, (M) Bullet 2.0, (R) Sphere MIPS
Ventilation-wise, the Sphere MIPS is in-between the G1 (22 vents) and the Bullet (an aero helmet with only 8 vents that we first saw a couple years back) with 18 vents that are generously sized. To maximize air flow, the vents are oriented at a 15-degree angle because according to Lazer: “Road cyclists instinctively tilt their heads at around a 15 degrees angle when riding. Sphere’s ventilation channels are optimized to keep the riders’ heads cool for longer in this position.” The interior of the helmet also has some channeling to flow air through and out the back of the helmet.
I got the Sphere MIPS in the middle of winter so I can’t attest to how well it actually flows/channels air to help keep your head cool. I can attest that the outer front vents work well for stashing sunglasses if you don’t feel like wearing them (for me, the only time I really do this is if I’m riding late enough that I’m dealing with the sun going down and the tint of my sunglasses is too dark for the light conditions).
Sizing and fit
Both my Helium and Z1 are size medium and that’s what size I went with for the Sphere MIPS. My head measurement (56 cm) is actually on the cusp between small and medium per Lazer’s size guide. Lazer recommends the smaller size when you’re in-between sizes like me, but I chose to go the other direction for a couple of different reasons.
First, I like to wear a thin skull cap under my helmet (what you see a lot of NFL players were under their helmets) so that makes my head size marginally bigger. So I’d rather be at the lower end of the size medium fit rather than at the upper end of size small for fit/comfort. The main reason I wear a skull cap is because it helps keep the inside of my helmet from getting too sweaty and “funky” smelling (and it doesn’t make my head feel any hotter … even during the dog days of summer). Plus it helps with keeping sweat from dipping down onto my sunglasses/into my eyes. And in the winter I wear a thicker, thermal beanie under my helmet that likely wouldn’t fit underneath a size small.
Second, a size medium sits on my head better. One thing I’ve noticed is that even properly worn, i.e., level, helmets on a lot of riders (including many pros) sit relatively high up, exposing a fair amount of their forehead (like more than half). IMHO to provide adequate protection, a helmet actually needs to sit lower down (but not so low that you it interferes with wearing sunglasses — especially with the trend to oversize sunglasses). The size medium covers close to three-quarters of my forehead. Why do I think this is so important? Well, my wife had a bike accident (many years ago) where her helmet wasn’t positioned down low enough in front so it didn’t provide enough protection when she hit the pavement. The result was a helicopter trip to the hospital. It was scary and she came through it all OK, but her head injury was such that she still has occasional short term memory loss. Remember what I said above about it being your head and your decision?
Tom Dumoulin (left) with his helmet sitting properly on his head. Tony Martin (right) with excessive forehead real estate exposed
Speaking of fit, one of the reasons I became a Lazer fanboi is their Advanced Rollsys System (ARS). ARS uses a thumbwheel on top of the helmet to fine tune the fit around the full circumference of your head to keep it comfortably snug and properly positioned. Compared to other helmets that have a mechanism that tightens just the back of the helmet to snug it up, I find the ARS to be more comfortable and better fitting.
Lazer’s Advanced Rollsys System completely encircles the head, creating even distribution of tension and eliminating pressure points. It’s simply a better design than helmets that anchor the retention system into points inside the helmet, and squish one end of the helmet against your head.
Adjusting the Rollsys for fit is easy peasy
One thing worth noting is that the Sphere MIPS only comes with one set of replaceable pads pre-installed (some manufacturers provide both a thinner and thicker set of pads for sizing/comfort). But I didn’t find this lacking as the Advanced Rollsys System pretty much does away with the need for different pads to get the fit right.
Also, the back of the head “basket” can be adjusted up or down (5 different positions that lock in place via a ratchet-like system) based on preference and comfort: high and out of the way or low for a feeling of increased security (I prefer the latter). NOTE: You have to pull or push pretty firmly on rear basket to get it to move and the locking part is underneath the MIPS liner so is a bit of a PITA.
You can’t see this because it’s hidden beneath the MIPS liner on the Sphere MIPS: the ratchet system for the rear head basket (pic is of my Z1)
The Sphere MIPS rear retention is ponytail-friendly …just in case.
The rest of the adjustment on the Sphere MIPS is fairly traditional. Sliders to adjust the straps. And a quick-release chin strap buckle (which requires a fairly firm squeeze to release).
If I had one niggle it would be that you can’t lock the sliders in place, which was a feature I liked on my Lazer Helium helmet
Speaking of straps, the other thing I see with a lot of riders (including a few pros) are floppy/loose straps. It’s not a question of aesthetics or aero. A helmet won’t do you any good if it’s not attached snugly to your head to stay in place in the event of impact. So adjust the straps so they lay comfortably flat and snug against your head and under your chin!
And one final note is that the MIPS liner is attached to the inside of the helmet via four “nubs” that are exposed. You may or may not feel them (more likely if you’re “hair challenged”). And it’s possible your hair might get snagged on them. I can say testing the helmet without my skull cap that I didn’t experience any issues. YMMV.
MIPS liner attachment point
Weight is normally the first spec that comes up in any discussion of helmets. After all, no one wants a lot of weight on their head when they’re riding. Lazer claims 280 grams for the Sphere MIPS. So it’s not a featherweight (the G1 MIPS claimed weight is 235 grams) and if weight is what you’re chasing, these are not the droids for you.
At 296 grams, my Sphere MIPS tips the scale a little heavier than spec
That said, the Sphere MIPS didn’t feel heavy on my head. My reference point is my Lazer Z1 (278 grams on my scale) that I’ve been perfectly comfortable wearing on rides 6 hours or longer. It’s winter so I haven’t had a chance to do rides that long in the Sphere MIPS, but don’t have any reason to believe it will “weigh me down.”
And if a little extra weight is a “penalty” for 5-star rated crash protection … again, it’s your head so your choice.
Aeroshell – $22.99
Ventilated or aero … you decide
Yet another reason I’m a Lazer fanboi is their Aeroshell snap on helmet cover. I have one for my Helium and my Z1 (both of them depicting the Lion of Flanders). The Aeroshell for my Sphere MIPS is matte black, which goes well with the Stripes colorway/graphics.
Three generations of Aeroshell: (left) Helium, (middle) Sphere MIPS, (right) Z1
The original intent behind the Aeroshell was to make a ventilated helmet an aero helmet by closing off the front, top, and side vents (the rear vents are left uncovered to channel air flow). The result is a low cost “two-fer,” i.e., having two helmets in one rather than having to buy a second helmet. In a word: brilliant! Honestly, I don’t know why other helmet manufacturers haven’t done the same.
For 51 grams, you can transform the Sphere MIPS into an aero helmet
André Greipel winning on the Champs Elysées in the 2015 TdF wearing a Lazer Z1 helmet with Aeroshell cover
But another benefit (in many ways, more practical for the average rider like me) is that the Aeroshell provides protection against inclement weather. Not that I ride in the rain on purpose, but the Aeroshell will keep your head dry (as well as keep the inside of your helmet from getting soaked). And the Aeroshell makes a big difference when the temperature drops. By covering up all those vents that help keep your head cooler in hot weather, the Aeroshell keeps cold air off your head to prevent wind chill. Did I mention that I got the Sphere MIPS in winter?
The Aeroshell leaves the rear vents uncovered to allow air to flow out of the helmet
Bang for the Buck
You can spend a lot of money on a helmet, but the Lazer Sphere MIPS is proof that you don’t have to. With the Sphere MIPS you get a lot of bang for your buck:
- Styling that wouldn’t look out of place in the pro peloton
- MIPS technology to help reduce the chance of brain injury in the event of a crash
- 5 out of 5-stars safety rating from Virginia Tech’s independent testing
- Well ventilated to keep your head cooler in hot weather
- If you feel the need for speed, the Aeroshell turns the Sphere MIPS into a legit aero helmet — or use it to provide weather protection against the elements
If you’re in the market for a new helmet (most manufacturers recommend getting a new helmet every 3-5 years) and you can live with not wearing the same exact helmet as your favorite pro rider, the Lazer Sphere MIPS is a solid choice at a price point that won’t drain your wallet (use the money saved to treat your spouse/significant other to a nice dinner). Just remember that helmets are a lot like saddles. They’re a very personal choice. Everyone’s head is shaped differently and the most important thing is to find a helmet that fits and sits on your head properly and is comfortable.
• US Readers can buy the Lazer Sphere MIPS here
• Canadian Readers can buy the Lazer Sphere MIPS here
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