In the western United States – and California in particular – the market for cycling helmets is dominated by the highly-visible Scotts Valley manufacturer Giro, whose Atmos, Ionos and Aeon road helmets are ubiquitous on the heads of amateurs and pros alike. Giro have been highly successful at placing their product in the pro teams, and their designs are both technically advanced and attractive to consumers.
Outside the US Giro has a strong foothold, but the company shares the market with the established European manufacturer Lazer. Lazer holds the distinction of being the oldest helmet maker in the world in continual operation, established in 1919 in Belgium. Over the last 92 years, the company has been responsible for innovating and developing almost every generation of cycling helmet technology.
The Lazer Sphere occupies a position in the Lazer range just below the Helium and the Genesis, making it a strong competitor for upper-mid-range priced helmets like the Giro Saros. The current model features the classic Lazer profile: a sharply downward-sweeping front with a rather abrupt rear when compared to other road helmets. In fact, the Sphere has been redesigned to offer greater protection to the back of the head, and this model features a broader, more substantial rear arrangement, with some attractive and functional venting beneath the sweeping lines which separate the top portion from the lower back piece.
The Sphere is extraordinarily lightweight – just 292g, despite the manufacturer’s claim of 315g nominal mass. Compare this to my Giro Atmos, which weighs in at 297g and my Giro Ionos which tips the scale at 308g. The Sphere is a smaller helmet all around, with a very sleek fore-section which fits close and snug to the head. This racier profile is visually appealing, especially if – like me – you’re used to Giro’s mushroom-head effect. The lines are fast and streamlined, with higher side-sections and a more top-of-the-head feeling than other helmets I’ve worn recently.
The chin strap is the best I’ve ever encountered on a road helmet, and the adjusters are smooth, easy to manipulate and sturdy. The nylon is high-quality and soft, and is arranged to clear the edges of the ears without any rubbing. I could wear the Sphere all day and be perfectly happy; this is a profoundly comfortable helmet. The straps look a little odd when you see the shorter, faster profile of the helmet, appearing to fasten closer to the front than I’m used to on similar helmets. Since the Sphere is essentially a flatter, less bulky helmet, you notice things like straps and where they appear. This is not necessarily a criticism of the design, but rather a personal opinion on the overall appearance. On my regular helmets, the straps appear further back and deeper, essentially becoming less visible when seen from the side.
The adjustable interior cradles the head with flexible plastic bands covered with Lazer’s X-Static foam cushions, while an innovative tube-and-wire arrangement allows minute adjustments via the wheel on the top of the helmet. This seems to me a more user-friendly and precise system than the ones on my regular helmets, although I did worry about the wires relaxing during the course of a long ride. Essentially, the wires pull the cradle tighter around the crown of the head, but without a locking mechanism, the system is prone to slipping open again. That said, I didn’t notice any looseness during my riding with the Sphere.
The Sphere is well ventilated, with 21 vents (23 if you count the central holes at the back) placed thoughtfully to provide cooling to every part of the head. As I mentioned earlier, the Sphere rides a lot higher on the wearer’s head than many other helmets, so overheating is unlikely. However, ventilation is not an exact science when you account for the variables in each rider, including the shape of an individual’s head, his hair length and style, whether he wears a cap or not, etc. The Sphere definitely errs on the side over-ventilation, which ought to satisfy Sacramento-area summertime cyclists, for whom every little extra breath of air is a bonus.
If I had one enduring criticism of the Sphere, it would be the use of a moulded shell reinforcement on the exterior, which is finished in a high-gloss laminate. The effect is, unfortunately, a rather cheap-looking helmet which belies the high-tech, high-performance item underneath. I vastly prefer the look of both my Ionos and my Atmos, which have a low-gloss finish with careful attention to detail. The Sphere seems to cry out for a more sophisticated color-scheme, finish and shell design, and that is really the great downfall of this particular helmet.
For around $130, the Sphere offers very sleek European styling in an (unfortunately) slightly dowdy package, let down by too much glossy sheen. If you can see past the cheap-plastic look of the finish, the Sphere ought to make Californian cyclists seriously consider reaching for something other than the Giro.