Once a rarity in the peloton, it is now more common than ever to see aero road helmets gracing the heads of the world’s biggest cycling stars. Helmets that slice efficiently through the wind are no longer reserved for individual races against the clock as aero testing has proven how valuable they can be in bunch races too. Since the head represents a key portion of a rider’s frontal area, it has become a part of the body that needs to be optimised to create as little drag as possible at high speed. As the level in professional cycling is growing by the season, these marginal gains can make the difference between winning and losing.
It’s not as simple as just creating a helmet that tests the fastest in the windtunnel, though, the requirements of cycling helmets means they are a little more complicated than that. An aero road helmet must still have enough ventilation to make it breathable when riding along and it also needs to hit the mark when it comes to the recommended safety requirements for a modern lid. It needs to be comfortable enough to be worn on road rides and in races that creep close to the 6 hour mark – not everything can be sacrificed for watt savings. It’s this conundrum that helmet manufacturers have been puzzling over for some time now, with many bringing aero road helmets to market claiming to have found the perfect balance between speed, comfort and breathability. The latest company to throw their hat into the ring is German brand, Abus.
Abus Gamechanger 2.0
Abus has launched an updated version of its well-liked Gamechanger model, called the Abus Gamechanger 2.0. The original Gamechanger was launched back in 2017 when Abus also became sponsors of WorldTour team Movistar. Since then, the Gamechanger has been one of the most popular models in the Abus range, helped, naturally, by the fact it has also been worn by Alpecin-Deceunick and Mathieu van der Poel to a breathtaking number of victories. Who doesn’t want to look like MVDP on a bike, right?
According to Abus, it was its very own sponsored riders from both in and outside of the WorldTour who were crucial to the development of the Gamechanger 2.0. The German brand asked riders how to improve the Gamechanger’s ventilation and comfort throughout the extensive testing period during the helmet’s design process – one that Abus says spanned close to three years.
Abus says that it understands how, just like engines on Formula 1 cars, riders need to cool down, especially as the WorldTour peloton tends to race at the hottest part of the day. Heat becomes a crucial factor in Grand Tours like the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España which take place at the height of summer. It was for this reason that ventilation and comfort was at the forefront of designer’s minds when creating the new iteration Gamechanger. However, the Gamechanger 2.0 needed to be faster than its predecessor too, which Abus explains led to extensive testing in the windtunnel – the German brand says it did 90 tests with Movistar rider Enric Mas, for example, tweaking the Gamechanger to make it as efficient as possible.
The biggest change that the new Gamechanger sees when it comes to aerodynamic optimisation is at the rear of the helmet – it now has a wider Kamm tail which means that the aero profile created by the helmet is 11% longer than the previous version. Abus says that the aero shape takes inspiration from the brand’s Airbreaker time trial helmet model, giving riders an advantage especially when riding between 46 and 52kph. The tail of the Gamechanger 2.0 is also pulled lower down which Abus says optimises the head position when riders are on the drops with the head down.
The number of features that aid airflow makes it clear that Abus has placed a big focus on ensuring that the Gamechanger is ventilated as well as aerodynamic. The lower front of the helmet features what Abus describes as “Airboost” – a number of front inlets which allow a claimed additional 32% of air to travel through the helmet compared to the previous Gamechanger and ensure sweat doesn’t build up on the forehead. Above the Airboost section sits the horizontal “Acti Cage” bridges which Abus says direct airflow specifically into the helmet at higher speeds, these bridges are also shaped in a shark fin, meaning that when a rider’s head is down lower in a racing position they guide the airflow favourably over the head. In simple terms, they offer additional ventilation when a rider is upright but the slanted shape means that they guide the air over the helmet when in a race position. The “Aero Blade” ventilated section at the top of the helmet also brings added airflow to the helmet when the head is in a downward position.
At the back of the helmet there are rear “Air Port” vents for sunglasses storage as well as additional ventilation, as well as forced air cooling technology which Abus says leads to 20% more air outtake than in the previous Gamechanger. This ensures that the air brought in at the front of the helmet is dispelled at the back of the helmet too through the rear diffuser system and its enlarged air outlets. The German brand explains that inspiration for the helmet’s ventilation system is inspired by Venturi nozzles used in aviation which “ensure an almost perfect temperature through simultaneous pressure and suction of the air flowing in and out.”
Another key area where the Gamechanger 2.0 sees an upgrade is in the chin strap and retention system. Named the “Flow straps'' the straps have a much wider V-shape which Abus says ensures that the helmet is always placed in the optimal head position. The “Zoom Pro” retention system features a new slider design which means that the straps and adjuster system are individually guided into position separately to ensure they sit correctly on the head.
When it comes to safety, the Gamechanger 2.0 is available both with and without MIPS technology (choosing to buy with MIPS increases the price of the Gamechanger). The MIPS version also comes with a special FidLock buckle and both versions of the helmet are QUIN ready, this means they can be set up with QUINCrash Detection Technology – an integrated accelerometer that detects and measures falls. If a rider crashes, the QUIN sensor can contact an emergency contact and submit a rider’s location via email or text. This can be deactivated in the QUIN app if the helmet is dropped by accident.
Helmets that are specifically marketed to be aerodynamic can prove some of the most tricky to test, as claims that brands make about the helmet’s efficiency through the air are difficult to quantify without the use of a windtunnel. This means that I can only judge the aerodynamics of the helmet through the naked eye and through the logic that Abus explains about the helmet’s aero qualities changing depending on a rider’s race position, which makes sense to me. I think it is impressive that despite the clear focus on aerodynamics the helmet still doesn’t have a shape so unusual that it would make me feel self-conscious about riding it out in public when not in a race scenario. The Gamechanger 2.0 retains the clear Abus Gamechanger style which made it so popular in the first place, something that I think is a wise move from the German brand. The Gamechanger 2.0 comes in either black or white at launch and I tested the white version – I did like the aesthetics but I find the placement of the Abus logo on the front of the helmet a bit too much. A smaller logo here, or nothing at all, would give the Gamechanger 2.0 a more premium look.
On to ventilation and the Gamechanger 2.0 is seriously impressive. When riding along, you can feel the air being sucked in through the front of the helmet and literally cooling the top of your head when you ride. I dropped my head a couple of times to see if the vent at the top of the helmet made much of a difference at moving air flow and was pleasantly surprised to feel the cool breeze travel through the helmet again. I’ve worn this helmet on rides nearing the five hour mark when the temperature has been over 20 degrees celsius and I never had any issues with overheating. It’s a smart move from Abus to add a vent at the front of the helmet for improved ventilation when the majority of cycling sunglasses are now oversized and reach the lower edge of most helmets – this gives air an additional vent to travel through. My only gripe was that when I wanted to take my sunglasses off, I could not fit them comfortably in the frontal vents of the helmet and had to put them behind my head instead – this is probably more aerodynamic, though.
The breathability of the helmet goes hand in hand with its comfort, another area where the Gamechanger 2.0 excels. It feels lightweight on the head (the helmet weighs 265g in a size medium) and gives that desirable ‘barely-there’ feel that we all want from a helmet. The material of the chin straps is soft and I never had any issues with it chafing against the skin, while the V-shape of the straps suited me well, though I think the opportunity to adjust the size of these might be an option that some riders wish for. The Zoom Pro retention system feels sturdy and is easy to use, even allowing a ponytail to be easily looped through the rear of the helmet for those with longer hair. The padding inside the helmet is minimal but this doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable – there’s support where you need it most at the front of the helmet and it also means that the helmet sits close to the head while riding. The buckle on the Gamechanger 2.0 is basic but does the job fine, though I would say that the material of the straps and buckle is what makes the Abus helmet feel slightly less premium than some of its competitors.
The Gamechanger 2.0 retails for £239.99 without MIPS and for £279.99 with. This is in-keeping with the majority of high-end aero helmets on the market (the Specialized S-Works Evade 3 helmet is £275.00 with MIPS, for example) though it is undeniably a lot of cash to splash on a cycling helmet. There are areas on the Gamechanger which I think could be upgraded to give it a bit more of a premium feel, notably on the straps, buckle and logo placement but overall it does perform extremely well. It strikes the coveted balance of being breathable and comfortable while also hitting the mark for aero gains and is a great choice if you are looking for a performance upgrade.