It’s an unfortunate reality that we were not born to be elite endurance athletes. We are not “genetic freaks,” as the saying goes. We don’t have a naturally high hematocrit, or VO2Max, or even an especially high pain tolerance, but every so often we get to feel like one. Those great runs where your legs feel like they’re flying, or a group ride where you leave everyone behind in the sprint zone with ease; they make all the training worth it. Sometimes, you can get that feeling from equipment, too; the first ride on your dream bike, finally strapping on a pair of carbon shoes, and now, flicking the vents closed on the new Bell Star Pro.
That’s right, the vents on the Star Pro can be opened or closed by a slider on the rear of the helmet. The mechanism is fairly slick; the single slider controls an internal system that opens the vents along the sides and top of the helmet with ribbed slats, and is fairly robust. At Interbike this year there was a cutaway model of the helmet that showed the system in action. With the bulk of the helmet being made out of clear plastic, we were free to play with the mechanism fully exposed, which was interesting for how solidly the slider engaged at fully-open and fully-closed.
Normally, we’d be concerned with closing all the vents off on a helmet, but the Star Pro uses something called Overbrow Ventilation, which is a set of five channels cut into the front lip of the helmet, between the pads and your head, that runs cool air over your forehead and out the back exhaust ports. This arrangement is supposed to keep you cool, even with the lack of venting over the forehead, as well as preserve the aerodynamic gains of closing the vents.
Those gains, by the way, are purported to be significant. Bell says that the Star Pro, with the vents closed and the shield on, is the fastest helmet in the aero road segment. And with the vents open, “it proved to be near equal to a traditional road helmet over a 30-minute period.” Bell says that what they were after was to eliminate the choice between a faster helmet and a cooler helmet, opting to do both in a single lid. The result was the Star Pro, and like a lot of “why can’t we do both?” propositions, it seems to get most of each segment right, but in so many things, the little details make some of the biggest differences.
When you first put on the Star Pro, the first thing you’ll notice is that the ear straps are not adjustable in any way. This is problematic if you have longer ears than Bell has accounted for, as we found we did, and causes some irritation on longer rides. The retention straps lay perfectly flat, and even the chin strap length adjuster is of the low-profile variety, hugging your head tightly once adjusted—all in the name of aerodynamics. No more straps flapping in the wind takes some getting used to, but once you do, you wonder how older helmets felt secure without it.
The second thing you’ll notice is that, compared to the rest of your head, your forehead is noticeably warmer in the Star Pro. And this is the case whether the vents are open or closed. However, this temperature difference isn’t necessarily uncomfortable. Even in 90+ degree weather we didn’t feel like we were overheating. However, we felt it necessary to disclose that there is a definite difference in temperature, especially when wearing the optional sunglass shield with the helmet, which is the faster configuration, according to Bell. The shield seems to block the Overbrow vent system from getting enough air to do much of anything cooling-wise. Of course while the Overbrow vent system functions better without the shield attachment, we’re not sure why you would intentionally purchase the top-tier aero road helmet and not ride its fastest configuration. We’ll be testing this more thoroughly as our time with the Star Pro continues, so stay tuned for that.
What we found most surprising about the Star Pro is that we didn’t experience a significant difference in the temperature of our head with the slider-controlled vents open or closed. Even doing sprint repeats, we were hard pressed to tell when the helmet was open or closed by temperature alone. To be clear, we never felt remotely overheated, even on several hour rides; we just couldn’t tell a difference between the vents being open or not by how hot our head felt. At most, there was a small difference when first hitting the slider open, but it seemed to quickly equalize back to the same level of comfort that we’d had with the vents in the closed position. With that said, we suppose whatever passive cooling measures must be working, but we’ll keep riding it and see how it goes.
As for speed, it’s like we’ve always said: if you feel faster, you are faster. Flicking those vents closed makes you feel like a member of Belkin’s squad about to burn a match for a stage victory, and that mental change can help quiet your screaming quads in a sprint to the finish. We don’t have a wind tunnel; we can’t validate Bell’s findings, but they’re saying the Star Pro with the vents open is faster than every major aero road helmet on the market, and that it jumps to another level entirely when you close them. The helmet certainly feels fast, open or closed, but there’s something extra special about slapping the slider closed and hitting the gas.
We’ve been riding primarily with the shield, and as a sunglass, it works fantastically. The magnetic retention system works great, incorporating a tab that slots into the lower lip of the helmet and holds securely no matter how rough you get with it. When you want to put them away is when things get a little tricky, requiring a little practice to flip the shield over and attach to the front of the helmet right the first time. We’d recommend doing that a couple times on the trainer before trying it on the road – the Zeiss lens is nice enough that you don’t really want to scratch it up by dropping it on the road.
We’ve had some good rides with the Star Pro, and we’re looking forward to spending a lot more time with it in the coming months. If you aren’t willing to deal with the hassle of a full-on aero helmet, and don’t mind the added heat, this may well be the way to go. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be looking at over the course of our testing, so stay tuned!