It doesn't feel like all that long ago 'aero helmets' were strictly for time trial and triathlon race days. Then the lines between normal road helmets and aero helmets blurred and we started seeing the first aerodynamically-oriented helmets designed for use on road bikes (as opposed to tri/TT rigs).
Now, most helmet manufacturers have at least one aero road helmet in their lineup. Met recently released a new version of their Manta helmet (which I'd love to try, I'm a fan of the first version), Giro has the Vanquish, Lazer has the Bullet and Limar has the Air Speed.
For this review, we're pitching two of the most popular aero road helmets head-to-head (pun intended): the S-Works Evade II from Specialized against the Kask Utopia.
Both are common sights in the pro peloton with the Evade being used by BORA-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep and the Utopia increasingly worn by riders from Ineos Grenadiers (although it will be interesting to see what they wear later in the year with the new Kask Wasabi now available).
For this test, we're going to look at five main criteria: style, comfort (inc. ventilation), safety, weight and cost. Note that the criteria doesn't include actual aero gains. Sounds like a crazy omission, right?
Well, yes and no.
Yes because one of the main reasons you buy one of these lids is because you want to go faster (although if you're really honest, you like how cool they look too). No because aerodynamics are open to so many variables, not least head and body position on the bike, that it's almost impossible to verify any claims.
So let's take it as read that these lids are more aero than their non-aero counterparts (you only need to stick an Evade next a to Prevail or a Utopia next to a Valegro to see it). And let's also be honest, the differences in the aero properties of the Evade and the Utopia are likely to be minimal. Like, really minimal.
So let's get started.
As with many of the five criteria, style is highly subjective and often influenced by factors as to whether our favourite rider or team wears the lid we like. That said, I'm an Ineos fan but for me the Evade II just edges it on style. I prefer the cleaner front end and the racing car duct-like appearance of the vents (as a Giant rider, I have to admit I prefer the versions of the Evade II with the more subtle S-Works branding, though!).
The Utopia's tall central front vent looks pretty good in Ineos colours, but less attractive in the block colours most of us can buy at retail. It looks better in black than orange, in my opinion (and looks best of all in the custom Paul Smith colours).
I do like the side vents on the Utopia though, so it's a really difficult call! At the back, both helmets seem to adopt an aerodynamic treatment that doesn't feel a million miles away from what F1 cars do to minimise drag.
In use, neither helmet gives me the dreaded 'mushroom' head (wouldn't be very aero if they did!) and they both have nice sleek profiles. I think the Evade II works ever-so-slightly better with Oakley sunglasses, for what that's worth.
Verdict: It's damned close, but I think the Evade just edges it. 9/10 vs 8/10.
Whether it's the fact that the Evade II comes with MIPS (more on that later) or it just has better padding and cradle design inside the helmet, the Evade is the more comfortable lid, for me.
I say 'for me' because we all have different shaped heads and yours might not be the same as mine.
The Utopia isn't an uncomfortable helmet by any means (not in the same league as the Sweet Protection Outrider I had which I had to sell as it was just painful to wear), but as someone who also owns Protones and a Valegro, it is noticeably less comfortable than other Kask helmets. Which I guess kinda makes sense if your priority is aero-over-everything.
The two small pads at the front of the Utopia tend to leave marks on my forehead, which makes for fun Zoom calls straight after my morning ride. That said, both are very adjustable and easy to fiddle with.
In terms of ventilation, I don't think there's much in it. I've only worn either in the UK (damned lockdown), but they are both perfectly fine so far. I actually think the lower ventilation might even be a plus in the cooler months, as less brain freeze to contend with.
I've heard the Evade suffers in higher temperatures, maybe the Utopia fairs slightly better with it's bigger central front vent.
The Evade II uses a magnetic buckle on the chin strap. The Utopia has a leather chin strap. Neither really makes much difference, if we're being honest. The magnetic buckle is nice for the one second it takes to fasten and remove the helmet. The leather chin strap is, well, leather. You don't notice either once you're on the move.
Verdict: For overall comfort, the Evade edges it. I'd say the Evade gets 9/10 (one mark deducted for perceived weight, read on) while the Utopia is 7/10.
Now this is a little contentious. The S-Works Evade II comes with both MIPS and ANGi, a Bluetooth enabled crash sensor that will use your phone to call the emergency services if it detects a crash. The Evade II even gets a new version of MIPS called 'SL' that reduces the weight penalty of the MIPS cradle.
I haven to admit that I have two Evade II helmets and I haven't paired the ANGi sensors on either. I probably should. But the thought of yet another Bluetooth connection draining the battery of my phone on long rides puts me off; plus my Garmin already has a crash sensor. So it's difficult to know the true value of ANGi.
By comparison, the Kask Utopia has neither. No MIPS, no ANGi. Kask has been criticised in some corners for its refusal to adopt MIPS (not a single helmet in its lineup seems to use MIPS). But it has started advertising helmets as being WG11-compliant, which it claims is the safety standard it cares about most. So far, the Utopia is not marketed as WG11-compliant (the Protone, Mojito3 and new Wasabi are).
That said, Kask has a pretty good name for itself when it comes to safety, so it's difficult to read anything into their decision to not adopt MIPS like other manufacturers.
Verdict: If you want total peace of mind, I guess you'd go with the Evade, if only because the Utopia can't claim MIPS or WG11.
In terms of pure weight, on the scales, the Utopia edges it (based on a medium size helmet) at 266g versus 298g for the Evade II. The difference sounds minimal. But if you had asked me to guess which was heavier purely by wearing them, I'd have picked the Evade II as the heavyweight.
And hence we have the conundrum of comfort versus weight. The Evade II is arguably more comfortable, but you really do notice that extra 30g of weight on your head. The Utopia is less comfortable when you're thinking about it, but you tend to think about it less on the move as it feels discernably lighter.
Verdict: It's a clear win for the Utopia. Although no featherweight, it doesn't feel significantly heavier than its lighter Protone sibling. 9/10 vs 8/10 for the Evade II.
Again, this is a little contentious as there are always deals to be had and prices are all over the shop. So let's just focus on RRP (at time of writing) vs 'web deals'. The Evade II on Specialized's UK website retails at £250. The cheapest I could find online was £225. It's a chunk of cash, for sure.
The Utopia costs £220 RRP but you can find new helmets online for as cheap as £159 (I even found an old-but-new Sky branded one for less than that). So it's a pretty big price difference between the two.
Is the Evade II wortht he extra £65+? Well, yes and no. Yes if you really want a helmet with the safety credentials of MIPS and ANGi. No if you want a cool-looking aero helmet that will be faster than your current aerodynamics-of-a-brick road lid.
I'm lucky enough to have both. And I'm happy to wear either. Aside from the standard blacks and whites, it might even come down to matching your favourite kit. I have the purple 'Sagan edition' Evade II which is just stunning in the sunlight. I have the Paul Smith Utopia which has an equally-stunning paintjob and also a bright orange Utopia which matches my TT bike and also some of my favourite Komraid cycling kits.
Style over substance? For sure, but that's me all over.
Either way, I think both are great lids and as long as they fit your head shape, you'll be pleased with either. On paper, I think the Evade just wins, but in the real world, both are great choices.