Troy Lee Designs' gold metal flake A1 Cyclops is the first of a series of limited-edition helmets that will feature custom colors and graphics - with a new version scheduled to arrive with each successive production run.
Two years in the making, the debut of the A1 half-shell Enduro helmet celebrates Troy Lee Designs' return to the mountain bike scene. Not that TLD ever left, but considering how popular the D-series full-face lids are, the elephant in the room at TLD headquarters was: 'Why had Troy stalled for over a decade to address the trail side of the sport with a new helmet?' True to Troy Lee, when he finally did pull the trigger on the project, it hit the mark. The A1 is replete with stunning graphics, and a distinct profile that ensures its wearer will not pass unnoticed among the upper echelon of the sport. The man himself was on hand at the A1 debut, held at the TLD boutique store in Laguna Beach, California, where sponsored talent including Cam Zink, Brandon Semenuk, Eliot Jackson, Leigh Donovan and the reigning king of DH, Aaron Gwin, joined journos for the show and a lap around the coastal trails nearby.
Troy Lee with the A1 Cyclops helmet. The guy walks the walk - pounding out laps with the big boys on the technical trails near his Laguna Beach retail store
Meet the A1 Helmet
Troy had recently designed a line of moto-inspired gear named after Steve McQueen, which was showcased by a retro half-shell helmet. It was that exercise, some say, that propelled the A1 helmet into production and influenced its styling. Whether that is true or not, the A1 looks the part, with a sleek, rounded profile that drops low in the rear and fits close to the brow up front. The visor looks moto as well - full sized and held in place with CNC-machined fittings that thread into aluminum hardware, bonded into the shell. Six forward-facing vents channel cooling air around the rider's head, and inside a molded, one-piece liner that is padded with a wicking material, comfortably cups the skull. Another six rear-facing exhaust vents assist the cooling process and of course, there is a vestige of a fin molded into the upper shell to remind us of the TLD heritage. A1 helmets pass CE EN and CPSC standards and are offered in three shell sizes: X-small/small, medium/large and
X-large/XX-large. Colors are either gold metal-flake or silver and black, with graphic treatments that are protected by a clear coat. Weight for the medium sized A1 is stated at 340 grams without the visor and the MSRP is $185 USD for the LE editions and $165 USD for the standard colorways. A1 helmets include a med-alert sticker, a TLD sticker kit and a ventilated carry bag.
A1 helmets sport a full sized visor with machined and anodized thumb-screws to adjust the angle. Its six intake and six exhaust ports are tastefully sculpted to blend with the helmet's rounded profile.
Michael David compares Greg Herbold's 90's circa TLD Edge helmet with the new Cyclops A1.
Michael David, a kingpin in the development of the A1, said the plan was originally to modify TLD's skate-inspired freestyle helmet to function for AM/trail use. After a number of modifications, including hogging out huge vent channels, the concept was quickly scrapped and the design team started with blank computer screens. What emerged was a more moto-inspired design, with an EPS shell that was interlaced during the molding process with fiberglass strands for reinforcement. The low back and brow were taken directly from TLD's moto design group to further maximize impact protection. The shell is co-molded with the EPS foam, and much effort was given to wrap the plastic shell around the edges of the EPS liner and also into the vents to add durability and a more finished look.
Graphics are the hallmark of TLD - after all, Troy began
his career as a boy helping at his father's custom paint and graphics shop. To get the proper look, ultra-thin decals are applied to the A1's shell and then protected with a clear coat. While this application is common practice among motorcycle helmet makers, Troy said that they had to educate the A1's factory on the process, as it simply wasn't done in the cycling end of the industry, at least to the extent that TLD requires. Run your fingers over the graphics and they seem to have been painted onto the A1.
(Clockwise) A look at the inside of the A1 reveals how much deeper it fits on to the head as compared to an XC lid. The locking buckle is a Troy Lee exclusive. The simple ratcheting head-band is effective in keeping the helmet from rocking in any direction. One-piece and washable, the A1's molded padding is quite comfortable. There are no plans to offer the padding system in differing thicknesses.
Aaron Gwin was on hand to pick up his A1 - custom painted in matte-finish Red Bull regalia.
Retention is the key to a good fitting helmet, and because the A1 is designed to fit low on the forehead, any wobble would be too much. The A1's padded insert touches the head softly from many points and the low position of the ratcheting head-band captures the head snugly. Together, the two systems successfully arrest unwanted helmet movement while riding. Also important to the design is the A1's three-position head-band adjustment feature that allows wearers to set the angle of the helmet in relation to the forehead.
On the subject of fit, TLD is weighing heavily on the fact that its three EPS shell sizes, combined with its unique retention system will fit all heads, because there are no plans to develop its molded padding insert at varying thickness to emulate other helmet makers. Michael David states that the addition of a thicker liner would create a wobbly fitting helmet and a thinner one would sacrifice comfort. He says that TLD is confident that the A1 will adapt to almost every rider and they are unwilling to compromise a perfect fit in order to cover the last ten or so percent who don't fit an A1. There were only medium/large sizes at the launch and, surprisingly, most of the attendees were a good fit. TLD may be on to something.
Black with silver accents is the second colorway to be released in the initial production run of the TLD A1 helmet. The Black Cyclops is a standard color which retails for $165 USD, sightly less than the 'Hollywood' version.
A1 Helmet: First-Ride Impressions
Luck would have it that I fit the medium/large helmet quite well, which worked out, because that's all that Troy Lee Designs had and the rather large group was leaving as I was pulling the A1 out of its box. I hastily adjusted the chin-strap and then hit the road for an on-the-fly tuning session.
The new A1 both looks and feels like an all-mountain helmet. Stikman photo
Tuning it up: Slipping on the A1 feels more substantial than most trail helmets I have had experience with. It slides over the head like a moto lid, with much of that wrap-around feel as it finds the right place to rest. The chin strap sits snugly against the neck. I had the angular setting of the two plug-in retention devices set in their middle positions and at that angle, looking upwards would cause the back of the helmet shell to contact my neck. Later, I moved them to the highest position and the problem went away. The locking adjustments for the chin-strap webbing are quite stiff initially, but they never slip, once you get them right. After I had the basics taken care of, a simple twist of the ratcheting head-band tensioner was all I needed to forget that I was wearing a fancy gold metal-flake helmet and I hit the dirt.
First impressions: Conditions were cool and sunny, somewhere in the high 60s, so overheating was not going to be an issue. The group-ride was led by a member of the Laguna RADS, so we were assured that every type of riding (and pushing) would be on the menu. For test purposes, it proved to be a good experience. Ventilation is good with the A1, not as breezy as a featherweight XC lid, but noticeably better than a typical Euro AM lid like the Urge or POC. As mentioned in earlier text, with the chin strap comfortably set, the A1 will remain steady on the head while pounding over rocks at a pretty good clip. For practical purposes, that is the pass-or-fail exam for any all-mountain/enduro helmet. With the visor in the full-up
position, visibility was excellent. With it in the middle, however, I wished for more upward visibility when carrying my bike up steeps, where I felt I was craning my neck to peer up through the bushes. Not a big issue - literally, a heads up.
Stability: At 340 grams. plus the visor, the A1 is chubby for an XC/trail lid, but light for its most conspicuous rivals in the Enduro category. That said, it fits so well and its visibility, so unhampered, that while riding, there is little sense that the A1 is there and its weight is simply not an issue. You'll need to spend the time to fit the A1 perfectly to your head to get the maximum performance from it though, because it sits naturally low on the head both fore and aft, and it truly cradles most of the head - which means that you can't just tilt the helmet and expect it to stay where you left it. It will return exactly to the same place on your head until you readjust the straps and re-position the head-band.
Observations: I have yet to ride it with goggles, but the A1's window is profiled to fit around them. If you wear big fashion sunglasses, however, there is a chance the frames may occasionally bang against the helmet below the visor. I never hit my frames on the A1, so I must note that the warning came from TLD officials. About the only negative I noticed while riding the A1 was that the low position of the helmet and padding on my forehead directed more sweat than I am usually accustomed to into my eyes. I asked other A1 users about this and there was consensus. After readjusting the tilt of the helmet to raise the A1 in the front, the liner remained drier, but not perfectly so.
What do we think about the A1?
While it's too early to call this a conclusive review, we applaud the creative minds at Troy Lee Designs for a job well done. The A1 is refreshingly simple in profile, yet it is light feeling and comfortable on the head - and it manages to ventilate better than the plastic ostrich eggs that have up to now been the staple half-shells for the go-big all-mountain crowd. The A1 feels substantial, it has the coverage to back that up - and it looks original. The A1 is definitely moto inspired, but the fact that most everyone at TLD are high-level riders leads me to believe that the reason the A1 is such a promising helmet is that they get it. With helmet makers keenly focused on the emerging sport of Enduro, expect imitations. Me, I got the real deal. - RC