Remember the original Giro Switchblade? You may not, since that helmet debuted in 1998, right around when the freeride movement was shifting into high gear. It was a cross-country helmet at heart, but it came with a chinbar that could be bolted on to give riders additional peace of mind when they decided to give those rickety skinnies and drops to flat a try. The concept had merit, but the execution.... Well, let's just say that it could have been better.
Fast forward eighteen years, and the Switchblade is back, but this is a whole different beast than the original. In addition to looking much more refined and modern, it's also ASTM downhill certified, both with and without the chinbar.
Giro Switchblade MIPS Details
• 20 vents
• MIPS liner
• Six color choices
• Certified to CPSC, EN-1078, and ASTM-1952-DH with and without the chinbar
• Sizes: S, M, L
• Weight: 975 grams (size M)
• MSRP: $250.00 USD
Giro's focus was on creating a helmet that was designed for downhill, one that riders could comfortably wear on the race course and in the bike park without sacrificing anything in the way of safety. The helmet is also equipped with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), the thin plastic liner that's becoming a near-standard feature on most high-end helmets.
There are a total of twenty vents to help with air flow, along with channels next to the ears that are supposed to increase ventilation even further when the chin bar is removed. Two visors are included with the Switchblade: one that has multiple positions and can be raised high enough to fit goggles underneath it when they're not in use, and one with a built in POV camera mount. The visor with the camera mount is stiffer and sits in one fixed position, making it less likely that your footage will cause epileptic seizures.
Claimed weight for a size medium is 975 grams, and around 600 grams without the chinbar. There are six color options, ranging from the classic matte black, to the attention-grabbing matte-lime (what I would call fluorescent green). Sizes: S, M, L. MSRP: $250 USD. How It Works
Removing and installing the chinbar is a fairly quick and easy procedure, but a little bit of time spent staring in the mirror practicing does help make it easier to execute the necessary moves out on the trail.
When it's time to head uphill, no tools are required to remove the chinbar – it's simply a matter of depressing two buttons, tilting the bar up slightly, and then pulling it forward until it detaches. With the chinbar detached, the helmet still covers the rider's ears, giving it a sort of sci-fi-comic-book-hero-meets-trials-moto look.
On its own, the chinbar is small enough that it can be strapped to a backpack, tucked into a waistband, or strapped to a handlebar with a bungee cord and some creativity. The one thing to keep an eye on are the two pads that are attached to it – they're held on with one snap, and if they snag on a pack strap or something similar, they can detach and fall off. If it we're me, I'd add a little piece of Velcro to make sure that this didn't happen out on the trail.
After the climbing is over, the installation process is just as quick as the removal; the 'click-click' sound of the chinbar locking into a place means that the real fun is about to begin. On the Trail
I've been able to get in a handful of rides with the Switchblade since its arrival, most of them in hot summer conditions. With the chinbar removed, there's no denying that the Switchblade is
warmer than a traditional half-shell helmet, but by the same token, it's also much cooler than a full face. The fact that there's no material in front of your mouth to get in the way of the hot air you're expelling has a lot to do with this, allowing for much better air flow. While 600 grams would be fairly hefty for a traditional half-shell, (and probably feel like wearing a lead yarmulke), because of the extended coverage over the ears, the Switchblade's weight is very well balanced, keeping if from feeling overly top heavy.
With the chinbar in place, it's easy to forget that the Switchblade is a convertible helmet, and that's a good thing. It feels almost identical to a regular full face, albeit one with above-average ventilation. Of course, helmet fit is subjective, but the Switchblade fit my head shape well, fading into the background so that I could focus on more important things, like not stuffing my front wheel into a mess of roots and going over the bars...
So who exactly is the Switchblade for? That's going to be the question on many riders' minds, and it's one that doesn't have a completely cut-and-dry answer. The most obvious answer is 'enduro racers,' and the convertible design makes a hell of a lot more sense than carrying one helmet for the climbs and another for the descents, or suffering with wearing a full face all day long.
Even in the half shell mode the Switchblade offers a feeling of greater security than you'd find with a regular XC or trail helmet – I could see running it for a dirt jump session where the chances of smacking the ground are a little higher than usual, or wearing it in full face mode for bike park laps, and then removing the chinbar to go for a pedal on the other trails in the the area. In any case, the new Switchblade is worlds apart from its flimsy ancestor, making it a much more feasible option for riders looking for increased protection out on the trail.
Visit the high-res gallery for more images.