The Bontrager Ballista helmet is a new aero road option with very good ventilation that keeps your head cool and comfortable as you ride.
Bontrager says the Ballista has less drag than any other aero road helmet out there. The brand doesn't put a figure on its claims – there's no spiel about the Ballista saving you a certain amount of time over a given distance – but it says that the helmet outperforms the Specialized Evade, Louis Garneau Course and Giro Air Attack, according to measurements in the wind tunnel. The other brands might well contest that.
We can't test the Ballista's aerodynamic efficiency, unfortunately, so you can either take Bontrager's word for it, or reject the claims.
What I can tell you for sure is that the Ballista feels very cool in use. You get three very large vents up front and two more on the top of the helmet. These lead into deep channels in the EPS (expanded polystyrene) that run right over the top of your head and on to a series of exit ports at the back.
When you hit a fast descent you can feel cool air coming in at the front and moving over your head to keep you cool and dry – or, at least, cooler and drier than you would otherwise be. There are more airy standard helmets out there but the Ballista feels cool for an aero helmet.
Bontrager reckons that as well as being good for cooling, the design of the vents and channels reduces drag. The idea is that the air comes in the front, moves quickly over your head and then exits out the back efficiently, rather than the helmet simply catching air like a parachute and slowing you down.
The Ballista uses Bontrager's Headmaster II fit system which features a plastic cradle that attaches to the EPS at the temples and the rear. You get the choice of three different height positions at the back while a clicky wheel allows you to set the tension easily. You can fine-tune the fit one-handed while you're on the move. It's a very good design, similar in essentials to several others, that fits a wide variety of head shapes.
Bontrager's AgION padding is antimicrobial, which is good news for keeping nasty niffs at bay. I really like the fact that one section of padding goes right across your forehead so you don't find sweat dripping in your eyes unless you work really hard and saturate the fabric. That makes a big difference.
The straps are soft and lightweight rather than the thick, reluctant-to-bend variety, and the strap dividers lock down tightly when you set them to the right place.
The Ballista is a good weight too, ours hitting the road.cc Scales of Truth at 266g. That's not particularly light for a standard helmet – the Bontrager Velocis that we reviewed recently, for example, is 222g but it's a decent weight for an aero option.
I'm not bothered about the difference that a few grams makes to speed, but a lighter helmet feels more comfortable. I certainly didn't feel that the Ballista's weight affected comfort, even towards the end of long rides.
In terms of looks, I'd say the Ballista is a medium ranker for an aero helmet. I guess it looks a bit Mekon, but you can make your own mind up on that. If this black version doesn't do it for you, it's also available in white/silver and visibility yellow.
One more important point: like other Bontrager helmets, the Ballista is backed by a crash replacement guarantee. That means you can claim a free replacement if it gets damaged in a crash within the first year of ownership.
An aero road helmet with very good ventilation and a low weight; in use it feels almost like a standard, non-aero lid
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Make and model: Bontrager Ballista helmet
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Bontrager says: "The Ballista road helmet projects racers to their target just like the ancient Greek missile weapon it was named after."
It's a race helmet where saving seconds counts.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Bontrager lists these features:
* Front Center Channel - Distinct vent shape draw in significantly more air for increased cooling and all-day comfort
* Headmaster II - One-handed fit system with premier look and feel
* Internal, recessed channels manage airflow through the helmet and over the head
* NoSweat - Keeps sweat out of eyes through channeled pads for constant clarity
* AgION fit pads - Moisture-wicking antimicrobial pads completely eliminate odors
* LockDown strap dividers - Helmet strap management made simple
* NeoVisor-compatible - Allows easy installation of NeoVisor
* Crash Replacement Guarantee
It's in-moulded around a carbon-fibre skeleton.
Compared with most other aero helmets, the Ballista is light.
Very good ventilation and a decent weight make this a comfortable lid.
£130 for a helmet might not sound cheap but it's only fair to compare the Ballista with other aero helmets, most of which are considerably more expensive.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Ballista offers good ventilation and a low weight, both of which make it feel great out on the road.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The weight and the very good cooling.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It doesn't look as good as some non-aero lids. It looks a bit out of place if you're not racing.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
This helmet is very good in terms of ventilation and comfort. It feels a lot like a standard, non-aero helmet in use, and the price, while fairly high if you take the whole helmet market, is low for an aero helmet. It's clearly either an 8 or a 9 overall; I'm going with a 9 because of the comfort.
Age: 43 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.