The shell of Troy Lee Designs A3 is made from three parts co-moulded together, and that gives TLD’s paint shop the canvas it needs for some amazing designs
There’s no arguing with the performance of the new Troy Lee Designs A3. In almost every department it kicks the ass of both its predecessors – the A1 and A2 – with better looks, improved comfort, increased ventilation and more features, but it also demands a significant premium.
Way back in 1991, Troy Lee Designs took an obscure helmet made by Shoei and added a trendy peak and paintjob of its own design to create the brand’s first mountain bike lid; the RC3 TL. It was worn by influential racers such as Dave Cullinan and Greg Herbold that year, and became an instant hit. That was 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the brand launched its first trail helmet designed from the ground up. The A1 was an aesthetic triumph, but didn’t have the best ventilation around. To answer those criticisms, the A2 was introduced, and now, four years later, we’ve got the brand new A3, a premium trail helmet with a focus on providing the ultimate in rider comfort and aiming for the podium of the best mountain bike helmets.
To fulfill that brief, the A3 uses a deeply-dished, co-moulded EPP and EPS shell. In other words the helmet is moulded from two different materials combined in layers: expanded polystyrene for its shock absorption properties and expanded polypropylene for its ability to rebound back from an initial knock in situations where you might receive multiple impacts in one event – high-speed rolls for example. Look into one of the vents and you can see the foam strata. Then the whole thing is encased in durable polycarbonate, so there’s very little exposed foam that can get damaged rattling around the boot of a car, for example.
There’s also a MIPS liner integrated into the shell to help protect the head from rotational impacts. It’s discreet and low profile, but it doesn’t feel as frictionless and sophisticated as the MIPS’s Spherical, ball-and-socket-style system, as used in some Giro helmets.
Having said that, the 360° height-adjustable retention system is blissfully comfortable and impressively adaptable, with a ratchet dial that’s easy to find and gives the perfect balance between speed and accuracy of fit. We’ve had numerous test riders with varying head shapes and sizes riding in the A3 and everyone has remarked on how comfortable the helmet is. There’s no need to cinch up the retention cage and risk a headache just to keep the helmet stable, nor do you need to wrench on the chin-strap and restrict breathing. Whether wearing glasses or goggles it’s completely rock-solid, even on the roughest ground or when landing big jumps.
Speaking of which, the Fidlock magnetic buckle makes it easy to do up the strap on-the- move as the two ends almost find themselves, and it’s simple to decouple with just the one hand. Further magnets are used at the centre of the peak, cleverly allowing you to change the angle without having to loosen any bolts. Just pull the peak away from the helmet at the centre and move to one of the three fixed positions – it just snaps into place – or swing completely up if you want to stash your goggles beneath it.
All these features do add to the overall weight, however, and the Troy Lee Designs A3 is marginally heavier than both the A1 and A2 by about 20g. That said, it’s not something we noticed when riding, and the A3 is certainly much lighter than the Fox Speedframe Pro and Oakley DRT5.
Another area where the Troy Lee Designs A3 drew mixed reviews was ventilation. Let’s be clear though; the A3 is significantly better ventilated than the A1 – much more like the A2 in terms of heat management. We’ve ridden it in a broad range of ambient temperatures, up to high 20s in degrees Celsius, and not had an issue with overheating. But, the EVA wicking foam gutter does generate more sweat than a fabric pad since it contacts more of your skin and has a slightly rubbery feel. This is compensated by the fact that it also does a great job of directing that sweat away from your eyes/glasses, so your vision isn’t impaired. For some testers the sweat it created was too much, for others the efficiency of the gutter was preferable. Fortunately the pad is removable so you can make your own mind up whether to use it or not. And even if you do leave it in, the Ionic anti- microbial liner does a great job of staying fresh and odour-free.
At £200, even with a carry bag and spare pads and liner, it’s one of the most expensive open face helmets we’ve ever tested, yet in terms of protection it doesn’t really offer much more than significantly cheaper lids from reputable brands. Still, if money is no object, there’s no way we could resist the potent blend of style and comfort offered by the Troy Lee A3.