by Nick Zuzelski
It is a good time to be in the market for a DH helmet. With the protective level of full face helmets increasing while weights are decreasing, riders are spoiled for choice when it comes to protecting their head. The fight at the top of the helmet game is a no-holds-barred battle and Specialized has rolled back their sleeves and thrown their new carbon Dissident helmet into the mix. Eager to discover just what they had cooked up for us, we settled on the super-stealthy matte carbon finish version and set out to put it through a little testing.
Specialized Dissident Full Face Helmet Highlights
- Meets the ASTM DH safety testing standards for impact protection and chin bar performance
- Lightweight Carbon Matrix shell - target weight 1000g
- "4th Dimension" cooling and ventilation system
- Magnetic chin strap buckle improves comfort and allows for easy, one-handed use
- Helmet EJECT™ system compatible
- Leatt™ brace compatible
- Speaker compatible
- Includes a padded travel bag with micro-fleece liner and external goggle pocket
- Complies with one or more of the following safety standards for bicycle helmets: CPSC, SNELL B-95, CE and ASTM 1952 (standard for downhill mountain bike racing helmets)
- MSRP: $350 USD
After pulling the Dissident out of the box, it was like holding a stealth ninja DH lid. Sporting a subtle carbon fiber pattern on the outer shell, the flat black finish gives the helmet resemblance of something from the Batman prototype lab. The Specialized logos and branding are kept tactfully stealth on this version as well, playing along with the theme of the helmet. The outer shell features some sharp styling lines and profiling that complement the venting and give this helmet a very appealing and "cutting edge" look - especially towards the rear. There is also a goggle strap "groove" at the back of the helmet that allows your goggle strap to sink in and maintain proper position.
The chin strap features a magnetic locking mechanism that does away with the traditional buckle system. I have been using the old school D-ring method since I was in diapers so I have never felt the need to change what works, but time would tell if this new system would be advantageous. The fit of the helmet was spot on and provided a nice, comfortable feel. In regards to weight, the helmet felt light but not flimsy, and in general terms the Dissident appeared to be strong and generally well built. The advertised target weight of this helmet is a stated1,000-grams.
Specialized pairs the helmet with a nice padded travel bag that has a side pocket for extra lenses, tear offs and any other personal items. This is a nice additional feature that will also help protect your investment.
Flipping the helmet upside down revealed some more features, like Eject Helmet Removal System compatibility. Once installed, (Eject system sold separately) this safety feature provides paramedics a safer option to remove the helmet from your head in a spinal/neck injury situation. Riders choosing this option can easily install the system at home, which goes for speakers as well, for those who like to rock out on the trail (again, helmet speaker systems are sold separately).
Not to be forgotten, the visor was easily adjustable and seemed happy to be popped up and set to the perfect angle and held there with the finger friendly adjuster nut above the forehead. Time to ride.
On The Trail
After some initial skepticism towards the magnetic buckle, I became a fan. It took a few hours to fully get used to the new system, but once that muscle memory and trust was established, I started wishing all my helmets had this feature. Simply place the buckles near each other, the magnets take over and with a clicking sound, the mechanism is engaged and locked into place with no fuss. I have not experienced any false engagements with this system and it has proven seamless in use, eliminating the small hassle of messing with the traditional D-ring buckling process and associated finger fumbling. To open, apply a little force perpendicularly to the loading direction and the mechanism slides apart.
After some long days at the resorts and the local trails, the Dissident has proven to be a very comfortable helmet. Venting and airflow are comparable to other full face helmets I have run in the past. This means it's OK, with no major advantages nor complaints in this aspect. If I wear a full face helmet, I expect to sweat, but I don't expect my head to boil. The Dissident maintains adequate airflow to keep the noodle from cooking.
Goggle fit has proven to be a non-issue with this helmet. I have had issues in the past running larger framed goggles in certain helmets (I typically run 100% Racecraft goggles which are on the larger side), but with the Dissident the fit is great and free of obstruction which leaves the goggle sitting comfortably on the face. As mentioned before, the helmet's distinct profiling not only looks appealing but also offers a functional goggle groove on the back of the head. This helps to not only secure and keep the strap in place, but also to give your hands a good reference point for that perfect goggle set up before you drop in.
Integration with my Atlas neck brace has been very comfortable. The back of the helmet features a relief cut out at the bottom in order to provide increased rearward mobility and to provide a more solid contact surface with neck braces. I have found this feature to help reduce unwanted helmet to brace contact, especially in steeper terrain.
Anyone can appreciate a removable liner and pads with a helmet to keep things clean after a few weeks of hard riding and sweating. This is a basic feature that we expect to find in almost any helmet these days and the Dissident doesn't disappoint. The liner and pads are easy to remove and re-install making the job that much easier.
Fortunately, I have not done any crash testing of the helmet so I cannot speak first hand for its crash worthiness. It is certified to several standards which offers reassurance that it will indeed function as intended should you fail to keep the rubber side down.
Things That Could Be Improved
While pushing up or waiting in the lift line I often wear my helmet up on my head, above the ears. While this is not a specifically designed helmet use case and thus not part of its functional design, it is still something we all do as riders. I found the Dissident too uncomfortable to wear like that for more than a few seconds for fear of a self-induced migraine due to pressure. I don't have a wide head and riders with a medium to wide head will probably not enjoy having this lid perched up on their dome at all. Because of this, I am forced to either leave the helmet all the way on my head, or hang it on my bars which can sometimes be cumbersome.
Some helmets come with one or even two replacement visors including visor hardware which is nice to have just in case you decide to go head first into the dirt. If you don't have a spare on hand, you might be out of luck and rocking a bullet head until that new one on order shows up. We would have liked to see one included with the Dissident.
Long Term Durability
The Dissident has held up as expected and shows no signs of defects nor other causes for concern regarding durability. All the rubber trim has held in place and is still fully bonded to the shell. The visor paint does seem to be prone to slight chipping in a few places, which could get worse depending on how you treat your helmet and if you crash often. The helmet bag does help keep things protected and safe during transit, so the ever so classic open your truck door and your helmet falls to the ground scenario becomes less tragic. As far as major crashes are concerned, all helmets are designed to absorb energy after a good blow to the head and should be inspected and replaced if need be after each lawn dart.
What's The Bottom Line?
Specialized has come out swinging with their claim of "the lightest, most-ventilated and technically advanced full-face, carbon fiber mountain bike helmet available." In our test, the helmet has proven to be a badass-looking and very comfortable lid with a full list of functional features and safety certifications. It comes in at the higher end of the price spectrum for DH helmets, but still manages to stay cheaper than some other full carbon helmets at this level. With an avg. target weight of 1,000 grams, this featherweight lid packs a mean punch and should be on your potential helmet radar.
For more information head on over to www.specialized.com.
About The Reviewer
Nick Zuzelski began riding motocross at a young age, a sport that would eventually lead him to the world of downhill. As a Colorado native, racing downhill, dual slalom, or a chill dirt jump session was never far away, and he eventually worked his way up the ranks to the Pro level. Now residing in Eastern Pennsylvania, he recently changed it up from the Rocky Mountain dust to East Coast loam, world class dirt jumps, and rocks... lots of rocks. If a trail has fast flow and some fun gaps, he is grinning ear to ear and getting after it. Living by the assumption that basically everything feels better with a short stem and wide bars, you can count on him keeping it real with a laid back attitude and flat pedals most of the time. Mechanical Engineer by trade, rider by heart, he enjoys riding it, finding out how it works, and making it better.