Review by Ian Collins // Action photos by Fred Robinson
Troy Lee Designs entered the MTB helmet game back in 1993 with an all-mountain helmet made by Shoei featuring a removable chin guard. After some time they quickly became the go to manufacturer for full face gravity helmets. With sculpted shapes and strikingly clean lines, the TLD D2 and D3 were far and away the most popular helmets of their time. Aesthetically speaking TLD lids have always had people talking. Bold and brash paint schemes typically made for some mixed feelings... consumers either loved or hated the style. Be that as it may, they looked fast, felt great and protected riders well, and in turn TLD helmets quickly became a mainstay amongst the gravity crowd.
For whatever reason, aside from a D2 with the jaw protection sawed off, Troy Lee didn't jump into the high performance half lid market until last year. But with Enduro on the rise and trail bikes becoming evermore capable of pushing the limits, inevitably TLD saw a market, and after three years of development, the A1 was born. It became wildly popular immediately after its launch, but in typical TLD fashion everyone was “talking” about its bold styling and slightly steep price tag. The first iteration featured the cyclops graphic, eyeballs and lightning bolts marking a brash entrance into a new category for TLD.
After some demand for a more low key offering, the boys in Corona aptly responded with the "A1 Drone"- a matte gray version with subdued graphics and a very competitive $139 price tag. This year the A1 is back with even more offerings in terms of colorways. Let's see how the latest one treated my dome.
A1 Helmet Highlights
- Reinforced polycarbonate shell in-molded with the EPS liner extends down the sides and back of the head for maximum protection and durability
- 8 pressurized intake passages draw in cool air for maximum ventilation
- 8 rear vacuum vortex outlets help exhaust and draw heat from head
- Triple position adjustable retention system allows customized fit for various eyewear, head shape and riding styles
- Single piece, ultra plush, removable and washable comfort liner made of anti-microbial moisture wicking material for a dry, comfortable feel
- Full spectrum adjustable moto inspired visor with anodized aluminum hardware
- Race inspired styling
- MSRP $139, $165 and $185
When you first pull the A1 out of the box you'll notice the little things. Before even revealing the helmet, the sticker kit and the helmet bag are a nice touch. While most typically wouldn't think it's even a factor, even the helmet bag was well thought out. The underside is mesh so you can bag the helmet and it'll still air out pretty well. Sounds like it's silly to even mention, but it's a nice touch and keeps your helmet from getting banged up in the back of your car or truck on the ride home while it dries.
Getting down to the nitty gritty, the vents are good-sized and well positioned to ensure that air flows front to back as you ride. The hardware that mounts the visor is machined aluminum, making it easy to tighten and loosen without having to use a screwdriver. Fit is top notch, this thing really cradles your head and feels secure. The adjustable rear harness has a circular dial that's easy to tighten and loosen even with sweaty gloves on, and the precise clicks are a nice touch. The A1 also has three different sets of vertical attachment points for the harness so it fits all sorts of oddly shaped domes like the one I've been cursed with. Other nice touches are how securely the visor sits, and the girthy rubber bands that hold the larger sized flat straps in place.
This lid offers a bit more coverage all around than the average light duty trail helmet, yet isn't quite as bulky and cumbersome as some of the other "enduro specific" offerings out there – a nice happy medium for the average trail ride. When I first put it on I immediately felt the extra material towards the back of my head, and that's a good thing. Overall no complaints on the design side so far.
On The Trail
I got my first A1 at TLD's media launch in Laguna last year so I've already had quite a bit of time in it. Aside from graphics, this year's models are no different.
On long climbs it manages sweat quite well and I've noticed that it never ends up dripping in my eyes unlike my last lid. This might not seem like a big deal, but those little details are refreshing. Maybe it's the way the pads are shaped or designed but the moisture seems to run towards my temples and down the back of my head. The last helmet I had always seemed to funnel the sweat right into my eyes and/or all over my glasses.
On descents the air flow I felt was refreshing. It may sound like I'm drinking the Kool-Aid, but at really high speeds you can feel air pulling up on the top of your head. This is partially due to the large deep internal channels that are carved out on the inside of the helmet to keep air moving through it. Some riders have had mixed feelings about the lack of a major front vent around the forehead, insinuating that the helmet runs a little warm. While the A1 could maybe stand to gain a bit from adding a vent there, personally I found the helmet to run pretty cool, especially given how much protection it offers.
Because I flew off of a cliff in Laguna Beach with a 30-pound camera bag on my back and landed on my head, I can personally vouch for how well the helmet holds up to crashing. It certainly won't collapse or come apart under a serious hit. I was glad it did its job.
While I realize that every head is different and helmets are a very personal piece of equipment, the fit was excellent for me. The straps and retention system hug your head without making it feel constricted even in the roughest terrain when your head is slapping around. The red rubber pad on the inside of the retention system plays a key roll in preventing any excess movement just by adding an extra element of grip and padding.
With overall superb construction and all of the details covered I have a hard time finding any major flaws in this lid.
Things That Could Be Improved
If I had to really dig and find something to complain about I can say that the retention system can get in the way of the arms of glasses a bit. Part of this is because it wraps nicely around the ear area giving it a secure fit. I've found with my personal glasses (SPY Screws) the arms are a bit pinched under the retention system, but when I place them outside of it the glasses seem a bit unsettled. After some fussing around I loosened the adjustment at the back of my head and wore the plastic cradle on the loose-ish side. To my surprise the helmet still felt secure, yet the arms of the glasses no longer dug in. Depending on the glasses you choose to run this could be an issue. A small matter in the grand scheme of things. Especially when you consider that this is one of a few half lids on the market that works with goggles in case you want to really get Enduro.
Lastly, the dork in me would love to see some sort of GoPro mount, but the wannabe-cool-guy in me is glad it isn't there to upset all the smooth clean lines.
Long Term Durability
Like any helmet, the A1 will develop some small surface scratches here and there with use, but nothing beyond cosmetic nicks and dings. The pads are easy to take out and wash but don't deteriorate after a few washes, so overall this thing is in it for the long haul. Personally, I've never met anyone who wouldn't replace their helmet every other year or so anyway.
Last year I had a pretty huge crash on my first A1 and sent it in for inspection and a replacement. If you also happen to clap your dome, TLD offers a great crash replacement program to ensure riders aren't putting themselves at risk by riding with compromised helmets just to save a few bucks. Overall the A1 is a worthy investment that will treat you well for the duration of its lifespan.
What's The Bottom Line?
From the good looks to the thoughtful design considerations and beyond, it's clear that Troy Lee Designs took their time in perfecting the A1. Some may quip about the price being a bit steep, or maybe the looks being a bit loud, but TLD now offers the A1 helmet at various price points with all sorts of paint schemes to fit every wallet and taste. The previously mentioned Drone model features toned down graphics and comes in at $139, which I think is a very reasonable price for such an exceptionally well-made, comfortable, and safe helmet.
Visit www.troyleedesigns.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Ian Collins grew up racing mountain bikes on the East Coast before moving to California in search of the never ending riding season. Although he's generally a fan of slick and steep riding conditions, Ian has gotten acclimated out west and loves its speed. Also an avid surfer, what's most important to him in a trail is flow. Known for being meticulous and borderline obsessive about bike setup, he aids in product development for local frame builder Turner Bikes when he's not out on a photo mission.