Australia is privileged in the world of pro-cycling because the dry summer heat of January marks the start of the international racing season with the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. This is followed by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Herald Sun Tour in Victoria which draw see international riders compete against the locals. Not only do we get to see the new teams racing for the first time, the new team bikes and gear is unveiled to the cycling fans.
On BNA we have reported on the growing success of KASK in Australia and after switching over to their own distribution and marketing for the cycle division in Australia, they have used the Tour Down Under in Adelaide as a launchpad for two new helmets and the KOO Open Cube sunglasses.
Utopia: Nuovo arrivato in città
The latest addition to the road-aero helmet segment the brand new KASK Utopia. The Team Sky sponsor arrangements with KASK allow them exclusive use of the new Utopia for six months after which it will become available for purchase.
The key performance metric highlighted by KASK was the claim that it saves an additional six watts over the best performing helmet of the current crop of aero helmets. Bold claims indeed, but they are also quick to point out that the helmet is not solely about aero, but also well-designed and strategically positioned vents to ensure that the helmet also allows the rider to dissipate the heat generated during those long chases. ‘Aeration’ has been a common theme among Team Sky in their helmet design feedback.
Along with the ‘wind cheating’ design, attention is paid to the structural strength of the helmet as well as the internal airflow that explains the placement of the two wide supporting foam strips. These are removable (and replaceable) and are made of a newly developed anti-bacterial material that is also used in the new Valegro Helmet. The Utopia utilises the same integral network of straps and adjustments as the existing Protone & Infinity, along with the faux leather chin strap, which despite it’s bulk, is actually very comfortable.
Team Sky KASK Valegro (left) and KASK Utopia Helmet
Whilst the final pricing and release date have not yet been determined, it is expected that the pricing will be well above the A$400 mark. Keen riders will have to wait patiently until about July for it to be available.
KASK Valegro Helmet in Review: Light and Airy
The Valegro is also a new addition to the KASK line-up; it was seen on Team Sky last year and is just becoming available now. The key features of this helmet are the lightweight and excellent ventilation. It was on limited release during the Tour Down Under (and now also with five specially selected bike shops) and is a lightweight beauty that is available for sale Australia-wide in April with a RRP of $299. On price alone, the Valegro sits below the aero styled Utopia and Infinity, and between the Protone ($359 RRP) and crowd favourite, the Mojito ($239 RRP).
For my first outing with the new Valegro helmet I was looking forward to giving it a real baptism of fire in January during the BUPA Challenge Stage of the Tour Down Under from Norwood to Uraidla. The hotter-than-usual temperatures exceeded 41 degrees so this Challenge stage was cancelled and the pro’s able to start an hour earlier. The next opportunity was workout on the world famous Willunga Hill during Stage 5. But before I reveal how it handles the heat, firstly I’ll cover some more details for the Valegro.
When the helmets go into retail in April, the full colour range will include Black, White, Black with a White stripe, Red, Lime, Sky Blue, Navy and three matte colours (at extra cost) – Black, Blue and Anthracite. The matte colours are quite unique, but all three are dark and that goes against my preferences of light/bright colours. A matt Lime Green would be great in my opinion. The Valegro comes in three sizes, S, M and L and has an impressively light claimed weight in both European and Australian (standards) versions; the size S weighs in at a feathery 190g (claimed). The White medium helmet I have for review is also impressive on my scales and I recorded 205g (though the sticker stated 200g). The medium is suited for people with a head circumference of 52 -58cm.
It would be hard to miss the number and sizes of the openings for ventilation. There are 37 vents in total with attention has been given to sculpting of the vent shapes, not only for aesthetics, but to ensure good air flow through into and out of the helmet. The seven removable/replaceable anti-bacterial pads (same material as in the new Utopia) are quite narrow and follow the main support ‘rails’ of the helmet. Rather then just providing padding, you can see how these are also designed to ensure the airflow through the helmet is maintained.
The structure (cutaways and pad positioning) at the front of the helmet is such that the forehead has clearance (traditionally padding is to provide clearance and absorb the sweat). As a result, you head receives good airflow and in turn this helps reduce sweating or saturating the pad until it drips during a ride and irritates the eyes. There is a small, easily to operate ratchet at the back to ensure the right fit over a wide range of head shapes and sizes.
Once fitted, the helmet feels snug and secure, like it’s meant to be there. The faux leather chinstrap, which concerned me with its bulk (when compared to the common fabric chin straps), was surprisingly comfortable, and by the time I was out the gate, I was as comfortable as I’d ever been. Even though I wear a skullcap, the additional ventilation that the Valegro provides is immediately noticeable. But interestingly, the extra airflow didn’t cause negative effects of chill on the cool mornings that I have experienced to date with average temperatures of around 14 degrees. Rides in winter may require something more than a skull cap, but I don’t yet see it as an issue.
On the return journey from Willunga, after watching the pros descent Penny’s Hill Road at almost 100 kmh (Gesink’s Strava showed a max speed of 98.6 kmh!), the temperatures were hovering just below 40 degrees. The additional cooling (or in reality it was just good airflow) was very welcome during the brutally hot journey home that stretched to 55km with 800m of climbing.
Overall, the KASK Valegro was a comfortable, in terms of overall fit, low weight and great ventilation. The fact that it looks great as well is a bonus.
More about KASK cycling helmets: kask.com
KOO Open Cube Sunglasses: Italian style with German precision lenses
For many cyclists, cycling sunnies are as much a fashion statement as they are a practical requirement when riding. Italians are known to be flamboyant at times and the first thing that stood out for me with the new KOO Open Cube glasses are that they are understated & stylish without being garish, either in their design or colours.
KOO sunglasses are proud that their glasses are 100% Italian made, all of their suppliers are within a 5km radius of their facility in Bergamo. The glasses, Open Cube (upper half frame) and the Open (full frame surround), are beautifully constructed and feature precision Zeiss lenses. The pair of cycling sunglasses I was provided with to review are the straight black version of the KOO Open Cube with the Smoke lenses.
As with many of the cycling sunglasses available on the market, the lenses are interchangeable and there are several lens options (Smoke, Clear and Infrared) which you can combine from the array of 12 frame colour combinations – of course you are meant to coordination the colours with your KASK Helmets to be as stylist as possible. But given that KASK and KOO are part of the same family, the sunglasses and helmets are designed and styled to be partnered together as a seamless pair.
I’ve only recently converted to wearing sunglasses whilst riding. Despite the safety value (UV and debris protection) as I’ve found that many sunnies, particularly the wrap-around glasses lead to a build-up of heat around my face. This in turn leads to discomfort and fogging, especially during cold morning hill climbs. Some styles of cycling sunglasses feature small ventilation holes or interesting lens curves to try and work around some of these problems. The KOO Open Cube glasses have a big lens with generous coverage due though are not overly large. Small, discreet vents on the upper edge (called Airflow Active System) help mitigate against fogging.
During a recent cold snap and a morning ride up Mt Lofty I could really test it. I put in a solid effort, almost a personal best heading into the last few kilometres with a shroud of mist and light rain as the temperatures dropped into single digits. The Open Cube glasses remained essentially fog free save for the last 400 meters, so I was happy.
There are a few tip to help prevent fogging further, the first is to adjust the lens tilt. The Micrometrical Arms let you tilt the lens into three angles. If you are breathing heavy in the coldest of temperatures while slogging away at a slow speed, this can invite fogging so tilting the lens as you need it can keep it clear for longer. The other tip is to take care to adjust your fit around the temples. The frame is designed to allow you to fit flexibly and you can also use this to your advantage to ensure you have the right fit and airflow.
The tint with the Smoke lenses was quite versatile and useable even on the brightest day, and in that transition just after sunrise. The Zeiss lenses deliver distortion free vision, even in the peripheral vision area. I notice the difference in clarity compared with other big name sunglass. The design and shape of the lenses provided great ventilation on descents as well, and none of the buffeting and turbulence during high-speed descents are big distractions when trying to pinpoint the best line while bombing a descent.
A unique feature for both the Open Cube and Open glasses are the clever & cool pivoting arm design. Rather than traditional sunglass arms that fold together, the KOO design is one where they pivot through 1800. Once you are used to this feature, it makes it easier to place the glasses in the helmet (for those time when you don’t need them to protect your eyes), and with a bit of practice, they can be folded and slipped in the top of the jersey, where they are much more secure than the folding arm style.
So, if you want stylish, if you want functional and if you want quality cycling sunglasses, the Koo Open Cube with Zeiss lenses deliver. While I didn’t try the full frame Koo Open model, I expect the same quality so you just need to identify the lens type, colour and if you want the full frame (Open) or wrap style (Open Cube). The retail price for the KOO Open Cubes in Australia is $299 (with an additional clear lens) and they are due in shops in April.
More about the Koo eyewear kooworld.cc