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Hands-on Gear Review
Smith Forefront Review
Cons: Koroyd restricts airflow, expensive
The Smith Forefront is a recent addition to the mountain bike helmet market. The eyewear giant has been making helmets aimed at snow sports for some time, but this is its first offering in the cycling helmet category. It is funny it took them so long since they make dozens of sunglasses aimed at cycling and sponsor dozens of cyclists in many different disciplines. Maybe the folks at Smith were waiting to come up with something that stood out from the masses. One glance at the Forefront, and it appears that they did.
The most unique aspect of the Forefront is its use of a material called Koroyd, which looks like a bunch of short drinking straws stacked together to create a honeycomb-like matrix. This is the only helmet we've reviewed which uses this material. Beside simply standing out from other helmets, the idea behind the Koroyd is to save weight and allow for extra ventilation. The Forefront is the lightest mountain bike helmet we've ever tested, though it's debatable if the weight savings is the from the use of Koroyd or the slim profile, tiny visor, and minimal interior padding. We also suspect that the Koroyd hinders ventilation more than it helps it.
This helmet has a number of other unique features which, at least on paper, make it a standout helmet. Though we think the Forefront is a quality helmet, we were somewhat disappointed in some of the advertised features. More on that below.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Mountain Bike Helmets Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Smith Forefront is a very lightweight cycling helmet, and it achieves this by replacing some of the usual polystyrene foam with a unique honeycomb-like material called Koroyd. To our surprise, upon first inspection we realized that a good deal of this helmet is constructed from good old polystyrene, and is covered in the standard polycarbonate plastic to protect the polystyrene portion from damage.
The Forefront is one of the more comfortable helmets in our review. Our testers scored it similarly to the Giro Xar, the Giro Feature, and the Bell Stoker. All of these helmets are very lightweight and much of their comfort comes from the lack of ounces your head.
The inside of this helmet is lined with very minimal padding which is covered in the popular X-static material. One thing to consider: our testers with shaved heads or very short hair noticed that with very light downward pressure on the top of the helmet they could feel the edges of the Koroyd tubes touching their skin. The minimal padding is enough to keep the abrasive edges of the straws off of the head under normal riding conditions, but we wonder what would happen in a crash. When talking with other riders we did hear a second hand story of a rider sustaining a decent abrasion from the Koroyd edges on the inside of the helmet during a minor crash. We didn't see this first-hand and can't say what would have happened if he had been wearing a more traditional helmet, but it is a little worrisome.
The Forefront's harness is made from a silky flat webbing which sits very comfortably against the skin. Our testers have come to greatly prefer helmet harnesses composed of flat webbing as opposed to tubular because they tend to sit flatter against the face and roll-up less when passing through yoke adjustment hardware.
The Forefront uses Smith's Vapor Fit rear retention system. The Vapor Fit system consists of a slim rear retention band and a small click wheel to adjust the tension of the band in small increments. This system reminds us of Giro's RocLoc 5 retention system, though we think the Giro system uses a better click wheel. Tension is released by simply turning the dial the other way rather than pressing the dial vertically like on some Bell Helmets. The rear retention band can also be adjusted vertically into one of three positions using small tabs which click into notches molded into the polystyrene on the inside of the helmet. The harness yoke is adjustable front to back with locking hardware. We've found that locking hardware is a small touch that can make getting going on a ride a bit easier.
The Forefront's harness is made from just two lengths of webbing which are threaded around the harness in a well thought-out design. We found that the harness can accommodate a wide range of head shapes without the need to trim the webbing at all.
At 10.8 ounces (306 grams), the Forefront is the lightest mountain bike helmet we've ever tested. The Forefront meets the same CPSC standard for cycling helmets as all of the other half-shells we've tried.
If weight is your top priority the Forefront may be your helmet, but we think you should also consider the Giro Xar which weighs in at 11.3 ounces but retails for $90 less and is better ventilated. There is probably no place in your bike kit that you would notice extra weight more than on your head, but to be honest, it's hard to detect the half ounce difference between the Xar and the Forefront while actually pedaling a mountain bike. Hardcore weight weenies should click over to our Road Bike Helmet Review where we tested helmets that weighed under 8 ounces and actually meet the same CPSC standard as half-shell mountain bike lids, though they usually lack a visor and the extended rear coverage found on mountain bike helmets.
Ventilation is one of the areas in which we were disappointed in the Forefront, especially considering the amount of hype from Smith. The Forefront is actually one of the hotter half-shells in our test. It has plenty of vents (21-27, depending on which ones you consider independent vents) which should make it a well-ventilated lid suitable for hotter weather or cranking uphill, but our testers found that hot air builds up on the inside. We think that the problem is actually the very thing which Smith claims makes it uniquely better than other helmets: the Koroyd.
The entire top of the Forefront is lined with a layer of Koroyd material, which resembles small plastic straws stacked together. All of the vent holes through the shell in the top of the helmet are lined with Koroyd tubes. While the tubes allow air to travel straight through, they don't allow for much swirling of air through the vents. Also, because of the orientation of some of the vents, the Koroyd tubes are not oriented parallel with the airflow through the helmet. If the Koroyd tubes weren't in the way, air would flow better through many of this helmet's vents. Additionally, much of the Koroyd tubes are covered by an upper layer of polystyrene which prevents air from moving out of the tubes at all. These tubes essentially trap hot air close to the head.
One of our testers commented that he could not feel any airflow coming through the upper Koroyd lined vents even when moving at high speed, something that he would normally be able to feel with a traditionally vented helmet. We don't have a wind tunnel for testing, but it's our opinion that the Forefront would be a better ventilated helmet if Smith did away with the Koroyd altogether and used a more traditional construction of simple polystyrene.
The Giro Xar was the highest scoring helmet in our ventilation test and is the helmet we would recommend for riders who value ventilation the highest.
The Forefront's visor is pretty small, but we found that it is just long enough to shield our eyes from the sun when in the down position. The visor can be adjusted in either an "up" or "down" position and generally stays put where you set it. We normally prefer an infinite range of adjustment so that you can get it in just the right spot to shield the eyes and still see the trail while grinding up some miserably steep climb into the sun. We didn't really miss an infinite range with the Forefront because the shorty visor is only long enough to enter your field of view when fully down.
One feature we like is the threaded GoPro mount that sits underneath a plastic cap at the apex of the helmet. Better yet, the threaded mount can be used to cleanly attach a Light in Motion headlight for night riding. Helmet mounted lights, rather than bar mounted ones, are the way to go for trail riding. If you plan on doing a lot of night riding or a 24 hour race or two, then the Forefront is worth considering just for this feature. If we never had to attach a headlamp to helmet with a rubber strap threaded through vent holes again, we'd be just fine.
Okay, here's the big feature of the Forefront which we thought we'd love but were totally disappointed by: the sunglass holding channel at the front of the helmet. The Koroyd honeycomb that lines the majority of the vent holes prevents sunglasses from being stored up on the front of the helmet by simply jamming the arms of the sunglasses into two vents. Instead, Smith came up with a creative solution, a channel which is molded around the exterior of the helmet to cradle the arms of sunglasses. Before we got our hands on this lid, we thought this was an interesting feature. Unfortunately, we found that the channel does not work very well in real life. Our testers tried as many different sunglasses as we could get our hands on, many of them Smith brand, and found that the channel was very rarely able to securely hold the arms enough to ride with them stored on the helmet, as many of us like to do when cranking uphill or when it gets dark. We didn't test every style of glasses that Smith makes, but we did test all of our favorite riding glasses. Our best result came with the Smith PivLock V90 Max, which we were able to get to stay put by placing them facing backwards on the back of the helmet in the usual upside down position. We found it nearly impossible to get even those shades in the channel with one hand while pedaling. Never did we find that we fully trusted the Forefront to keep our precious shades from a horrible death. You are far etter off sticking them in jersey pocket, or if you can't bear the thought of possibly crushing them, just go with a different helmet.
We were surprised with the overall durability of the Forefront considering it is partially constructed from a material that looks like short plastic drinking straws. The truth is, a large part of this helmet is constructed using the usual polystyrene. Just like with most other helmets, the polystyrene gives the helmet its shape as well as absorbing impacts. The shell of the helmet is polycarbonate, which protects the polystyrene, or in the case of the Forefront, the polystyrene and Koroyd tubes, from daily abuse. One thing that we always look for in a polystyrene helmet is a polycarbonate shell that fully wraps around the bottom edge of the helmet. We've found that this greatly increases a helmet's resistance to daily abuse. The Forefront does have a full-wrap shell that covers the lower edge. Unfortunately, there is a seam between pieces of shell material placed directly on the front lip of the helmet which creates a weak point in the durability of the protective polycarbonate layer. A small piece of shell material tore loose from this helmet just from daily use during our test. We think that this seam between pieces of polycarbonate could have been better placed farther up the helmet, not on the edge where it is likely to snag.
Other than the seam issue, the Forefront faired well in our test. We were especially curious if the Koroyd tubes would deform over time from daily use. Despite looking like a cluster of short drinking straws, the Koroyd is actually at least as resistant to daily abuse as regular old polystyrene.
This light helmet is best for cross-country racing, standing out in the crowd, matching your sunglasses to your helmet, and night riding with a helmet-mounted bike light.
At $220, the Forefront is the most expensive half-shell mountain bike helmet we've ever tested. It is also the lightest by a small margin. Our personal "is it worth it?" formula for deciding whether to spend money on a product to save weight is $1 per gram saved. The next lightest helmet in our test is the Giro Xar, which retails for $90 less but only weighs 14 grams more. Our personal math says go with the Xar. If saving weight is your only concern and money is no object, then the Forefront is great option.
If the price tag of the Forefront is hard for you to swallow, then we'd recommend either our Best Buy Award winner, the Giro Feature or the Bell Stoker, both of which weigh around an ounce more than the Forefront while retailing for about 1/3 of the price.
We were intrigued by this helmet as soon as we saw photos of it, and couldn't wait to get our hands on it. After trying it out, we were a little disappointed, to be honest. The folks at Smith did an excellent job of designing a lightweight helmet that stands out in the field, but a few of the features, like the tiny visor and the hokey sunglass channel, don't quite deliver. The Koroyd material is cool to look at, but probably doesn't add that much to the function of the helmet.
The two stand-out features of this product are the light weight and the unique styling. However, we can't really think of an application where this helmet would be way better than another. The main drawback of this helmet is the price. At $220, it ties the Bell Super 2R MIPS as the most expensive half-shell helmet we've evaluated. The two helmets can't really be compared though, since the Super 2R also doubles as a light-duty full-face, which adds a lot of value. The Forefront, however, sits towards the XC end of the half-shell spectrum. Even for XC racers, we'd have a hard time recommending the Forefront over the Giro Xar.
— Luke Lydiard
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