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Specialized Ambush Review

The lightweight helmet is well ventilated, comfortable, and boasts excellent coverage with the MIPS SL rotational protection system
Specialized Ambush
Photo: Specialized
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Price:  $200 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Pros:  Lightweight, good ventilation, comfortable, adjustable visor, MIPS, good coverage
Cons:  More expensive
Manufacturer:   Specialized
By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 10, 2019
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89
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 23
  • Protection - 25% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Ventilation - 20% 9
  • Features - 15% 9
  • Weight - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

Specialized makes everything you can think of for cycling, and that includes a full line of helmets including the Ambush mountain bike helmet. This is their top-of-the-line half-shell helmet and it is big on protection with generous coverage and MIPS SL, the lightest form of MIPS protection, which is only available on Specialized helmets. It's also very comfortable, impressively lightweight, and one of the best-ventilated helmets in the test. It can also be used with the unique ANGi crash detection system (available as an aftermarket purchase). This helmet impressed us on every level and was a close runner-up for our Editors Choice Award.

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Specialized Ambush
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Specialized Ambush
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $200 List
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, good ventilation, comfortable, adjustable visor, MIPS, good coverageAmazing ventilation, comfortable, dual-shell protection, good head coverage, feature-packedComfortable, secure, airy, feature-richReasonably priced, comfortable, innovative sweat management system, MIPS, adjustable visorInexpensive, comfortable, versatile fit, durable
Cons More expensiveAverage weight, expensiveOn the heavier side, non-adjustable strap splittersModerately heavy, ventilation could be better, buckle failure in previous Consumer Reports testingLacks standout features, slightly heavy
Bottom Line The lightweight helmet is well ventilated, comfortable, and boasts excellent coverage with the MIPS SL rotational protection systemAn incredibly airy and well-designed helmet that lives up to its high price tagThey pulled out all the stops for this new trail riding helmet, and it showsAn affordable, quality helmet that checks most of our boxes at a reasonable priceThis helmet provides a high level of comfort and competitive performance at a wallet-friendly price
Rating Categories Specialized Ambush Giro Manifest Spher... Fox Racing Speedfra... Bell 4Forty MIPS Giro Chronicle MIPS
Protection (25%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Comfort (20%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Ventilation (20%)
9.0
10.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Features (15%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Weight (10%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Durability (10%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Specs Specialized Ambush Giro Manifest Spher... Fox Racing Speedfra... Bell 4Forty MIPS Giro Chronicle MIPS
Rotational Impact Protection System? MIPS SL MIPS Spherical MIPS MIPS MIPS
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 12.35 oz, 350g, size Large 14.1 oz, 401g size L 14.4 oz, 407g size L 14.32 oz, 406g size Large 14.5 oz, 410g, size Large
Number of vents 20 19 19 15 14
Goggle or Sunglasses Integration? Yes, sunglass & goggle integration Integrated eyewear grippers Yes Goggle integration No
Adjustable Visor? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sizes S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L
Certifications CPSC, CE EN1078, AS/NZS2063 CPSC Bicycle for ages 5+, CE EN1078 CPSC, CE EN1078, AS/NZS2063 CPSC Bicycle for ages 5+ CPSC Bicycle for ages 5+, CE EN1078
Virginia Tech Helmet Safety Rating (if applicable) 5-star 5-star 5-star 5-star

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ambush helmet has been around for a few years and is the top-of-the-line model in Specialized's range of mountain bike helmets. It has best-in-class coverage as well as the lightest MIPS system available. It's known as MIPS SL and is integrated into the padding and exclusive to Specialized helmets. Comfort is another of its strong suits, along with its lightweight and incredible ventilation. In fact, there was nothing we didn't like about the Ambush, and we think it is one of the best helmets you can buy.

Performance Comparison


Testing the Ambush with AMGi on some high desert trails below the...
Testing the Ambush with AMGi on some high desert trails below the snow line.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Protection


The Specialized Ambush scored well in our protection metric. It has a deep fit and extended coverage that comes down low on the temporal and occipital lobes. It is similar to the POC Tectal and Giro Chronicle in terms of coverage. These three helmets have some of the best coverage in our test. Just like the Tectal, the EPS foam of the Ambush is reinforced with an Aramid skeleton for additional strength.


The Ambush comes equipped with MIPS SL, which Specialized claims to be the lightest MIPS system available. It is integrated into the padding of the helmet. The MIPS SL system is new and is exclusive to Specialized helmets. Unlike other MIPS systems, which have liners within the shell and padding on top, MIPS SL is a more streamlined design that is intended to reduce weight and improve ventilation.

It seems similar to POC's SPIN system in many ways, but mostly because the MIPS is integrated into the padding. The padding connects to the helmet with a number of small velcro tabs, and at each of these connection points, there is a rubber band of sorts that allows the padding to slide a little fore and aft and side to side. How well it works in a crash is hard to say, but it feels similar on your head to other MIPS systems.

MIPS SL technology is exclusive to Specialized helmets. It is...
MIPS SL technology is exclusive to Specialized helmets. It is integrated into the padding, which has rotational play in the thin black bands where the pads are connected to the helmet.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

The Ambush can also be equipped with Specialized's ANGi crash detection sensor which is available as an aftermarket purchase. ANGi is a unique feature from Specialized that doesn't protect your head any better when you crash but can notify your emergency contacts if you do. This is a potentially lifesaving protection feature that could call for help if you're incapacitated or riding alone.

The Ambush has a deep but comfortable fit with a good strap design...
The Ambush has a deep but comfortable fit with a good strap design and the Mindset 360 adjustment system.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Comfort


Testers found the Ambush to be a very comfortable helmet. It is available in three sizes, small, medium, and large, and should accommodate the vast majority of head sizes. It has a deep fit with lots of coverage on the temples and back of the head, and the width and length seem about average.


You can easily tailor the fit using their integrated Mindset 360 adjustment system. This system is unique in that its dial is integrated into the helmet itself, and that is has a 360-degree design that pulls tension evenly around your head. The fit adjustment cradle is also adjustable up and down at the back of the head to ensure it is in the right place.

The fit adjustment dial is integrated into the shell beneath the...
The fit adjustment dial is integrated into the shell beneath the ANGi sensor. The coverage of this helmet is so deep that the harness/cradle is fully inside the shell at the back of the head.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

The helmet's padding also adds to its comfort. It's thin, but it covers approximately 2/3 of the inside of the helmet, anywhere your head would make contact with the EPS foam. The straps are also comfortable, with a standard plastic buckle to connect them under the chin and a couple inches of adjustment possible with the thin lightweight webbing. The straps split around the ears with what Specialized calls a Tri-Fix web splitter. It's a nice wide yoke that holds the straps flat and far from your ears.

The Tri-Fix web splitter is well designed and adds to the Ambush's...
The Tri-Fix web splitter is well designed and adds to the Ambush's already impressive comfort.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Ventilation


Specialized incorporated their 4th Dimension Cooling System into the design of the Ambush. We suppose that refers to the 20 vents and well designed internal air channels that keep air moving through the helmet better than most models in this test.


There are ample vents at the front and on the sides of this helmet to catch loads of air, and the large internal air channels allow the air to move over your head and exit through the massive vertical exhaust vents at the back of the helmet. It works impressively well, and this is one of the best-ventilated helmets in this test.

The Ambush is one of the best ventilated helmets we've tested. With...
The Ambush is one of the best ventilated helmets we've tested. With 20 vents and deep air channels that run from front to back, it keeps you cool on the trail.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Our top scorers in this metric were the 100% Altec and Manifest Spherical, whose massive, well-located vents circulate air impressively. The POC Tectal, Troy Lee A2, and the Smith Session also vent very well.

Air is drawn in through the front vents of the helmet and moves...
Air is drawn in through the front vents of the helmet and moves through large air channels on the inside to the huge exhaust vents at the back of the head.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Features


The Ambush is loaded with features, some of which we've already touched upon in our protection and comfort sections above. It has several features which aren't specific to either fit or protection, and we'll go over those here. First, it can be equipped with Specialized's ANGi crash detection system. ANGi is a small sensor that is attached to the back of the helmet that syncs to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the Specialized Ride App. The ANGi sensor is available as an aftermarket purchase for $50 and fits on the back of the Ambush helmet should you wish to use it.

The ANGi sensor is a unique feature that can be added to the...
The ANGi sensor is a unique feature that can be added to the Specialized Ambush helmet. This little unit can detect a crash and notify your emergency contact through the Specialized Ride App.
Photo: Jeremy Benson


The Ambush also has an adjustable visor, so you can position it wherever you like and make it compatible with goggles. The visor is micro-adjustable and stops in any of 17 indexed positions from all the way up to all the way down. This visor design works well and is easy to adjust one-handed, plus it stops in far more positions than most of the other adjustable visors in this review. Specialized also bills the padding in the helmet to have a Gutter Action Brow that channels moisture away from the eyes, though we don't notice any difference between it and a standard brow pad.

The visor is easily adjusted and can stop in any of 17 indexed...
The visor is easily adjusted and can stop in any of 17 indexed positions. In the full up position, it can easily accommodate goggles when not in use.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Weight


At only 350 grams or 12.35 ounces in the size large we tested, the Ambush is very lightweight. In fact, it's one of the lightest models in the test, lighter than the POC Tectal Race SPIN by 15 grams. What's most impressive about this is the level of coverage and protection this helmet provides, we'd expect it to weigh more by just looking at it. If you're concerned about weight but don't want to skimp on coverage, protection, and comfort, then the Ambush is a great option to consider.


Most of the helmets in this review weigh 40-50 grams more than the Ambush. There are a couple of heavyweight exceptions, of course, like the Oakley DRT5, which clocks in at 476 grams, and the Giro Tyrant at a whopping 718 grams.

Weighing only 350 grams, the Ambush is one of the lightest models we...
Weighing only 350 grams, the Ambush is one of the lightest models we tested.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Durability


Durability is the one metric where the Ambush isn't a top scorer. We do feel that it is a durable helmet, but there are a couple of helmets that seem to be a little more sturdy overall.


It has a quality in-mold construction, and it seems to be very well made. The polycarbonate shell covers most of the EPS foam and wraps around the lower edge of most of the helmet, though it isn't as robust as some of the heavier models we tested. There's also some exposed EPS foam at the front of the helmet by the brow that is susceptible to damage if you're rough on gear. This helmet seems a little more fragile than some of the competition if you're the type of rider who tosses your helmet in the truck bed.

The helmet seems quite durable, but the exposed EPS foam at the...
The helmet seems quite durable, but the exposed EPS foam at the front of the helmet seems a little susceptible to damage compared to models where the outer shell fully covers the EPS around the edge.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Value


The Ambush is far from the most expensive helmet in our test, but it's not exactly cheap either. In this case, we do feel that it's a good value considering the protection, comfort, light weight, and features that it offers. We think this is one of the best helmets on the market, regardless of the high price tag.

This helmet has a huge bandwidth, with coverage and features to...
This helmet has a huge bandwidth, with coverage and features to please the hard-charging enduro crowd, yet it's light and ventilated enough for XC and endurance riders.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Conclusion


The Ambush impressed our testers at every turn. This helmet combines excellent protection, comfort, lightweight, and ventilation in a way that few other helmets in this review can match. If you're looking for a comfortable, lightweight, and fully featured helmet with excellent coverage and ventilation then look no further than the Ambush.

The Ambush is one of the best helmets we've ever tested. It's an...
The Ambush is one of the best helmets we've ever tested. It's an excellent combination of protection, comfort, ventilation, in a lightweight package.
Photo: Jeremy Benson

Jeremy Benson

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