The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Bontrager Ballista Review

The best aero helmet on the market; it proves that aerodynamics and good ventilation are not mutually exclusive features.
Bontrager Ballista
Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $175 List
Pros:  Inexpensive, lightweight, aerodynamic, comfortable
Cons:  No MIPS or sunglass storage
Manufacturer:   Bontrager
By Curtis Smith ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 17, 2017
  • Share this article:
74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 18
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Adjustability - 15% 8
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Style - 15% 7
  • Ventilation - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 7

The Skinny

If you are after a full aero road helmet, then search no further. The Ballista has reset our expectations of aero road helmets. Bontrager was relatively late to the aero helmet party, with many manufacturers releasing aero models a year or two before the Ballista release. The Ballista is the first aero helmet in the Bontrager lineup, and it does not disappoint. As the aero sub-category has grown, almost every manufacturer has come out with a helmet and claims of superior aerodynamics over the competition.

Do aero road helmets make you faster? In the right conditions, the answer is yes. We do not have a wind tunnel to verify manufacturer claims, but it is likely that the shape of aero road helmets does reduce drag to some extent. Nearly every manufacturer claims that their helmet is fastest. The data that is released is more often than not quite vague with claims such as "9 watts faster than the competition". We recommend that you take these claims with a grain of salt, and look at other factors such as comfort, ventilation, and adjustability when selecting an aero helmet.

The Ballista could be the fastest helmet on the market, or maybe not. We awarded it our Top Pick award for Aero Helmets based on superior comfort and ventilation as compared to other aero road helmets we have tested. This also comes in a MIPS version for an extra $25.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Ballista is a high-end aero road helmet. The look of the helmet is unique, with a very elongated profile and minimal vents designed to decrease aerodynamic drag. It looks fast, but what sets it apart from other aero road helmets is superior ventilation, low weight, and class-leading comfort.

Performance Comparison


From the side  the aerodynamic nature of the Bontrager Ballista is most apparent.
From the side, the aerodynamic nature of the Bontrager Ballista is most apparent.

Comfort


The Ballista surprised us with its luxurious fit, scoring a 9/10. The only helmets scoring higher are the Giro Synthe MIPS and the Lazer Z-1 MIPS. The AgION Padding on the Ballista is excellent; it's thicker at the forehead area and thinner as the pads taper towards the rear of the helmet. The internal tensioning system is fixed at the temples so the head is forced forward into the front of the helmet, which makes the Ballista a bit more prone to the creation of pressure points than the Giro Synthe, which has a full wrap tensioning system. However, the padding on the Ballista is more substantial than the padding found on the Giro Synthe or the Lazer Z-1, which helps to limit pressure points.


Nice supple webbing and an adjustable y-buckle make for a comfortable fit on the Bontrager Ballista.
Nice supple webbing and an adjustable y-buckle make for a comfortable fit on the Bontrager Ballista.
The chinstrap webbing is thin and soft compared to what is used on the Synthe and other high-scoring helmets like the Smith Overtake. The Y-buckles are small and lay flat against the face, and the chinstrap buckle is small and barely noticeable when adjusted correctly. The Ballista is by far the most comfortable aero helmet we tested. Other aero models such as the Bell Star Pro are hampered by a lack of adjustability that impacts comfort, as well as uncomfortable Y-buckles.

Adjustability


The large adjustment dial on the back of the Bontrager Ballista is easy to manipulate.
The large adjustment dial on the back of the Bontrager Ballista is easy to manipulate.

This bike helmet offers more adjustability than the other aero road helmets we tested. Circumferential adjustments are made with the indexed dial at the rear of the helmet. Bontrager calls their fit system Headmaster II, and in addition to circumferential adjustment, it also provides 2cm of fore and aft adjustment.


The Bell Star Pro has less fore and aft adjustability and uses a floating rear retention strap that is far less functional than the Headmaster II system on the Ballista. The circumferential adjustment straps are fixed at the temple, so tightening the dial pushes the head forward, as opposed to the non-fixed design of the Synthe that is more adept at accommodating a wider variety of head shapes.

The straps on the Bontrager Ballista are very adjustable and lay flat against the face.
The straps on the Bontrager Ballista are very adjustable and lay flat against the face.
The chinstrap and strap system on the Ballista is adjustable at the Y-buckle, allowing the front and rear straps to be evenly tensioned. We prefer the adjustable Y-buckle to the fixed design found on aero helmets such as the POC Octal Aero. In addition to the adjustable Y-buckle, the rear strap is not fixed, allowing webbing to be fed from side to side. This feature is also found on the Bell Gage. The chinstrap can be centered by feeding webbing from one side to the other, offering greater adjustability than helmets with fixed webbing straps. Overall, the Ballista has a broad range of adjustability and is more adjustable than any other aero helmet we have tested.

The HeadMaster II fit system on the Bontrager Ballista has 2cm of fore and aft adjustment.
The HeadMaster II fit system on the Bontrager Ballista has 2cm of fore and aft adjustment.

Weight


Aero helmets often tend to be a bit heavier than their non-aero counterparts, due to the increased amount of material needed to fill in areas that would be open for vents on a traditional helmet. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Ballista only tipped the scale at 266g, making it the lightest aero helmet we tested. The Giro Air Attack Shield weighed 326g and the POC Octal Aero weighed 287g, for comparison. The Ballista is only 2g heavier than the heavily ventilated Bell Gage. Some of the weight savings over traditional helmets in our test is due to the fact that our test version of the Ballista is not equipped with a MIPS liner.


Bontrager offers a MIPS version of the Ballista that increases weight between 20-30g depending on helmet size. Weight is often a secondary consideration to wind cheating benefits on aero helmets, but the light weight of the Ballista enhances its versatility, making it a potential option for climbers with the right conditions. The impressive weight of the Ballista can be partially attributed to the extensive internal channeling that reduces the overall mass by removing EPS foam.

Style


The aesthetics of aero helmets is a hot topic amongst road cyclists. In our opinion, they just do not look as good as non-aero helmets. Despite aesthetic issues, more and more cyclists are turning to aero helmets for a few free watts. Many aero helmets, like the POC Octal Aero have a very round, egg-like shape. The Ballista has a more elongated narrow profile, which we prefer. Like its name suggests, it looks like some sort of projectile or missile.

The Ballista comes with a nice drawstring storage bag and an extra set of pads. As with most aero helmets, storing sunglasses on the helmet is not an option. It does not come with integrated eyewear like the Giro Air Attack Shield and the Bell Star Pro. While integrated eyewear is a nice touch, we prefer sunglasses. The integrated shields lack adjustability, and depending on how the helmet fits your head, they may not offer clear visibility or air deflection for your eyes.


Another perk of buying a Bontrager helmet is the Crash Replacement Guarantee. Bontrager will give you a free replacement if you are involved in a crash during the first year of ownership.

When it comes to aero helmets  the Bontrager Ballista is definitely one of the better looking options.  On this day we discovered that it is not nearly as warm as other aero helmets we tested.  Thats a good thing.
When it comes to aero helmets, the Bontrager Ballista is definitely one of the better looking options. On this day we discovered that it is not nearly as warm as other aero helmets we tested. Thats a good thing.

Ventilation


The Ballista is a very well ventilated helmet considering its aerodynamic intent. It scores a 7/10 and is by far the best ventilated aero helmet we have tested. Most aero helmets can be downright hot, particularly at low speeds. Our first day of testing this contender was a cold rainy day. We often reach for the aero lids in cold wet conditions since they tend to be warmer and more adept at keeping rain off the head. Even with a warm hat on, the feeling of air flowing over the head was pronounced! Further testing in warmer conditions proved our initial impressions were valid.


Despite the limited number of vents, the Ballista is a very well ventilated helmet. The difference between the Ballista and the POC Octal Aero is night and day. The POC Octal Aero and the Bell Star Pro can be unbearable hot on warm days, particularly while climbing, whereas the Ballista is comparable to the Synthe, which is quite impressive considering that the Synthe has 26 vents, compared with 10 on the Ballista. The Ballista has changed our opinion on the aero helmet category, and proved that with proper design, an aero helmet can truly be an all-around performer.

These three large vents on the front of the Bontrager Ballista really contribute to it's excellent ventilation.
These three large vents on the front of the Bontrager Ballista really contribute to it's excellent ventilation.

Durability


This competitor scored a solid 7/10 for durability, placing it on level footing with helmets such as the Giro Synthe and Lazer Z-1. The exterior of the helmet is nearly completely devoid of exposed EPS foam, which prevents dents and dings. Higher scoring helmets like the Smith Overtake have a full wrap polycarbonate shell that extends around the brim and base of the helmet.


The Ballista has exposed EPS foam on the base, making it more prone to damage in this area than helmets with a full wrap polycarbonate shell. The padding and tensioning dial proved to be durable during testing. The webbing straps showed no sign of abrasion, and the chin strap buckle was reliable. Overall, the Ballista scores well here, but could do better by incorporating a full wrap polycarbonate shell.

Exposed EPS on the base of the helmet decreases the durability score of the Bontrager Ballista.
Exposed EPS on the base of the helmet decreases the durability score of the Bontrager Ballista.

Best Applications


This contender is a racing helmet. It is best suited to long days in the breakaway. The aero benefits likely decrease workload particularly on days with blustery crosswinds. Despite its racing pedigree, it can easily serve double duty as a training helmet. The neon yellow color of our test model enhances visibility and safety while out training. It is also a popular choice for cyclocross, and is the helmet of choice for the Telenet Fidea Lions cyclocross team. It's easy to clean up after a muddy cross race due to the limited amount of exposed vents and crevices that can collect mud.

Value


With a price of $175, the Ballista is a screaming deal. It is only $4 more expensive than the Specialized Airnet, which is the winner of our best buy award. The Ballista is the most affordable aero helmet we tested and also the highest performing.

Conclusion


The Ballista is a genre-defining product, far and away the best aero road helmet we tested. If you are entertaining the idea of purchasing an aero helmet, you cannot go wrong with the Ballista. Its competitive price and class-leading ventilation make it more than a race day only piece of equipment.

Front view of the Bontrager Ballista.
Front view of the Bontrager Ballista.


Curtis Smith