Bontrager Ballista Review
Cons: Finicky headband and strap system, no sunglass storage
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Bontrager Ballista is a high-end aerodynamic 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 its comparatively excellent ventilation and low weight.
The Ballista surprised us with its excellent padding that is slightly thicker at the forehead area, and thinner as the pads taper towards the rear of the helmet. The internal headband tensioning system is fixed at the temples, so the head is forced forward into the front of the helmet, which makes it a bit more prone to the creation of pressure points than helmets with a full circumference tensioning system. However, its padding is quite substantial, which helps to limit pressure points.
Our testers noted a few features about the chinstrap system that can be a nuisance. While the webbing material is thin and soft and the adjustable Y-buckles are small and unobtrusive, the way the rear portion of the strap system is routed through the single central anchor point at the rear of the helmet leaves the strap material floating in the middle of the helmet. This makes it very easy for the straps to get twisted or bunched up against your head when trying to put on the helmet and creates awkward pressure against your head when you pull the straps tight.
Overall, we were disappointed with the design of this strap system. Most other models route the rear straps through the headband system around the perimeter of the helmet, helping the straps fit lay more comfortably across your head and eliminating twisting or weird pressure points.
The Ballista offers a reasonable amount of adjustability with a BOA adjustment system with a rear adjustment dial that is easy to use and offers a wide range of adjustment. However, out testers strongly prefer the feel of a traditional headband system to the thin, wiry tension cables of the BOA system. During our testing, these cables got caught up on our ears and generally felt less comfortable against our head than other headband systems.
The Ballista's headband system also provides 2 cm of fore and aft adjustment. The chinstrap and strap systems are adjustable at the Y-buckle, allowing the front and rear straps to be evenly tensioned. In addition to the adjustable Y-buckle, the rear strap is not fixed, allowing the webbing to be fed from side to side, offering greater adjustability than helmets with fixed webbing straps.
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 MIPS only tips the scale at 340 grams in a men's size Large, making it one of the lightest helmets aero helmets that we tested, and in line with several other standard road bike helmets.
Weight is often a secondary consideration to the wind-cheating benefits on aero helmets, but this model's low weight enhances its versatility, making it a potential option for climbers with the right conditions. The impressive weight of this lid can be partially attributed to the extensive internal channeling that reduces the overall mass by removing EPS foam.
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 their performance capabilities. Many aero helmets have a very round, egg-like shape. The Ballista has a more elongated narrow profile, which we prefer. As its name suggests, it looks like some sort of projectile or missile, especially with the cool matte black color that we tested.
This lid 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. While integrated eyewear on some aero helmets is a nice touch, we prefer our own sunglasses. Another perk of buying a Bontrager helmet is the Crash Replacement Guarantee. They will give you a free replacement if you are involved in a crash during the first year of ownership.
The Ballista is a surprisingly well-ventilated helmet considering its aerodynamic design and its limited number of overall vents. 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. The large strategically placed vents perform better than expected.
This competitor receives solid scores for or durability, placing it on a level footing with many other high-end helmets. The exterior of the helmet is nearly completely devoid of exposed EPS foam, which prevents dents and dings. The Ballista does however have 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, this contender scores well here but could do better by incorporating a full wrap polycarbonate shell.
With a list price in line with other high-performing helmets, the Ballista is a solid value. It has very similar performance as helmets that are much more expensive, and its versatility could make it the only helmet you need for a variety of riding conditions.
The Ballista is an incredibly versatile product and one of the lightest aero bike helmets we've ever tested. If you are entertaining the idea of purchasing an aero helmet, you cannot go wrong with this model. Its competitive price and respectable ventilation make it more than just a race day piece of equipment.
— Nick Bruckbauer