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Bontrager Ballista Review

Our favorite aero helmet; it proves that aerodynamics and good ventilation are not mutually exclusive.
Bontrager Ballista
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Price:  $175 List
Pros:  Inexpensive, lightweight, aerodynamic, comfortable
Cons:  No sunglass storage
Manufacturer:   Bontrager
By Nick Bruckbauer & Curtis Smith  ⋅  Oct 2, 2019
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The Bontrager Ballista has reset our expectations of aerodynamic road biking helmets. It was the first aero helmet in Bontrager's lineup, and it does not disappoint. Do aero road helmets make you faster? In the right conditions, yes. We don't have a wind tunnel to verify manufacturer performance claims, but the shape of aero road helmets does likely reduce drag to some extent. We recommend you take claims of improved performance with a grain of salt and look at other factors such as comfort, ventilation, and adjustability when selecting an aero helmet. This contender is a racing helmet. It is best suited to long days in the breakaway.

New Version

Bontrager released a MIPS version of the Ballista. See a comparison below.

October 2019


Compare to Similar Products

 
Bontrager Ballista
This Product
Bontrager Ballista
Awards  Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award 
Price $175 List$168.71 at Competitive Cyclist
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$324.95 at Competitive Cyclist
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$100 List$55.00 at Amazon
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Pros Inexpensive, lightweight, aerodynamic, comfortableLightweight, comfortable, low profile, good ventilationGreat ventilation, elegant style, advanced MIPS liner designWell ventilated, affordable, comfortable, uses CES protectionLightweight, well-ventilated, very affordable
Cons No sunglass storageExpensiveExpensive, heavier than other high-end helmetsForehead padding requires visor, bulky, doesn’t use MIPSNot as durable or adjustable as high-end models
Bottom Line Our favorite aero helmet; it proves that aerodynamics and good ventilation are not mutually exclusive.A high-end road biking helmet with a semi aerodynamic profile, that is lightweight and well-ventilated.A high-end road biking helmet with excellent ventilation and a unique MIPS liner design.A playfully designed offering with plenty of features for casual and serious riders alike.A low-cost, lightweight helmet with many of the same features as higher priced competitors.
Rating Categories Bontrager Ballista Giro Synthe MIPS Giro Aether MIPS Catlike Kompact'o Urban Giro Foray MIPS
Comfort (20%)
10
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8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
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7
Adjustability (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
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8
Weight (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
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6
10
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6
10
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9
Style (15%)
10
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7
10
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8
10
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8
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7
10
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7
Ventilation (20%)
10
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7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
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8
10
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8
Durability (15%)
10
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7
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7
10
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8
10
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8
10
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6
Specs Bontrager Ballista Giro Synthe MIPS Giro Aether MIPS Catlike Kompact'o... Giro Foray MIPS
Weight (grams) 266 g (size M) 312 g (size L) 330 g (size L) 291 g (size M) 312 g (size L)
MIPS No Yes Yes No Yes
Number of vents 10 19 11 21 21
Sizes S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L
Size Range (cm) 54-60 cm (size M) 59-63 cm (size L) 59-63 cm (size L) 51-61 cm (size M) 59-63 cm (size L)

Our Analysis and Test Results

Bontrager now only makes the Ballista in a MIPS version, which retails for $200. The MIPS version is similar in design to the original version we tested. See an image of the Ballista MIPS below in red, next to the non-MIPS version we tested previously.

Bontrager Ballista

Hands-On Review of the Ballista


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.

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 and comfort. Its AgION padding 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 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.

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 some other high-scoring helmets. The Y-buckles are small and lay flat against the face, and the chinstrap buckle is small and barely noticeable when adjusted correctly. This is one of the most comfortable aero helmets we've tested. Other aero models we tested seem to be 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. The Headmaster II fit system allows circumferential adjustments with the indexed dial at the back of the helmet, as well as providing 2 cm of fore and aft adjustment. The adjustable headband system on the Ballista is anchored to the helmet at the temples, as opposed to the non-fixed full-wrap headbands on some other high-end helmets that are 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.
This lids chinstrap and strap systems are 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, offering greater adjustability than helmets with fixed webbing straps.

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 tips the scale at 266 g in a size Medium making it one of the lightest helmets in our whole lineup. Some of the weight savings over traditional helmets in our test is because our test version was not equipped with a MIPS liner.

Bontrager now only offers a MIPS version of the Ballista that increases the weight approximately 20-30 g depending on the helmet size. 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.

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.

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 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.

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. 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. They will give you a free replacement if you are involved in a crash during the first year of ownership.

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.

Ventilation


The Ballista is a very well ventilated helmet considering its aerodynamic intent and is one of the best-ventilated aero helmets we've ever 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, this is still a very well ventilated helmet. The difference between it and some other aero helmets is night and day. Many aero helmets can be unbearably hot on warm days, particularly while climbing, whereas the Ballista feels comparable to a fully ventilated traditional road helmet. This product 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.

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.

Durability


This competitor receives solid scores for or durability, placing it on 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. 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, this contender scores well here but could do better by incorporating a full wrap polycarbonate shell.

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

Value


With a list price of $175 for the model we tested (and $200 for the current MIPS version), 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. It is also one of the best performing aero helmets we've ever tested.

Conclusion


The Ballista is an incredibly versatile product and one of the best 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 class-leading ventilation make it more than just a race day only piece of equipment.


Nick Bruckbauer & Curtis Smith