Speed Date – Smith’s Forefront trail helmet

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New material sets eyewear company’s lid apart

"It looks like your brain is glowing"
“It looks like your brain is glowing”

First shared last August, Smith’s first entry in the trail helmet wars is now available.  With the Forefront, Smith brings something entirely new to the table: green straws.  Actually quite a bit more advanced than that, the material – Koroyd – consists of tens of thousands of extruded co-polymer tubes, thermally welded into a sort of honeycomb. When compared to the expanded polystyrene (EPS) in most modern helmets, the green matrix is said to dissipate impact both more effectively and more consistently, requiring less thickness to absorb a given impact.  As a series of tubes Koroyd is inherently breathable, allowing coverage across vents.

Nifty stuff, that Koroyd.
Nifty stuff, that Koroyd.

There is a long path from cool new material to finished product- one that Smith have taken quite deliberately.  Benchmarking the competition, the company picked out details that they liked for their first bike helmet – and singled out for improvement those they didn’t.  The result includes thin straps, X-Static antimicrobial padding, and a lightweight VaporFit retention system made of flexible DuPont Hytrel thermoplastic to keep the helmet stable.

Lots of little holes
Lots of little holes

Other neat touches include a threaded brass light/camera mounting point (mounts sold separately), a goggle retention strap, and the ability to tuck the company’s glasses safely away when not in use.  At the front, vents are designed to pull hot, moist air away from goggles and glasses, in theory reducing fogging.  As expected on helmets in its price range, the Forefront even flashes a bit of carbon fibre between vents.

Light on, glasses off.
Light on, glasses off.

With the trademark green Koroyd showing through numerous holes in the shell and its Robocop-esque aesthetics, the Forefront is an eye-catching helmet, attracting numerous compliments (and a number of comments) on the trail.  At 330g (actual, size medium), the Forefront is surprisingly airy for its coverage.  Thanks to the Koroyd’s improved energy absorption and reduced need  for internal channeling, the Smith sits close to the head, avoiding the ‘neon mushroom’ look of some trail and eduro helmets.

Deep rear coverage. Singletrack logo optional.
Deep rear coverage.
Singletrack logo optional.

While not as cool as a top-end cross country helmet and despite only minimal airflow across the scalp, the Forefront is among the coolest helmets in the trail category- comfortable in temperatures up to 25°C/70°F and manageable beyond that.  Surprisingly for a first effort, the dial-based retention system is comfortable and – less surprisingly coming from an eyewear company – does not interfere with sunglasses’ arms.  The two-position, removable visor is located just at the top of this rider’s field of vision, shading the face and providing just the right amount of protection from the setting sun.  Over the course of a month’s riding, the Smith has become a fast favourite- comfortable for four and five hours at a time.

Smith Forefront Thinking 1
Encourages deep thought

So far, the only niggles are minor and strap-related.  While the outboard attachment of the front straps does keep the strap away from the face, stiff headwinds can cause noise not unlike that of a far-off dog howl.  The same straps also seem to be slightly further back in the helmet than most, requiring a bit more time than usual to prevent rubbing at the front of the ear.

Two-position removable visor, shell-mounted straps
Two-position removable visor, shell-mounted straps

After a month’s worth of early-season riding, the Smith is looking like not just a good first effort, but a truly competitive trail option.  The Forefront launches tomorrow (March first) in the US for $220 (estimated £190’ish UK) in ten(!) colour combinations and three sizes.  While both CPSC (US) and EN1078 (EU) certifications are in the bag, the Forefront will be US- (or, ahem, mail order-) only to start, with international distribution down the road a bit.


Saddleback in the UK

Delivery into the UK should be around 1st of June.

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