By Vernon Felton
Bontrager Specter XR / $150 / bontrager.com
I grow illogically attached to my helmets, often wearing them long after they should have limped off to their next life in the landfill. I've been known to rock grizzled helmets that could practically walk into a bar and order a drink. It's hard for me to part ways with a favorite brain bucket. I realize, of course, that this makes no sense at all.
Helmets should be replaced after a crash and really, to be on the safe side, every five years even if you haven’t had the opportunity to smack your head against something hard and immobile. Since I began mountain biking at the onset of Reagan's second term in office and have been wrecking on an almost daily basis since then, I really should have burned through dozens of these things by now, which is what led me to pick up this new Bontrager Specter XR helmet. It was a good thing I did as it turns out that the helmet it replaced had a nice crack running down its center that I'd never noticed. Go figure.
But on with the review: Bontrager is making a strong push with their apparel and it's obvious that parent company, Trek, is serious about vying for shelf space with brands like Bell, Giro and Specialized: the Specter XR is equipped to go toe-to-toe with the better brain buckets on the market. The lightweight Bontrager lid features 24 vents and internal channeling helps pull air through the center and over your scalp.
Do all those vents work as advertised? I'd give it an above average rating, though the Giro Xar and Specialized S-Works (two of the best when it comes to ventilation) still channel more air over my scalp than the Specter XR.
The Specter XR doesn't, at first glance, look as if it's going to offer much in the way of comfort. The inside of the lid is covered in moisture-wicking, AgION antimicrobial fit pads, but the padding is a bit Spartan compared to what you'll find lining some competitors' lids.
In this case, looks are deceiving (in the best of ways) because the Bontrager is far more comfortable than the thin padding might suggest. The helmet's thin, flexible straps are also a plus—there's none of the chafing or heavy feeling that you get with some of the thicker, less-pliable strap systems on the market. In short, the Specter XR gets top marks in the comfort department.
As for adjustability, the Specter XR rates highly here as well. A single twist of the Headmaster II dial fine-tunes fit perfectly. What's more, the dial allows for a generous range of adjustment and is easy to operate, single-handedly, on the fly.
All in all, I'm more than a little impressed by Bontrager's Specter XR offering: ventilation is not quite on par with the best in the field, but the helmet is easily the equal of any lid when it comes to overall fit, comfort and adjustability.
While I tend to think of the modern-era Bontrager brand as merely the component arm of Trek's giant family of bikes, my experience with this helmet (and quite a few of Bontrager's latest shorts and jackets) suggests that Keith's namesake has become a true contender in the soft-goods arena as well.