Reverence: Helmet Vents

Eye wear-compatibible helmet vents: perhaps one of the greatest bicycle breakthroughs

Helmets became mandatory in professional road racing in 2003, following the tragic death of Andei Kivilev from head injuries sustained in a fall during Paris-Nice.  With the adoption of that regulation died one of the most iconic images of professional cycling: the racer riding over the high mountain passes of Europe with their eyewear perched atop their bare skulls, cycling cap, or leather hairnet.  That image may have died, but with the regulation came a massive push for innovation and improvement in helmet technology.

Prior to 2003, cycling helmet design took its inspiration largely from bowling ball technology; early racing helmets were spherical, heavy, and poorly ventilated.  As a result, helmet adoption amongst professionals was spotty. When helmet use became mandatory, however, the pros insisted on lighter, better-ventilated designs – not to mention an improvement in aesthetics. (Which begs the question: are helmets today cooler because the pros wear them, or do the pros wear them because they are cooler?)

In addition to those problems came the question of what to do with eyewear; tucking unused eyewear into a jersey pocket is unpopular with sponsors who pay to have their products on display during a race, while placing them rearwards on the back of your head makes you look like you’ve suffered an accident at the hands of some kind of mad scientist.  The solution was to design a helmet with large side vents capable of receiving the earpieces of eyewear in order to store them safely on the helmet while not worn over the eyes.

I have discussed in perhaps too much detail my obsession with cycling eyewear and my tendency towards claustrophobia set on by the feeling of overheating while having something on my face during physical effort. I suppose I have the option not to wear a helmet in training, but it could be argued that those who deem not to wear one perhaps have very little worth protecting in terms of the functional quality of their brains.  For someone of my considerable intellectual capability, I would be doing the world – if not civilization at the evolutionary scale – a disservice by suffering a brain injury brought on by smacking my unhelmeted (and oddly proportioned) melon against the pavement.

With that, I feel justified in declaring eyewear-compatible helmet vents one of the greatest advances in bicycle technology.

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56 Replies to “Reverence: Helmet Vents”

  1. I’m not sure that 2003 was such a marker post. Seem to remember that there were some pretty good helmets going back to around ’98. It’s just that iwasn’t wearing them. However whatever I was wearing (Giro I think) were glasses compatible and it wasn’t until after 2003 that I had helmets that weren’t glasses compatible, at least not with the glasses I had

    Hmmm I’m seeing a common thread here and that is that I need to do better at my helmet/glasses choice and ensure compatibility

  2. My LAS helmet, nice as it is, has this mesh lining thing on the inside, which prevents me — if you can imagine — from tucking my sunglasses in through the vents and looking cool like Frank. This is a bummer on climbs, or when I just want to take off my glasses.. i have to hook them on my 1/4 unzipped jersey, which is lame because they fall off easily and look kind of stupid. Perhaps I need to find a way to remove this mesh….

  3. Foiled again…i got rid of the mesh, but the vent holes don’t line up in a way to make it work with my glasses…

  4. So, at some point during that final 10km climb of the Tourmalet this year, with Schleck, A going tete-a-tete with Bertie, I leapt out of my chair with great excitement (not strictly true – I was having a BBQ with the guys I’d ridden that stage with four weeks prior… admitteldy slowly, and with no great elan) not because of any sudden attack (this was a stage of mounting tension), but because Bertie had taken off his eyewear, and – very cautiously – folded them up and placed them hanging off the rear collar of his jersey at the back of his neck. COOL! I thought. INNOVATIVE! I’ve since been out and tried it…. and you know what, the little spanish guy has a point – it works…. Whilst I always do my best to adhere to the rules… I have an odd shaped noggin, an old cycle helmet, a tired pair of rudy project cycle glasses…. and that eyewear / cycle helmet coupling was never destined for success…. but thanks to Contador (bless him), I now have a Maillot-Jaune sponsored cool way to take my specs off without having them crushed or fall out of my jersey pockets when the Pyreneean mist descends (which, in the UK, is pretty much every day between 4am and 11pm). Watch the re-runs. Supercool. And no pistoleros either.

  5. Ahh, helmets. Remember:

    1. Ludo Diercksen’s “soft” helmet from Rudy Project – in Lampre pink and blue no less; and

    2. Cipo’s 3-hole Briko helmet?

    I believe the latter was designed by Briko to see how far they could push the theory of giving Cipo something really shit to see if he could make it look cool. He did! Unfortunately Ludo didn’t (but he was still HAF).

    Whilst a 10 second Google search didn’t locate a decent image, I am sure I have seem Pharmstrong wearing a helmet visor on his road bike. COTHO indeed.

  6. A Velominatus should be capable of the following:
    1. Place eyewear in vents with one hand quickly and in one motion, sans fidgeting.
    2. If the rider chooses to use two hands to stow the eyewear, they must sit fully upright, continue pedaling, and place eyewear in vents in one motion, sans fidgeting.
    3. Regardless of whether you choose to use the one or two handed method, you must be able to hold your line throughout the duration of the action.

    If one is caught violating these three requirements, then they are to be branded a Fred and publicly ridiculed until they can accomplish the stowing of eyewear in accordance with these rules.

  7. @Omar
    From this we learn that Little Tommy Voeckler (to judge by the bumbling and fumbling with his eyewear on his approach to the line at Bagneres-de-Luchon, which ended with him giving up and putting them back on his nose) is no Velominatus.

  8. @Jarvis

    I’m not sure that 2003 was such a marker post. Seem to remember that there were some pretty good helmets going back to around ’98. It’s just that iwasn’t wearing them. However whatever I was wearing (Giro I think) were glasses compatible and it wasn’t until after 2003 that I had helmets that weren’t glasses compatible, at least not with the glasses I had
    Hmmm I’m seeing a common thread here and that is that I need to do better at my helmet/glasses choice and ensure compatibility

    I did over-simplify, because the Pneumo was around and didn’t completely suck and it did (sort of) accept glasses, but massive leaps have been taken since.

    To your point, yes, very carefully select eye wear and helmets. In fact, I recently bought a Bell Sweep (my second) rather than the newer and more carboney Volt simply because I trust the vents to hold my gear.

    Velominatus Jim owns a lovely, mostly unused Lazer due to it’s inability to accept my shades as directed.

  9. @roadslave
    It’s not a bad way to go in an emergency, but it’s nowhere near as cool as the vent-option, and don’t think I need to tell you which approach thusly takes priority.

    That said, here’s me riding the Tourmalet in ’06 in said Tourmalet fog with the helmet I offloaded to Jim (see above for reasons why) with shades tucked in as described above.

    There is no mountain the world I love more than the Tourmalet.

  10. @Marcus
    That Ludo helmet was unbelievable. If I didn’t believe beer-mug insulators were illegal in Belgium, I would postulate that is what they are made of, but obviously that’s not the case. What a stud. That guy turned Pro at like 35, didn’t he?

    I’m speechless. It’s perfect. You are ready for the trials, my son.

  11. Being myopic, I never want my eyewear anywhere other than in front of my eyes. Even in Tourmalet mist. So the whole vent-as-storage-device thing is of little significance to me. And having the fashion sense of a dead snail means aesthetic advances in helmet design are also a little lost on me (though I am hopeful that continued study of the Rules will, in time, address this – and may even result in me removing the Mirror Brett Sold Me). But I do think the change in helmet-wearing attitudes is interesting. When I was a kid in the 70’s, we used to ride (and frequently crash) our skinny-wheeled “Raleigh 20” bikes on the dirt tracks in the hills behind us long before those crazy Californians thought up mountain biking. We never wore helmets, and our parents never suggested that we should. When I lived in London in the late ’80’s I used to cycle through the city, frequently scared shitless, but always lidless. By the early 90’s helmet-wearing had become universal in the NZ MTB scene, and I think it became compulsory around then for all cyclists. Once it was compulsory, it was virtually universal. And now going without feels so deeply wrong that no-one I know would do it. It’s a bit like wearing seat-belts. And not smoking in bars. Once it becomes compulsory, pretty much everyone complies – and then they rapidly internalise the requirement to such an extent that the compulsion is almost not needed any more (because people will just do it anyway). And that’s what I think will happen with The Rules. Pretty soon, everyone will Obey the Rules instinctively and without question. No-one will need reminding or chastising, because no-one will even want to think about getting on a bike without being fully Rule-compliant. I have a dream …

  12. @frank
    I think it started with the Giro Boreas. To be fair to Giro their lids have always held glasses well in the vents. I just stopped buying them when they became Armstrong apologists.

    The stowage method that Bertie used was employed by Cuddles back in at the Giro. Although if I put glasses anywhere other than the vents, I prefer the method of placing them on the back of the neck. However, being a contact lens wearer, like Geof, my glasses tend to stay in front of my eyes unless I can no longer see through them due to dirt.

    what about the monstrosity that Rebellin is wearing in the San Sebastian picture.

  13. @Good Geofelephant
    I remember watching that finish and thinking that little Tommy V took off his specs for the finish but was then told by his team car to put ’em back on – hence the apparent fumbling. If you can be bothered, watch it again – he clearly looks back in annoyance.

    Massive respect to the DS for taking care of the sponsors. Le chouchou should have known better…

  14. Being semi-old dude, I remember back when no one wore helmets. As a kid in the ’70s, spent many hours jumping fake BMX bikes off stairs, or buzzing ’em though the woods – no helmets. I rode dirt motorcycles at the time also, and for that, full gear MX gear. Kind of ironic.

    During my bike shop days of the early ’80s, we rarely sold a helmet. Not exactly the world of choice either. I think at the time, the original Bell Biker was the most common – the one that looked like a white turtle shell on you head. I also remember a Pro-Tec looking helmet that sat on the shelf unsold for months. It actually glowed in the dark – no lie. Someone occasionally donned it to run around the dark parking lot like a mental case, while we all laughed our asses off.

    I remember buying my first helmet in 1986, a Vetta hardshell model, lame indeed. I bought it for mountain bike racing, and only for racing. Training and fun rides, still no head protection. I hated wearing it. A few years after that, one of those Specialized deals with the lycra cover. At that point I started wearing a helmet most of the time. I now dig Giro helmets and wear it almost 100% of the time. I do at times cruise the neighborhood or goof around at local schoolyard on my mountain bike without a helmet – jumping steps like I’m still 14 years old.

    Interesting to see how the entire culture has changed. Riding without a helmet now is like driving without a seatbelt. Maybe a bit of overkill, but still not a bad thing. I had a friend in the ’80s fracture his skull test riding a bike in a parking lot. Freaky, but true. As he was laying on the pavement, said he knew something was wrong – double vision and heard something dripping in his ear. Yikes. He did recover.

    I’m rambling here….oh yeah, eye wear in helmet vent holes. Not only convenient, but damn pro looking as well. After going months without eye wear, after breaking my Rudy Projects, I picked up a pair of Wileyx shades, only to discover they will not stay in the helmet vents – at least not securely. Lame. I may keep ’em for casual wear and pick up another pair for riding. Bummer.

  15. In vents always seems a bit insecure, or maybe that’s just me or my choice of eyewear. Back of head is safer and freaks out the folks behind you after you have HTFUed, fired your guns and left the non-‘Nati quivering in your wake on the lower slopes.

  16. In fact, what really annoys me are riders who only have glasses stuck in their helmet vents and never seem to actually wear them. If you don’t like glasses, don’t fucking have them, it will make them cheaper for those of us who have to pay for them.

  17. @frank
    Thank you for the praise. Rule-worthy maybe?

    Oh, and what are these “trials” you speak of?

    I agree. I almost never take my shades off while I’m riding unless it’s one hell of a long climb.

    @Good Geofelephant
    Voeckler, certainly not. To be honest, I thought he looked like a bumbling idiot when he was fooling with his shades. His ample serving of Rule #5 does help out his case, however.

  18. The marriage between the multi-vent helmets of today, and cycling specific eyewear is quite possibly as nearly sacred as anything we have seen in the modern age. Those who abide by it, will look back in generations to come like we look back on Coppi and his glasses and drinking as he rides.

    The glasses can come and go in the vents at will, used and placed back at will. It indeed couldn’t be better in any way.

    BTW-I would say howerver that the glasses must be in the vent upside down. Naturally the earpiece then provides as a hook superiorly into the vent hole, providing natural stability & ease of mind that they will not fall out during the remaining effort. In doing so, its a natural flip from the nose to the helmet.

  19. @Roadslave – I love how watching the pros leads to adoption of the most avant-garde cycling delusions. Witness, I had observed the Grand Faboo’s repeated reliance on the ‘phantom TT bar’ whilst grinding the rest of the field into a paté of mixed and broken DNA….you know the elbows / forearms resting on the bar tape either side of the stem with hands lolling lazily in the breeze?

    Anyway, I was out last night, further expunging the excesses of the weekend when I found myself in mild competition with some other rouleurs. Wishing to adopt a high pace but with a degree of nonchalance, I decided to attempt this most laid back of positions. All I can say is….make sure your cables are the right length and your headset adjusted properly. While I acheived an uncomfortable equilibrium at rest, piling on the coals in an attempt to diesel off the front sent me into a knee trembler that damn near pitched me over the bars @ 45kph. Most embarassing.

  20. You’re all missing the genius of the photo that accompanies the article. Artistic purity. The composition, the subject matter. The black & white puts it over the top. Ansel Adams is smiling down on you Frank. Chapeau.

  21. @Good Geofelephant
    Agreed. I climb like a mollusc, but tend to keep the eyewear on. Always.

    Greetings from Norway, by the way. In Trondheim for a few short days (sans shoes and pedals, sniff), but may go looking to rent a bike if time allows…

  22. @frankWell, I guess a new helmet is going to have to be on the agenda. The high price I pay for upholding Velominati style standards…

  23. @CyclopsIndeed, I smiled when I saw the photo. Especially the gents in the background with the beer. Frank seems to be quite the photographer in general (assuming he did those artsy shots of the 3M electrical tape and the Baxter’s)

  24. @Cyclops, @KitCarson
    You lads are too kind.


    Thank Merckx atop Sweet Mount Velomis for the internet. It’s been too long since I’ve gazed upon that lid.


    In fact, what really annoys me are riders who only have glasses stuck in their helmet vents and never seem to actually wear them. If you don’t like glasses, don’t fucking have them, it will make them cheaper for those of us who have to pay for them.

    I’m glad you’re getting enough sleep these days, because christ I’ve missed that kind of input.

  25. @Cyclops
    I actually took that shot at the Tour de Blast this year. It was a good day. Those local dudes were hooking us up with free peebers. There was a joyous cross-cultural exchange there that day.

  26. @Joe

    I had observed the Grand Faboo’s repeated reliance on the ‘phantom TT bar’ whilst grinding the rest of the field into a paté of mixed and broken DNA….you know the elbows / forearms resting on the bar tape either side of the stem with hands lolling lazily in the breeze?

    Sweet jesus that is some nice writing there Joe. Into a pate of mixed and broken DNA…

    I’m not flexible enough to do that for more than 10 seconds but it looks cool as hell.

    I have a LAS Squalo and it’s too hot and barely holds glasses, it now sits on a shelf and I’m back to a Giro Pneumo, old, you bet, glasses go upside-down in from the back. It’s a two handed, sit upright install but it’s great.

    Does everyone know Giro will send you replacement sweat pads for your Giro helmet? Free, nada, nuthin’. That is nice of them.

    Ludo was a factory worker, painting trucks and training and racing on the side. That’s a hardman, working full-time and training enough to scrabble above the semi-pros of Belgium.

  27. @john
    the fact that Ludo could rise out of the semi-pros, while building semi-trailers (see what I did there?) is surely testimony to the benefits of doping. But bless his sole, he was hard as nails

    nowhere near enough sleep (it’s 4.40am here and they’ve been awake for the last hour), it was just the correct subject matter.

  28. @john
    Not only was Ludo a flahute, he was also an unnecessarily honest (and possibly quite stupied) one.

    His team kicked him off the Tour after he told dope testers (after winning a stage no less) that he had taken a drug which might mean he might test positive (but he had a prescription for it so that’s ok). Team wasn’t aware of this drug, so they kick him out and then he tests, wait for it:


  29. Joe :… the ‘phantom TT bar’ ….you know the elbows / forearms resting on the bar tape either side of the stem with hands lolling lazily in the breeze?

    my teammate calls this the ‘velcro elbow’

  30. “the phantom TT bar”

    came into existence the moment the UCI banned the Spinachi. Prior to these brilliant, but dangerous (in the hands of idiots in the middle of a bunch), people used to hold the tops while cranking. The only difference is that you got cramp in your upper arms instead of bruises on the underside of your forearms

  31. Not really anything to do with helmet vents, but in case anyone’s not yet seen this –

    The sound of not-so-distant-any-more chickens coming home en masse to roost?

    Or am I just overly influenced by the book I’m currently reading “From Lance to Landis” (

  32. Since my sunglasses are prescription I can never be cool and have them in my helmet vents. Oh, and I violate Rule #37 all the time because I’m sick of forgetting that they are over the straps when I try to take my helmet off and because I can’t see without them I rather not have to take them off to take my helmet off and then put them back on.

  33. @Cyclops
    Am I going to have to confiscate that fine garment? I think you know enough to know your feeble excuses of “being able to see” and “practicality” have no bearing on disobeying a Rule.

    I am giving you a refillable prescription to review Rule #1 through Rule #4, and then review Rule #5. Repeat as necessary.

  34. @wvcycling
    Nicely done. Even in the pouring rain there is no excuse. The one I recall was when he was in very hot conditions – possibly in Hawaii. Either way, still no excuse.

    As for Misty Ping, I believe she was a Chinese swimmer who got busted for drugs, then turned to porn (remember Misty Hyman?)

  35. @Cyclops

    Wasn’t Misty Ping a ’70″²s Asian porn star?

    Indeed she was. I saw her at a Reno sex show, naked(of course) crab walking across a bar and fire a overly ripe banana(from down there) across the room…splat, hits the wall and slides down, all slow like.

  36. Cadel did same ‘tuck glasses into back of jersey collar’ manoeuvre on the Strade Bianchi stage at the Giro… I have been following suit since @KitCarson

  37. I kind ride the phantom TT bar position, but not at pace. Some dude was doing it yesterday in the Vuelta with like 2 kms to go, when the peloton was flying…and he was at the front. Ah, the PROS!

    I’ll stick my glasses in my helmet vents sometimes, but if it is getting dark and I won’t be needing them any longer I tuck them inside my jersey and slip them into the loop on the bib strap of my Assos. I guess the little loop might be to hang them, but it holds your shades quite well. The only annoying thing is my newest pair of bibs has the strap way down near my stomach, instead of next to my heart. Not as nice of a spot to tuck your shades.

  38. This is a reverence request. Maybe its the end of the season, or maybe I simply use a subpar chamois cream, but yesterdays ride I was at the limit of what the twins will endure. You all seem to have pretty spot on taste when it comes to the finer things in cycling and life, so please pass on your secret sauce of choice. The three of us will be very grateful.

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