How much is your head worth? Tim’s been testing out the Ambush mountain bike helmet from Specialized, but there’s one nifty extra safety feature: it can call for help.
Buying safety gear is different to most gear purchases. When a piece of kit can potentially save your life how much money should you really be trying to save? This question always pops up when it comes to buying helmets.
I’m a big helmet guy. I’ve concussed myself snowboarding, written off a full face downhill skateboard helmet, and recently I crunched the front of a mountain bike helmet after, to use the technical term, blowing it.
I’ve also seen a few gnarly head injuries first-hand, and know how much worse my stacks could have been without a certified dome protector.
But jumping into the helmet market can be damn confusing. What’s the difference between the $60 helmet and the $300 one? Aren’t they all certified? What is MIPs? Why does this one have an app? Mind bender for sure.
I’ve been riding for a few months now with the Specialized Ambush with ANGi mountain bike helmet. It’s on the pricier side, at around $320, but also, it’s awesome, and genuinely raising the bar on safety with classic 2021 shenanigans (that’s right, it has bluetooth).
Before we dive into electronic safety, how’s the Specialized Ambush compare to other normal helmets on the market?
All bike helmets in Aus and NZ need to conform to the AS/NZS 2063:2008 standard. So this guarantees a minimum level of protection that the $60 helmets have to provide. The Specialized Ambush goes further in a number of ways.
First up, the Ambush is an ‘extended coverage’ helmet, mountain bike helmets are designed to take impacts from all angles on gnarly trails, so they extend further down the back of the head and around the temples than regular bike helmets. Tick.
Next, a lot of that foam is ‘Energy Optimised Multi-Density EPS foam’. Multiple densities of foam help helmets deal with the different levels of force a crash can bring, but you won’t find it on cheaper lids. Despite this, the Specialized Ambush is the lightest and most ventilated extended coverage helmet available; it uses an ‘Aramid-Reinforced Skeleton’ (like kevlar) to strengthen the foam and allow for big vents. Big tick again.
Finally, MIPS, or more specifically, MIPS SL, a lighter and comfier version which Specialized developed with MIPS researchers. MIPS stands for ‘Multi-directional Impact Protection System’ and essentially it helps your head rotate naturally during impact, which can help reduce concussion. Like the multi-density foam, this is the kind of feature that’s aimed at not just saving your life, but helping to minimise damage of any sort. It’s a tick from me.
Obviously I couldn’t test out how these safety features actually perform (I don’t love you guys that much, also I never crash) but this long list shows how Specialized have done everything they can to make this helmet as safe as possible.
But wait, there’s more!
I laughed when I realised that the ‘ANGi’ part of the Specialized Ambush with ANGi was some kind of bluetooth-connected force sensor thingy. Surely that’s a bit over-the-top right?
Well, safe to say, ANGi’s helped quell a fear I didn’t know I had.
ANGi (Angular and G-Force indicator) has a few functions, but the main one is calling for help if it detects a crash. It won’t call triple 0 though, it’ll buzz your smartphone and if you don’t call it off in a certain amount of time it’ll shoot your emergency contact your last location and hand them the reigns.
I’ve used tracking like this before in Strava Beacon to let my girlfriend follow along with my solo trail runs, but never anything designed to actually detect a crash. ANGi can also tell people you’ve started and finished an activity, which again ties into the holistic approach they’re taking with safety.
I reckon it’s pretty neat. Safety is about more than in-the-moment protection – anything serious needs external help, whether you’re 30 clicks deep in the bush with a buckled wheel or knocked out in the bushes.
Setting out on a solo mountain bike ride in the Blue Mountains I was surprisingly calm. ANGi turned on automatically, paired easily with my phone and I promptly forgot about it. And that’s the true test of whether something works.
Riding bikes, more than many other sports, is about looking cool, and the Specialized Ambush ticks that box with gusto when you’re atop a mountain bike. It’s aggressively styled, but the colours and logos are subtle. I’ve received genuine compliments on it, even from my girlfriend who (to my dismay) isn’t into bikes.
I think the only part I don’t love is the ANGi sensor on the back. It just kind of sticks out a bit strangely and it’s asymmetrical. But that’s getting picky.
The visor’s great for mountain biking, easy to operate and can even flip up to stow goggles if you’re getting real muddy, but I do wish it could easily be removed. Road biking helmets don’t have visors on them, but I reckon the Ambush could pass for one with the visor removed.
Comfort and Fit
I’ve always said that the best way to know if something is comfortable is how quickly you forget about it. And holy shit the Ambush is comfy. As much as I waxed-lyrical about helmets earlier, I never actually liked strapping them on.
But with the Specialized Ambush it’s different. It feels more like a comfy hat than a helmet and I genuinely like wearing it. A big part of this is the fit, the ‘Mindset 360’ system tensions equally from a single integrated dial at the back.
When the going gets tough, helmets can get pretty warm, and when you’re grinding uphill it gets warm like any other helmet. That being said, once the pace picks up a bit the lid gets good airflow and the padding has so far kept all the sweat out of my eyes.
$320 is a lot of money. If you think the Ambush is a bit extra, the confusingly named Ambush Comp comes in at $220 and features many of the same features. Or you can pick up an ANGI unit for about $50 if you’re looking to upgrade your current helmet.
If you’re gonna spend money though, I reckon spending it protecting your noggin’ with a cool and extra safe helmet is one of the smartest ways to do it. Skimp on your mattress instead, people throw them out for free!
Tim was sent the Ambush with ANGi by Specialized and was allowed to keep it afterward, the views are his own.