Review: Giro Switchblade - Full Face vs Half Lid - Why Choose?
July 12th, 2017
July 12th, 2017
Full face vs half lid, complete coverage vs all round comfort. The comparisons go on, and the battle of when, where and whether to go full face, in a lot of instances becomes more and more relevant. The two elements combined into one helmet offer the obvious answer, whilst giving us a list of dream features and functions of the all round protection for your noggin.
Full Face vs Half Lid
Trail riding, is often the prime candidate for half lid on a mountain bike; you need to be able to take those big gulps of air as you grind up yet another drawn out, punishing climb and you want a light, cool helmet for freedom of movement and to avoid overheating on a long day in the saddle. Alternatively, when smashing out the downhill runs, another set of top requirements comes into play. Whilst, obviously it would be nice to have a lightweight, breathable helmet, the issue of efficient protection becomes more of a priority. A strong jaw piece, more all round and proficient protection is key due to the consistent high speeds and nature of the tracks you’re likely to encounter. So, all well and good if you’re at either end of the spectrum and feel you fall into one of these categories, or you're happy to carry two helmets around at all times and make the call for each ride, but in this modern age of mountain biking the line between the two has been well and truly blurred.
All Mountain, Enduro, even just your average trail ride through the local woods has become a well rounded mountain bike experience. The reality is a potential mash-up of climbs, both technical and straight road fire bashing that wouldn't be out of place in any cross country race, combined with descents that range from flat out singletrack to rocky carnage. So the ideal solution would be one helmet to rule them all. But while there have been many incarnations of the do-it-all helmet, for the most part, each one failed to fully meet all the necessary criteria. Be it high levels of faff to switch between the two functions, comfort issues, safety issues, or just straight up aesthetics causing the problems.
The Giro Switchblade
This brings us to the Giro Switchblade (mark 2, in fact, the original Giro Switchblade was made in 1998), one of the newest half/full solutions on the market, and out of the box, it’s promising. I mean, I guess it should, Giro have a strong heritage in the industry and beyond, and have been making quality looking pieces throughout. The Switchblade at first glance, could be any other full face helmet; with regular proportions, a normal shaped chin piece and even in the Orange and Purple colour way, a pleasingly garish, simple paint job. Further inspection does unearth probably slightly better ventilation than a lot of full faces on the market, but they’re definitely not going to get marked down for that. This makes sense too, as Giro boast that this is the first dual guise helmet that's primarily marketed at downhill. One of the most notable features, whilst still wearing the helmet, are two latches just under the jawline. Push these in, the chin guard swings up, a slight pull upwards, and hey presto, you’re now wearing a half lid. As close to zero faff as you're likely to get, and an improvement on the three-catch system of the Bell Super 2R. Now, this is aimed at the downhill, its no cross-country lid, but without the chin piece it’s still a solid bit of kit, worthy of big track riding, but read on, there is more than meets the eye.
The half lid form of the Switchblade is striking, it takes its looks strongly from old school designs, like the Troy Lee Edge, classic motorbike trials helmets and flashback BMX race style. Whilst this may not be to everyone's taste, it’s going to be a bit of a marmite design, and I love it. At the same time, hopefully the functionality of the overall product could get people on side too. Whilst, as I mentioned, the half lid isn’t exactly an XC lid, its functionality is on point. The 20 vent layout is similar to their more minimal lids, and the design of the added section around the ear actually draws more air into the helmet. At one point on a ride in the Lakes, my ears actually got a touch cold due to the draft. At the hotter end of things, I feel like I have really put this helmet through its paces, I have completed a number of 2+ hour climbs in a Slovenian heat wave which was touching the 42’C mark and didn’t find the helmet to fare any worse than those around me wearing a full-on half lid alternative.
There is also the option to temporarily remove some of the padding closer to the face, and although I wouldn't ride aggressively without this in place, it is a welcome adjustment when the heat really ramps up. Even when you do break a sweat, the “Hydrophilic x -Static anti-microbial padding” combats the downfall of many a good helmet, and stops it smelling like an old sock. I’ve been riding this helmet for two months now, and can vouch for its effectiveness. So whilst being a hybrid of helmets and features, the Switchblade still conforms to ASTM downhill standards with and without its steel reinforced chin bar, but interestingly brings to the downhill market a feature, not often seen in full face helmets; the ROC LOC tensioning system on the rear of the helmet, which provides perfect stability on the rough, whilst also allowing you to release the pressure on climbs for a bit more freedom. Combined with the classic D-loop closure under the chin, this makes for a safe and secure yet comfortable fit.
Accessories (and Giro Blok Goggles)
When it comes to fit as well, the matching Blok goggles, with a variety of sense and matching (or clashing) colour ways, fits inside the helmet nicely without causing any pressure points, and ties in the aesthetics to a tee. The stock helmet visor comes with three definite lock off points, standard level, slightly tilted upwards and out of the way, or the affectionately known ‘air break’ position, which whilst pointing almost straight up, is also a simple design for ease of your Blok goggle storage, on the fly. The helmet also comes with a locked out visor replacement designed to hold a GoPro (other action cameras are available) for that defined riders'-eye-view. This is a handy feature for any budding racers out there too, as recent rulings state that visor mounted cameras are the only option on the race track, with chesty and top of helmet mounts being recently abolished for safety reasons.
The price, is a point of contention for some of the people I have spoken to about the new Switchblade, but in my opinion, as a two-in-one product, a replacement for your full face and half lid, or even simply pitched up against some of the real quality single-use products on the market, its more than in the realms of a fair price at £249.99, especially when you consider that it includes MIPS safety fit and is a ASTM downhill certified full face helmet. In conclusion of the Giro Switchblade, although the stylings are decidedly strong, and whether you love or hate this, the helmet ticks a lot of boxes, in both its guises. A comfortable lid, a one-stop-shop for cranial protection in almost all mountain biking circumstances, breathable, safe and secure, and in my humble opinion, styles for miles.
Visit Giro.com for more information on the Switchblade, RRP £249.99. Find your nearest UK retailer HERE.