For the past three months I have had the privilege of testing some of Smith's mountain bike protection and eyewear. Integrating these products into my usual riding routines, I have used them in an array of scenarios ranging from mountain bike rides, all-day gravel adventures, and the occasional commute. Aside from their pleasing aesthetics and form-fitting design, Smith’s helmets are pushing the boundaries of what is available in the field of mountain bike protection. Both the Session and Forefront 2 have industry-standard EPS foam and MIPS construction while adding a level of protection not utilized by other manufacturers. By integrating Koroyd technology into their helmets, Smith aims to provide an industry-leading level of protection against impact.
Koroyd is an alternative impact absorption technology that was initially born out of the Aerospace industry. It consists of vertically oriented plastic tubes bonded together to create a protective layer that dissipates energy upon impact. In the event of an impact, the tubes crumple consistently throughout, equally distributing the forces to minimize their transfer to the head.
Compared to traditional EPS foam that solidifies once it is 60% compressed, Koroyd doesn’t solidify until it reaches 78% compression. This additional compression through plastic deformation allows for more energy dissipation before the forces of an impact are transferred to the rider's skull. Furthermore, Koroyd is effective in both direct and angled impacts, reducing the risk of a life-threatening injury. In addition to its increased protection and energy absorption, Koroyd is exceptionally light and breathable. The hollow nature of the tubes allows for body heat to escape outwards while creating inward airflow and breathability.
While it is easy to fawn over feature-packed helmets retailing for nearly $300, I get most excited at the prospect of trying a well-designed product that is more affordably priced. From my experience on the sales floor, sub $200 helmets are the most popular choice among customers. Retailing for $170 and boasting additional safety features such as MIPS and zonal Koroyd, the Session is one of the most competitive options for the price.
Fit / Ventilation
A size medium fit me well, only needing a few turns of the Smith’s VaporFit adjustment dial to make it more secure. The Session’s XT2 anti-odor padded lining is minimalistic with only a single-piece brow pad and a small pad at the crown of the head. Unlike other helmets I’ve tried that sit too high on my head, the Session has a conforming fit that offers ample coverage on the sides and back. Fifteen individual vents allow for generous airflow. At speed, you can feel cool air being channeled front to rear via the three large unobstructed brow vents. Weighing 378g for a size medium, the Session is lightweight and goes largely unnoticed throughout a ride.
Features / Performance
On trail, the Session goes unnoticed for even the longest rides; I have experienced no pinch points or areas of uncomfortable rub. The visor can be toggled between three different positions, allowing for goggle storage on the brow of the helmet when in its highest position. Being a part of the Smith product line, the Session is designed to integrate with the profile of all Smith eyewear. Outfitted with AirEvac, a series of vents underneath the brow of the helmet allow for consistent airflow, ensuring fog-free lenses.
One of my biggest gripes is when a helmet is noisy. Usually caused by liner rub, this can be a deal breaker for me when looking for a new helmet. The sound of plastic rubbing on EPS foam is the last thing I want to hear in the solitude of nature. Fortunately, the Session is quiet, even on the most root-riddled sections of trail.
The Session is Smith’s most affordable helmet to feature Koroyd protection, albeit to a lesser extent than the Forefront 2. With what Smith describes as “zonal protection," the Session has two panels of Koroyd that protect the parietal ridge on either side of the head. In the event of going over the bars, it’s easy to visualize this area of the helmet hitting the ground first. The rest of the helmet consists of EPS foam with a MIPS liner beneath for rotational energy displacement in the event of an angled impact.
While aesthetics shouldn’t be the sole determinant for purchasing a helmet, it’s worth noting the Session’s smooth sculpted lines and a variety of two-tone colorways make for a helmet that looks good on trail. Aesthetically pleasing and functional, the Session is a great option for the sub $200 price point. The inclusion of MIPS and zonal Koroyd makes it stand out from other potentially less protective helmets at a similar price point.
The Forefront 2 is Smith’s premier half-shell helmet that shares many of the same design elements and features of the Session while placing a further emphasis on safety and usability. Most notably, the Forefront 2 has an increased amount of Koroyd paneling that encompasses nearly the entirety of the helmet. This model also has integrated front and rear storage for eyewear, along with an integrated mounting point for Smith’s camera/light mounting kit.
Fit / Ventilation
Sharing the same sizing chart and VaporFit adjustment dial, it’s no surprise the Forefront 2 is just as comfortable as the Session. The Forefront 2 has 20 individual vents, five more than the Session. Although, this doesn’t make for a dramatic difference in ventilation between the two. Weighing 385g for a size medium, the Forefront 2 is marginally heavier than its less expensive counterpart as a result of increased Koroyd coverage.
Performance / Features
The Forefront 2 visor offers the same three-position adjustment as the Session but mounts via an adjustable 2.5mm allen bolt instead of using the Session’s plastic snap-on design. The end result is a sturdier visor that is less susceptible to rattling on rough terrain. The Forefront 2 also includes Smith’s Integrated mounting point, a sleek solution for light and GoPro mounting. Typically light and camera mounts are a major afterthought in helmet design, leaving the user hoping for just enough flat space for an adhesive mount. It is a common occurrence that a flat surface doesn’t exist on the crown of the helmet, making the only remaining option is a strap-style mount that clumsily laces through the helmet's vents. The integrated mount remedies this issue, providing a mount that is secure on trail and hidden away when not in use.
When given the choice between the Session and the Forefront 2, more often than not, I found myself reaching for the Forefront. Given the option, I am going to grab the most protective helmet possible every time. With the potential of concussions and traumatic brain injuries that mountain biking presents, I will take any advantage, no matter how marginal, when it comes to protecting my head.
The color receptors of the human eye are most sensitive to blue, green, and red wavelengths. When these wavelengths overlap the brain has trouble perceiving their true color. Smith's ChromoPop technology aids in filtering out this “middle-ground”, providing a clearer image, more definition, and a sharper contrast.
Visible Light Transmission
Smith offers ChromoPop in a variety of tinted lenses for different lighting scenarios. The tint of these lenses is based on their amount of visible light transition (VLT). VLT is a percentile rating that corresponds with the amount of light that reaches the eye through the lens. The lighter the lens tint, the higher the VLT, as more light can pass through the lens. Darker tints allow less light into the eye resulting in a lower VLT.
Smith’s MAG technology is a lens-swapping system that utilizes magnets for increased usability. As a first-time user of MAG eyewear, I was astonished by how easy it was to swap lenses, simply clicking open the magnetized tabs on the temple of the frame before securing another lens. The MAG interface eliminates the need to press and pull directly on the lenses, leaving them smudge-free and ready to go.
Attack MAG MTB
The Attack MAG MTB glasses offer a secure fit and large coverage to keep vision clear no matter how treacherous the conditions. With an extremely lightweight frame, these glasses have an ergonomically curved fit that translates into comfort for hours on end. The rubber-coated temple perfectly hugged my head, translating into a fit that made the glasses go unnoticed within a few minutes of putting them on. Their semi-rimless frame design creates an unobstructed field of view.
I tested both the ChromaPop Black lens and ChromaPop Low Light Amber lens on this frame. The ChromaPop Black was the darkest lens I tested with a VLT of 10%. These lenses were ideal for a bright and sunny day with minimal cloud cover. They performed exceptionally in clear-cut open sections or long stretches of gravel road but were oftentimes too dark under the forest canopy, even on a clear day. These lenses are only practical on the sunniest of Pacific Northwest days and I mainly found myself using them for longer road/gravel rides where I didn’t have to compete with constantly shifting shadows and tree cover. However, they could be a great option for riders in an arid desert environment where tree cover is minimal and the sun is constant.
With a VLT of 65%, the ChromaPop Low Light Amber lens was a standout performer in variable light conditions and overcast days. I found myself using this lens in conditions ranging from partly cloudy to fully overcast. It was with this lens that I first noticed the drastic effect ChromaPop has on object definition and clarity. On cloudy days ChomaPop added a level of crispness to what would have otherwise would have been a gray, muted landscape.
The Shift MAG wins the award for the most stylish of the glasses I tested. Their large coverage and full-frame design are aesthetically noteworthy. Their appearance is more comparable to lifestyle glasses than the safety-inspired sportswear more commonly seen in the cycling industry. They have a flatter frame profile that resulted in a feeling of resting on my face more than the unobtrusive feeling that the Attack MAG provides. Although, they are still incredibly secure on trail thanks to their grippy rubber frame and nosepiece making them another great option for all scenarios.
The Shift MAG glasses I tested came with a ChromaPop Red Mirror lens and a standard clear lens. The ChromaPop Red Mirror lens has a VLT of 15% making it a suitable option for clear days. This lens provided the ideal balance of tint for sunnier weather, while still providing visibility in shaded sections of forest. The combination of ChromaPop technology and the Red Mirror tint created a dramatic viewing experience, and enhanced the contrast between objects. Unsurprisingly, the clear lens worked as intended and got the most use in the dark forest cover prevalent around Bellingham.
For me, the Wildcat glasses are synonymous with pro enduro riders and the Smith brand. When I think of Smith sunglasses I visualize Jesse Melamed or Miranda Miller ripping around Squamish in a pair of Wildcats. With the most coverage of the three models I tested, its oversized lens offers goggle-like protection while maintaining the feel of traditional sunglasses. The Wildcats are a great option for high-speed descents or road rides as their large profile offers ample protection from the elements and debris.
The Wildcats I tested came with a Photochromic Clear to Gray lens and a standard clear lens. The Photochromic lens was the most versatile on test with VLT shifting from 20-85% depending on its exposure to sunlight. This versatility made for a high-performing lens in every scenario except for extremely overcast, socked-in days. As expected the clear lens worked flawlessly, essentially turning the Wildcats into the most comfortable high-coverage safety glasses I’ve ever worn.
As the seasons change and Bellingham begins to descend into the darkness of winter, Wildcats outfitted with a clear lens will become my go-to eyewear. Their large coverage makes them the best option for muddy trails and puddle splashing, helping to keep my eyes clear of grit and grime.
Aside from being exceptional products on their own, what makes Smith protection and eyewear appealing is the greater product line they are a part of. Designed to functionally integrate with one another, the helmets and eyewear pair perfectly. Details like Smith’s AirEvac system make a noticeable difference in Anti-Fog properties, an issue that can ruin the functionality of other eyewear. Details like the enhanced visibility provided by ChromaPop and Koroyd’s industry-leading impact absorption solidify Smith’s position at the forefront of cycling protection and eyewear.