By John Marsh
- The BOA® FS1-1 System featuring TX1 Lace is an ideal helmet closure system
- All the features of a high-end helmet at a mid-range price
- “Size matters” ventilation approach works as well as lids with nearly 3 times the vents
- Fit and adjustability are top-notch, making for a comfortable lid
- Retro-meets-modern styling makes for a good-looking helmet
- MIPS comes standard
- Minor issue: Requires dialing in the fit to keep the low-on-the-forehead lid from touching your sunglasses
Oakley ARO 3 Helmet
Manufacturer’s Recommended Price: $180
How obtained: review sample from company
Available: online, retail, Oakley website
Colors: White (tested), Blackout (matte black), Black (gloss), Retina Burn, Dimension Data Green, Atomic Blue, Cavendish Green
RBR Sponsor: no
Tested: 50+ hours
Weight: Claimed weight 275g (small), 295g (medium), 313g (large)
Sizing: Small – 52-56cm; Medium – 54-58cm; Large – 56-60cm (tested)
Tech Specs: BOA® FS1-1 System with TX1 Lace; MIPS
Oakley’s ARO Helmet Line Packed with Well-Thought-Out Features
Long known primarily for its ground-breaking sunglasses, Oakley introduced its first helmet line to the world at last year’s Interbike. The ARO line includes three different models, dubbed the 3, 5 and 7. The ARO3 (tested) is designed more as an air flow-maximizing helmet, the ARO5 is a more aero-focused helmet, and the ARO7 is a TT helmet.
I was immediately impressed with what I saw. Right out of the gate Oakley has managed to produce helmets that tick off just about every possible well-thought-out feature imaginable in a helmet, and at price points that slot in well below many other major helmet makers for higher end helmets.
Following from Oakley’s eyewear pedigree, the 3 and 5 both feature an integrated eyewear dock to stow and easily retrieve sunglasses in the helmet, and the 7 utilizes Oakley optics face shields. All of Oakley’s new lids feature an anti-microbial brow pad. And they all come standard with MIPS – the predominant anti-concussion helmet tech.
While I was quite pleased to see that Oakley employed MIPS right from the start, my two favorite features are those that I think really show the thoughtful approach to creating these helmets.
The first, and a decidedly simple yet smart feature, is a Y-shaped plastic strap guide under each ear to keep the front and back straps at the correct angles and meeting in the proper place under the ears. Typically, the only issue I ever have with helmet straps is when one side or the other occasionally starts to brush against my ear, which is needlessly bothersome.
The other, the real standout, is the BOA® FS1-1 System featuring TX1 Lace, a braided textile lace retention system that fits snugly to your head and does not interfere with your sunglasses. Typical BOA closure systems, now in almost all high-end shoes and a few other cycling products, use a wire filament.
Oakley and BOA worked together to employ this softer textile lace, which, when tightened, fits right up against the side of your head, stays out of the way and is barely noticeable. Where other helmets snug up a piece of plastic against your head on the sides and temple area of the helmet, these Oakley helmets have only that very thin BOA lace.
You may have seen Oakley’s new helmet lineup being worn by the Dimension Data team in the pro peloton this year.
Let’s take a more detailed look at the various notable features of the ARO3:
Fit & Adjustability
Introducing BOA as a helmet closure mechanism was a master stroke. BOA came to dominate cycling shoe (and other) closure systems for a reason – it works great.
The BOA® FS1-1 system features the BOA dial at the back of the helmet, attached to a very minimalist head basket. The TX1 (textile) lace runs through head basket, along the sides of the head and through the plastic at the front of the helmet onto which the brow pad attaches.
Unlike the BOA closures on shoes and some other equipment, which allow you to pull up on the dial to instantly release all tension, this one simply dials one way to tighten, and the other to loosen – with micro-adjustments available in both directions with an audible click.
The head basket can be moved up or down to three different positions where the helmet fits the back of your head.
In combination with the head basket adjustment, the lace and BOA system easily and comfortably snug the helmet to your head, and you can barely feel the lace touching your head. Unlike some helmets I’ve worn over the years that sometimes need to be re-tightened during a ride, the ARO3 stays snug and dialed in for the duration.
Oakley designed the ARO3 to be its hot weather, “optimized ventilation” helmet. Unlike so many other helmet makers that aspire to lead the pack in the sheer number of vents in their helmets, Oakley seems to have chosen a “size matters” aesthetic, coupled with well-designed placement and the real world realization that vents on the back of the helmet really aren’t there for much more than looks.
The ARO3 features a total of 12 vents, with five large openings across the front of the helmet. Five more slightly smaller vents line up nearly directly behind those “leading edge” vents and sit on the top, back portion of the helmet.
Holding the helmet level, you can clearly see how the air flows through those massive front vents, over the top of your head and out the top, back vents. The remaining two small vents sit at the back corners of your head.
The proof is on the road, though. And the verdict is in: The ARO3 ventilation easily holds its own with any other top-end helmet – even those with 30+ vents. I got the helmet just in time to wear it on a 7-day Blue Ridge Parkway tour in late June and have worn it all summer in the searing Atlanta heat and uber-humidity. I’m a fiendish head-sweater in all conditions, so good venting is vital to me in a helmet. The ARO3 certainly passes my test.
Like most high-end helmets, the padding is minimalist. And that’s a good thing. Aside from the brow pad, there’s another bit that effectively sits on top of your head. Nothing else needed.
At a stated 313g for the large model tested, it’s not the lightest helmet I’ve ever worn, but it’s well within range of most similar helmets. And it most definitely is not heavy and not at all noticeable on rides of any length.
Sizing & Comfort
I always wear a large-size helmet, and the ARO3 large fit me perfectly. From what I’ve read online, though, some think the ARO3 runs a bit small, so if you’re one of those riders who is in between sizes, you may want to size up.
As for comfort, the adjustability and fit system really let you dial in a fit that is about as comfortable as possible.
The only knock I have against the ARO 3 is a persnickety one. The helmet promotes a very low-on-the-forehead fit (which is actually quite a good thing from a safety perspective). My issue with it is that until I got the head basket dialed into the best-for-me position, the helmet tended to ride down to the extent that it touched my sunglasses.
At $180, this is among the lowest priced high-end helmets you’ll find (some run north of $300). To be clear, I definitely consider this a high-end helmet; it has all the nice touches and features that distinguish such lids, and is among the few helmets on the market using a BOA closure system.
When I first wore the white ARO3 on a ride with a buddy, he told me I looked like a Storm Trooper. He meant it as a compliment – which is exactly how I took it. Others have added their own favorable nods.
The ARO3 does, in fact, have a bit of a retro-meets-modern look to it. It resembles the old “mesh covering over foam” shapes of lids of yore more than most modern helmets. But it also has quite pleasing ridges, notches and bevels that, along with the outer shell interplay with the foam underneath, combine to make a quite nice-looking helmet.
Safety & MIPS
MIPS has become the industry standard technology for helping protect against rotational force crash effects (notably, concussion).
A recent study by Virginia Tech, in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, that evaluated bicycle helmets in terms of their overall safety and effectiveness in reducing concussion risk, ranked MIPS helmets in its top 6 spots, and in 7 of the top 10. [For the past few years, I’ve heard some helmet manufacturers who chose not to use MIPS, as well as individual riders who chose non-MIPS helmets, in effect “deny” the effectiveness of MIPS because no such studies had yet been conducted. Let’s hope this one puts an end to that.]
Many manufacturers now include MIPS in the full range of their helmet lineups. And launching with MIPS as a standard feature instantly endeared me to the Oakley line.
So, when it comes time to replace your current helmet (recommended on average every couple of years, or after any crash or impact), it’s hard to argue against getting a MIPS version. (Of note in the study is that there seems to be no correlation between price and safety; in fact, five of the top 10 helmets were priced at $100 or less.)
The Last Word
Oakley’s foray into helmets has produced a line of feature-packed, well-designed helmets that compete extremely well on both price and functionality. The small touches and well-thought-out features were welcome in the ARO3 and its fellow helmets, but the real standout is the BOA and braided textile lace retention system.
The overall package of features of the ARO3, including fit, tech, comfort, safety, ventilation, weight, looks and price, make it a great option for anyone in the market for a new helmet.