The teaser video Italian helmet and sunglass maker Rudy Project released a few weeks ago had folks wondering; would Rudy Project follow the trend toward an aero road helmet? Would they abandon the shortened tail stylings of the Wingspan?
What debuted today at the Tour de France was neither. It was, however, a radical improvement. The new Wing57 is a dedicated triathlon/time trial helmet. It’s similar in one category—length—to its predecessor, the Wingspan. But it’s loaded with new aerodynamic enhancements that were put on display today during the team time trial at the Tour de France, and will be Sunday reigning Hawaii Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs as he employs the Wing57 at Ironman France. Germany’s Timo Bracht will run it July 14 at Challenge Roth as well.
With an assist by Rudy Project Triathlon Manager (as well as coach and top Ironman and XTERRA age grouper) Thomas Vonach, LAVA visited the offices of Rudy Project in Treviso, Italy just days before the helmet would be launched at the Tour de France atop the heads of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team during the team time trial in Nice, France—it was a true behind-the-curtain look, which was part of a visit for a story on the optics and helmet brand that will feature in LAVA magazine.
Rudy Project’s wind tunnel testing resulted in a claimed 3,660 grams of drag at zero yaw for a 185-pound rider generating 320 watts. The marketing collateral showed the shadow profiles of the helmets tested against (which we gathered on shape as the Giro Selector, the Kask Bambino and the Lazer Tardiz). The Wing57 provides a claimed 7-second advantage over the Giro, 16 seconds over the Kask and 38 seconds over the Lazer in a 40k time trial at zero yaw.
Like its predecessor, the new Wing57 was created by in-house Rudy Project Design engineers in Treviso. After initial prototypes were created, it was design-adjusted in Italy’s Pininfarina Wind Tunnel in Cambiano, Turin, with the help of aerodynamics expert John Cobb.
Keeping It Short
Like the Wingspan, the Wing57 retains a short tail aero helmet—certainly not a rounded aero road style, and certainly not the long variety that necessitates holding an optimal position, perfectly. And that’s not optimal for most triathletes, who often sit up, stretch their necks, look around for athlete passing, turn their heads to collect water at an aid station. As ideal as a long tail sounds, it’s just not practical, especially for long-distance triathlon. As such, for real-world application, the Wing57 tail stays short.
Two Birds, One Stone: the Vortex Killer System
One of the challenges with any helmet is cleaning up the air that trails off the back of the helmet. Due to our varied back shapes, head positions and the bike positions that get us to where we exist atop the bike, there’s a wide variance of gaps between the bottom of the helmet and the top of the back.
Cooling, too, is always going to be an issue with aero helmets. Because Rudy Project had no problems with keeping the head cool on the Wingspan, the massive frontal vent is a carryover on the Wing 57, as are the options of a clip-in open port grill (to prevent bugs from entering), or a totally closed port clip for heat retention on cold days. In back, the two aft ports actually get even larger; a bit wider, and longer. Otherwise, it has the same internal design as the Wingspan, with raised ribs for optimized airflow, and has a dial-based retention device at the base of the neck.
But to improve on both aerodynamics and cooling—and solving for both in one fell swoop—Rudy Project installed the Vortex Killer System. Just as Specialized achieves with its McLaren aero helmet (a helmet still unavailable to the public market), the Vortex Killer System is the use of a small, vertically-oriented slit or gill near the ears on either side of the helmet to allow air to port into the helmet, adding a cooling element. Small “shoulders” at the helmet’s aft sides serve to port air into the helmet, just behind the ears.
But there’s a secondary advantage with that wind coming into the helmet from the sides and toward the back: aerodynamics. Typically, as air passes over the trailing edge of a helmet, it double-backs underneath it into the gap between the helmet and the back. As air enters the Wing57 ports, it is accelerated out the back—but not directly backward. Cobb’s tunnel testing indicated that the air wanted to port out on the opposite side of the helmet. That is, air entering the right helmet vent wanted to port out and down the length of the back on the left side—and vice versa. The streams simply switch. So as air is jettisoned out the back of the helmet, air passing over the top has no choice but to join stream with clean ported air, moving smoothly down the back of the rider. Reduced turbulence equals less drag, equals a faster helmet and rider.
But that’s wasn’t the total solution. For riders with a large gap between the helmet and the back, it was still somewhat turbulent back there. So Cobb created the Jet Stream. For lack of a better word, this vertical “fin” that extends down vertically from the tail of the helmet acts as a breakwall, keeping the two streams from interacting and creating aerodynamic chaos. For those without flat back or a head-down position, it maintains the aero advantage that the Vortex Killer System provides, effectively making for a customizable aero tail.
And for those with a flat back? Simply take the Jet Stream off, and the helmet will rest more flush along the rider’s back. And installing or removing the Jet Stream is aimed at being easy; The plastic-covered polystyrene piece will attach to the underside of the tail with strong magnets, and is easily removable before and after a race, or for use between spouses, teammates, etc. The prototypes riders are using today at the Tour and by Jacobs and Bracht in Germany don’t have this magnetic treatment yet, and are bonded on.
A departure from the Wingspan is seen in the helmet’s lateral line across the top of the helmet, front to back; a slight pointed peak. Rudy Project calls it a Dorsal Ridge, and effectively stole it from sharks, which have the same natural design. For Cobb, the intent was to translate lateral force into downward force, effectively “lengthening” the helmet’s tail frontally, but keeping it short in crosswind situations. It’s Rudy Project’s version of Kammtail.
The combination of the added peak with the shortened tail moves the helmet’s center of pressure forward, which, as Rudy Project says, matches best with the rider’s own center of gravity as he or she holds the head up in the aero position. The result is a reduction in force axis rotation in crosswinds—that is, less head waggle and bobble when hit by a crosswind.
Another upgrade from the Wingspan comes in the addition of a mated polycarbonate smoke visor which clips into a female vertical slot on the helmet’s brow. A reflective visor will be made available at an aftermarket charge.
We had a chance to pull a Wing57 on while at the offices in Treviso and were impressed. On the head, it’s very similar in volume capacity to the Wingspan And it’s also designed with the triathlete in mind; the antibacterial ear covers are highly flexible for ease of use at T1 and T2. It will also feature a thin strap, designed to hold the buckle straps outside the helmet when rested on the bike at the rack.
While some brands don’t take head and eye position while in the aerobars into account when designing a helmet, Rudy Project has never had this problem; visibility has always been unobstructed. The same carries through on the Wing 57. I put the helmet on and a pair of sunglasses, and went into an exaggerated aero position, without having to push the brow up to “see up the road.” Well done.
Truth be told, the Wing57 is going to be a bit of a different consumer than the Wingspan customer. Certainly, at an estimated $100-plus upcharge versus the Wingspan, that’s one obvious demarcation. But for all the added cooling elements (Vortex Killer System and larger aft vents), I tend to think the Wing57 will be an even more attractive Ironman-distance race helmet to keep the head from overheating… aero advantages nonwithstanding.
SIZING, WEIGHT, AVAILABILITY AND PRICING
Can’t wait to get one? Cool your heels: these are a ways off before they’re ready for prime-time. The helmet, which will be made available in CE- and CPSC-certified versions, is truly in full prototype status; there are only 14 helmets in existence; 12 are with the Cannondale team in France, and the other two are with Vonach, allowing him to provide the helmet to his sponsored athletes to wear at events. Currently, initial public availability is slated tentatively for December, with U.S. availability after the new year.
Sizes include small-medium (54-58cm, or 21.25-22.8in) and large (59-61, or 23.3-24in). Helmet weight (CE version) will be 7.8oz or 300 grams for a small-medium, and 8.8 oz or 320 grams for a large.
Pricing—in either USD or Euro—has not yet been set. Staff at Rudy Project Italy estimate it will price around 100 Euro above the price of the Wingspan. The current Wingspan retails at $335 USD, so expect a price that will come in a fair bit over $100 USD in addition.
I asked the engineers a few of my own questions about the Wing57.
LAVA: What were the overriding themes when designing Wing 57 that you learned in Wingspan?
Rudy Project: To keep the tail short. That was one of the main goals, and Wingspan proved we were in the right direction. It keeps things lighter. It’s more or less the same format, but a bit smaller. We reached a very good compromise in the space and the venting. And in triathlon, where athletes move their head around a lot more than a prologue cyclist, to reach for a bottle or to rest their neck over a 180k bike, you feel the freedom without compromising the performance.
LAVA: Does removing the visor detract or add to the helmet’s aero benefits?
Rudy Project: Removing it takes from its best aero profiles, but it’s really quite negligible. We found the numbers very close.
LAVA: With the larger ports and the large slot ports at the ears, I would suspect cooling would be a key advance, besides aerodynamics?
Rudy Project: Yes, the major breakthrough with this helmet is the venting, air gets into the helmet, the Vortex killer, as air crosses getting into the vents. It really does help the helmet go faster. It’s not so much about what goes on in front, but more about what goes on in back.
LAVA: Has there been any thermal testing to verify the cooling advantages?
Rudy Project: Not yet; this really is quite an early prototype. But we will. We used our experience with the Wingspan in the development of the Wing57, and know with the addition of Vortex Killer, we have a much cooler helmet.
LAVA: Is there a concern that the magnetic Jet Stream tail vertical extension might get knocked off, or fall off when turning the head during a race? Or is the magnet going to be that strong, like a rare earth magnet?
Rudy Project: No, there won’t be any concern about it falling off, we’re sure about that. I’m not sure what magnet we will be using to affix the two together, but they’re strong; it won’t be a problem during a race.
LAVA: How was it working with John Cobb at the wind tunnel during the testing process?
Rudy Project: It was fun. He’s like us; a very practical guy. When he came here, we worked well together. It wasn’t just aero design; there’s just so much technical going on with it, every millimeter was considered. We spent two days there, working on clay modeling. It was tiring, but in the end, we were all satifiied with the result.
LAVA: Certainly, as more helmets, especially aero road helmets, evolve, there’s a challenge is it to marry aesthetics into practical function.
Rudy Project: Yes. The first sketches, they were quite awful! (laughs) It was a different direction. I changed with john, we It was a lot of time, but in the end we worked ery well together to make something fast, but something that looks good. It’s one thing to have drawings, but when you have a prototype in the tunnel, and see the dorsal ridge, the air straightener, the element added to your back whether you have an A or B back shape, and to see it all works, it was interesting to put all these things into one helmet that is technical, and aesthetic.
We’ve reached a really high level of aestehicts. The athletes really do care how it looks. It’s a very good compromise between technology and look.
LAVA: Are you excited to see it out in the field with the pros, and eventually the general public?
Rudy Project: We really care about the feedback from the athletes, so we’re really anxious to hear how the riders at the tour and Ironman France and Challenge Roth find it.