By Zach White
The idea of a more protectively versatile helmet isn’t anything new, as Giro points to its debut of the original Switchblade with a removable chin guard in 1998 as an example. Giro’s latest Switchblade MIPS is a much stouter distant cousin of the original helmet of the late ‘90s, boasting CPSC, EN 1078 and ASTM-1952 certifications—meeting the latter both with and without the chin bar.
Certifications aside, safety gear is a very personal choice. For many, it’s finding a sliding scale balance between protection and unrestricted riding. Add to the mix an interesting parallel between the level of safety equipment being worn and how aggressive one’s riding style becomes, and it’s near impossible to say something like “this helmet is safer than that helmet” in real world conditions. As an example, the idea that ASTM F1952 certification for downhill racing can be achieved without a chin bar is personally a boggling bit of information. I can’t imagine riding modern downhill courses with an open face helmet—let alone racing them.
Compared to a carbon Troy Lee Designs D3, the Giro also has 20 vents, and roughly the same weight at 1120 grams for this size large Switchblade with the chin bar verses 1150 grams for the D3. The point is, Giro’s Switchblade is solidly in the ballpark of a helmet essentially twice the price. Its 20 vents are trail bike size and offer up a cool ride at descending speeds, and the Switchblade has a ventilation wild card in its removable chin bar to boot.
The fit is more of the trail helmet variety with slimmer and minimal padding, no EMS pull tabs for the cheek pads (because, hey, removable chin bar! … except that 99.9 percent of medical staff will have no clue that it’s removable), and Roc Loc adjustability. The helmet is comfortable while standing around, but even with Roc Loc at the top of the five positions, it sat a bit low on the brow, which interfered with goggle fit enough that they were abandoned and full gaper mode was engaged by running sunnies instead. Acknowledging how subjective fit is, it should still be mentioned that the Switchblade’s five positions still didn’t offer the correct position on a head that historically fits quite nicely in Giro helmets.
The somewhat large visor is adjustable via three detented positions, with the highest position allowing goggles to be placed on its forehead. It’s made of a rather flexible plastic to avoid being broken. Two screws hold the visor in place and needed to be cranked down to keep it from repositioning itself on rough sections of trail— something that it still has done a couple of times on particularly big hits. Even when the visor stays in one adjustment position, it has a tendency to bounce around a little bit within that parameter.
In comparison to a trail helmet like Giro’s Montaro, the Switchblade is an entirely different beast. Tipping the scales at 810 grams without the chin bar, its protection over the ears and down low around the occipital lobe comes at a price of retaining rider heat in addition to the added weight. It only took one ride to shatter the dream of receiving the ultimate travel helmet that’d omit the need to cram both a half shell and a full face into the bike box, as the Switchblade simply felt too heavy, hot and honestly a bit silly of a helmet to do long self-propelled trail rides in. Enduro racing is an entirely different story, as the Switchblade would probably be the first choice. Maybe with a future pendulum swing away from backflipping bikes in tank tops and skate helmets, riding trails in 800 gram helmets that come down past rider ears will become the norm. But for now, the Switchblade seems to target a very specific rider audience that is in the market for a full-face helmet, yet wants to occasionally remove the chin bar, versus catering to trail riders who would like the occasional option to add a little extra grill protection on the fly.
This review was originally published in Dirt Rag 196. Subscribe now so that you never miss an issue and sign up for our weekly email newsletter to get fresh web content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!