Troy Lee Designs A3 Helmet
"For the world's fastest racers."
Easily one of the most iconic brands in action sports history, Troy Lee Designs has been adorning some of the biggest names in our sport since way before mountain biking was even cool. While they now have a vast catalogue of gear and clothing, the Troy Lee empire is rooted in humble beginnings, with the man himself - Troy Lee, custom painting his buddies’ moto helmets in his mom’s garage. Painting helmets eventually led to making helmets, always with a nod to eye-catching graphics that left zero doubt you were wearing a TLD helmet. Name one other helmet maker that uses flames, checkered flags and pinstripes to such dramatic effect. I’ll wait…
The A3 is Troy Lee’s premium open-face helmet, aimed at riders looking for maximum protection, but without the chin bar. The A3 features a laundry list of safety features that all contribute to its impressive 5-star safety rating from Virginia Tech Helmet Lab. Notably, the A3 includes MIPS rotational brain protection, as well as dual density foam used in the impact liner - the first being a lower density layer to effectively absorb low-speed impacts, while a stiffer layer is designed to dissipate high-speed impacts. MIPS can be a polarizing feature among mountain bikers, as some riders don’t get along well with the sometimes quirky nature of this safety system. MIPS haters will be disappointed to learn that the A3 is only available with MIPS installed.
Other unique features on the A3 include the TLD Sweat Glide System, which basically translates to an EVA foam strip that lines the front of the helmet, just above the brow. This strip is designed to stop sweat from dripping down the front of your face. The Magnajust Visor allows for three visor alignments, and even pops up to allow for a clever goggle stowage option for all you wannabe enduro types. Rounding out the A3 package is a typical ratchet-style fit adjuster at the back of the liner harness, as well as an oh-so-easy-to-use Fidlock strap buckle. The A3 is available in three sizes, from XS/SM, MD/LG, and XL/2XL, and while I’m a bit suspicious of a $300 helmet that only comes in three sizes, the adjustable harness and customizable liner should ensure a proper fit for most head shapes and sizes. My novelty-sized, 4-litre cranium fell right in the middle of the XL/2XL sizing range, and I was able to dial in the fit quite easily.
The A3 wouldn’t be a Troy Lee Designs helmet if it wasn’t available in a zillion colour options, and you’ll all be super disappointed to learn that I opted for boring black (with nary a pinstripe to be seen!), as some of the more interesting colourways weren’t available in huge-brain sizing a few months ago. At publication time, A3 stock selection has improved significantly on the TLD website.
While the A3 certainly falls on the more expensive end of the spectrum, it’s worth noting all the bonus bits and pieces that are included in the box. In addition to the helmet, you get a drawstring fabric bag, two spare Sweat Glide foam strips, extra visor screws, a bunch of replacement velcro strips, as well as some stickers - but the most exciting bonus for me is the inclusion of a full replacement liner, as I’ve found that the liner is often the first point of failure on a mountain bike helmet. There’s nothing worse than retiring a perfectly good helmet because you can’t replace a $10 piece of foam.
Wearing the A3.
With the XL size weighing in at 456g, the A3 isn’t the lightest helmet in the field, but along with those few extra grams, the A3 brings a level of head coverage that is hard to beat without resorting to a full-face. Compared to my old Bell Super DH (in half-shell mode), the A3 is more substantial in every way - there is clearly more volume in the impact foam layers. The rear of the helmet also drops down significantly lower than most to protect the back of the head. You know that overused trope that bike journalists love so much - the one about feeling “inside the bike” when describing a big and burly 29er? Well, the A3 is similar in that your head feels “inside” it, rather than underneath it. The TLD Micro Adjust 360° ratchet system definitely contributes to this feeling, as it firmly cradles the back of your head. I found myself taking full advantage of the Micro Adjust system while out on the trail - loosening the ratchet before climbs for improved ventilation, and tightening before descents for a truly locked-in, secure fit.
A non-fatal flaw...
Before getting too deep into the things that I like about the A3, I need to say a few words about the Sweat Glide System. To be honest, I just don’t get it. This foam strip is designed to stop sweat from dripping down onto your face and glasses, but it proved to be a double-edged sword in my experience. The foam was very effective at stopping the flow of sweat, but it was equally effective at stopping the flow of air. This led to profuse sweating just above the strip, and quickly led to rivers raging down both sides of my face where the strip terminated. The lack of airflow also resulted in the fogging up of various “unfoggable” glasses that I own. After two rides, I ditched the foam strip (thankfully, it’s very easy to remove), and was rewarded with far better ventilation and comfort overall.
The Sweat Glide System certainly leaves me scratching my head. I can’t for the life of me figure out the scenario(s) in which a feature like this would be an advantage. Perhaps someone with lots of thick, sweaty hair? Or someone with a sweaty, bald scalp? Maybe climate plays a role? Maybe Sweat Glide works a lot better for those tanned and salty California surfer boys with shockingly luxurious magazine hair, than it does for pasty, middle-aged PNW dads with receding hairlines?
With the Sweat Glide strip removed, the A3 suddenly becomes one of the more comfortable helmets I’ve ever worn. For the amount of coverage and protection afforded by the A3, ventilation is quite good, and the liner works in unison with the Micro Adjust ratchet to achieve a truly custom feeling fit, almost like a comfy hammock, cinched around your skull. There is the tiniest bit of rotational play in the MIPS interface, and this might be a deal-breaker for the MIPS haters. This “play” is by no means unique to the A3 - it is noticeable on many (if not most) MIPS equipped helmets. I personally only notice this wiggle when I’m consciously trying to notice it, but when my attention is more wisely focused on the trail ahead, it’s a non-issue.
The 3-position visor adjustment works really well, and it’s the first visor adjustment that I’ve ever used on-the-fly while riding. I typically ran the visor in the highest position for unobstructed line-of-sight on fast trails, but the lower positions were useful for blocking out the low-hanging sun when riding home at the end of a long day - a scenario far more likely encountered in sunny SoCal where TLD calls home. And while I’m not the type to mix goggles with half-lids, all you enduro bros and girls will be happy to hear that goggles play nicely with the A3, and the goggle stowage option is indeed a unique and useful feature.
The A3 continues the long lineage of stylish and feature-packed helmets from one of the OGs in the game. With the exception of the easily removed Sweat Glide strip, I appreciated every feature on the A3, and the included extras are a nice touch for a premium helmet like this. While you can’t buy speed, you can buy a Troy Lee Designs helmet, and that’s almost the same thing, right?
$299.00 CAD. / $230.00 U.S.
Age : 40
Height : 1803mm
Weight : 86kg
Ape Index : 1.03
Inseam : 787mm
Bar Width : 780mm
Preferred Reach : Pretty comfy at 487mm these days.