It’s been four years since Troy Lee Designs launched the A2, a lighter, better ventilated version of the A1, which won no shortage of praise, but the US brand has been busy behind the scenes with its latest offering, the A3.
The TLD A1 and A2 helmets have firmly cemented their mark in the mountain bike world and are arguably the most common helmets spotted on the trails. And that’s for good reason.
Yes, the iconic shaping (which includes a throwback tail fin, first incorporated into the original Daytona full-face helmet) is certainly pleasing to the eye, but TLD has always pushed hard when it comes to safety – it’s the whole point of a helmet, right? – and both the A1 and A2 helmets got a full five-star rating from the established and respected Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings project.
Troy Lee classes the new A3 as its ‘premium’ trail helmet, just as the cost reflects, but how does it differ from its two predecessors and what’s it like to wear on the trail?
Troy Lee Designs A3 helmet construction
As you’d expect, the list of features for this new lid is long. TLD has certainly packed plenty in.
A three-piece polycarbonate fully wraps the dual EPS/EPP liner – one is designed to handle high-speed impacts, while the other is designed to absorb slow-speed impacts – so there’s no exposed liner foam, which can easily get damaged.
Coverage is deep around the back of the lid, as well as over the temples. TLD says more material has been added over the top and the sides of the helmet compared to previous models, too.
TLD uses a MIPS liner in a bid to better protect the head against rotational or angular impacts. In this case, it’s the MIPS B32 system, which has allowed the helmet retention cradle to be fully integrated into the MIPS liner.
This means that the retention cradle isn’t anchored towards the front of the helmet like some because it’s all part of the MIPS system. So when you twiddle the indexed wheel to tighten the cradle, the theory is that it’ll tighten evenly around your whole head, or as TLD puts it: “it’s a true 360-degree system”.
There are then three vertical cradle positions to choose from, which allow you to adjust both the pitch of the helmet on your head and where the cradle tightens around the back of your head.
Like its Stage full-face enduro helmet, the new A3 gets a magnetic FidLock buckle closure as well as the brand-new side strap dividers, which are claimed to offer adjustment up/down and forwards/backwards.
The new peak continues to use the breakaway anchor bolts at either side, as seen on its other helmets, but does away with the wing-nut style bolt that sat at the centre. It’s been replaced with a magnetic tab and three deep, corresponding grooves for it to snap into.
Unlike both the A1 and A2, this new A3 design allows you to push the peak up and out of the upper slot for enough room to stow goggles on the front. Pull your goggles on and it’s easy to snap the peak back into the slot you need and it won’t end up looking wonky either. It’s a nice touch.
TLD says it’s also ensured glasses can be stowed at the rear of the helmet, by sliding the glasses’ arms into two of the large rear vents – handy for muggy days and long climbs.
When it comes to the all-important padding, the A3 uses a two-piece XStatic “Comfort Liner”. What’s interesting here is that TLD has included suggested markings on the padding for where it can be safely cut, aware that people may want to customise fit further or boost air flow that bit more.
There’s also a new foam strip that wraps around the inside brow of the helmet, dubbed the “TLD Sweatglide” or “Sweat Management System”, which should prevent sweat dripping into your eyes, by channelling it either side of your temples.
The new A3 comes in three different shell sizes (XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL), and my M/L sample weighed 411g.
Like the A1 and A2 lids, the new A3 has also received a five-star rating from Virgina Tech.
Troy Lee Designs A3 helmet extras
Yes, the new A3 is a lot of cash, so you’ll be pleased to know that there’s more than just the helmet inside the box.
Alongside the handy helmet bag there’s a second set of helmet pads (though these are the thicker M12 pads – thinner M6 pads are fitted as standard), two additional foam “Sweatglide” bands, a couple of spare screws for the peak, and some stickers.
Troy Lee Designs A3 helmet performance
The new A3 definitely offers a snugger fit than both the A1 and A2. While I’ll comfortably wear an XS/S size in the A2, for example, that size is far too small for me with the A3.
I’m definitely a size M/L with Troy Lee’s latest lid, so I’d advise trying before buying if you think you’re between sizes on its size guide.
Once I got the sizing right, the new A3 was incredibly comfortable. I stuck with the M6 padding liner, which offers just enough cushion and comfort but will still dry quickly once soaked in sweat.
After playing around with the cradle height, I settled on the middle of the three vertical positions. The tension applied around the head by the retention cradle feels very even and thanks to that, the deep-dish fit and the plentiful coverage, it didn’t take me long to realise that you don’t need to crank the indexed adjuster dial up too tight for it to feel snug and secure enough – and not move around when tackling rough terrain.
However, some testers did comment on the size of the adjuster dial. If the cradle is in the highest vertical position in the helmet, the cradle does get tucked up inside the shell, making the dial trickier to use. It’s not a big deal by any stretch, though.
But while all that coverage and deep, head-enveloping fit is a real plus for the most part, some testers found it hard to get a pair of riding glasses to fit comfortably with the A3, with the glasses’ arms either hitting the rear of the lid or contacting the retention cradle.
I had no such problems with the Smith Attack Mag glasses and 100% Glendales that I’ve been using regularly with the A3 – though it’s certainly quite a tight fit with some shades.
It’s best to sit the glasses’ arms over rather than under the straps, but I didn’t experience any real issues or interference when wearing my chosen sunglasses.
Despite some glasses not fitting, those that did could be stashed at the back of the helmet securely enough while grinding back up to the top of the hill.
Finally, the straps are easy to adjust and the FidLock magnetic buckle is quick and simple to use, even with gloves on. Unlike some lids, it doesn’t sit too close to your neck either and has been properly comfortable throughout testing.
On the trail
Out in the hills, the A3 offers impressive performance. Venting isn’t quite as good as the A2 lid, but it does feel breezier than the A1, with a decent draught over the top of your head when you get moving.
However, the Sweatglide foam pad that sits across the brow really comes into its own when you do finally start leaking from your head. As the sweat starts pouring out of you, the Sweatglide does a great job of stopping it dripping down into your eyes and diverting it to the side of your head instead.
Goggle wearers will be pleased that TLD finally has an open-face helmet with a usefully adjustable peak. If you do shift the peak up and out of the way to stow goggles, getting the peak back into (the correct) place is a rapid affair.
Thanks to those deep indents and the magnetic tab that snaps securely into them, popping it back into position is quick, easy and makes getting the peak position wrong almost impossible.
Unlike some other helmets with this much peak adjustment, the A3’s peak doesn’t wobble or rattle in use either. It also remains out of sight while riding, which is a big plus.
When riding really rough trails, I had no issues with the A3 shifting around or fidgeting out of position. The fit remained comfortable and secure, no matter how rowdy the riding got.
Comfort was tip-top too, and I’ve regularly left the lid on all-day long, even when switching between test bikes or tinkering between laps.
It might not be the lightest lid out there, and isn’t as cool as the likes of the A2 or the Giro Manifest (which costs £50 more), but that deep, head hugging fit does add peace of mind and the impressive fit and levels of comfort mean the additional weight over some of its closest rivals goes unnoticed.
I really like it.