Please ban the horrible time trial face sock

I would like to thank Yves Lampaert, first and foremost, for winning the opening time trial of this Tour de France with his face fully visible, sans l’abomination that is the new Specialized face sock/snood time trial helmet. For your services to class and aesthetics in the face of the incessant pull of marginal gains, cycling fans of the world salute you.

To the snooded Specialized-sponsored riders, I’m sorry this happened to you.

I normally find myself quite torn between a desire for technological creativity and progress, an appreciation for those willing to push boundaries in this area, and a respect for the visual history of this beautiful sport. That tension has been reconciled today. I have found the limit. The limit is this helmet.

The good news is nobody will want to wear this when it’s hot. (Photo by BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s called the TT5 and Specialized launched it this week. The helmet itself is fine. Aero gear trends come and go in waves and big visors appear to be back, but there’s nothing really wrong with that. It’s what’s inside.

What do you call this? A face sock? And snood? Something more obscene? The purpose, according to Specialized, is to help a rider keep their helmet in the right position, as well as smooth airflow through the inside of the helmet and improve aerodynamics. It’s part of a broader trend. Teams and riders are paying attention to this particular area, the results of which can be seen in Ineos’ wide Kask helmet and in the wild-looking POC TT helmets that EF has been using for years now.

The TT5 uses a carefully shaped visor to push air around the shoulders and past the face, which is then covered by the face sock down to the neck. The sock is an integral part of the helmet, which is important for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. It’s not a source of huge aero gains, but time trialling these days is all about checking every available box.

It’s rare that we see something entirely new in time trialling, and for that, a nod needs to go to Specialized. Creativity is creativity and finding loopholes is an art. Kudos. It’s just so horrifically, catastrophically terrible looking.

Are on-bike aesthetics mere reflections of our own microcultural oddities, norms honed over decades with little basis in the reality of the broader population? Is everything we wear while riding ugly? Probably. I still dislike this helmet immensely, as is my right as a person with eyes.

Slightly more seriously, the purpose of the sock means the whole concept stands on questionable regulatory ground. Clothing cannot be used to change the shape of a rider, and this piece of cloth does, improving flow off a rider’s face and through the inside of the helmet, however marginally. The same rules that banned Slipstream’s flying squirrel suits can be used here to ban this abomination. Specialized claims that because the sock is an integral part of the helmet, and would need to be cut out to be removed, it is not a fairing. But that logic didn’t work with the squirrel suits and it shouldn’t work here.

(Technically, the very concept of an aero helmet flies quite close to the sun here. But we’ll ignore that for now.)

Leaning on that particular regulation is a handy excuse to ban what is unquestionably the most horrifying visual development in recent bike racing history. The UCI’s technical rulebook is explicitly designed to maintain the traditional look and feel of bike racing. Its writers, back in 1999, were self-aware of this fact. That means using one of the UCI’s own rules to protect some sense of style and elegance from the eccentricities of the marginal gains movement is completely valid.

Do it, UCI. Save us. Save cycling.

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