At £45 to have a helmet with MIPS, that is comfortable, fits well and looks good is a real achievement. If your budget is tight or you primarily ride for leisure then this helmet should be on your shortlist. However if you want to ride more sportily then maybe consider moving up the range as you will get better cooling, lighter weight and slimmer styling but it will be at a higher cost. A great product that will suit and protect many people.
Wide range of colours and sizes
Clicky wheel adjuster
Spare pads and visor available
A bit hot for sportier riders
A little bulkier than its Echelon sibling
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The Align II is Specialized's most budget-friendly adult helmet, and in common with nearly all the others within their range it comes with MIPS as standard. More about why MIPS matter shortly.
It is available in three sizes, covering head circumferences from 52cm to 62cm, which should accommodate nearly everyone, and there are nine colours to match your kit, bike or even mood! I'm testing the satin white M/L (56-60cm) version.
This helmet (opens in new tab)is, in part, aimed at people new to cycling or occasional cyclists who wish to stay safe but maybe don't want to spend more money on a lighter or more vented lid. You may equally be a regular commuter who needs a helmet that can survive the rigours of daily usage and would mind less replacing it regularly when it gets worn out...
The Specialized Align II is well constructed with an impact-absorbing (blown polystyrene?) core covered by a durable plastic shell. Between the core and your head is a MIPS layer. The helmet has an adjustable cradle called 'Headset' which incorporates a click wheel to tighten the cradle around your head. The straps use a system called 'Trifix' and are adjustable under the chin only. The Trifix bar sits under the earlobe.
The helmet conforms to the CE testing standard EN1078:2012 + A1:2012 which among other things drops a weight with a certain force down onto the helmet (under laboratory conditions). This is great, but not all crashes occur as straight forwardly as this in the real world, and this is where MIPS is of additional benefit.
Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS for short) was first developed in 1996 and has been increasingly used in helmet construction. MIPS was designed and developed to potentially add protection against rotational motion transmitted to the brain from angled impacts to the head. While no helmet can protect you from all events, this technology is undoubtedly safer again than not having it. Originally it tended to be the top-of-the-range products that featured MIPS but it has now trickled down to products such as the Align II.
I was testing the M/L (56-60cm) version which weighed 357g (Specialized states 370g) and it fitted my 59cm circumference head well. The click wheel pulled the cradle snugly around my head, with the front of the helmet sitting correctly across the middle of my forehead. There were a couple of fingertip widths between the top of my ear and the helmet (again correct fitting) , and the Trifix bar sat just below my earlobe without touching. The under-chin buckle is easily adjustable to the correct point and has an 'O' ring to keep the strap tidy.
There was no movement from the helmet when I wobbled and shook my head, and it felt stable. Importantly there were no tight or loose spots with the fit. Very comfortable!
It felt very similar to my old Specialized Echelon II that I've been riding with over the last few years. Helmet fit has been an issue for me in the past and I've often struggled to get a good fit. I have tried a wide variety of makes over the years and was really pleased to find a brand that worked for me, and which continues to do so.
I found the Align II to be good on the road too. I ended up doing a comparison over two similar days (20 degrees, sunny and 50% humidity) using the Align first, followed by my Echelon (opens in new tab). I was road riding at a fairly fast pace with a big hill to end the ride on. With the Align II I found that I arrived home with quite a hot face whereas wearing the Echelon it was noticeably less so. This can be explained by looking at the venting holes. The Echelon has nearly double the number that the Align II has. However, riding on another hot day, with a Camelbak MULE backpack on, and using my electric Swytch utility bike (opens in new tab) there were no issues. I was putting less effort into riding as I had the help from the electric assistance. Something to bear in mind.
Value and conclusion
At £45 to have a helmet with MIPS, that is comfortable, fits well and looks good is a real achievement. As we know, if something is uncomfortable or looks wrong we're less likely to wear it.
I really like that you can buy a spare pad set for £10 and a visor for £15 should you wish to. There should be a size to fit nearly everybody and with a choice of nine colours there's no excuse not to match your own style.
If your budget is tight or you primarily ride for leisure then this helmet should be on your shortlist. However, if you want to ride more sportily then maybe consider moving up the range as you will get better cooling, lighter weight and slimmer styling but it will be at a higher cost. A great product that will suit and protect many people.
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