(Editor's Note: Rob Oliva has been selling, racing in and crash testing riding gear for more than a decade, at venues ranging from vacant lot MX courses to the Daytona 200. We're always keen to hear what he has to say.)
I love riding fast at a racetrack. If you're reading this then you probably do too, or are at least considering it. In my years of riding, through much trial and error, I've found that I am faster, more focused, and have a lot more fun when I’m wearing great gear. Now hold on a minute. Before you start accusing me of primadona tendencies, I will assure you that I’ve done my homework on this. Having been a retailer of riding gear in my former life, I was always looking for the combination of outstanding fit, protection, and price. By finding gear that worked for me on the track, I could be more effective at helping others make a great decision for themselves as well. And lets face it, we participate in an expensive sport, so most of us have to go back to work on Monday to pay for it!
I'm committed to obtaining the very best gear that I can afford. Why? I’ve involuntarily tested most every piece of track gear I have ever owned. Not a single time was I aware that when I entered the track for that session, I was about to fall down. It just happens very suddenly. Don’t kid yourself. You need to treat every ride like it will be the one that finds you sailing through the air or sliding across the pavement, then choose your gear accordingly. It’s the only way to be adequately prepared.
Priority number one needs to be your helmet. The command and control center for every aspect of your life resides in that small sphere resting atop your shoulders. You can type with one hand or get around the office on a set of crutches, but suffer a considerable head injury and life as you know it becomes very different. Even a slight concussion can throw you a loop for days or weeks, making it difficult to perform normal daily tasks or earn your living, let alone getting your bike repaired and making it to your next ride day. Helmet choices are greatly debated and too often, purchasing decisions are made using this flow chart:
What do my buddies think
What do the fools on the forum say
The good news is that decent helmet technology is more prolific now than it ever has been, at least in my opinion. There is a huge list of helmet brands that offer significantly safer helmets than what could be found ten years ago. That said, I prefer to choose from the top performers whichthe industry has to offer when choosing a helmet for myself. The AGV Pista GP is certainly a member of that esteemed group.
AGV is recognized as a manufacturer of some of the finest helmets you can buy. With the new Pista GP project they have revolutionized the way that a helmet is engineered, how it fits, and the way it works for the rider. This helmet was designed from the inside out and uses four shell sizes to accommodate all head sizes, not just one or two. It weighs approximately 3 pounds. The multi density liner and cheek pads provide exceptional fit qualities while eliminating pressure points, allowing for an excellent fit that does not distract you and is comfortable for a full day at the track. With this helmet AGV has also created a thicker face shield (3.3mm) to increase safety and durability. This shield uses a two-position locking mechanism that can be operated with either hand. The vents on the helmet are said to offer a 193% increase in ventilation over previous models and the helmet features a rear wing that is detachable and is meant to shear off in a crash.
Those are a few key points about the Pista GP but let's get to what I really love about this helmet…wearing it. The very first time I put it on, I could immediately tell the difference in having a shell size that felt more “customized” to me. The helmet does not take up any more room than what is required to protect my head and doesn't feel the least bit unbalanced or awkward. The lid fits like it was electronically measured and produced just for me. Butin case I felt I needed a little shim here or there, there were some provided which I could add to the padding. If I felt I needed a little room somewhere, I could remove a layer of padding here or there as well. The interior of the Pista GP is very customizable and with the four shell sizes, I was able to get the one that was absolutely right for me. Here is an example of the sort of dilemma I have encountered when trying to get a good fit from other helmets. With an Arai Corsair V, I could wear either a small with thinner padding, or a medium with thicker padding. With the AGV Pista GP I wear a medium/small and the fit is perfect.
On track, I was stunned by the range of visibility that the Pista GP offered. It felt like I was looking at a big screen TV. This is the only helmet that I have ever worn that I wasn’t seeing at all. Usually in a tuck, I see the horizon line across the top of the helmet. I've previously worn the AGV GP tech helmet and also the Shoei X11. With both of these, I would actually have to reach my left hand to my chin and push the helmet up my forehead whenever I'd begin accelerating down a long straightaway. Mind you, these were helmets which fit me as tightly as I could stand. The Pista GP didn’t require any helmet adjustment while riding, which was much more enjoyable and less distracting. When looking through the corners, even in long, fast sweepers that would have me looking way to the side, I never saw the edge of the helmet either. The Pista GP gave me the first non-impeded view I've ever had from the cockpit of a race bike. Fantastic!
Another impressive attribute of the Pista GP was it's stability at all speeds. This really allows the wearer to focus more fully on his riding, since the helmet seems almost to disappear from the equation. When your helmet is moving and shaking at speed, so is your head. Anything which distracts you from complete concentration makes you slower and less safe. This helmet is designed to be worn in the tucked position, where the rear wing provides 44% more downforce to aid in stability at speed.
The AGV Pista GP is the most significant leap forward in helmet design that I have ever experienced. Of course the elephant in the room is its price. At $1400.00, this is not a helmet that most people are going to consider as being within their budget. Likewise, you don't just order one on the recommendation of some guy whose review you read on the internet. This is a helmet that you need to see for yourself. You'll want to touch it, feel it and try it on. But bring your credit card, because it’s incredible and you're going to want it. Bear in mind that this is a no holds barred, full carbon fiber helmet with the very best technology available today. Think $1400 is a lot? When you price the Arai full carbon helmet that this Pista GP competes against, you'd better bring several credit cards, as the Arai costs a shade over three grand. Yep, that's more than double the price of the AGV Pista GP. Did you ever imagine that a $1400 helmet could be considered a bargain? Welcome to the cutting edge of technology.