I was impressed with the Specialized S-Works Prevail 3, touting it as “the best venting helmet I’d ever tested,” a crown it still wears today. So my reaction was a bit suppressed when brand PR sent me the Propero 4, claiming that it combined the airiness of the Prevail 3 with the WorldTour-beating aerodynamics of the Evade 3. All for a lower price. But, I believe that to gain something, you have to give up something.
I tested the Propero 4 on a handful of gravel rides before its launch today. Although I expected a muted reaction, I was pleasantly surprised. The Propero 4 was well-ventilated despite the lack of open structure present in the Prevail 3. And I loved that it didn’t look like a full-aero road helmet despite its slippery shape. It managed to do all this with a well-regarded and recognized 5-star safety rating from Virginia Tech.
In short: The Specialized Propero 4 straddles the gap between a full-aero road helmet and the brand’s super-ventilated Prevail 3, all with a lower price tag. Despite the drastically reduced cost, I found the helmet a great choice for everything other than trail and downhill mountain biking. The ventilation and weight were comparable to helmets costing much more, and it was one of the better-looking road-style helmets. And it did all this with the highest safety rating, aerodynamic efficiency, and proven durable construction.
- Verified weight 340 g., size L
- Rotational impact protection Yes, Mips Evolve Core
- Vents 10, with Micro-channels
- Sunglass ports Yes
- Vents well
- Durable, high-quality construction
- Priced well below S-works models
- May not fit round heads well
Specialized Propero 4 Fit
The Specialized Propero 4, like many of the brand’s helmets, fit my oval-ish head very well. I didn’t need much tension on the rear-dial actuated retention system to get a perfectly snug but comfortable setting. The helmet didn’t feel bulky up top, like the S-Works Prevail 3. And, the thin Mips Evolve Core provided rotational impact protection without adding “stack height.”
With minimal tension on the rear dial, the Propero 4 remained stable without eliciting any pressure points, even when bombing rocky drops on a gravel bike. I launched water bottles out of the cages, but I never felt like I had to crank down on the retention system to keep the helmet stable.
This close and stable fit for oval heads was increasingly appreciated as the hours passed. I would almost forget that I was wearing a helmet. If you have an oval head, the fit of the Propero 4 was astonishingly good.
Performance in the Field
Again, my expectations were muted since I’m a spoiled cycling editor. Most of my experience with Specialized has been with its high-zoot S-Works products. But the Propero 4 knocked my socks off since I knew it carries an MSRP of $200, compared to the $300 S-Works Prevail 3.
First off, the verified weight of 340 g for a size Large was just a touch over the 322g verified weight of the S-Works Prevail 3. Again, for the price, I found this a great attribute. I didn’t notice the weight difference riding them back-to-back on dirt roads.
No, it didn’t ventilate as well as the wide-open S-Works Prevail 3. But it did vent better than any aero helmet I have in my extensive collection, and it was on par with other brands’ more ventilated lids. I noticed that with a fresh haircut, I could feel the effects of the rear exhaust ports on the Propero 4.
In the 70s, the airflow across the back of my head was perceptible, even at the lower speeds of a gravel ride. Specialized outlines that this was a product of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). CFD or not, I could feel it.
Specialized also introduced “micro-channels” with the Propero 4. These 2mm-deep offset channels in the helmet’s EPS energy-absorbing liner are said to create turbulence in the airflow. Specialized claims that this turbulence creates a constant and refreshing flow of air as long as the helmet is in motion.
Although this isn’t a performance metric, I thought the Specialized Propero 4 was a good-looking helmet. DNA from the S-Works line of helmets was apparent. The front looks like the S-Works Evade 3, while the back looks like the S-Works Prevail 3.
It doesn’t have the “tail” and longitudinally exaggerated lines of the full-aero helmets I had then. And it’s not “mountain-bikish,” and full of holes like most ventilated helmets. I felt the Propero 4 had a clean, modern, smooth, and pleasant look in the black sample Specialized provided.
Since the Specialized Propero 4 was under embargo during the testing period, it was only viewed by a handful of training partners. Each one commented on the pleasing visual aesthetics without me asking. Specialized offers the Propero 4 in five color schemes.
Specialized Propero 4: Claimed Aerodynamics
Although I feel like I have ideal gear testing infrastructure and geography where I live near Austin, Texas, I don’t have a wind tunnel as much as I’d like to. But Specialized does, and they cleverly dub it the Win Tunnel.
The Big S utilized this Win Tunnel, CFD, and a bunch of very smart bike geeks to develop the Propero 4’s ability to slip through the air. It claims the Propero 4 is 4W faster than the S-Works Prevail 3. This equates to 15 seconds over 40 km at an average of 45 km/hour. And if you are a bike dork like me, that is impressive, especially at the $200 MSRP.
My head, neck, and power meter aren’t sensitive enough to feel this single-digit gain. But my seat-of-the-pants feeling was that the Propero 4 was fast. I can feel the differences between a full-aero road helmet and fully ventilated models like the Prevail 3 and mountain bike helmets at high speeds.
And, always, there is a trade-off. It always comes at the cost of ventilation to gain the perception of speed. And I felt that Specialized did a fine job of balancing those needs with the Propero 4. And, as a bonus, the Specialized Propero 4 was quiet for a helmet that vented well.
I didn’t test the Propero 4 long enough to comment on the durability. But it has the same full-wrap polycarbonate shell as the Prevail 3. This incredibly bomber material extends past and around the bottom edge. This edge often gets hammered first from just putting the helmet down. The Prevail 3 underwent a year-long review period, and it emerged unscathed thanks to this shell material and placement.
I expect the Specialized Propero 4 to have the same resistance to exterior dings and scuffs as the S-Works Prevail 3. The Prevail 3 was among the most durable cycling helmets I’ve ever tested.
Is the Specialized Propero 4 for You?
If you are looking for a high-quality, fast, and well-ventilated road-style helmet, the Specialized Propero 4 is worth a look if you have an oval-shaped head. The 5-star Virginia Tech safety rating, good looks, and probable durability are all bonuses.
Non-cyclists may snicker at my proposition that $200 is a good price for a helmet. This isn’t a bargain basement helmet you get at the discount store. It’s a high-quality, high-performance, and safe helmet for recreationally serious cyclists. If you have a Strava account or even one set of Lycra shorts, this helmet is a good candidate to protect your only skull and brain.
After what seems like endlessly rising prices for cycling products, seeing a brand as significant as Specialized going the other way is nice. And it has done so with the Propero 4 helmet without big compromises.
I didn’t feel the helmet gave anything away in general to the more expensive S-Works model I tested last year. I applaud this brand and others who try to make an already expensive sport more affordable and approachable.