Light, aero, Dura-Ace, Mavic. And the price…how about that price! The Helios A9.0 promises a lot but asks scant little in return. The first thing you ask yourself about the Helios is ‘can this be for real?’.
In short the answer is yes. The Polygon is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere in Australia, but only via one channel. Bicyclesonline.com.au imports Polygon bikes directly from their factory to Australia and then sells them directly to the public via their Sydney based retail store and website. The agent and distributor middlemen are eliminated, and with only one bricks-and-mortar store (which doubles as warehouse and operations HQ). Bicyclesonline.com.au are able to cut out a large portion of the overheads of a regular stand-alone bicycle store.
Polygon’s Helios A steps up to the crease holding a big chunk of willow, squares up and takes a generous stride forwards as the big boys charge in. Its lines are far from generic and the features list is full length. The ‘A’ in the Helios name stands for aero and these aerodynamic considerations are most clearly evident in the front portion of the frame. Polygon have spec’d a 1.25 inch lower headset bearing when most manufacturers are going with 1.5. From the slightly narrower stance of the lower bearing the head tube tapers in to reduce frontal area before flaring back out to hold the 1.125 inch upper bearing. The fork blades are deep and flat, and flare little from the head tube to maintain the skinny face of the Helios. All of this front-on dieting flows into a generous down tube that Polygon have sculpted to create a virtual air foil as used in some other current mainstream brands.
Polygon quote the Helios A frame at around 900 grams and the matching full carbon fork at 400 grams. They’re impressive numbers – not the lightest but not at all heavy either, and right on the money for the price point.
If we’re looking at numbers and specs the Helios is a dead set category killer. Polygon have loaded a full Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical groupset onto the 9.0, no sneaky chain, cassette or front derailleur substitutes here. Wheels are the popular Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL, and cockpit is from Ritchey and Fizik.
The bullish spec makes for a compelling on-screen argument and with good justification. The tactile experience of the Helios is of the highest calibre. Shifts with the new Dura-Ace 9000 are almost effortless and faultlessly smooth, especially up front. The revised brake callipers clench down on the machined alloy surface of the Cosmic rims for as assured braking as you could possibly hope for with a rim brake across all weather conditions.
The Fizik Arione saddle is very flat and very long. Not my cup of tea, but the Arione is incredibly popular and a smart spec. In addition to this the Helios comes with a propriety seatpost that allows the saddle clamp to be slid back or forth over a 50mm range. The shaft of the post is not round, so you can only use a Polygon post in the Helios frame. Thankfully the post offers an unrivalled amount of adjustment. If you can’t get the right saddle position via the post and saddle combo of the Helios then maybe it’s time for a custom frame.
And that brings us back to the frame. Is the Helios A worthy of its fancy clothes, or is it just a clothes horse? Thankfully Polygon has joined its lovely spec together with a worthy frame of their own design and construction. We can’t comment on the aero benefit of the frame’s features without a wind tunnel. If the apparent aero benefits of the Helios A frame are put to the side, it’s still a nice road bike in its own right.
The seat tube is flared at its base to take full advantage of the intersection of the diamond shaped down tube and 92mm-wide Shimano press fit bottom bracket. Out back the Helios A uses slender and flattened seat stays to enhance comfort and modest sized chainstays which join the seat stays at large and thick carbon drop-outs. Overall the Helios A concentrates its burliest efforts on the down tube and its respective junctions, and its fork. The rest of the frame is solid without being wildly chunky.
On the road the Helios A is a classy and versatile operator. The aero wheels and aero marketing make you think that this is an aero focused bike but that this is far from the case. A performance bike for certain, but not aero to the detriment of overall ride capability. My first impressions were that the Helios A was far more comfortable than I had anticipated it would be. The beautifully supple Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tyres (which are inflated with lightweight Schwalbe inner tubes as standard spec no less!) help the smooth feel, as does the skinny Polygon seatpost, but the frame still has to do the bulk of the work.
The geometry of the Helios A favours the driving and powerful style rider. A generous bottom bracket drop keeps the centre of gravity low. Not ideal for tight crit circuits but perfect for smashing along on the flats and carving flowing descents. Likewise the Helios A runs a slightly slack head angle and steep seat tube angle, putting the rider onto the front wheel but without forcing the rider into a twitchy steering bike at speed. The wheelbase on our 54cm test bike was over one metre long, which is longer than the most nimble bikes around.
It’s hard not to heap praise on the Helios A 9.0 as the value proposition is almost overwhelming, but there are some drawbacks and niggles. The biggest consideration for any prospective purchaser must be the sales channel for the Polygon. This isn’t the time or place for an online vs in-store retail debate and both channels have their obvious strengths, but a high tech/low weight bike is something that warrants mechanical respect. Bicyclesonline.com.au assemble and check each bike before shipping so that all the receiver needs to do is fit the bar and pedals, and our bike came with a nice Bicyclesonline.com.au branded multi-tool in the accessory pack. They recommend that you have a skilled mechanic work on your bike if you are not confident to perform the required assembly.
Light carbon frames and parts need to be assembled to the correct torque to ensure safety and durability: a multi-tool is not a wise choice for this task. This is exemplified on two components on the Helios that any purchaser will absolutely need to tweak. The frame uses two 3mm allen head bolts to clamp the carbon seatpost in the seat tube, and the Ritchey stem uses four 3mm allen head bolts to clamp the lightweight carbon bar and three identical bolts to clamps the carbon steerer tube. The stem and seatpost bolts are difficult to reach properly and impossible to accurately torque with the supplied multi-tool, and their small heads are prime for rounding out if care is not taken. The special 260-degree clamp of the Ritchey stem requires the bar tape to be removed to remove the bar properly. If you need a different length stem to get the right fit you’ll need to find yourself the right stem at your cost (whereas a store bought bike may come with benefits like swapping for a better fitting stem), and possibly purchase a new roll of bar tape as well as wrap this without making a dog’s breakfast of it. It takes a skilled mechanic a few minutes but can take hours for those that have never wrapped tape before.
Bicyclesonline.com.au list bike workshops in each capital city that will happily work on your Polygon for you at your cost. If you’re not the kind of rider that already owns a torque wrench, work stand and a tub of torque paste then it is probably advisable to have a pro run over a bike like the Helios A 9.0 before hitting the road. This cost needs to be factored into the actual cost of the bike. Bicyclesonline.com.au also offer a no-questions 14-day return policy. If for any reason the purchaser does not want the bike (anything from picking the wrong size to riding it and not liking the feel or disliking the colour of the bar tape!) bicyclesonline.com.au will pick it up at their cost and refund the cost of the bike. They’re clearly confident that people will like their bikes!
If you are the home-mechanic type then there are points where the Helios will reveal its value for money concessions. Our review frame had flakes of leftover bladder stuck to the inside walls of the tubes and the inner tube surfaces are rough, rather than smooth and seamless like the best made frames on the market. The paint around the cable ports was brittle and chipped off with little encouragement. Finally, the compression bolt in the steerer tube plug of our fork had been clumsily tightened and was partially rounded out.
None of the criticisms are vaguely close to deal-breaking but it’s important to note that as great as the Helios A 9.0 is for the cash, it’s not a 10k bike with a 50 to 60 per cent discount, although the performance is excellent. The comfortable ride of the frame and fast rolling wheels and tyres make for a bike that is most at home when flanked by a group of riders swapping turns and driving the pace. The stable steering and low bottom bracket keep the Helios composed and on-line in the bunch, and the Cosmics hold your speed which keeps some wattage in reserve for the sprint or long turn on the front. Bottom bracket stiffness is not an issue for the Helios A, and although the front end doesn’t feel quite as direct in comparison it’s not noodly by any stretch and only the fussiest or most aggressive riders could find issue.
The key question is not about the Helios A but about the rider. It’s not a machine for the tight courses of Friday night crit racing, or for the owner that needs to know that they are riding the most perfectly executed frame. Polygon have delivered a complete package that feels good in all the right places: hands, butt, pedals. It’s stable at speed and is happy to be ridden hard. Riders that want bang for the buck as well as something a little bit different from the usual mainstream brands should be queuing up for one of these.
The Helios A 9.0 is likely to be the cheapest Dura-Ace/Cosmic equipped bike on the market. If the frame gave a pretty average ride this would still be outstanding value, but it’s much better than that. Wow.
Polygon have hired the best help available to dress their Helios A frame. There is no question about the quality of a single component on the Helios. The frame rides well and is pretty light too, but isn’t finished as well as some on the market.
Tactile perfection! Light too. The Helios A is best at speed where it is stable and predictable. The cockpit comfort and supple tyres only enhance this attribute. Aggressive sprinters may yearn for a little more stiffness around the front end, but that’s splitting hairs and the surprisingly smooth ride will appeal to a large number of riders.
The Helios A 9.0 will get plenty of newer cyclists onto top tier components and a lightweight bike, where they would have otherwise been riding Ultegra or Force in many instances. It will also help a lot of experienced and fit riders replace their old bike with a new machine that won’t be out of date for a few more years and for the right price. Regardless of performance, of which there is plenty, it’s almost impossible to look past the value that the Polygon offers, especially for mechanically competent riders that can wrench on their own bike.
MODEL CATEGORY: Aero Carbon Road Dura-Ace 22sp
FRAME: ACX Advance Aero Carbon Frame
FORK: ACX Advance Aero Carbon Tapered Fork 1-1/8-1-1/4” Full Carbon Steerer
HANDLEBAR: Ritchey Carbon WCS Evo Curve
STEM: Ritchey WCS Carbon C260
HEADSET: FSA Orbit C-33 No.44/CF Carbon Spacer
SADDLE: Fi’zi:k Arione Manganese rail
SEATPOST: Ritchey WCS Carbon clamp kit
CRANKSET: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-9000 53x39T
BOTTOM BRACKET: Shimano press-fit BB
CHAIN: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-9000
CASSETTE SPROCKET: Shimano Dura-Ace CS-9000, 11-25t
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano Dura-Ace FD-9000, Brazed on
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano Dura-Ace RD-9000SS
SHIFTING LEVER: Shimano Dura-Ace ST-9000
BRAKE LEVER: Integrated with shifter
FRONT BRAKE: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9000
REAR BRAKE: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9000
TYRE: Schwalbe Ultremo ZX 700x23C
WHEELSET: Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL Clinch