If you are new to cycling then the wide range of helmets can be confusing. How do you maximise the safety and comfort a helmet can offer, and what's the best helmet for you? Read on to find out…
Cycling helmets are designed to protect riders from head injuries, but with brands constantly competing to create the best bike helmet, other factors also come in to play: comfort, aerodynamics and breathability being key opportunities for competition.
The primary function of a cycling helmet is to protect your head – and all helmets sold by reputable retailers will meet the standards set out by the authority in the country of sale.
However, if you choose to spend more, you’ll get a lid that is lighter, and more breathable. The retention system often becomes more comfortable on a more expensive cycling helmet, too.
For competitive cyclists, aerodynamics become a concern. More expensive helmets will be wind tunnel tested, and will often provide a watt-saving figure as to how much energy can be retained thanks to the improved aerodynamics of the helmet.
Whilst during the summer months, breathability is a major concern, this is less so the case in autumn and winter. Since you’ll likely wear the lid all year round, it still makes sense to take venting into consideration – and if you suffer from a chilly noggin, you can always slip a cycling cap underneath.
We’ve rounded up some of our favourite cycling helmets below, but you’ll find more information about specific considerations when buying a cycling helmet further down the page.
Our pick of the best cycling helmets
Bell Stratus MIPs
The Bell Stratus MIPs punches well above its price point, feature lots of great features at a fraction of the price of its competitors.
18 vents make it very cool and the fit is superb, all at a £124.
Bontrager Velocis MIPs
First spotted on the heads of the Trek-Segafredo riders at the Tour, the Bontrager Velocis has had something of a classy face lift, which Trek says this has boosted its aerodynamics.
It’s a nice looking, comfortable helmet with plenty of ventilation but at 284g it’s a tad heavy for a top end piece of kit.
Bontrager Ballista bike helmet
We’ve not been able to test its aero claims, but the brand says this lid is more aerodynamic than other leading helmets, such as the Giro Air Attack and Specialized Evade.
It’s a pro level lid, that our tester wore to a road race win – the vents provide enough breathability, though notably there’s no holes to slot your glasses into.
Kask Mojito bike helmet
However in our opinion, unless you’re after an aero helmet, the Mojito is the better lid, ticking all the boxes that you’d expect from a £200 helmet, let alone a £100 one.Amazon
Giro Synthe bike helmet
The Giro Synthe is the helmet of choice for a few WorldTour pro teams and it’s easy to see why. The ventilation is the highlight, and even through trips abroad climbing in 30ºC+ heat, the Synthe has never let us down.
The fit is also excellent, with the rear dial offering plenty of room for manoeuvre to make sure the helmet sits securely, and just as importantly it looks good too, sitting close to the sides of your head.
For 2017, Giro introduced the Giro Cinder MIPS (buy it at Evans Cycles here) and Giro Ember MIPS (women’s version, at Evans Cycles here) – these are the same shape and still aero, but weigh a little more and come in at £124.99Amazon
Specialized Airnet bike helmet
It may look pretty similar to the Giro Synthe, but at half the price the Specialized Airnet helmet might seem like a much more palatable option for those not willing to blow the bank on their new lid.
Performance is still very good, with impressive breathability and ventilation and a comfortable fit that has proved popular with everyone who has tested it.
Bontrager Starvos MIPS bike helmet
We found this helmet to be incredibly comfortable, especially considering its fairly entry level price tag. The shape helped to eliminate pressure points and the design includes MIPS for added safety too.
Uvex Boss Race bike helmet
If you’re after a super-ventilated helmet, then the Uvex Boss Race probably isn’t for you, but in every other regard it is truly exceptional, even when compared to much more expensive lids.
The level of adjustability is the among the best you will find, the fit is comfortable and secure, and there’s even some netting across the front to keep the bugs out.Amazon
Bell Zephyr MIPS bike helmet
A departure from Bell’s typical styling, this more aerodynamic looking helmet uses a dial adjustable retention system that is integrated with the MIPS layer, to offer an overall more comfortable fit. It’s got plenty of venting and a clever sweat catcher at the front, for those who get sweaty on the climbs.Amazon
Met Manta bike helmet
The helmet worn by Mark Cavendish, we’ve seen a lot of the Met Manta bike helmet. It’s a super aero lid – with a claimed saving of 10 watts at 50kph – but it’s still comfortable for everyday use.Amazon
What are the key features you should look for in a bike helmet?
Bike helmet safety
Always look to see if a helmet has a European CE EN 1078 sticker. The EN 1078 standard ensures the helmet has passed a number of tests that look at the following: helmet construction, field of vision, shock absorbing properties, retention system properties, chin strap and fastening devices. In order to cycle in certain events such as races, sportives and triathlons it is often a requirement to have a helmet that adheres to this standard or an international equivalent.
Bike helmets and MIPS: what is MIPS and do I need it?
In recent years, we’ve seen more and more bike helmet brands adopt MIPS. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System; MIPS is actually a brand in itself, and helmet providers using them build the layer into their own helmets.
The MIPS liner is designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain that can occur in the event of a crash, by adding an extra layer of friction and thus spreading the impact.
Helmets with MIPS layers often cost a little more – but there is evidence to suggest the layer is effective in reducing injury in certain types of crashes.
Bike helmet fit
If a helmet doesn’t fit properly then it will not do the job it is designed for. Helmets are often available in different sizes relating to the circumference of your head, and while you could measure your head with a tape measure and buy online, we strongly advise going to a bike shop and trying a helmet on before you buy it.
You are going to be wearing the helmet a lot, potentially for over five hours at a time, so it’s imperative that it is comfortable. It is also advisable to try on a variety of makes and models to see which is most comfortable and the best bike helmet for you, as they are often different shapes internally.
Some helmets are women specific and even feature a special gap to allow for a pony tail, such as Specialized’s Hair Port system. However, most helmets are unisex and will fit both men and women.
Bike helmet adjustment/retention system
This is used to adjust the fit of the helmet to your specific head size. These are commonly adjusted by a click wheel or some kind of ratchet system. The best ones can be operated with a single hand, which is useful for making slight adjustments on the move.
It should be possible to loosen the retention system on a helmet to allow for a thermal skull cap or cycling cap to be worn underneath. This is done for added warmth, and the peak of a cycling cap can be useful for deflecting rain from the eyes. Because of this, caps are a common sight in the spring classics, such as Paris-Roubaix. If when you try on a helmet the retention system is on its limit, it is probably the wrong size for you.
Which is faster?
Bike helmet comfort and padding
Padding makes a helmet more comfortable but also helps to wick sweat away from your head. Better designs feature padding that can be removed for washing and replacement.
Bike helmet venting
These are holes in the shell of the helmet. They have two functions – to reduce the weight of the helmet, and also to add ventilation. Helmets with fewer or no vents are considerably warmer. This might not be obvious when you try one on in a shop, but once you start working up a sweat climbing a big hill at the height of summer it becomes invaluable.
Bike helmet weight
As is common with cycling kit, as weight decreases price tends to increase. Lighter helmets are more comfortable because they don’t place any strain on your neck, but the main advantage to a lighter helmet is increasing your power to weight ratio. 50g might not make much difference to most of us mortals, but to a top professional looking for any marginal gain, it becomes significant.
Different types of bike helmet
Leisure/commuting bike helmets
These kinds of helmets typically range from £40-80 and are ideal for those getting into cycling, or people who are not concerned about spending lots of money with a mind to saving 50-100g. They tend to be just as comfortable in terms of padding as more expensive helmets, but with a slightly heavier weight.
A good example is the Giro Savant (£59.99), pictured above. The Specialized Echelon II (£50) is another great option, although there are many more.
Performance road bike helmets
These helmets are among the lightest available, often seen adorning the heads of professionals during races and particularly in mountainous terrain, owing to the low weight and abundance of venting. Helmet vents can be useful for stowing glasses, when not being worn.
Time Trial bike helmets
Time trial (TT) helmets are designed to be worn during time trials and are not permitted in UCI road races. They are also a popular option for triathletes and track riders. These helmets often feature elongated or tear drop shapes to maximise aerodynamics and reduce drag. Venting is minimal, as vents create drag and visors are common. Do not turn up to a sportive or Sunday ride in a time trial helmet, unless you enjoy being ridiculed.
Aero road bike helmets
A new development that has become increasingly popular the last few years. An aero road helmet is a cross between a traditional road helmet and a TT helmet. It is designed to be more aerodynamic than a standard helmet, but this means they often try to reduce drag by featuring less venting, making them slightly heavier and warmer. This is a trade off and this kind of helmet is often favoured by break away riders and sprinters. The Giro Air Attack and Smith Overtake are good examples.
A cheaper alternative can be to fit a removable cover to a standard road helmet, such as the Lazer Z1 helmet, although these can be quite sweaty.
Some manufacturers offer a crash replacement scheme, where you can buy a cost price replacement if your helmet is damaged within the first couple of years of the original purchase.
Most helmets are made from expanded polystyrene, with an outer polymer shell, covering this. During a big impact the polystyrene is designed to absorb energy and compress. After a crash, the outer casing can hide the compromised polystyrene underneath, and look undamaged. Always replace your helmet after a crash or impact, and check it regularly for wear and tear.