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.
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If you choose to spend more, the helmet won’t necessarily be safer but instead will be lighter, and more breathable. The retention system often becomes more comfortable and adjustable on a more expensive helmet.
For competitive cyclists, aerodynamics becomes a concern. Higher-end 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.
During the summer months, breathability is a major concern, this is less so the case in fall and winter. Since you’ll likely wear the same 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 favorite road helmets below, but you’ll find more information about specific considerations when buying a cycling helmet further down the page.
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Our pick of the best cycling helmets
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Weights listed are as reviewed – so may vary between sizes.
Lazer G1 Genesis helmet
- RRP: £170 / $219.99 Weight:205g (medium) 247g with aeroshell
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: light, comfortable, secure Cons: MIPS heavier/more expensive, requires aeroshell extra for benefits
A light and comfortable lid which felt secure when on. You do need to “shell” out for the additional aero layer, but it’s not a big outlay at an additional £19.99 / $22.99.
Giro Aether MIPS helmet
- RRP: £259.99 / $300 Weight: 269g
- Review score: 10/10
- Pros: low weight, breathable, includes MIPS Cons: none
We called the Giro Aether MIPS a game-changer due to it’s unrivaled all-around performance; it vents with the best, has cutting edge safety features, all at an impressively low weight.
The Aether features MIPS Spherical technology, which sits between the two shells to make the added safety feature more comfortable. The lid itself is made up of six different pieces, attached in the middle, and there’s the ‘Aura’ arch which extends across the top of the helmet for added reinforcement.
Its design not only provides exceptional safety in terms of onboard MIPS, but it also provides great ventilation and all in a schmick looking package.
Smith Ignite helmet
- RRP £219 / $250 Weight 277g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: Comfort, Safety features, aesthetics. Cons: Matt finish gets grubby quickly
Comfortable, undoubtedly slippery through the air and packed to the rafters with safety features of Koroyd and MIPS.
Smith’s Ignite should certainly be a first choice helmet for those riders looking for an aero advantage without the drawbacks.
- RRP: £219 / $299 Weight: 300g, without visor
- Review score: 8/10
- Pros: Fit, airflow, visor optics, safety Cons: looks
Giro created the Vanquish to find the perfect balance between a road specific brain bucket and a wind-cheating TT aero lid. The front of the shell features what the brand calls TransforAir which is uses a small step to trick air into behaving as if the helmet has a full teardrop. If you’re lining up for a TT or triathlon (gasp), an optional magnetic visor with a Carl Zeiss lens improves its wind-cheating prowess.
With decent-sized from vents and deep internal channels plenty of air is sucked through the helmet to prevent a sweaty head, Giro has opted to use the Roc Loc retention system you know and love. The aesthetic, on the other hand, may be polarizing.
MET Trenta helmet
- RRP: £265 / TBC Weight: 223g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: Comfortable, cooling, aero, light attachment Cons: none
The MET Trenta is a good looking lid which manages to expertly combine breathability and aerodynamics with lots of vents as well as watt saving promises. Plus its made of carbon, and what self-respecting roadie doesn’t love carbon.
Buy now: Met Trenta at Wiggle from £91.99
Specialized Evade II helmet
- RRP: £200 / $275 Weight: 235g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: aero but still breathable Cons: straps not adjustable, this model not MIPS but MIPS now available
Specialized’s Evade aero helmet has always had a stand-out aesthetic, but the newest iterations claim to be six seconds faster over 40km thanks to revised aerodynamics.
It’s also more breathable and lighter by 12-20 grams when compared to previous versions – the small model comes in at 235g.
Bell Formula helmet
- RRP: £89 / $95 Weight: 235g
- Review Score: 9/10
- Pros: Good fit, good protection, plenty of vents Cons: not much
Made via Bell’s Fusion In-Mold process, the Formula has a polycarbonate shell that is bonded to the EPS foam, which according to the brand, makes for a sturdier build. When we reviewed the Formula, it didn’t come with a MIPS liner, but now it does, and you can even add a rear LED for £20 / $20 extra.
The Bell Formula helmet offers a good, head-hugging fit, extending down the back of the head for an extra secure feeling. It’s also available in plenty of colors which is a plus.
- RRP: £80 / $99 Weight: 274g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: Comfort, looks, Color options Cons: No MIPS
While the Viantor might occupy the entry-level of the German Brand’s road helmets, Abus has trickle-down quite a few features from its high-end lids. The helmet is based around the same in-mold construction and has its ActiCage internal skeleton, allowing for less foam and bigger vents.
At 274g it’s pretty light for the price, the shell comes down quite a bit lower than many road helmets for added protection and the one-piece pad and 3/4 wrap retention system make for a snug and comfortable fit. All it’s missing is a MIPS liner.
Giro Synthe helmet
- RRP: £249 / $240 Weight: 240g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: Ventilation and aerodynamics, comfort Cons: Hard to fault!
The ventilation in the Synthe is a highlight, and even through trips to the desert climbing in 90F heat, the Synthe has never let us down.
The fit is also excellent, with the rear dial offering plenty of room for maneuver to make sure the helmet sits securely, and just as importantly it looks good too, sitting close to the sides of your head.
- RRP: £219 Weight:274g
- Review score: 9/10
- Cooling system is excellent, Lightweight and low bulk, Aerodynamic design, wide range of fit adjustment Cons: no MIPS
Kask was one of the first brands to offer an aero yet ventilated helmet with the Protone, which is still available, largely unchanged from its launch. The Italian outfits latest lid that’s slippery in the wind tunnel yet won’t leave you a sweaty mess is the Utopia.
Despite it’s closed off silhouette, the deep channeling, and vents under the brow keep your noggin cool and your sunglasses free of sunscreen infused sweat. It’s not the lights helmet out there, but a 266g it disappears on your head once you’ve strapped in on.
What are the key features you should look for in a bike helmet?
Bike helmet safety
Always check that the helmet you are buying is tested to the standard relevant to where you live — CPSC for the US, EN 1078 sticker for the UK, and Europe. This means that the helmet has passed a number of tests that look at helmet’s construction, field of vision, impact absorption, retention system, chin strap and buckle. In order to ride in races, gran fondos and triathlons it is often a requirement to have a helmet that adheres to the relevant local standard.
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. Some brands like POC and Bontrager have their own similar systems.
The MIPS liner is designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain that can occur in the event of a crash, creates a slip plane to mimic the brain’s own protection system to minimize force transmission to the brain.
Helmets with MIPS layers often cost a little more – but there is some 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’s specific and even feature a special gap to allow for a ponytail, such as Specialized’s Hair Port system. However, most helmets are unisex and will fit both men and women.
Bike helmet adjustment/retention system
The retention system is used to adjust the fit of the helmet to your specific head size. These are commonly adjusted by a dial 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 bill 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 usually considerably warmer, though the latest crop of aero lids has shown the value of well designed internal channeling. 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 of 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 / $50 to £80 / $100 and are ideal for those getting into cycling, or those who aren’t troubled by and extra 50-100g fo weight. 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 Smith Optics Signal (£65 / $75 ), pictured above. The Specialized Echelon II (£50 / $90) is another great option, although there are many more.
Performance road bike helmets
These helmets are among the lightest available, often seen atop the heads of professionals during races and particularly in mountainous terrain, for their low weight and abundance of venting. Helmet vents can be useful for stowing glasses, when not being worn and plenty of angles to get at an itch on your head.
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 teardrop shapes to maximize aerodynamics and reduce drag. Venting is minimal, as vents create drag and visors are common. Do not show 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 in 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 favored by breakaway riders and sprinters. The Specialized Evade and Smith Ignite 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.