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.
If you choose to spend more, the helmet won’t necessarily be safer but instead may 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, but this is less so the case in autumn 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 favourite 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.
Best aero cycling helmets
Kask Utopia helmet
- RRP: £219 Weight: 266g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: 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 is slippery in the wind tunnel yet won’t leave you a sweaty mess is the Utopia.
Despite its 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 lightest helmet out there, but at 266 grams it disappears on your head once you’ve strapped in on.
Giro Synthe helmet
- RRP: £249 / $240 Weight: 234g (size medium)
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: Ventilation and aerodynamics; comfort
- Cons: Hard to fault!
Giro makes big claims with regard to aerodynamic credentials of the Synthe, saying that “our extensive testing reveals that the Synthe is nearly as efficient as the fastest time trial helmets”.
The ventilation in this aero helmet is a highlight, and we found even through trips to Majorca, climbing mountains 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.
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 its 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 sleek 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 the safety features of Koroyd and MIPS. It has Smith’s VaporFit retention system which can be adjusted vertically and horizontally to allow for a snuggly fit for all head shapes.
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 uses a small step to trick air into behaving as if the helmet had a full teardrop. If you’re lining up for a TT or triathlon (gasp), an optional magnetic visor improves its wind-cheating prowess.
With decent-sized front 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.
Buy now: Giro Vanquish at Wiggle from £229.99
Best lightweight cycling helmets
HJC Atara helmet
- RRP: £90 / $115 Weight: 204g (small)
- Review score: 8/10
- Pros: great value, lightweight, breathable
- Cons: sizing, no MIPS or similar additional safety technology
At just 204g, the Atara is an excellent entry level helmet which is lightweight and has lots of features you’d expect in a much higher end model.
This helmet from HJC features eight vents plus a rear exhaust system, and we found the front vents to be really useful for holding a pair of cycling glasses.
We’d suggest trying before you buy as the recommendations on the size chart did not seem to match the fit – in our case, the small was too big.
Buy now: HJC Atara helmet at Wiggle for £90
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 featherlight and comfortable lid which felt secure when on and boasts a simple, stylish look. To fine-tune the fit to your individual head shape the rear retention cradle has a large amount of vertical adjustment.
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 and the helmet still remains lightweight compared to aero specific options.
MET Trenta helmet
- RRP: £265 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.
At 223g it is still one of the lightest helmets out there despite being marketed as an aero helmet. Plus it’s made of carbon, and what self-respecting roadie doesn’t love carbon.
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 only 235g.
Best time trial cycling helmets
Met Codatronca helmet
- RRP: £270/ $345 Weight: 365g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: comfortable, adjustable, versatile
- Cons: visor shape
The Codatronca has a short tail which makes it a more versatile time trial helmet for most riders. Riders will still get significant aero gains but without having to worry that you are always in a perfect optimum “turtle” position – this is particularly relevant when faced with sporting courses.
We found it was a very comfortable lid, which provided a close fit with Met’s ‘Safe-T Orbital’ fit system with retention dial. It also had sufficient ventilation thanks to its three small vents on the front and further two ‘exhaust’ holes at the rear – included to channel air out the back. It has a clever magnetic visor system, but bear in mind the visor is quite long and therefore may take some time to get used to.
Giro Aerohead MIPS helmet
- RRP: £229.99/ $295 Weight: 480g
- Review score: 9/10
- Pros: very aero, great quality, comfortable
- Cons: rear triangle needs covering
The wind-cheating silhouette of Giro’s Aerohead will maximise your performance with its excellent aerodynamic design which also boosts plenty of ventilation with its four Wind Tunnel vents.
An impressive field of view is possible thanks to the helmet’s wrap around eye shield made by ZEISS Optics. The shield is kept secure with a magnetic anchor attachment and it can also be stored in a flipped up position.
In our testing we found the Giro Aerohead to be around 17 watts faster at 40kph than the standard Giro aero helmet, the Synthe.
Lazer Wasp Air helmet
A honeycomb front ventilation panel is used on this time trial helmet to limit overheating and Lazer’s advanced Turnfit retention system ensures this helmet has a comfy fit that won’t distract you from any efforts. This model has a short tail but there are long tail conversion kits available.
Best women’s cycling helmets
Giro Seyen MIPS helmet
A subtle, smart design is wrapped around this Giro helmet specifically stylised for women – it does not feature a unique women’s fit. Giro says this is because there are no anatomic differences between women’s and men’s heads except for the average diameter.
The Seyen is lightweight and uses Giro’s Wind Tunnel ventilation system, which combines a total of 25 active vents and exhaust channels to thrust cool air over the head and force the hot air out.
Liv Extima MIPS helmet
The Extima is Team Sunweb’s helmet of choice as it superbly balances aerodynamics with being lightweight and well ventilated. An environmentally safe and effective material by X-odour – that neutralises the smell of sweat after a taxing ride – is used in the padding of this helmet.
It is also good to know that the helmet is protected for 12 months under Liv’s helmet crash replacement service.
Buy now: Liv Extima at Tredz for £161.99
Best commuter cycling helmets
Looking cool on your daily commute does not have to be at the sacrifice of safety by not wearing a helmet at all. There are options that combine looks with safety features, here’s a look at some of the best…
Bern Watts EPS helmet
With a baseball hat inspired hard visor to protect you from whatever weather your commute throws at you, this helmet from Bern will serve you well and will ensure you look stylish in the city. Its premium moisture control liner will help keep you sweat free for when you arrive at your destination.
Bern say the helmet has a ‘sink fit’ which means the helmet extends to cover the back of the head, thereby providing greater protection. On the outside it has a thin ABS shell and on the inside is lined with EPS foam, to create a lightweight helmet that is also strong and hardy.
Brooks J. B. Classic helmet
This traditional looking helmet from the renowned British company Brooks has modern technology to match its elegance, thanks to its foldable design – this makes this helmet a practical choice.
Its hidden flexible frame and elastic fitting system was developed by Carrera, but this verson has a stylish leather Brooks twist. The helmet is EN1078 and CPSC certified, and weighs 330g.
Overade Plixi Fit helmet
The volume of this helmet from Overade is divided by three when it is folded, which brings the size down to 21 x 11 x 16 cm – and so it’s much easier to pack away once you arrive at your destination.
With 14 vents and adjustable straps for chin protection the Plixi helmet is not just practical, it will also provide a comfortable fit with enough airflow across your head so you don’t overheat and turn into a sweaty mess. Ride in style in the city with this helmet that complies with US CPSC and the European EN1078 safety standards for helmets.
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 it build the layer into their own helmets. Some brands like 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 channelling. 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 of 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 offer 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 helmet type 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. They are designed to be more aerodynamic than a standard helmet, but this means they sometimes 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 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.