Outside of the bicycle itself, arguably the most important piece of cycling gear you’ll ever buy is a bike helmet. Indeed, wearing a properly fitting helmet is the No. 1 way you can protect yourself from serious injury while riding. But which helmet is the best road bike helmet for you and your needs? It’s a good question that has a multi-faceted answer.
First off, it’s paramount that whichever helmet you buy fits properly. According to the non-profit website helmets.org, “A good fit means level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try.”
Beyond that, helmet choice typically comes down to budget, intended use, and style. Because, yes, some helmets look better than others. In terms of budget, the best bike cycling helmets typically fall in the $150-$250 range, though you certainly can spend less — or more. If you decide to go with a more pricey model, expect to get a helmet that weighs less and has better ventilation than the less expensive models. What you won’t automatically get is increased protection, as all bicycle helmets are governed by the same set of safety standards.
There are, however, some helmets that have additional safety features. Primary among this category is MIPS or multi-directional impact protection system. For those unfamiliar, the MIPS system separates a helmet’s shell and liner with a low friction layer. The idea being that when a MIPS helmet is subjected to an angled impact, the low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head. This is designed to add protection against the rotational forces. Most of the helmets listed below have a MIPS option or are MIPS equipped, which typically adds about $20 to the final price tag.
Weight doesn’t fluctuate dramatically, but you can definitely shave a few grams if you’re so inclined. For instance the upper tier Bell Zephyr weighs 263 grams size medium, while the POC Octal Race Day comes in at 240 grams, and the Kask Protone is around 220. The Protone is also the most expensive helmet in this round-up, priced at $300, or double what you’ll pay for the Giro Cinder MIPS.
Ventilation is another big selling point, with lids such as the POC Octal and Specialized Prevail II being exceptionally well ventilated. How much this matters will come down to where and when you do most of your riding, say Arizona in the summer versus Colorado in the fall.
Adjustability is another important feature to look for. The best road bike helmets will have multi-dimensional adjustment systems such as the Bell Z20 that along with a traditional cincg dial, has 22mm of height maneuverability via four (instead of the usual three) click points, and you can laterally adjust the lobe cradles in the rear of the helmet.
Aerodynamics is also part of this conversation, as some helmets such as the Specialized Evade boast some serious speed gains compared to other helmets. These gains often (but not always) come with some drop-off in ventilation, so you’ll need to decide which is more important for your particular riding (or racing) needs.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the straps, sunglasses compatibility, and aesthetics. The best road bike helmets have straps that are easy to adjust and lay flat instead of flapping in the wind. They are also compatible with a wide array of sunglasses frames and have means to securely stow your shades when not in use. As for looks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are definitely some helmets that look better on some head shapes than others. It’s for all these reasons that RoadBikeReview strongly recommends that you try on a few helmets before buying. Now that we’ve covered the basics of buying, here’s a round-up of 10 of the best road bike helmets.
Bontrager Circuit MIPS
The Bontrager Circuit MIPS is equipped with a host of key features, including MIPS, a Boa fit system, and Bontrager’s Blendr mount system for light and camera integration. It also has an in-mold composite skeleton that increases helmet integrity for larger vents and increased airflow, antimicrobial pads that wick moisture and eliminate odors naturally, LockDown dividers that make helmet strap management clean and are easy to adjust, and internal, recessed channels for move airflow over your head to stay cool and dry. There’s even a Crash Replacement Guarantee that provides free helmet replacement if involved in a crash within the first year of ownership. The Bontrager Circuit MIPS is available in three sizes and seven colors, including this safety-enhancing high viz yellow/black option.
More Info: www.trekbikes.com
Bell Z20 MIPS
Calling it the most advanced road helmet it’s ever made when first launched, the Bell Helmets Zephyr earned a regular place on our heads for several years now. It’s subsequently been replaced by the distinctly similar Bell Z20 MIPS. But whether you opt for the newer model (or scour the Internet for the outgoing version (pictured above), you’ll be getting a one of the best road bike helmets around. Of course that means incorporating MIPS into the helmet. But instead of the usual “bolt-on” strategy, the added safety layer has been incorporated directly into the helmet’s fit system. By melding in MIPS, overall weight is reduced and the helmet takes on a smaller shape, meaning if you’re between sizes you wont have to automatically size up to wear the MIPS equipped version.
Bell also used what it calls progressive layering, where two EPS foam segments with different densities are attached together in an effort to better manage impact energy. The softer lower density material is placed closer to the head, while the harder higher density material resides on the exterior. This eliminates the need for the roll cage, which in part helps save weight. Claimed weight for a size medium is 263 grams. Also impressive is Bell’s Float Fit Race retention system, which has three points of adjustability. Along with a traditional dial, there are 22mm of height maneuverability via four (instead of the usual three) click points, and you can laterally adjust the lobe cradles in the rear of the helmet. The net effect is a better overall fit and a lower profile. Other features include integrated reflective accents, eyewear ports front and rear, no-twist straps, X-static anti-funk padding, 18 total vents, and an interesting sweat management system where the padding in the front-center of the helmet extends outward in an effort to channel perspiration away from your face and sunglasses.
More Info: www.bellhelmets.com
Specialized S-Works Prevail II
When Specialized set out to improve the original S-Works Prevail, they realized that there were a few aspects of the original Prevail that needed to be changed, with the biggest request being for a lower-sitting design. And that’s just what they delivered along with a host of other features, including Patented Energy Optimized Multi-Density EPS construction that helps to manage impact energy. It also has an aramid-reinforced skeleton that provides internal EPS support, lightweight Mindset HairPort II micro-dial fit system with height adjustability, and a Mega Mouthport designed to optimize cooling and sweat evaporation. Thin, soft, and lightweight 4X DryLite webbing won’t stretch out with sweat or water, and the Tri-Fix web splitter further improves comfort and ease of strap adjustments. There’s even a Gutter Action brow pad design for increased comfort and sweat management, and reflective decals for increased visibility to motorists in low-light conditions. It’s available in three sizes and six colors.
More Info: www.specialized.com
Arguably the most recognizable road cycling helmet on the market, the Catlike Mixino’s honeycomb design is also one of the most well ventilated. It is also the first cycling helmet to incorporate Graphene nanofibers on its inner aramid skeleton, which help increase strength while also shedding weight. For comfortable adjustability, the Mixino features an adjustable micro-dial at the rear that controls the overall retention-level of the helmet. Catlike calls this its MPS eVo system, and it expands or contracts the newly-designed, thin-style arms that wrap inside of the helmet. Additionally, the Mixino has two independently-adjustable head supports at the rear, and two new lateral wing pads that are also adjustable. Even better, these pads are interchangeable, meaning that you’re able to use varying thicknesses depending on your head size. Finally, the Mixino allows for vertical adjustments, so nearly every head size is able to be enjoy a pro level of fit.
More Info: www.catlike.es/us/en
Giant Rev MIPS
Though best known for offering great bang-for-buck road and mountain bikes, Giant has also made a concerted push into the component and accessories market. From bars and stems, to wheels, kit, shoes and helmets, one of the world’s largest sellers of two wheeled goodies manufactures just about everything. And usually does it well. That expansive line-up currently includes two road cycling helmets, Rev and Pursuit, which is an aero offering. But for hot or climbing heavy days, the Rev MIPS is the choice thanks to its enhanced safety and 21 well placed vents. Top line features of the Rev include a cooling system that’s enhanced by a large center vent that pulls air through the helmet and over the rider’s head. There’s also an internal reinforced skeleton, anti-microbial padding, lightweight chinstrap webbing, and Giant’s Cinch Pro retention system that has three height settings and an easy-to-use adjustment dial. The Giant Rev MIPS comes in three sizes: S (51-55cm), M (55-59cm), L (59-63cm). Color options include standard black, matte black, matte yellow, and white. Weight for our size medium tester was 286 grams.
More Info: www.giant-bicycles.com
Giro Cinder MIPS
The Giro Cinder MIPS is feature packed but won’t break your budget. Design is inspired by Giro’s premium Synthe helmet, offering similar performance and style for less. Key features of the Cinder MIPS include a Roc Loc 5 fit system, which allows you to easily dial-in fit tension and adjust vertical position with one hand. A generous 26 vents plus internal channeling help keep you cool, while Air-FX padding offers comfort on your longest rides, and the helmet is equipped with MIPS to redirect impact energy, providing more protection in certain impacts. And it comes in a whopping 10 color options with four different sizes, assuring there’s a right helmet for just about anyone.
More Info: www.giro.com
The premium offering from the Italian helmet maker, the Kask Protone is a semi-aero lid with ample venting. Indeed, it was designed to mimic the wind-cheating ability of the Kask Infinity, but provide the breathability of the Mojito. Claimed weight for a size medium is 230 grams, and the Protone has multiple fit-adjustment mechanisms, which allow for a truly dialed fit. There’s also a sunglasses port that’s claimed to work with just about every type of eyewear. And it comes in 19 different colors and three sizes.
More Info: www.kask.com
POC Octal Race Day
The relative importance of fashion versus function will go a long way as to how you feel about the POC Octal Raceday helmet. If the somewhat bulbous, Lego-head shape doesn’t mesh with your on-bike sense of style, it’s a safe bet this polarizing brain protector isn’t for you. Alternatively, if you place highest value on air flow, adjustability, comfort, and safety, the POC Octal should be on your short list when it comes time to pull the trigger on a new helmet. Get past aesthetics, and the POC Octal Raceday is a true marvel of functionality. Start with its venting, which is among the best around. There are helmets with more than the Octal’s 21 vents. But few match it on air flow. The biggie-sized openings (including deep internal channels) allow air to easily pass from front to back, helping keep you cool on even the hottest days.
The Octal also gets high marks for adjustability, thanks to its multi-position vertical tabs and rear cinch dial. Some users may pine for some give-and-take around the ears, but the fixed strap splitters fit most dimensions fine, and they lay flat on your head, meaning no annoying twisting or wind flap.
More Info: www.pocsports.com
Scott Centric Plus
Designed for road or cross-country mountain biking, the Scott Centric PLUS helmet is well ventilated and aerodynamic. Airflow is optimized on both the outside and inside of the helmet, and MIPS + Scott AIR technology provides the benefits of MIPS brain protection along with further enhanced ventilation. Approximate weight is 250 grams size medium and the Centric PLUS comes in three color combos and three sizes.
More Info: www.scott-sports.com
Specialized S-Works Evade
The goal with the second generation Specialized Evade was to alleviate the classic conundrum of picking between low weight, ventilation, and aerodynamics. Mission accomplished. Specialized says this aero lid is the fastest road helmet they have produced to date. Indeed this Evade is 6 seconds faster over 40km compared to the first Evade iteration. But inside is where the magic of this helmet resides. It features what the Big Red S calls its 4th Dimension Cooling System where deep internal channels, large vents, and aligned exhaust ports conspire to improve aerodynamic and ventilation performance. It also utilizes a patented “Energy Optimized Multi-Density EPS” construction to help to manage impact energy. Finally, the new Evade has a patented aramid-reinforced skeleton that’s designed to provide internal EPS support to help further handle the consequences of a crash. And in case you were wondering, there are no MIPS options.
Ironically, when all was said and done, vent count actually went down from 17 on the original Evade to 13 on the latest iteration. But the new layout is hallmarked by larger vents and channeling on the helmet’s interior, and that more than makes up for the difference. Claimed weights are small – 270 grams; medium – 285 grams; large 320 grams. Our size medium test model registered 281g on our garage shop scale. Other notable features include an ultra-light Mindset HairPort II micro-dial fit system with height adjustability, Gutter Action brow pad design for increased comfort and sweat management, and thin, soft, and lightweight 4X DryLite webbing that won’t stretch out when wet. A Tri-Fix web splitter improves comfort and eases strap adjustment, while a magnetic buckle keeps the chin strap in place.
More Info: www.specialized.com
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