The Best Road Bike Helmet Review
What makes a road bike helmet a good road bike helmet? What are qualities you should look for? Do you really need a different helmet for riding a road bike and a mountain bike? We took eight of the latest, greatest helmets aimed at road cycling and rated them for comfort, adjustment, weight, ventilation, and durability. We gave each helmet a score in each category and determined which helmet is the best overall as well as which is the best for those on a budget. We also identified the most comfortable helmet and the most aerodynamically designed. Keep reading to see how they stacked up.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Wearing a helmet while riding a bike is always a good idea. Whether you are training for your next crit, riding the length of the Americas, or just headed to get an Americano, a helmet can keep your central processing unit from getting damaged. Yes, we are talking about your brain. Luckily, cycling helmets have become widely acceptable in all forms of cycling, from pro tour rides to dirt jumping. Cycling as a whole has embraced wearing a helmet as the right thing to do, despite some minor inconveniences.
All cycling helmets essentially work the same way. They are composed of a lightweight closed-cell foam, usually polystyrene, which absorbs an impact between your skull and whatever you crash into by compression and partial destruction of the foam. Every currently sold helmet that we are aware of also uses a protective cover over the top of the foam, which serves to protect the foam from wear and tear and also to distribute the force of a sharp impact over more of the foam. These protective covers are most commonly polycarbonate, though some high-end helmets uses carbon fiber or a mixture of the two.
The majority of cycling helmets are designed to absorb a single impact and then be replaced. This is because the polystyrene absorbs the impact by being significantly compressed. Polystyrene does not bounce back like a memory foam mattress, it is instead destroyed during an impact. The advantage is that it holds its shape and absorbs a lot of force for its weight. (You wouldn't want a helmet made from memory foam. Not only would it weigh too much, but you'd also look ridiculous.) If your helmet sustains a major blow, you should replace it. Many manufacturers have replacement policies, so if you just dropped a bunch of coin on a pricy lid and crack it the next day, you may get a replacement for a discount. No promises, but we think it's worth asking.
Types of Cycling Helmets
There are several types of helmets designed to accommodate the different needs of different types of cyclists. We feel that the majority of helmets fall into one of three categories: road bike, mountain bike half-shell and mountain bike full-face. We'll give you a quick run down of each category and the advantages and disadvantages of each. For more details on different types of helmets and advice on how to properly size and wear a helmet, reference our Road Bike Helmet Buying Advice article.
Road Bike Helmets
this website, which discusses the history of cycling helmet certification in the US. All eight of the helmets we evaluated in this review carry the CPSC label.
Half-Shell Mountain Bike Helmets
Half-shell mountain bike helmets are very similar to road bike helmets in basic design. Like the name implies, they also cover roughly half of the head and are generally composed of the same polystyrene and polycarbonate as road specific helmets. Mountain bike helmets tend to have less priority placed on ventilation and weight and more emphasis on coverage than road helmets. Mountain bike helmets tend to be heavier than road specific designs ,though we did test a few very lightweight mountain bike lids which weighed less than the pudgier road models, so we can't say that road helmets are always lighter. The one thing that we feel sets the two apart is the addition of a rigid visor to shield the eyes from sun, mud, or rain and gives the helmet a moto look. Mountain helmets have visors while road helmets do not. The Bell Volt is an exception to this rule because it has a small, easily removable visor and is included in our road bike helmet test.
It isn't wrong to wear a mountain bike helmet while riding a road bike or vice versa, but it just isn't ideal. If you are going to wear a mountain bike helmet on a road bike you will likely want to remove the visor because it will interfere with your field of view while looking down the road, especially while riding in the drops. The disadvantage of using a road helmet on a mountain bike is the lack of visor and the lessened coverage.
Full-Face Downhill Helmets
Downhill helmets are very different than both road and mountain half-shell helmets. This type of helmet is similar in shape and coverage to a motocross helmet in that it covers your entire head and uses a chin guard to protect your face from impacts. This type of helmet can be combined with a Leatt style neck brace to further increase coverage. The advantage of a full-face helmet is the increased coverage, and therefore increased safety. Downhill helmets are typically certified to a more protective standard than both half-shell mountain or road helmets. The main disadvantages of full-faces are the weight, lack of ventilation, and that they interfere with breathing a bit. Though we'd want to be wearing a full-face if we hit the pavement going 50 mph, a full-face is not a reasonable choice for road cycling. On top of the weight and lack of airflow, they are slightly disorienting and would decrease you chance of hearing and seeing cars. Full-face helmets are best for very aggressive mountain biking where violent crashes are common but cars are not a danger.
Criteria for Evaluation
Comfort is one of the most important factors in a helmet. An uncomfortable helmet will just get worse over the course of a long ride. Inversely, a comfortable helmet will quickly be forgotten about, allowing you to concentrate on the numbers on your Garmin, or better yet, what's going on around you.
Fit is clearly a factor in how comfortable a helmet is. Since head shapes vary, we can't promise that a certain helmet is the most comfortable. During our tests, we tried to get each helmet on as many riders as possible to look for trends. What we found in our evaluation of eight road lids is that head shape differences do not make as much of a difference to getting a comfortable fit as they do with full-face helmets. We found that testers generally had consensus about which helmets were comfortable and which were not, regardless of head shape.
We awarded the Kask Vertigo a rare perfect ten in our comfort test. Everybody who wore this helmet thought is was the Cadillac of helmets. Kask is an Italian helmet company that designs and manufacturers their helmets in Italy. We are pretty sure that being compared to an American car company would not sit well with the country Ferrari calls home, but we think our US readers will get the idea. The Vertigo is a robust helmet with plushness far beyond any other helmet. For example, the Vertigo has silicone bits which pad the occipital area against the retention band, a dual articulating retention band, and a faux leather chin strap. The Vertigo is truly a step beyond all the other helmets we tested in terms of comfort as well as quality.
Possibly the most important adjustment in terms of safety is the one that is most often neglected when putting on a cycling helmet. We are talking about the chin strap, of course. This is the strap which holds the helmet on your head when you crash, and is often left much too loose to be effective. To tighten the chin strap, all you need to do is pull the webbing through the buckle which closes the chin strap. We see riders of all kinds riding around with loose chin straps all the time. We even heard one story of a downhill racer who's helmet fell off completely during a particularly violent crash because he had neglected to fasten the chin strap of his full-face helmet. Word to the wise, make sure your chin strap is fastened and tightened down enough to keep the helmet in place should you crash. There is a fine line between snug enough to do its job and choking, so do your best to get the chin strap as tight as you can bear.
One way to optimized the tightness of the chin strap without the choking feeling is to properly position the chin strap from front to back by adjusting the Y shaped harness yoke. All of the road helmets in this test save one use some sort of plastic hardware to attach the chin strap to the yoke and allow for fore/aft adjustment. The best of the bunch allow you to lock the chin strap in place so you can set it once and never mess with it again. The Kask Vertigo is the one helmet which does not have fore/aft adjustment hardware. The Vertigo's faux leather chin strap is permanently fixed to the yoke, but can be adjusted slightly through positioning of the rear retention band.
The most noticeable adjustment of any road helmet is the rear retention band. Helmet manufacturers often give these relatively simple mechanisms complicated names which don't describe what they do. All of the helmets in this test have a rear retention band that shares the same basic function and design. Not to say that there aren't differences among them, because there are subtle things that make some of them a pleasure to use and others inconvenient at best. The shape and thickness of the band can make a difference in how comfortable the helmet is, but the major difference in user friendliness is the design of the click wheel. First we'd like to say that we always prefer cycling helmets to have retention bands with click wheels rather than slider mechanisms. We tested a couple of helmets in our mountain bike helmet review which did not use click wheels, and we found them to be seriously lacking in the ability to adjust band tension on the fly with one hand.
Our favorite retention systems are Giro's RocLoc5 and the Kask Up 'n' Down system. The RocLoc5 is found on the Giro Atmos, Aeon, and Savant. A variation of this system called the RocLoc Air is used on the Giro Air Attack. The highly padded and articulating Up 'n' Down retention system is found on the Kask Vertigo, as well as the less expensive Kask Mojito which we did not review. Our least favorite retention band was the flimsy and somewhat fragile band found on the POC Octal.
Weight is a top priority in pretty much everything related to road riding, and helmets are no exception. There is likely no other form of cycling where riders obsess over the weight of their gear more than on the road. Actually, there may be no other sport where so much of the talk is devoted to the weight of gear than in road biking.
The lightest helmet in our test is the Giro Aeon, which weighs just 7.94 ounces. That's 225 grams. Another notably light helmet is the POC Octal, which tipped our scale at 8.5 ounces. The average weight of the eight helmets in our test is 10.46 ounces with the heaviest being 13.1 ounces.
For comparison, the average weight of the seven helmets in our Mountain Bike Helmet Review is 12.7 ounces with the lightest being 11.3 ounces and the heaviest being 14.6 ounces. We think it's significant that one of the mountain bike helmets is lighter than half of the road specific helmets. That helmet is the Giro Xar.
Along with weight, ventilation is an obvious design priority in most road specific helmets. Once you get cranking, there is nothing you will notice more than a stifling helmet.
We found that vent count is not necessarily an indicator of how well a helmet vents. What we found to be much more important is the percentage of open space each helmet has to allow for airflow in and out of the helmet. The helmet with the most open space in it's shell is the POC Octal, which not surprisingly is rated the highest in our ventilation test by our reviewers. Other very well ventilated helmets are both the Giro Aeon and Atmos, which scored just behind the Octal.
We weighted this category much lower than our other scoring metrics because we feel that durability is not as important in a road helmet as in a mountain bike helmet. You should remember that none of the helmets we tested will stand up to multiple significant impacts because they are designed to protect your head by destruction of the polystyrene foam. Our durability test is not a measure of how well the helmet holds up in a crash, but rather how well it resists day-to-day dents and dings when it's doing things like rolling around in your trunk.
A full wrap shell is something we always look for in a half-shell helmets because we feel that it greatly increases a helmet's resistance to dents and dings when the helmet is off your head. Exposed foam tends to lead to nicks, and results in a helmet that does not last as long simply when exposed to everyday wear and tear. The helmets in our test with full wrap shells are the Kask Vertigo, POC Octal, and Giro Air Attack.
Durability is the only category in which our Editors' Choice Award winning helmet, the Giro Aeon, scored low. Only the Giro Atmos scored lower. The reason both of these super light, high-end helmets scored low is the lack of shell coverage along the bottom edge of the helmet. While the lack of shell likely shaves a few grams off the weight of both helmets, we would prefer that these two pricy lids had a bit more ability to stand up to dents and dings.
There are many types of bike helmets on the market, just as there are a number of different types of bikers. Road bike, half-shell mountain bike and full-face downhill helmets have features that work best for specific categories of biking. In addition, it is important to take factors such as comfort, weight, and ventilation into account. We hope that this review has helped you to select the best helmet for your needs. Read on to our Buying Advice article for more detailed information on how to choose the best option.
— Luke Lydiard
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