Reviews You Can Rely On

Bell Sanction Review

Low in price and weight, but also low in protection, durability, comfort, and performance overall
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bell sanction downhill helmet review
Bell Sanction in White Silver.
Credit: Bell
Price:  $105 List
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Manufacturer:   Bell
By Luke Lydiard ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 31, 2014

Our Verdict

The Bell Sanction is the lightest full-face helmet in our test. Unfortunately, this diminutive helmet achieves a lower weight at the cost of function and protection. This helmet has a much smaller overall profile than any of the other full-face helmets we evaluated and our testers agree it feels like a toy compared to the other lids.
Not for full-fledged downhill
Feels like a toy
Does not meet ASTM-F1952 cert

This is one of the least expensive full-face helmets on the market and by far the least expensive in our test. Unfortunately, we can not recommend it as a solid choice for downhill mountain biking because it does not meet the ASTM-F1952 standard like its big brothers the Bell Transfer-9 and the carbon shelled Full-9.

The Sanction is only available in three sizes. We found that it fit on the small side. Our size large test helmet, which is supposed to fit heads from 58-60 cm, had a much smaller fit than our size large Bell Transfer-9, which is supposed to fit heads from 57-59 cm.

This model is available in at least seven colorways, including an inconspicuous matte black. It is not the coolest looking helmet we've ever seen, not because of Bell's graphics department, which we often feel is a bit out of touch, but because of its slim profile and skinny visor. We didn't rate helmets based on style, but our testers agreed that the graphics on this helmet are so-so.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Bell Sanction is a very lightweight full-face mountain bike helmet constructed with a hand laminated fiberglass shell over an expanded polystyrene liner. This helmet meets the minimum standards to be sold as a cycling helmet in the US and Europe, but does not meet any of the more stringent standards aimed at aggressive downhill riding with big consequences.

Performance Comparison

bell sanction downhill helmet review - jeff fox airs out a small drop in the bell sanction.
Jeff Fox airs out a small drop in the Bell Sanction.
Credit: Luke Lydiard


The consensus amongst our testers is that the Sanction is the least comfortable full-face helmet we've tested, hence it received the lowest score in this category. Its interior padding is less dense than other helmets, and the material that covers the padding has an almost abrasive feel. We would prefer the interior padding be lined with either a plusher material or more breathable mesh. Another problem with comfort is the chin guard, which swoops downward and makes it hard to look down when also wearing a neck brace.

bell sanction downhill helmet review - profile view of the bell sanction worn with a leatt dbx neck brace...
Profile view of the Bell Sanction worn with a Leatt DBX neck brace. Notice the curved bottom edge of the Sanction which our testers found interfers with range of motion when worn with a neck brace.
Credit: McKenzie Long

The most comfortable helmet in our test was the Bell Transfer-9, which has a plush lining and padding in all the right places, which wins it our Top Pick Award. Another very comfortable helmet is the Troy Lee D3, which scored just behind the Transfer in our comfort test.


This helmet has the smallest, shortest visor in our field of helmets and it took the lowest score in this category. We found that it provided little coverage at the corners because it is so narrow. The visor is attached at either side of the helmet with a solid metal screw that screws into a metal insert in the helmet. The up/down position of the visor is secured with a metal thumb screw hidden beneath the center of the visor. This thumb screw is a bit harder to locate and adjust than other visor thumb screws because of its shallow profile. We ended up wearing this visor in the fully up position most of the time because otherwise it impeded looking forward when in the aggressive forward position.

bell sanction downhill helmet review - the sanction's visor is fixed in place by a low profile metal...
The Sanction's visor is fixed in place by a low profile metal thumbscrew which we find harder to manipulate than the larger thumbscrews found on other helmets in our test.
Credit: Luke Lydiard


Thisis the lightest helmet in our test. Our size large test helmet weighed 34 ounces on our digital scale. Yes, it is lighter but it is also a lot less helmet compared to everything else. The average weight of the six full-face helmets in our test was just over 39 ounces. For comparison, the average weight of the seven half-shell helmets we tested in our Mountain Bike Helmet Review was just under 13 ounces. For riders looking for the extra protection of a full-face but who are still trying to keep weight to a minimum, get the Fox Rampage over the Sanction. The Rampage tipped our scales just 2.6 ounces more than the Sanction and certainly offers more protection.


This helmet has 15 smallish vents in its shell. These holes are lined up with corresponding holes in the polystyrene liner and open cell padding, and provide direct exit paths for hot air. With the exception of the vents in the chin guard and the ones over the ears, the vents are not covered with any type of wire mesh. While this may sacrifice protection from roots or branches, it does allow air to flow unimpeded thought the helmet. There are also shallow channels molded into the interior of the polystyrene which are designed to move air from the front and top vents towards the two tiny rear vents. These channels are not nearly as deep or well designed as those found on more expensive lids and we can't say that we noticed them moving much air while riding. In the end, the Sanction received the same score as many of the others we tested, including the Fox Rampage, Bell Transfer-9 and Troy Lee D3. Considering that all of those other lids are more plushly padded and more protective than the Sanction, achieving the same ventilation score is not that impressive.


The Sanction meets the CPSC 1203 and CE EN1078 certifications, which are the minimum standards for cycling helmets sold in the US and Europe. It does not meet the more stringent ASTM-F1952 certification, which is a standard for downhill full-face helmets. We feel that riders aggressively riding downhill should wear helmets which meet the ASTM standard, and for this reason we do not recommend the Sanction. Will it provide more protection than a half-shell helmet simply because it is a full-face? Of course it will. Would we want to enjoy a dirt sandwich in our favorite rock garden in it? Nope. Even the Bell website recommends that riders go with the more protective Transfer-9 or Full-9 for downhill riding.

bell sanction downhill helmet review - mckenzie long pairs the bell sanction with her santa cruz heckler...
McKenzie Long pairs the Bell Sanction with her Santa Cruz Heckler. The Sanction's level of protection is more suited to a little bike and enduro rides rather than big bike downhill sessions.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

We haven't gotten into scientific crash testing at OutdoorGearLab yet, so we leave the crash testing, which is the true test of protection, to the certifying agencies. We do feel that you can get a pretty good feel of how a helmet will perform in a crash by close inspection of its construction. Many of our testers remarked that this helmet feels like a toy compared to other helmets. It received the lowest score in our protection metric, which is a measure of coverage and construction plus heavy consideration of the certifications each helmet carries.

The polystyrene liner ends about ¾ of an inch above the lower edge of the helmet in the rear, which makes us think that the helmet would not work well with a Leatt or neck brace. Also, the chin bar slopes drastically downward, which restricts forward movement when worn with a neck brace since it bonks into the front Leatt table.

Simply put, this helmet did not inspire confidence in our riding. Our testers were reluctant to take this helmet to the bike park and get rowdy. If you are looking for a the ultimate in protection, we recommend either the Troy Lee D3 or the Sanction's big brother, the Bell Transfer-9, which took top protection scores and inspired our testers to go bigger and faster.


We wouldn't expect a helmet as inexpensive as this one to come with many extras, but considering that it costs 1/5th of the price of the most expensive fiberglass lid in our test, it's impressive that it comes with any extras at all. It comes with a mesh storage bag, an extra visor attachment screw, washer, and adjustment thumbscrew. We've found that extra hardware is good to have since it's fairly common for one of these proprietary pieces to pop off and get lost on the trail. The hard part is trying to remember where you stashed the extra hardware when you need it. The more expensive lids in our test came with accessories like spare visors and camera mounts, which the Sanction does not include. It also does not come with extra cheek pads since the stock ones are not removable.

If you are looking for camera mounts, check out the Giro Cipher or Bell Transfer-9, both of which come with mounts for GoPro and Contour cameras.


The Sanction does not seem to be of the same quality as other helmets we tested. The inner padding is glued directly to the polystyrene, which means that it cannot be removed for washing or quick drying.

It is fastened with a plastic buckle as opposed to metal D rings. This plastic buckle never failed us, but we feel that metal D rings are more durable and possibly more secure than a plastic buckle. The female side of the Sanction's plastic buckle is too close to the chin guard, making it hard to clip blind, so it isn't a huge advantage in terms of easy of use over D rings anyway.

This is the one helmet in our test which we tried the hardest not to crash in, so we don't have any over the bars stories to tell. This is not the helmet you would want to be wearing when you go for a swan dive in in the rocks.

Best Application

Bell recommends this helmet only for groms and BMX. This makes us think that the marketing department at Bell is a bit out of touch with how gnarly BMX is these days. Regardless, we think there are better full-face offerings (some from Bell) no matter what size wheels you roll on.

bell sanction downhill helmet review - the bell sanction is not a great choice for bike park riding...
The Bell Sanction is not a great choice for bike park riding. Instead, we recommend one of the other Bell full face options like the Transfer-9 or the Full-9.
Credit: Jeff Fox

We only recommend this helmet if it is the only helmet you can afford and the alternative would be nothing at all. We think you would be better off looking for a deal on a higher quality helmet using our price finder tool. The Fox Rampage, for instance can be found for close to $100 and is certified to the ASTM-F1952 standard.


Though this is by far the least expensive helmet in our test, we don't think that it represents a good value. Essentially, you get what you pay.


With this model, less money spent equals less helmet. A lot less. Almost any component of a downhill bike costs more than this helmet. We recommend you find somewhere else to skimp on cost other than your helmet, which is the single most important piece of safety gear you can own. If you already blew the wad on a Kashima clad, ride we recommend you take a look at the Fox Rampage which won our Best Buy Award. The bottom line is downhill mountain biking is an expensive sport and is also dangerous. Helmets are not the place to skimp on your kit.

Other Versions

Bell currently sells two other full-face helmets aimed at downhill mountain biking: the Bell Transfer-9, which wins our Top Pick Award for being the most comfortable helmet, and the Full-9 which is their flagship carbon version of the Transfer.

Bell also just released a full-face version of the half-shell Bell Super called the Super 2R. We did a full review of the Super in our Mountain Bike Helmet Review and hope to take a look at the 2R version, which is aimed at enduro racing, in the future.

Luke Lydiard