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Our road bike experts have tested over 30 of the best road bike helmets in the last six years. This update features 16 of the year's best, purchased and tested side-by-side. We wore each while pedaling through long endurance rides, short jaunts around town, and everything in between in all types of weather. They've seen the heat of a southern summer, the cold snowstorms of mountain winter, and rain that poured for hours. We evaluate and score each based on important metrics like ventilation and comfort to truly find the best contenders. Whether you seek a great deal or a helmet with the best impact rating, we have recommendations to get you started.
The Bontrager Velocis MIPS astounded us with its all-day comfort and superb ventilation. The straps are easy to adjust, and centering the chinstrap buckle is a cinch. We love the easy-to-use BOA dial adjustment that creates equal tension around the head for a snug and comfortable fit. It also includes a velcro visor and sunglasses port, and we liked the duotone color design. The minimalist 37.5 fit padding has fewer contact points to create the feeling the helmet is floating just above your head. The polycarbonate shell wraps around the entire exterior, leaving none of the EPS foam exposed to inadvertent denting or damage. With all of these features, this helmet still has one of the lowest weights in our lineup while including MIPS technology.
Although the internal recessed vent design adds a little additional bulk, this is more than offset by the wonderful cooling ventilation from maximized airflow. Even our testers who are more prone to sweating experienced a profound difference with the cool channels of air that also reduce wind roar. The Velocis is a little on the pricey end, but its exciting new design in ventilation proved its worth on long rides in the high-elevation heat of the Eastern Sierra. This is a product that reinvents ventilation and is bound to change road bike helmets for the better.
The Specialized Airnet stands out for its excellent ventilation at a fraction of the price of most premium helmets that perform similarly at keeping your head cool. The helmet is well-built and very comfortable, with a pretty classic design. It has all the adjustment features you need, and includes extra features normally found on more expensive models, like built-in sunglass grippers and an optional soft visor add-on.
While the Airnet has impressive ventilation in a comfortable design, it is definitely heavier than most of the high-end offerings in our lineup. The size large model we tested weighs around 60 grams more than most of the other top performers. The rounded design also feels a little bigger and bulkier than some of the sleeker designs. However, the Airnet is extremely well-ventilated, very comfortable, and comes at a fraction of the price of most premium designs, making it a great choice for everyday riding in warmer conditions.
The Smith Persist brings excellent across the board performance to a lower price point. It's comfortable, better ventilated than most helmets in this price range (and many more expensive ones), adjustable, and stylish. The Persist received consistent praise from other riders for its looks and comes in a collection of both bright colors and more neutral ones for those who prefer a subdued style. Smith advertises this helmet as an all-rounder, good for road, gravel, and MTB and it doesn't feel out of place in any of these areas.
As such a great all-around value, the Persist does compromise in a few areas to hit its price point. The head retention system moves in bigger jumps than more highly priced helmets, making it tough for some to find the ideal circumferential tension. Ventilation is adequate, not exceptional like our choices from Bontrager and Specialized. The padding is comfortable and absorbs sweat well but gets clammy on cooler descents. Even so, we think these are reasonable sacrifices to save a good chunk of change off the list price of many of the top-tier models. We think most riders will be totally happy with this helmet, and it comes highly recommended.
The Specialized S-Works Prevail 3 is the helmet for you if you need the best ventilation available. Specialized have replaced the foam bridges with woven aramid fiber ones, opening the helmet to allow maximal airflow. The liner pads wick moisture away and don't create hotspots and the retention system is one of the best available. The dial is smooth, adjust in small steps, and doesn't pinch anywhere around your skull.
However, the unique design may not be for everyone. The Prevail 3 sizing is quite different from its predecessor, proving a challenging fit. Testers with tall, rounded heads found that the top was too flat to fit them comfortably. It pressed down painfully into the tops of their heads. If you've used and liked the Prevail II, be sure to try on the new version before you buy, it's a very different fit. The Y-buckles aren't movable on the Prevail 3, making it tough to adjust to some heads. The lack of adjustability and quirky sizing kept the helmet from taking the top spot, but if it works for your head shape and you need maximal ventilation, the Prevail 3 is a great, albeit pricey, option.
The POC Ventral Air MIPS stands with the award winners for its excellent ventilation and comfortable design, at one of the lightest weights in our test lineup. The deep recessed air channels move air very efficiently from the large forehead vents to the open trailing edge. The lightweight construction proved very comfortable on 100+ mile rides without creating any neck strain. The liner pads wick moisture away and don't create hotspots. Our testers had no complaints regarding this model.
The unique shape and design may not be for everyone. The Ventral Air abandons the typical streamed lines of most helmets and offers a new geometric design for the bold road cyclist. The venting design creates for very quiet wind roar as well. We loved the sunglass garage, and it held our shades secure at high speeds. The webbing straps are easy to adjust and supple with secure y-buckles that lie flat under the ear. This helmet may not suit everyone's style, but with nearly a dozen colors to choose from, chances are you can find one to suit your personality if you can afford it.
To test road bike helmets, we selected the highest performing products available to test and abuse. We performed side-by-side comparisons on the same ride in the same conditions to compare such metrics as ventilation and comfort. Comfort was also assessed by riding all day in different riding positions. We rode in all conditions including spring snowstorms, sweltering heat, pelting thunderstorms, thigh-pumping climbs, and exciting descents for hundreds of miles altogether.
To complete our unbiased testing in an objective manor, we scored and rated each product based on six performance metrics:
Comfort (25% of overall score weighting)
Ventilation (25% weighting)
Adjustability (20% weighting)
Weight (15% weighting)
Style (7.5% weighting)
Durability (7.5% weighting)
Our expert testing team includes Nick Bruckbauer, Ryan Baker and Luke Hollomon. Nick is a former competitive runner and eventually found his road bike legs by grinding away in the beautiful and steep mountains above Santa Barbara, CA. He now lives and adventures in the outdoor playground of South Lake Tahoe, CA. Ryan lives in Mammoth Lakes and spends the winter ski patrolling. When the ice melts and the snow clears, he can be found on soul-soaring rides into headwinds up the steep grades up the eastern Sierra from Tahoe to Lone Pine. Luke is across the country, in Richmond, VA. He rides and races thousands of miles per year on the rolling roads that professional riders like Ben King, Emma Langley, and Eddie Anderson cut their teeth on.
Analysis and Test Results
We chose helmets that are best for road biking. While all of the helmets meet the same safety standards set by the U.S. Government, construction methods and design features vary by manufacturer and model. To help find the best model for each rider, we scored each model on six important metrics: comfort, adjustability, weight, style, ventilation, and durability.
A Note on Rotational Impact Protection
Many road bike helmets on the market today also come with a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), which incorporates a thin plastic liner inside the helmet between the EPS foam and the padding that sits against the head. This layer is designed to act as a "slip-plane" between the head and the helmet, with the intention of reducing rotational forces on the brain that can result from certain types of impacts.
Most of the helmets in our current lineup are equipped with a built-in MIPS liner. On most models, the MIPS liner consists of the typical thin plastic slip-plane liner housed between the EPS foam and the padding that sits against the head. Two models we tested take the design a step further. The Giro Aether and Bell XR Spherical have a MIPS Spherical system that eliminates the standard plastic liner and instead consists of a two-piece dual-density foam shell where the two pieces are free to rotate against one another. This unique design doesn't necessarily provide any additional crash protection compared to a traditional MIPS liner but are intended to improve comfort and reduce weight and bulk.
To help you find the best balance between price and performance in your next road bike helmet, we rated each helmet in our lineup against the competition and mapped out which models represent the best overall value. The Smith Persist offers high-end performance in a very affordable package. The Giro Agilis provides similar features as Giro's higher-end offerings with a little heavier weight and a much more affordable price.
Road cyclists often spend long days in the saddle for both training and racing, making a comfortable helmet a crucial piece of equipment. Ideally, your helmet should "disappear" once you put it on and shouldn't cross your mind during your ride. While head sizes and shapes are extremely variable from rider to rider, our testers consistently found certain design features that helped a helmet adapt to different heads, adding to the overall comfort regardless of the user.
Our testing revealed that padding design, full circumference headband adjustability, and chinstrap design each played an essential role in overall comfort. Quality padding is crucial, especially in the forehead and temple areas, because the headband adjustment systems on most helmets tighten in the back, pushing the head against the front of the helmet. While quality padding is a critical component, we found that the location and coverage of the padding and the shape of the foam liner were more important than the thickness or density of the padding itself. We found the Bontrager Velocis, Bell XR Spherical, and POC Ventral Air provided exceptional comfort with minimal well-placed pads in the fore and superior areas.
All of the helmets we tested have internal headband systems that allow adjustment to fit various head shapes and sizes. The best designs make a complete loop around the head, rather than those that do a partial loop and anchor into the helmet liner near the temples. The Giro Agilis has a newer Roc Loc 5.5 headband system that integrates the MIPS liner into the headband and cradles the head for a snug, customized fit. The adjustment systems on the Giro Synthe MIPS and the Giro Aether Spherical also wrap entirely around the head, earning these models top scores in this category.
Chinstrap design also plays a significant role in helmet comfort. Our testers preferred helmets that incorporated thin webbing straps and a Y-buckle, allowing the straps to lie flat against one's face. The Specialized, Bontrager, and Giro models use different strap designs, but models from all three of these brands stand out with thin, supple webbing material and well-designed Y-buckles that allow the webbing to lay flat.
Overall, the Bontrager Velocis MIPS, the Giro Synthe MIPS, and the Bell XR Spherical stand out as the most comfortable models that we tested. These helmets all have the best combinations of sufficient and well-placed padding, adjustable headband systems, and comfortable chinstrap systems.
A well-ventilated helmet helps keep your head and core temperature down, helping enhance comfort and performance. As aerodynamic designs become a higher priority for helmet manufacturers, balancing aero design with ventilation has increasingly become a challenge. The best-ventilated helmets are not necessarily those with the most vents but rather the ones that pair properly placed vents with internal channeling for optimum airflow. The Bontrager Velocis demonstrates this concept by being almost as airy as the S-Works Prevail 3 while having a design that's not nearly as open.
The S-Works Prevail 3 took the prize as the best-ventilated helmet that we tested. The unique aramid cables are much more minimal than the foam bridges found on most helmets, allowing air to rush in at any speed. Only the Bontrager Velocis came close to providing the same level of ventilation. Its deep recessed channels work brilliantly to pull air into the helmet and the 37.5 padding inside floats the helmet off your head, letting air flow right over your skull.
The Specialized Airnet is another well-ventilated helmet. Air movement and heat evaporation are quite noticeable thanks to 21 well-placed vents. On some helmets, the internal MIPS liner can block some of the vents, but that's not an issue with the Airnet. The MIPS liner aligns perfectly with the vents, and there is no airflow restriction. Another standout helmet is the Lazer Z1 MIPS, which packs 31 vents into one of the lightest helmets in our lineup. The lightweight POC Octal also impresses with its aggressive vent design integrated into its unique styling.
Lower scoring products, such as the Bontrager Starvos Wavecel, can be stiflingly hot on even moderately warm days. While aero helmets typically sacrifice ventilation for a sleeker profile, others have a retractable vent cover that gives the option of switching between more ventilation or more aerodynamics.
A helmet must fit well to be comfortable and to function as designed. For a helmet to protect you, it must stay on your head. Correct fore/aft positioning, headband tightness, and chinstrap tension will help ensure that your helmet stays squarely on your head and is ready to protect you when if you ever need it.
All of the helmets in our lineup have a chinstrap system with one strap behind the ear and one in front, where the straps are joined below the ear with a plastic Y-buckle. On most helmets, the Y-buckle allows the straps to be adjusted to change the height of the tension between the front and rear straps. Models with an adjustable Y-buckle typically scored higher in the adjustability rating metric. The Bontrager Velocis utilized this easy-to-adjust system earning it high marks in this category. The strap design also fed through the helmet's EPS foam body to provide more side-to-side adjustability. Other helmets have straps that are permanently anchored to the liner. Despite its lack of an adjustable Y-buckle, the Specialized Airnet MIPS seems to have the ability to fit a broad range of heads while maintaining equal tension on the front and rear straps.
Each helmet has an adjustable dial near the back of the helmet to adjust the fit and the tension of the helmet's headband. The Lazer Z-1 MIPS has a unique design where the tension dial is at the top of the helmet. While the internal headband sizing varies between manufacturers, most medium-sized helmets we tested offer 4-6 cm of size adjustment and fall somewhere in the 52-60 cm size range, and most large models offer 2-4 cm of size adjustment and typically have a 59-63 cm size range.
While the tension dials on every helmet function as intended, some are on the smaller side, such as on the Giro Synthe MIPS, and some are partially hidden like on the Lazer Z-1 MIPS, potentially making them a little harder to work with while wearing thicker gloves or with cold hands. Our favorite dials have 360-degree accessibility, like on the Bell Stratus MIPS, which are large enough to be adjusted while wearing gloves or with numb fingers. No matter the adjustment setting device, it was important to our testers that it did not cause discomfort in the neck during flexion. The 360-degree dial on the Bontrager Velocis MIPS was unnoticeable while riding.
Each helmet in our lineup also has fore and aft adjustment on the headband system, typically offering between 2-5 cm of adjustment. None of the fore/aft adjustment mechanisms are particularly easy to adjust, but once set, they should stay in place and provide a snug fit without any further tinkering. Some of the adjustment devices are buried under the MIPS liner, making an adjustment even more difficult, as is the case with the Lazer Z-1 MIPS. We prefer an exposed adjuster like what is seen on the Giro Synthe MIPS.
Road cycling is a gram-conscious sport where both professional and amateur riders go to great lengths to decrease their riding weight. Every extra gram can slow you down on climbs, and a heavy helmet can also cause neck fatigue on a long ride. While helmet weight can certainly impact comfort, all of the helmets we tested are relatively light compared to the overall marketplace, so these comparisons are relative to the models tested in our lineup.
Please note that the Bell Stratus was tested in a size medium, while the rest of the helmets were tested in a size large, so its measured weight may appear lower in comparison to their scores.
We weigh each product ourselves to get an objective comparison, as the manufacturer claimed weights could often be inaccurate. We're happy to report that every helmet we measured was within 5% or less of the claimed weight, which is essentially equivalent when accounting for potential measurement tolerances and precisions.
Interestingly, some of the more expensive products we tested are heavier than some of their more affordable counterparts. There are several factors for this. Many of the higher-end helmets have more polycarbonate shell material covering the EPS foam liner, which marginally increases weight but also increases durability. Most helmets in our lineup also include an internal MIPS liner for additional crash protection, adding 20-30 g to their non-MIPS-equipped counterparts. We feel that the potential safety benefits outweigh the modest increase in weight for a MIPS liner.
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so aesthetics are subjective. Yet many of the road bike helmets have unique features that are unaccounted for in the other metrics. This metric shines the spotlight on features like rubber sunglasses holders, retractable vents, or unique aesthetics.
The S-Works Prevail 3 scored highly in our ranking thanks to its low profile, airy design, and unique vent layout. We also like the Giro Synthe and Aether with their flowing profiles and the Lazer Z-1 with its unique adjustment system. Our testers were wowed by the unique design of the POC Ventral Air though it may not please everyone's tastes.
The EPS foam found in most helmet liners is a relatively soft material prone to dents and abrasion. The most durable road helmets have a protective polycarbonate shell that extends down around the base of the foam liner, leaving very little of the liner exposed. Helmets with this type of full-wrap shell tend to get banged up less during everyday use. However, many helmet manufacturers choose weight savings over enhanced shell coverage. No matter how well a helmet is constructed, they are typically one-hit-wonders when it comes to a crash impact, so our durability assessment identifies the ability to withstand daily abuse and accidental bumps and scrapes.
Most road bike helmets are made from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam and are intended to withstand one single significant impact, where the foam liner of the helmet is designed to crush and compress while absorbing the energy of the impact. Once a helmet is compressed, cracked, or impacted, it should be replaced because it will no longer have the same level of protection. Helmets made using Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) tend to have a more rubbery rebound with multi-impact capability, which means they can take more hits without losing their form and performance, but that means your skull might be absorbing more of the impact.
The POC Ventral Air Spin and Bell XR Spherical led the pack in durability. Both these models had practically no EPS foam exposed on the helmet exterior. Upon examination, we found the polycarbonate shell covers almost the entire upper portion while extending around the base. The Bontrager Velocis MIPS and the S-Works Prevail 3 were also high-ranking contenders. Both have polycarbonate covering all external EPS foam. Additionally, they wrap from the brim to the occiput and into the interior of each vent which helps to protect the sensitive EPS foam.
The primary purpose of a road bike helmet is to protect your head in the case of a crash, and all helmets sold in the USA are subject to the same minimum safety standards. While all helmets may offer the same basic level of crash protection, beyond that, they are far from equal. Different helmet designs go above and beyond by adding extra features such as MIPS liners for extra safety, adjustable headbands and chinstraps, comfortable padding, and different ventilation levels. Our testers racked up thousands of miles in the saddle, through all sorts of conditions, to sort through the differences in each helmet to help you find the best model for your next ride.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.