If you ride a bike on streets and roads, wearing the best bike helmet possible is about as important as having brakes that work. Otherwise, bad things can happen. OutdoorGearLab wants you to have a good helmet. Toward that end, we researched 50 of the best you can buy in 2019, then purchased 16 of the top models for extensive testing. At the end of that process we're here to list the best bike helmets in a variety of categories: among them the best overall, best on a budget and best aero design.
The Best Bike Helmets of 2019
|Price||$134.97 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$240.47 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$107.18 at Amazon||$177.73 at REI|
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|$139.82 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Comfortable, versatile, aerodynamic, ventilation||Aero design, adjustable ventilation and aero vent, stylish, well-cushioned||Well ventilated, stylish, uses bug net, affordable, comfortable, uses CES protection||Good ventilation, comfortable||Durable, comfortable|
|Cons||Expensive||Heavy, warmer in summer months||Forehead padding requires visor, bulky, doesn’t use MIPS||Heavy||Poor ventilation|
|Bottom Line||A premium road cycling helmet with a semi aerodynamic profile, with good ventilation and a drag reducing design.||An extremely unique helmet that matches its flash with slippery performance.||A playfully designed Seussian offering for the serious rider.||The Laser Z-1 is a high quality traditional road helmet with excellent ventilation and some unique optional features.||The Overtake is a class leading helmet with an innovative design approach, but poor ventilation hampers an otherwise excellent product.|
|Rating Categories||Giro Synthe MIPS||Kask Infinity||Catlike Kompact'o Urban||Lazer Z-1 MIPS||Smith Overtake MIPS|
|Specs||Giro Synthe MIPS||Kask Infinity||Catlike Kompact'o...||Lazer Z-1 MIPS||Smith Overtake MIPS|
|Sizes||S, M, L||M,L||S, M, L||S, M, L||S, M, L|
|Weight (grams) (medium)||268 g||350 g||291 g||284 g||276 g|
|Number of vents||26||13||21||31||21|
|Number of Colors||9||10||3||4||10|
Best Overall Road Bike Helmet
Giro Synthe MIPS
The Giro Synthe MIPS is our Editors' Choice winner thanks to its high scores in nearly every evaluation metric. This keeps the award in the family — last year's winner was the Giro Aeon. This year the Synthe MIPS nailed the prize with exceptional comfort, little weight, and a shell that's semi-aerodynamic. The Synthe is heavier than the Aeon but has better aerodynamics and includes an MIPS liner for improved protection. The result is a high-performance training and racing helmet, the best of the bunch.
One significant flaw in the Synthe is its exposed EPS foam on the lower part of the helmet brim, which can be damaged if dropped or scraped. So you need to give your helmet extra care during storage and transport.
Read review: Giro Synthe MIPS
Best Buy Award
Catlike Kompact'o Urban
The Catlike KOMPACT'O has one of the most beautiful designs in the lineup. It's not a stretch to describe it as like a lid designed in the Gothic Art Nouveau style of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona. That's a rather fancy description, but it's not all a facade. The KOMPACT'O features fine performance. Twenty-one large vents provide excellent ventilation while ample padding and four points of adjustability combine to offer one of the most comfortable helmets in the lineup — and that's for any head shape.
The Catlike KOMPACT'O also features a bug net across the front vents and plus options for even larger bug nets. This drastically reduces roadside bee dances for those of us lucky enough to do our riding in the more fertile regions. This great helmet has an added virtue of being extremely affordable. All that adds up to its natural position as our Best Buy.
Read review: Catlike KOMPACT'O
Top Pick Aero Road Bike Helmet
The Kask Infinity earns its aero accolades by reducing air resistance and minimizing drag with its smooth, enclosed, streamlined design with a vent door that allows you to open up for a breeze or close to get slippery. It's an obvious choice for roadies that do a lot of solo breaks, sprinting, and maybe the odd time trial. The caveat here is that its ventilation is good, but aero helmets are not the breeziest things on the road and this is no exception. It also uses a thickish 3D padding that helps draw moisture away in the warm weather and insulates a bit in cooler weather.
The upside is that it makes cool weather riding way better with the closed vent and roomy headcase that allows warm caps and beanies. If you do most of your riding above 85° or 90° for extended periods, you might want to look at some of the less aero options. If you are set on aero, you're going to have a hard time finding a road helmet with better aero performance, which is why it earns our Top Pick for Aero Road Bike Helmet.
Read review: Kask Infinity
Why You Should Trust Us
To test road bike helmets, we enlisted the help of Curtis Smith and Ryan Baham. Curtis actively races road, cyclocross, and mountain bikes for the Bikes Plus/Sierra Nevada team and recently took a first-place finish in the Sierra Cup Regional Championship XC Mountain Bike Series. Rounding out our helmet testing team is Ryan Baham, an avid road cyclist who ticks off 100+ mile rides regularly. Together, Ryan and Curtis bring an incredible level of expertise in evaluating cycling-related gear.
The testing process for our range of helmets looked like a whole lot of bike rides, in a vast variety of conditions. We took these helmets on climbs up long grades, blazing fast descents, frosty spring adventures, through heavy rains, and even cyclocross training. We thoroughly poked and prodded each model in our lab, and weighed them against the manufacturer's claims.
Related: How We Tested Road Bike Helmets
Analysis and Test Results
Most bicycle helmets are designed to withstand a single major impact. When you crash, the foam in the helmet is designed to crush and compress, absorbing energy. Once the foam has compressed, it no longer has the same level of impact protection. If you crash, impacting your helmet, it should be replaced because the next impact won't have the absorption. Some helmets have an internal skeleton within the EPS foam to prevent the helmet from breaking into pieces. While no data on the effectiveness of this feature could be found, it's logical to think that the helmet remaining intact following the initial impact could potentially protect the head from a secondary impact, as in a tumbling fall.
Helmets made using EPP (expanded polypropylene) tend to have a more rubbery rebound with less crush capability, which means they can take more hits without losing their form and performance, but your skull takes more of the blow.
To bring you the best review of helmets for road biking, we purchased the fourteen highest rated and most popular models on the market and put them through miles of asphalt riding and specific tests for three months. All of the helmets we tested meet the same safety standards set by the US Government, but the construction they employ can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Below, we discuss each metric we used to assess each model, as well as highlight top-notch performers in each category.
Related: Buying Advice for Road Bike Helmets
To help you find the best balance between price and features in your next road bike helmet, we pitted the specs of each helmet in our test against the competition and mapped out which helmets represent the best overall value. The Best Buy winning Catlike Kompact'o Urban leads the pack in offering the best bang for your buck, but if you aren't into the unique styling, the Specialized Airnet MIPS also offers an exceptional value.
Road cyclists often spend long periods riding, for both training and racing. A comfortable helmet is critical, due to the amount of time you will be wearing it. Ideally, you will not be thinking about your helmet while riding - it should disappear once you put it on. Head shape is individual and varies from rider to rider. Despite having different shaped heads, our testers rated the same helmets highly for comfort. In contrast, during our full-face helmet review, we found the shape of a rider's head to be a factor in comfort. A comfortable helmet can adapt to a wide range of head shapes.
Our testing revealed that padding, circumferential adjustment design, and chinstrap design had the greatest impact on comfort. Quality padding is crucial, especially in the forehead and temple, because the size adjustment mechanism of most road helmets tightens in the back, which pushes the head to the front of the helmet. The helmets with the thickest, densest padding were not necessarily the most comfortable - rather the coverage of the padding, the adjustment system, and well engineered EPS foam made the biggest difference. The Kask Protone is a good example; it has the thickest, most luxurious pads of any helmet we tested, yet the minimally padded Giro Synthe outscores it. The Kask Infinity hit the right mix of thick padding, good coverage, and excellent cradling of the head for a snug, secure fit.
All of the helmets we tested have an internal adjustment system that allows adjustment to fit various head shapes. The best design was one that makes a complete loop around the head. Most helmets we tested use a system that is anchored to the shell of the helmet near the temple. The Catlike KOMPACT'O had a particularly useful side wing adjustment option to fit all sorts of interesting head shapes. The Giro Synthe's adjustment system wraps completely around the head, decreasing pressure points and keeping the forehead from being forced into the pads. The Synthe design creates even pressure around the head.
Chinstraps also play a significant role in comfort. Our testers preferred helmets that incorporated thin webbing straps and a Y-buckle, allowing the straps to lie flat. The Specialized Airnet and Giro Synthe use different designs but are both standouts, with thin, supple webbing and well-designed Y-buckles that allow the webbing to lie flat.
The Giro Synthe and Kask Infinity are standouts for comfort, both scoring a perfect 10. Both helmets have sufficient and well-placed padding, while the adjustment system design prevents pressure points. The Synthe has thin, pliable webbing straps that lay flat, reducing the potential for chafing and decreasing wind noise while the Infinity uses fixed Y-straps and a padded EVO chinstrap to reduce chafe.
A helmet must fit well to function as designed. When helmets are tested by the CPSC, they are fitted to a dummy head and are attached tightly - tighter than the average consumer wears their helmet. For a helmet to protect you, it must stay on your head. A properly adjusted chinstrap and correct fore/aft positioning will ensure your helmet works as designed. The chin strap should be tight, but not so tight that it is choking you. The helmet should be positioned so that it sits squarely on your head, not tilted back.
All of the helmets we tested have a strap system with one strap behind the ear and one in front. The straps come together below the ear and are joined by a plastic Y-buckle. The webbing straps can, in most cases, be adjusted at the Y-buckle, providing even tension between the front and rear strap. Some of our favorite helmets feature an adjustable buckle, like the Giro Synthe and the Bell Stratus MIPS. Some helmets we tested, like the Kask Infinity and the Specialized Airnet have non-adjustable Y-buckles. A non-adjustable Y-buckle sometimes reduces the helmet's adjustability, but in Kask's case it just moved the point of adjustment and eliminated some of the hassles of non-fixed Y-straps instead of removing adjustability.
The Specialized Airnet, despite its lack of an adjustable Y-buckle, has an uncanny ability to fit a broad range of people well while maintaining equal tension on the front and rear straps. The Kask Protone is the opposite - the lack of adjustability was a deal breaker for some testers who could not achieve equal tension on the straps. Some of the helmets we tested, such as the Bell Gage, allow the user to center the chinstrap buckle by feeding webbing through the rear strap attachment point. Other helmets, like the Giro Synthe and the Specialized Airnet, have fixed webbing attachment points, which do not allow for chin strap buckle adjustment from side to side. A non-fixed webbing strap design allows for greater adjustability.
Circumferential tension is achieved by a dial-like mechanism at the back of the helmet, or in the case of the Lazer Z-1, at the top of the helmet. Adjustment on the medium-sized helmets we tested falls in the 52-60cm range, with most models offering 4cm of adjustment. The design of the internal harness varies between manufacturers to helmets. All of the helmets we tested use a dial to change tension. The dial works like a ratchet, providing precise tension adjustment. All of the dial adjustments on the helmets we tested functioned as intended.
Some are smaller than others, such as the small dial on the Giro Synthe and some are partially hidden, as in the Kask Infinity, which makes it difficult to get to with thick gloves. The Lazer Z-1 has a dial on top of the helmet that can also be hard to feel with gloves. Our favorite dials are exposed 360 degrees, like the dial on the Bell Stratus and Giro Cinder, which are large enough to be adjusted with gloves and exhausted, numb finger. Other tensioning systems exist, but we recommend a dial mechanism, as it allows for one-handed adjustment of the helmet while riding.
Fore and aft helmet positioning is another important factor for a good fit. Every helmet we tested offers fore and aft adjustment, with a 2-5cm range. The Kask Protone has the greatest degree of adjustment, at 5cm, but scores poorly here, because the mechanism that locks the internal harness in place at the rider's preferred fore/aft position slips. None of the fore/aft adjustment mechanisms are particularly easy to adjust, but once set, they should stay in place to provide a safe fit. Some of the adjustment devices are buried under the MIPS liner, making an adjustment even more difficult; this is the case with the Lazer Z-1. We prefer an exposed adjuster, seen on models such as the Giro Synthe and the Bell Gage.
The Bontrager Ballista is a standout product, with similar adjustability to the Bell Gage, though its fore/aft adjustment is a bit harder to manipulate. The Bell Gage offers top overall adjustability, earning it a 9/10. The non-fixed position of the rear strap allows for easy centering of the chinstrap buckle. The tensioning dial is not fully exposed but is large enough to allow for adjustment with gloves. It also has two cm of accessible fore/aft adjustment. Occupying the top slot alongside it is the Kask Infinity, employing the Octo Fit floating cradle and Micro Dial to deliver superior head shape melding and in-ride adjustment.
Helmet weight is important. Road cycling is a gram-conscious sport; both pro and amateur riders go to great lengths to decrease weight. Bike technology has progressed, and every professional cyclist is already on a bike that meets the UCI minimum weight limit, so further decreases in grams can only be found in items worn by the rider, like shoes and helmets. Every extra gram slows you down on climbs, and a heavy helmet can also cause neck fatigue on a long ride. While weight can impact comfort, all of the helmets we tested are relatively light.
Interestingly, many of the more expensive helmet models we tested, such as the Lazer Z-1 and the Kask Infinity, are heavier than their more affordable counterparts, like the Giro Savant. Several factors account for this. First, many of the higher end helmets (such as the Kask Protone) have more polycarbonate shell covering the EPS foam. This marginally increases weight but increases durability. Second, many of the higher priced helmets we tested include a MIPS liner for protection. The MIPS liner increases the weight by 20-30g. We feel that the modest increase in weight for a MIPS liner is outweighed by the potential safety increase. Intended use and design can also impact helmet weight. Aero helmets like the Kask Infinity are disadvantaged because they have fewer vents with more EPS and polycarbonate material, increasing weight.
The highest scoring and lightest weight helmet we tested is the Giro Aeon. At 224g, the Aeon is 44g lighter than the Giro Synthe. The Aeon achieves this low weight with lots of vents and no MIPS liner, while the Synthe has fewer vents and a MIPS liner. Other high scoring products include the affordable Giro Savant and, somewhat surprisingly, the aero Bontrager Ballista. Neither of these helmets has a MIPS liner, which helps to decrease weight.
The aesthetic appeal of a helmet is subjective because, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The look of aero helmets, in particular, is a polarizing topic in cycling. Many of the helmets we tested have design features not taken into account in our other rating metrics. This is where we give helmets credit for features like rubber sunglass holders, storage bags, and, yes, our take on aesthetic appeal.
The Smith Overtake scores high, due to the use of Koroyd in place of thick EPS foam. Koroyd is a honeycomb-like composite structure that Smith claims will absorb impact more effectively than EPS. The Overtake uses EPS, but is able to decrease the thickness of the EPS panels by using Koroyd. The result is a sleek, low-profile helmet. The Overtake also has a molded shell that accommodates storage of the Smith sunglasses on top of the helmet. The Kask Infinity sits at the top of the measure with its sweet aero design and cool vent. If the mushroom look is a bit too much, don't worry, Kask has nine different color configurations to choose from.
We would be slightly remiss if we didn't take the opportunity to mention how awesome the Catlike KOMPACT'O looks. We know, as with each of the others, it's not necessarily the best look for everyone, but we think it is one of the most attractive models on the market. It absolutely stands out on the group rides and might even reflect a little bit of the fun, whimsical character of its user.
Ventilation is our most heavily weighted category. A well-ventilated helmet keeps your head and core temperature down, enhancing performance. Good ventilation also keeps sweat out of your eyes. As aerodynamics become a higher priority for manufacturers, balancing ventilation with aerodynamics has 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 that allows airflow over the head. Aero helmets, such as the Kask Infinity and the POC Octal Aero, are at a disadvantage, as they have few vents and tend to be hot, especially at the low speeds often experienced on a steep climb.
The Specialized Airnet is the highest scoring helmet we tested. Air movement and heat evaporation are excellent, thanks to 21 well-placed vents that kept our heads cool on hot climbs when we were crawling along. On some helmets, the MIPS liner can block helmet vents, but that is not an issue with the Airnet. The MIPS liner aligns with the vents, and there is no airflow restriction. Another standout helmet is the Catlike KOMPACT'O, which uses just 21 vents to perform as well as the heavily ventilated Lazer Z-1, with its 31 ventilation openings.
Lower scoring products, such as the POC Octal Aero with only seven vents, can be stiflingly hot on even moderately warm days. Another surprise was the Smith Overtake which appears to be heavily ventilated, but the hollow Koroyd tubes fill each vent. The Koroyd tubes allow for passive heat escape, but their orientation makes the vast majority of tubes sit perpendicular to the wind path, and they let in little air.
We should also mention that aero road helmets like the Kask Infinity might not have the aeration of the Airnet, but at least in the Infinity's case, it has the option to shut off its ventilation for aero performance and especially for cool weather, making it a welcome choice for any sub-70° riding.
Many manufacturers choose weight savings over durability in road helmets. EPS foam is relatively soft, prone to dents, and easily abraded. The most durable road helmets have a polycarbonate shell that extends down, wrapping the base of the EPS shell. Helmets that have a full-wrap shell get banged up less during everyday use, because the EPS foam is protected. No matter how well a helmet is constructed, they are truly one-hit-wonders when it comes to a crash impact. So our assessment of durability is a measure of the helmet's ability to stand daily abuse, wear, and accidental travel bumps and scrapes.
The Smith Overtake earns a perfect 10, with almost no exposed EPS foam on the exterior of the helmet. The polycarbonate shell extends around the base of the helmet and covers nearly the entire upper portion of the helmet. The Specialized Airnet also receives high marks, with a wraparound polycarbonate shell that protects the helmet base but has more EPS foam exposed on the upper portion than the Overtake.
The primary purpose of a road bike helmet is to protect your head in a crash. All helmets sold in the USA are subjected to the same safety standards, but manufacturers design helmets to achieve objectives beyond the primary function of safety. Helmets may offer the same level of protection, but they are not all created equal. Ventilation, comfort, and adjustability enhance or detract from the quality and overall satisfaction your helmet will bring you. The 16 helmets we tested are designed for road use, but are often used for cyclocross, XC mountain bike racing, and gravel riding.
— Ryan Baham & Curtis Smith