Our road bike experts have tested over 25 of the best road bike helmets in the last six years. This update for 2021 features 16 of the year's best, purchased and tested side-by-side. We wore each while pedaling through long enduro ride, short jaunts around town, and throughout all types of weather. They've seen the heat of a desert 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.Related: Best Full Face Bike Helmet
Best Bike Helmet of 2021
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|$199.95 at Backcountry|
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|$299.95 at Amazon|
|Pros||Lightweight, comfortable, well-ventilated, easy to adjust, high visibility color options||Well-ventilated, adjustable and comfortable, sleek and classy style||Ventilates well, comfortable, unique style, sunglass garage||Lightweight, comfortable, low profile, good ventilation||Great ventilation, elegant style, advanced MIPS liner design|
|Cons||Expensive, high volume shape||Slightly heavy for a high-end helmet||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive, heavier than other high-end helmets|
|Bottom Line||An extremely comfortable, well-ventilated, and lightweight helmet with minimal wind roar for all-day riding and steep climbing||A very comfortable, well-ventilated helmet with plenty of high-end features and a classy style||This uniquely designed helmet offers excellent airflow and performance that warrant its high cost||A lightweight helmet with excellent all-around performance and a comfortable fit for large heads||A high-end road biking helmet with excellent ventilation and a unique MIPS liner design|
|Rating Categories||Bontrager Velocis MIPS||Bell Z20 MIPS||POC Ventral Air Spin||Giro Synthe MIPS||Giro Aether MIPS|
|Specs||Bontrager Velocis MIPS||Bell Z20 MIPS||POC Ventral Air Spin||Giro Synthe MIPS||Giro Aether MIPS|
|Weight (grams)||300 g (size L)||336 g (size L)||295g (Size L)||312 g (size L)||330 g (size L)|
|Size Range (cm)||58-63 cm (size L)||58-62 cm (size L)||56-61 cm(size L)||59-63 cm (size L)||59-63 cm (size L)|
|Number of Vents||12||18||15||19||11|
|Sizes||S, M, L||S, M, L||S, M, L||S, M, L||S, M, L|
Best Overall Road Bike Helmet
Bontrager Velocis MIPS
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 more prone to sweating experienced a profound difference with the cool channels of air that also reduce wind roar. The Velocis is also 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.
Read review: Bontrager Velocis MIPS
Most Stylish Premium Helmet Design
Bell Z20 MIPS
With its luxurious comfort, excellent ventilation, and classy high-end style, the Bell Z20 MIPS is another one of our favorites. It features similar performance to other high-ranking contenders but features a unique shape and style that we are really fond of. It has both thick padding and excellent ventilation, which offers comfort throughout the season. It has a sharp look with top-of-the-line features that rate highly in every scoring metric. The fit of this helmet has a flatter slope on the front of the helmet that accommodates a less voluminous head and shorter forehead. It is also available in several stylish color combinations to complete your cycling kit.
While the Z20 is a very comfortable and high-performing road bike helmet, it is slightly heavier than some other top-tier competitors, weighing in at 336 grams in size large. While this is a slight weight penalty for such high performance, we are only talking about 20-30 grams overall. The Z20 is on the expensive side, but its price is in line with market pricing for a flagship helmet providing top-of-the-line features.
Read review: Bell Z20 MIPS
Best Bang for the Buck
Giro Agilis MIPS
The Giro Agilis stands out as one of the highest performing road bike helmets in the entire lineup at any price point. The Agilis has one of the most comfortable designs that we've tested with an excellent full circumference headband with an integrated MIPS liner that comfortably cradles the head, as well as just the right amount of padding in just the right places. In our opinion, this model is as comfortable as any other helmet that we've tested. The full-coverage polycarbonate shell material fully encases the EPS foam liner for extra durability, with hardly any of the sensitive foam material exposed. All of this performance comes with one of the lowest list prices in the lineup, making it of tremendous value.
While the Agilis impresses with its comfort, adjustability, and durability, it does lack some ventilation and comes in at a slightly heavier weight. With a full-coverage polycarbonate shell, its design also doesn't feel as sleek and high-quality as some of its comparatively more expensive competitors. However, we think these are reasonable sacrifices to make 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.
Read review: Giro Agilis MIPS
Great Ventilation and Unique Style
POC Ventral Air Spin
The POC Ventral Air Spin stands with the award winners for its excellent ventilation and comfortable design. 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 SPIN (Shearing Pads INside) 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 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.
Read review: POC Ventral Air Spin
Most Comfortable for Larger Heads
Giro Synthe MIPS
The Giro Synthe MIPS earns consistently high scores in nearly every rating metric with its exceptional comfort, lightweight design, and semi-aerodynamic shape. We love how the Synthe is light and slightly more aerodynamic than other contenders. We've found that the Synthe has a slightly higher-volume fit with more room in the forehead area for those with larger noggins that need protection. It fit our larger-headed testers very well while still maintaining a sleek-looking profile. If you seek great comfort with decent ventilation and an aerodynamic design, this is the one to consider.
One potential shortfall with the Synthe is its exposed EPS foam on the lower part of the helmet brim, which could potentially be damaged if dropped or scraped against. While this weight-saving design feature is not uncommon with other models in the lineup, it just means you'll need to give your helmet a little extra care during storage and transport. With one of the lowest weights in the lineup and a built-in MIPS liner for improved crash protection, the Synthe is a high-performance training and racing helmet that is consistently among the best of the bunch.
Read review: Giro Synthe MIPS
Great for Lightweight Ventilation
Lazer Z-1 MIPS
The Lazer Z1 MIPS earns recognition for its incredibly lightweight design and noteworthy ventilation. It features 31 vents that are large and placed exceptionally well, keeping your head cool when you begin to sweat. Its 305-gram weight (men's size Large) is among the lightest helmets in our lineup with a built-in MIPS liner. With comfortable padding and a unique headband adjustment dial on top of the helmet, there's a lot to like about the Z1.
Although the Z1 MIPS stands out for its high-end ventilation, its lightweight design definitely doesn't feel as substantial and durable as other models. While this wouldn't impact the helmet's safety and crash protection capabilities, it could potentially compromise the long-term durability. Also, the adjustment dial on top of the helmet, while unique and perfectly serviceable, does take a little bit of getting used to, and some riders may prefer a more traditional design.
Read review: Lazer Z-1 MIPS
Why You Should Trust Us
To test road bike helmets, we enlisted the help of Nick Bruckbauer and Ryan Baker. 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.
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 metrics such as ventilation. We rode all day in different riding positions to test the comfort. We rode in all conditions including spring snowstorms, sweltering heat, pelting thunderstorms, thigh pumping climbs, and exciting descents for hundreds of miles altogether.
Related: How We Tested Road Bike Helmets
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. Each model is scored on six important metrics: comfort, adjustability, weight, style, ventilation, and durability.
Related: Buying Advice for Road Bike Helmets
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 Spherical has 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 each other. The Specialized S-Works Evade has a MIPS SL system that incorporates the MIPS liner into the helmet paddings itself, rather than as a separate individual layer between the padding and the foam shell. These unique designs don't necessarily provide any additional crash protection compared to a traditional MIPS liner but are intended to improve comfort and reduce weight.
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 Giro Agilis offers high-end performance in a very affordable package.
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. The Bell Z20 also strikes a nice balance between padding density and coverage and a comfortable cradling by the headband for a snug, secure fit. We also found the Bontrager Velocis and the POC Ventral Air SPIN 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, the Bell Z20 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 lie flat.
Overall, the Bontrager Velocis MIPS, the Giro Synthe MIPS, and the Bell Z20 MIPS 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 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 seems to have the ability to fit a broad range of heads 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.
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 or 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. It was also important to our testers that whatever the adjustment setting device, 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 Kask Protone and the Bell Stratus were tested in a size medium, while the rest of the helmets were tested in a size large, so their measured weights 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. More aerodynamic helmet styles like the Specialized S-Works Evade typically have a longer profile and fewer vents, which increases the helmet material and the overall weight.
The aesthetic appeal of a road bike helmet is subjective because, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, many of the helmets in our lineup have unique design features that aren't really accounted for in any other rating metrics. This is where we shine the spotlight on features like rubber sunglass holders, retractable vents, or unique aesthetics.
The Bell Z20 MIPS scores highly in our style ratings, thanks to its sleek and flowing design, modern two-tone matte color finishes, and contrasting strap colors. 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 SPIN though it may not please everyone’s tastes.
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. Aero helmets such as the Specialized S-Works Evade have fewer vents and tend to be hotter, especially at the low speeds often experienced on a steep climb.
The Bontrager Velocis took the prize as the best-ventilated helmet that we tested. The internal recessed channel system allows air to travel into large vent openings and pass over the top of the head. This sleek design not only kept our heads cool but also kept the foam padding dry. This ingenious design also made the Velocis quieter than its competitors. Only the POC Ventral Air SPIN came close to providing the same level of ventilation. Its deep recessed channels work in a similar way to the Velocis, and the forehead shafts on the Ventral Air in conjunction with the very vented trailing edge create excellent ventilation.
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, and the lack of a MIPS liner enhances airflow within the helmet.
Lower scoring products, such as the Specialized S-Works Evade, 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.
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.
The Giro Agilis and Kask Protone find themselves at the top of the pack in our durability ratings, with almost no exposed EPS foam on the exterior of the helmet. The polycarbonate shell extends around the base and covers nearly the entire upper portion of these helmets. Also scoring highly were the Bontrager Velocis MIPS and the POC Ventral Air SPIN. Both have polycarbonate covering all external EPS foam and wraps around from the brim to the occiput and into the interior of each vent 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 hundreds and hundreds 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.
— Ryan Baker & Nick Bruckbauer