The 6 Best Road Bike HelmetsPublished on 05/13/2023 · 8 min readCycling Expert Jacob Cummings helps you find the right type of helmet for you based on their Expert criteria, and gives you their top 6 choices for you to consider.
Photo by Jacob Cummings
An uncomfortable helmet can severely impact your ride, so choosing the best road bike helmet for your needs is an important decision. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to decide which is right for you. However, by considering factors such as safety features, materials, aerodynamics, and ventilation, you can narrow down your options and find a helmet that fits your specific preferences.
What Type of Helmet Is Best for Me?
For most people, a well-ventilated half-shell helmet will be ideal for road riding, training, and racing. For specialty racing like track, time trials, and sometimes triathlons, aero helmets might be the top choice. The downside of a helmet made for a specific style of riding is that while it serves well for that style, there’s a good chance it won’t be as comfortable for other riding styles. This article focuses more on general-purpose road helmets that can be adapted to several riding styles—helmets with a polycarbonate shell, perhaps a Multi-Impact-Protection-System (MIPS Layer) or shear pad inside, and a brow pad.
When buying a road bike helmet, safety features are the most important consideration. A good helmet should meet or exceed safety standards set by organizations such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Additionally, most manufacturers like POC and Lazer offer helmets that feature the highly recommended MIPS technology (Multi-directional Impact Protection System)—originally an experiment offered in high-end helmets, but now becoming more standard. MIPS is designed to reduce the risk of brain injuries caused by the rotational forces in a crash and has been shown in studies to reduce injuries to brains and necks by 11%, on average.
Other important safety features to consider include reflective material to increase visibility to vehicle traffic, a durable outer shell, and a secure retention system. Moreover, some helmets come with additional features like interior labels for emergency contacts, crash sensors, and even an ANGi crash sensor, like the Specialized Propero III, that when set up properly will call for help when a crash is detected.
The materials used in road helmets are designed to provide maximum protection while also being lightweight and comfortable to wear. Most traditionally, EPS foam and polystyrene are used to absorb the impact of a crash. Bontrager WaveCel and Smith Koroyd are two high-end manufacturers that use these materials in their road helmets. Most helmets have some variation of removable pads on the brow and chin strap to increase comfort and wicking.
Another feature to look for in a road bike helmet is the feel of the adjustable straps on your jaw and around your ears. If the helmet offers a removable visor, decide if you like how it looks and feels. Many road helmets also include a dial or adjustment system to help fine-tune the fit of the helmet. For example, the Giro Aether, Kask Protone, and Bontrager Ballista all have dial-based fit systems. Other features to consider include a system that works to keep sweat off the rider's face, sunglasses integration, and even a built-in camera mount.
Aerodynamics can be an important consideration when choosing a helmet, but for the most part, any road helmet will have similar aerodynamic functions. However, a full-aero helmet is designed to reduce wind resistance and improve speed and usually has a full-face shield. This can be especially useful for time trial and triathlon events—where every second counts. Aero helmets typically feature smooth, streamlined shapes and minimal ventilation, which helps to reduce drag and increase speed. However, it's important to note that while aerodynamic helmets can help to improve speed, they may not be the best choice for all riders; a hot and sweaty head is not fun and can be dangerous, and they certainly wouldn’t be comfortable if someone wanted to occasionally use the same helmet on one of their mountain bikes.
A mountain bike helmet will not be good for time racing, as the visor, weight, and shape will be preventative to high-speed performance—but it might be great as a commuter helmet. But if you're primarily using your road bike for recreational riding or commuting, a general road helmet with more ventilation may be the best choice.
Ventilation is a crucial feature to consider when choosing a road bike helmet. Adequate ventilation helps to keep your head cool and comfortable while riding—which can be especially important on hot summer days or during long rides. Many road bike helmets feature multiple vents and adjustable airflow channels that allow air to flow freely through the helmet, helping to reduce heat buildup and keep your head cool. Additionally, well-ventilated helmets can also help to reduce the risk of overheating and dehydration.
However, it's important to note that while ventilation is important, it should not compromise the safety of the helmet. Finding the amount of ventilation that feels right for you may require a few tries with different helmets, so it’s helpful to be open to accepting that your first pick might not be the best choice for you.
Top 6 Picks
With so many great helmets to choose from, the most important features are safety, comfort/ventilation, and styling. Here’s a short list of some great helmets that check all of those boxes from affordable low-cost to high-end and built for racing.
The Smith Network road helmet is a great choice for passionate cyclists on a budget. It offers a sleek, lightweight design with a durable polycarbonate shell and EPS foam liner for impact protection. The helmet also features plenty of vents, an adjustable Float fit system, and a MIPS liner. One of the pros of this helmet is its price point, making it an affordable option for budget-conscious riders while still offering advanced safety features like MIPS. However, the downside is that it’s almost twice the weight of higher-end options.
2. Kask Mojito Cubed Helmet
The Kask Mojito Cubed helmet is a stylish and lightweight road bike helmet that offers excellent ventilation and protection. Its unique design includes a polycarbonate shell, a highly adjustable Octo-fit system that allows for easy adjustments, and a comfortable fit. However, this helmet does not offer MIPS.
3. Kask Valegro Bike Helmet
The Kask Valegro helmet is a high-performance road helmet designed for serious cyclists. It features a lightweight and aerodynamic design with multiple vents and an adjustable airflow system to keep the rider cool. The retention system is secure and easy to adjust, ensuring a comfortable fit. The helmet also includes a removable visor to protect from the sun and a reflective detailing for increased visibility. The downside of this helmet is that it is on the expensive side, but for serious cyclists looking for a high-performance helmet with great ventilation, it’s an excellent choice.
4. Mavic Aksium Elite Women's Helmet
The Mavic Aksium Elite SS road bike helmet is a great choice for people on a budget. It offers a balance of protection, comfort, and style. The helmet is made of a durable shell and features 22 vents that keep you cool. The helmet is also equipped with a retention system that allows you to adjust the fit to your head shape. One of the cons of this helmet is that the design is not as sleek as other high-end models, and it does not offer MIPS, but it still offers great value for its price. Overall, the Mavic Aksium Elite SS is a nearly perfect choice for budget-conscious cyclists who are looking for a reliable and well-ventilated helmet.
5. POC Ventral Air MIPS Helmet
The POC Ventral Air MIPS helmet is a classic; a sleek, aerodynamic design that is perfect for road cycling and features protective technology. One of the pros of this helmet is its lightweight construction—which makes it comfortable to wear for long rides. However, one of the cons of this helmet is that it’s quite a bit more expensive than other great-looking helmets with similar or better safety features.
6. Smith Network MIPS Helmet
The Smith Network road helmet is another great choice for cyclists on a budget. It offers a sleek, lightweight design with a durable polycarbonate shell and EPS foam liner for impact protection in addition to their Koroyd impact technology. The helmet also features 20 vents and the VaporFit adjustable fit system. What makes this helmet great for the price is that it has a MIPS liner—making it an affordable option that still offers advanced safety features. However, the downside is that it may not have as good of aerodynamics: at 300g, it’s heavier, and the ventilation isn’t as good as more expensive options.
A good fit system, coverage, and ventilation are essential for a comfortable and safe ride. Overall, the best road bike helmet is one that fits well, inspires you to ride, offers proper safety coverage, and meets safety standards set by organizations such as Virginia Tech, CPSC, and Snell. Stay safe out there and have fun! To explore more Cycling articles as you pursue your journey in the sport, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.