Head protection is obviously the priority when it comes to helmets, and it continues to be realised by using expanded polystyrene structures shrouded in polycarbonate shells. But new aspects are coming into play as our understanding of the dynamics of crashing deepens. Here's our selection of the best road cycling helmets currently available.
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Most of the newest helmets on the market now incorporate MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system), a liner that allows the head to move slightly inside the helmet in the event of a crash. Proponents say the MIPS liner can lessen a crash's impact on the brain.
Many helmets are now designed with aerodynamic in mind, too, which has an effect on shape, size and overall looks.
Finally, comfort should of course be considered, both in terms of sizing, padding, fit and — crucially — ventilation.
- Price: £200 / $250 / AU$299
- Fast and well ventilated
- Seriously light — just 209g for a size small
- Sunglasses port
Aero road helmets have historically been an exercise in compromise: you could have a speedy shape, good ventilation, low weight, or sleek aesthetics but not all four. Giro broke that paradigm with the Synthe.
It’s got great ventilation at all speeds thanks to a surprisingly open architecture with lots of forward-facing ports, some deep internal channels, big vents, and clean, unobstructed paths. Plus it’s light — seriously light at just 209g for a size small.
- Price: £159 / $155 / AU$199
- Excellent one-year crash replacement policy
- Competitive weight of 228g in Medium
- Solid Headmaster II retention system
With a very competitive weight (228g in size Medium), ample venting and good looks, the Bontrager Velocis stands toe-to-toe with similarly priced competitors such as the Giro Aeon or the Specialized Prevail.
Notably, the Velocis comes with a one-year crash replacement policy: if you crash it in the first year, you get a free replacement.
A continuous pad across the forehead is suspended slightly away from the wavy EPS inside of the helmet, allowing for a little ventilation and some conformity to various head shapes. The removable, antimicrobial pads do their job well. In days of sweaty riding without washing in between, the helmet never smelled bad.
The Headmaster II retention system tightens and loosens easily with a small dial. The three height settings, however, are pretty stubborn; we have to use a screwdriver to 'encourage' the Headmaster to move up. The Velocis comes in five styles, from low key black to hi-vis yellow.
It's worth noting that this is an older version of the Velocis and we have the latest generation of the helmet in for test currently.
Giro Foray MIPS helmet
- Price: £75 / $85 / AU$99
- Great looks, a drag-friendly shape and MIPS
- Good fit and adjustability thanks to the Roc Loc 5 cradle and four internal pads
- The exposed EPS base isn’t to all tastes
The Giro Foray MIPS pays more than a nod to Giro’s range-topping Synthe aero helmet, with a smooth, rounded compact shell and truncated rear to maintain efficiency in all head positions.
The in-mould construction means that the polycarbonate outer shell is fused to the EPS core for strength, but it doesn’t extend to the underside.
Its MIPS system adds to the cost, but for that you are also getting great reassurance, and along with the super-adjustable Roc Loc 5 cradle is an excellent fit. Four internal pads keep things comfortable and five pronounced internal channels ventilate the majority of the head very well at all speeds, making this model an attractive, safe and great-value choice.
The MIPS system, or Multi- Directional Impact Protection System, employs a slim, flexible plastic cap that’s perforated to match the helmet’s vents, and four elastic fixings allow it to float within the inner EPS foam shell, creating a slip-plane, much like the brain’s own, to slow or reduce rotational energy transfer.
- Price: £195 / $199 / AU$269
- Subtly sculpted curves based on CFD design and wind tunnel testing for aero performance
- Otto Fit retention system offers a huge adjustment range
- Superb ventilation
The Protone was designed to maintain aerodynamics and airflow in any common riding position, and however you move your head, it remains consistently quiet.
Its skull-hugging compact profile is the result of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) design and wind tunnel testing, and it’s certainly less bulky than some.
Ventilation is superb thanks to eight forward-looking vents and six large exit ports, and the Octo Fit retention system offers a huge adjustment range to keep everything secure and comfy. Our 251g medium fitted well, even with a skull cap, when we’d usually wear large.
Lazer Tonic road helmet
- Price: £50 / $75 / AU$110
- Good fit, good looks, great weight and a great price
- The chin strap material is a little heavy and stiff
- An excellent budget road helmet
The Lazer Tonic is an excellent budget road helmet that looks and feels like a much more expensive lid. At 230g for a Medium, it weighs the same as helmets more than twice as expensive, such as the Specialized S-Works Prevail or the Bontrager Velocis.
Internal channeling on the Tonic keeps air moving across the head, and probably reduces the weight a little, too. Ventilation is very good for a helmet at this price point — not as airy as something like the Prevail but much better than helmets in its class.
The 29 vents offer plenty of places not only for the air to come in, but also to store your sunglasses.
As with most helmets in this category, the Tonic comes in three sizes, but unlike some other brands, the Tonic comes in a whopping seven styles, from the more muted (white, black, black/blue and this white titanium) to see-me-now hi-vis options (flash yellow and flash orange).
An easy-to-use dial at the back handles circumference fit, and the rear cradle can be adjusted for height. The chin strap material is a touch heavier and more inflexible than higher-end helmets, but once it is adjusted you likely won’t notice it at all. The generous pads are easily removable for washing and generally keep sweat from running into your eyes.
MET Rivale HES
- Price: £110 / $99 / AU$139
- Impressive cooling for an aero helmet
- Minimal padding is well positioned
- Vertical adjustment in retention cradle
MET’s Rivale tips the scales at just 257g (for a large) and is said to save 3 Watts at 50kph, equating to a second’s advantage over comparable vented helmets at the same pace. As well as that, it complies with CE, plus the tougher Australian AS and American USPC standards.
The Rivale’s shape is more rounded than most aero helmets. The internal padding is minimal yet well placed, and the micro-adjust dial offers plenty of tensioning to keep it securely on your head. We especially loved the 4cm vertical adjustment in the retaining cradle, which enables you to situate it in just the right spot.
Despite the Rivale’s fairly closed design, the venting and airflow are impressive, with large internal channels keeping things cool. Plus, the large port on the crown allows you to affect even more air conditioning by dipping your head towards the air for a quick blast.
- Versatile, stylish looks in a low-volume shape
- Reflective webbing straps
- Additional MIPS protection
- Price: £250 / $295 / AU$450
Expanding on its long-standing shoe collaboration, Rapha has restyled Giro’s MIPS-equipped [Multi-Directional Impact Protection System] Synthe, by painting all of the shell in white, black or chartreuse.
The ventilating aero mesh on either side of the silicone-edged sunglasses ports has been replaced by a finely ribbed plastic. The Giro logo and aero mesh covering the truncated tail’s central port have gone too, and the only branding on the helmet is a single Rapha logo on the very top.
The featherweight webbing straps have been exchanged for slightly thicker reflective webbing, which is a bonus in our book.
Our large example weighed 295g, which is quite reasonable, and only a 34g increase over our non-MIPS Synthe. The addition of MIPS only enhances the Roc Loc Air retention system’s already excellent fit and security, while increasing impact protection. Two X-Static pads at the brow and crown are sufficient for comfort and long-term freshness.
Scott Cadence Plus
- Fast and airy aero lid
- MIPS protection
- Vent bungs included for winter riding
- Price: £170 / $249 / AU$340
The Cadence Plus is Scott’s aero road helmet solution. Its polycarbonate shell completely covers the vulnerable EPS core, apart from inside the vents, and its smooth, elongated shape and mostly enclosed shell look purposeful.
The occipital cradle of Scott’s Halo Fit System has three heights and circumference adjustment is via a rotary dial. A clever separator keeps the straps far apart so they don’t clash with your ears, all helping to make the Cadence Plus one of the best fitting and most secure helmets we’ve tried recently. The price for a top-flight lid with MIPS [Multi-directional Impact Protection System] additional protective technology is good.
Five generous front vents align with wide internal channels, there’s another small vent above each temple and three angular exhaust ports at the rear. The MIPS cradle is extensively perforated to maximise cooling, which is important since it’s in direct contact with the head.
At almost any speed and head angle there’s a remarkable through-flow of air. It also comes with plugs (for winter rides or even faster aerodynamics) that go into the five frontal ports.
In the real world, it looks slick and feels fast, with no wind noise and a satisfyingly compact shell. Our large size weighs 353g, or 380g including the plugs, which useful as they are, aren’t something you would carry just in case as they need almost a whole pocket and can only be fitted or removed with the helmet off. But so long as you decide in advance, they do extend the helmet’s versatility.
- Price: £100 / $150 / AU$199
- Aerodynamic shaping combined with a hint of retro looks
- Dedicated sunglasses port
- Comfortable Merino-wool padding
Specialized has taken its ultra-aerodynamic S-Works Evade lid as the template for the Airnet, although it still has touches of the old leather ‘hairnet’ helmets (hence the name) worn by racers from the 1970s.
Beneath the shell is a heavily channelled EPS (expanded polystyrene) core that offers far more ventilation than your usual aero lid. The large base vents at the temple also feature textured grippers to hold your glasses when you’re not wearing them.
The shell contributes to its 325g weight, but provides extra protection from accidental damage, while inside the padding is made from Merino wool for super-soft comfort.
The fit should suit most head shapes, with the Mindset rear cradle offering plenty of vertical adjustment and the dial allowing you plenty of adjustability around the circumference of your head.
Specialized S-Works Prevail
- Price: £160 / $199 / AU$249
- Muscular looks and aggressive venting
- The Mindset adjusting cradle comfortably accommodates nearly all heads
- Horizontal brow vents are good for glasses storage
It may have been around for a long time, but the Specialized S-Works Prevail helmet still delivers on all fronts: styling, comfort and ventilation are all superb. It manages to look both chunky and supremely vented at the same time, with muscular shaping and aggressive vents.
Specialized’s rear Mindset adjusting cradle offers five height positions, well placed pads and a rotary dial. Older Specialized helmets used to be quite narrow, but now accommodate rounder heads very well with no squeezing or pinching. The straps are fixed by clasps at each side, but are ideally positioned to let the pliable chinstrap do its job.
Deep internal channels align with the large frontal vents to rush cooling air across your cranium, and the horizontal brow vents do a fine job of managing sweat and drying the front pad. It’s very good for glasses storage when not wearing them too.
Zero RH+ Z Alpha MIPS
- Price: £160 / $TBC / AU$TBC
- Removable cover to prioritise aero or cooling options
- MIPS version available
- Comfortable and cool with distinctive looks
With its sweeping, almost conventional shape, and 22 sizeable vents, the Z Alpha looks very open for an aero helmet. The snap-on front cover is said to provide the biggest aero gains at over 40kph. It only hides the central four vents, but has a slot to channel some air through.
Our large sample weighed 326g without the 14g cover snapped into place.
It’s superbly comfortable and secure, and despite the MIPS system touching much of your scalp, manages to stay cool. Two central internal channels, plus the gap between the MIPS cradle and EPS shell, ensure good air movement even with the cover installed.
The Z Alpha is less specific than some aero lids and all the better for it, with great ventilation and classy looks. You can opt to have MIPS or not, but a little extra outlay for enhanced head protection is a no-brainer in our book.
- Price: £80 / $99 / AU$TBC
- Clever cradle design helps it find the right spot on your head
- Fantastic cooling at slow speeds thanks to sculpted vents
- Detachable peak keeps it ‘on-message’ for MTBers
Initial concerns about the single skinny cradle strap being flimsy proved unfounded and the way the helmet seems to float slightly above your head helps it naturally find a comfort sweet spot. The two ovals that contact the back of your skull are not only spring loaded but can be independently adjusted for width too.
That means they work with ponytails and/or particularly bony skulls, and it’s a really neat, genuinely comfort-boosting feature for the price. It also keeps weight down to a reasonable 294g (for the medium).
The minimalist design allows maximum airflow around the back of your bonce too and ventilation is the obvious strength of this helmet as soon as you start rolling. A removable peak makes it suitable (or at least more fashionable) for mountain bike use.
POC Octal Aero Raceday
- Price: £220 / $215 / AU$399
- Bulky construction is due to extra protection for your most vulnerable areas
- Single vent is enough to provide ample cooling on all but the hottest days
- Plenty of fit adjustability
Although 268g (for the large) hardly makes the Octal Aero a heavyweight, it’s a substantial helmet size-wise. Its bulk is attributable to the extra-thick EPS at the temples and rear of the head — your most vulnerable areas.
This lid’s aero emphasis means ventilation is reduced to a single central vent, which is helped by internal channels that begin at the brow. In normal conditions it’s very comfortable, with a constant flow of air across the head and no obvious hot spots, but it probably wouldn’t be our first choice for a summer Alpine assault.
Fit is controlled by a minimal system with five height settings, a wide occipital (back and lower part of the skull) cradle and rotary dial, and superbly adjustable straps.
Scott Arx Plus
- Price: £75 / $99 / AU$169
- Addition of MIPS adds extra protection with minimal weight increase
- Enough adjustment to find a comfortable fit
- Well vented and padded front keeps the sweat out of your eyes
Adding MIPS increases the weight — the large now weighs 282g — but the increase is just 20g more than the standard ARX. And frankly, low weight is not the first thing we look for when it comes to safety.
The ARX Plus is particularly impressive at the front, where its large internal channels and a well-vented brow prevent the build up of sweat. Vertical adjustment may be limited to three press-studs offering 20mm of adjustability, but it proved perfectly adequate in practice. The small rear dial offers true micro-adjustment, which helps get a precise fit.
Despite having 22 vents in total, the extended rear gets warm on rides in the heat, and lacking any padding means moisture collects around the nape of your neck, but that’s the only downside on what is an otherwise impressive performer.
This article was last updated on 27 July 2017