Protect the Only Brain You Have With the Best Bike Helmets for Trails and Roads
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Choosing the right helmet is as important as choosing the right bicycle for your leisurely weekends rides or morning commutes. You want a helmet that fits the way you ride, your style, and your budget. There are three main types of helmets: Road helmets are lightweight and prioritize venting; mountain bike helmets provide more coverage and often include a visor to block the sun; and commuter helmets offer a more casual style and less ventilation.
All helmets sold in the U.S. meet the same basic safety standard set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but most of the helmets we recommend have additional safety systems, such as MIPS, that can help protect you from concussion. Most importantly, make sure you wear a helmet every time you get on your bike.
You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot to get the protection you need, but most riders should probably upgrade from the basic standard if you can afford the price increase. Beyond safety, when you choose a more premium helmet, you’re paying for features—better ventilation, lower weight, enhanced fit systems, and nicer-looking designs.
Looking for more great bike gear? Check out our recommendations for the best commuter backpacks, indoor trainers, and bicycle locks.
Best Bike Helmets
What to Consider
Helmet Safety Standards
The only mandatory certification standard in the USA is the one given by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is required for all helmets sold here. You can find this certification on a label in the helmet’s interior.
Some companies test helmets to additional standards, whether through their in-house labs or in third-party labs. Virginia Tech’s Helmet Institute independently tests helmets with various impact angles, friction, and rotational forces to see how the helmets may help prevent concussion in the event of a crash.
It is important to note that an expensive helmet is not necessarily safer than a less expensive model. While many of the helmets that receive Virginia Tech’s highest safety rating use technologies designed to increase helmet safety, like MIPS, several budget helmets also rank highly.
MIPS, Wavecel, and Other Protection Systems
MIPS, which stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, is a low-friction layer built into the helmet that allows the helmet to rotate on your head, diminishing rotational forces in the event of a crash. Most of the helmets we recommend, both at Popular Mechanics and at Bicycling, have MIPS.
Wavecel, developed by Trek’s Bontrager several years ago, is another advanced protection system that includes a thick polyester layer that crumples and flexes on impact, sort of like the crumple zone on a car. There are plenty of other proprietary protection systems similar to MIPS and WaveCel—if you aren’t sure, use a tool like the Virginia Tech Helmet Institute or read our tested helmet reviews at Bicycling to check the efficacy of the system.
How to Find the Right Size
Getting the right helmet size is essential for safety and comfort and requires measuring your head for the right fit. To find your fit, grab a flexible tape measure and wrap it around your head just above the ears and eyebrows, and take note of your head’s circumference in centimeters. Ensure not to pull too tight—you’ll want a slight slack for comfort around your crown.
Once you’ve got your head measurement, you can reference size charts at retail websites to see what best fits you. Most helmets fit a range of circumferences and feature adjustable knobs or straps to tighten or loosen as needed. For example, a size medium Bontrager Specter helmet fits heads between 54 and 60 centimeters, with an adjustable system that lets users find the right fit by turning a knob.
How We Selected
We consulted a team of test editors who thoroughly evaluated and vetted the helmets on this list, including our colleagues at Bicycling. We researched the market, consulted our best bike helmet guides, and referenced Virginia Tech’s Helmet Institute. We also surveyed user reviews, spoke with product managers and engineers, and used our experience riding to find the best helmets.
Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles wearing these helmets on the road, on the trail, on commutes, and at the bike park. We evaluated them on performance, value, fit, comfort, ventilation, aerodynamics, adjustability, and aesthetics to determine the models that best serve every budget and every kind of rider.
For decades, bike helmets used simple foam to protect your precious noggin. Then came advanced safety systems like the MIPS protection layer.
With its newer line of helmets, Bontrager introduced Wavecel, a copolymer that it claims can drastically reduce the risk of concussion. The Wavecel material looks like a plastic honeycomb. The material will flex, crumple, or glide when hit with the force of impact, guiding the rotation energy away from your skull.
Bontrager (which is owned by Trek Bicycles) put this material into four models: The traditional Specter model, the XXX Road model for serious racers, the Blaze MTB for mountain bikers, and an all-new urban model called the Charge Wavecel Commuter.
Montaro with MIPS
The Montaro is a trail-ready helmet with a MIPS liner and an integrated, breakaway camera mount. Featuring Giro’s easy-to-use Roc Loc retention system, fitting the helmet is fast and simple. Utilizing anti-odor pads minimizes the risk of stinky helmet syndrome, and the 16 vents will keep air moving around your head on hot days.
The Montaro also has a nice visor adjustment system so it’s easy to fit goggles. To keep those goggles in place in extreme conditions, there are strap grippers on the back of the helmet.
If you're not a fan of traditional-style bike helmets, consider a more commuter-focused helmet like this one from Bern. What you lose in aerodynamics, you gain in versatility. The Allston gets love for its exceptional performance at a low price, and its replaceable soft flip visor is a bonus for riding in the sunshine. Plus, you get 16 vents to help your head stay cool.
Users say the Allston is a stylish helmet, and its soft flip visor is very useful. Some say the sizing runs slightly small.
Dropframe Pro Helmet
This open-face helmet provides nearly full-face protection while still being comfortable to wear. The Fox Dropframe Pro protects from the eyebrows to the occipital bone toward the back of the skull, with generous padding and coverage around the temples, jaws, and ears. It’s equipped with a MIPS and dual-density foam liner.
Bicycling says the Dropframe Pro is comfortable to wear, though it runs slightly stuffy due to a lack of airflow, but the tradeoff is for ultimate protection while riding on hilly, rocky terrain. The publication also notes the Dropframe Pro is one of the best-scoring bicycle helmets in Virginia Tech’s impact testing mountain biking category.
If you're serious about cycling, you're probably looking at higher-end helmets that promise excellent aerodynamics and solid protection. Our colleagues at Bicycling named the Aether as one of its top choices for better ventilation and performance, applauding its proprietary MIPS system and minimal, lightweight air retention fit system. It's a serious step up over Giro's previous (and excellent) model, the Synthe. It features an awesome adjustable fit, and its shell and outer layer move independently, making for comfortable wear.
Street with MIPS
If you’re a regular commuter (or just thinking of starting) Nutcase’s Street helmet has everything you need. It has a nice, casual style, and models like this one are available with MIPS at a fairly affordable price—in this case, under $100. It’s available in several colors with or without graphics—from basic gray and black to the Union Jack.
The helmet also comes with a removable visor, and it’s certified for skateboard use as well, so you can pedal to the skatepark and session without ever changing your helmet.
Scamp Helmet - Kids'
Small kids who need some extra protection for their noggin will love the Giro Scamp. Available in various fun colors, the Scamp is solid helmet for children, whether they’re using balance bikes, riding as a passenger in a trailer, or finally riding on their own. It’s built with a polycarbonate shell over an EPS foam liner and has plenty of ventilation for keeping that head cool. It also has a Roc Loc Jr. adjustment dial that lets them adjust their fit. If their heads are between 45 and 53 cm, this helmet will suit them fine.
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