We asked our expert colleagues on sister site Cycling Weekly to give us their round-up of the best helmets on the market. Here’s what they suggest:
The most important job of a cycling helmets is to provide protection. Any bike helmet sold by a reputable retailer in the UK will have passed the safety standards required – though the best bike helmets will promise extra features for added security.
Once safety is ensured, other areas where helmet manufacturers aim to perform well include ventilation, aerodynamics, comfort and, of course, price.
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Helmet safety regulations
If you want to check the hemet you’re buying adheres to the current European standards, what you’re looking for is a European CE EN 1078 sticker.
The EN1078 promises that the lid has been able to withstand testing of the helmet construction, field of vision, shock absorbing properties, retention system properties, chin strap and fastening devices.
Some helmet brands will incorporate other features that go above and beyond the standard requirement. MIPS layers, for example, feature in a high number of modern helmets, usually at added cost.
The Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a layer that moves inside the helmet, claiming to protect the rider’s head (and brain) from rotational forces.
Mountain bike helmets often provide more protection at the back of the head, with full face varieties offering yet more security, usually with provision made for googles and sometimes action cameras.
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Choosing a helmet that fits
Of course, for your helmet to work properly and protect your head from impacts, it needs to fit. Most helmet brands offer several sizes, with guidelines which suggest what head circumferences each size will fit. You can determine the correct size with a measuring tape if you decide to buy online.
Helmet shapes vary a lot though – for example Giro’s lids are well known for suiting rounder, smaller heads – so it’s well worth visiting a local shop and trying on a couple.
Once on, the helmet should fit snuggly when the retention system has been done up (ideally not on its absolute limit) – it shouldn’t move around when you shake your head, even with the chin strap undone.
Statistically, there is no difference between men’s and women’s head shapes – but there are female specific helmets. These often include a hair port designed for a ponytail, though actually most unisex helmets allow for this too.
Fastening systems and padding
Most bike helmets have two fastening systems: a retention dial and a chin strap.
The former will usually be located at the back of the helmet, though it can be on the top (for example, on Lazer helmets). More expensive helmets will be easier to un-do and do up with one hand as you ride – for example on a hot climb.
The straps also change as helmets become more expensive, usually using softer material. All helmets will have some internal padding, and this should wick away sweat, it’s often removable for ease of washing and replacement.
Aerodynamics, breathability and weight
Most helmets feature a selection of carefully placed holes in the shell – these are designed to provide ventilation. If you’re someone who often finds their head gets hot in a lid, you’ll want one with plenty of them to aid breathability.
Typically, the holes do not aid aerodynamics, trapping air in an undesirable manner which increases drag. Therefore, ‘aero helmets’ – designed for racers looking to save every second they can – usually have fewer vents, that are strategically placed.
At the most extreme end of the scale, time trial helmets are shaped to smooth out airflow and usually consider ventilation a very secondary concern. The ideal TT helmet shape for you depends upon your position when racing – some people are faster in tear drop shapes whilst others suit stubby versions.
Top end helmets will aim to provide the best package available, for the lowest weight – reducing any strain on the neck and improving the holy grail that is power to weight ratio.
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When should you replace a bike helmet?
The most obvious answer to this question is after an impact.
Most helmets are made from expanded polysyrene (EPS foam), with an outer polymer shell over the top. The polysyrene is there to absorb energy and compress on impact. Damage is usually evident from the outside, but the outer shell can cover this – so you should always get a new helmet after a crash.
Aside from crashes, a helmet won’t last for ever. The jury is out over the effect that UV light, sweat and solvents has on EPS foam. However, the ‘Snell Memorial Foundation’ which aims to ‘try to improve helmet design and capabilities, and to encourage the development and use of truly protective helmets’ (for motorsport but same applies) advises a replacement every five years – for reasons that sound sensible.
“The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal “wear and tear” all contribute to helmet degradation.
“Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards.”
Our pick of the best cycling helmets
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Best cycling helmets: Kask Protone helmet (£199)
A lid that aims to find a compromise between aerodynamics and breathability, in a lightweight construction – we weighed our size medium in at 218g.
Best cycling helmets: Bell Stratus MIPs (£129.99)
A lid with a focus on breathability, you’ll find 18 vents in this cool and collected Stratus, which features a MIPS layer too.
Best cycling helmets: Bontrager Ballista bike helmet (£149)
This is the helmet worn by Jens Voigt during his successful tilt at the Hour Record. So you know it’s got some pretty substantial aero claims. There are some vents, as well as internal recessed channels designed to direct airflow.
Best cycling helmets: Kask Mojito bike helmet (£119)
Whilst the Kask Mojito has been replaced as the helmet of choice by its sponsored pro teams – such as Team Sky – for those who value breathability over aerodynamics, this one might be better suited. Plus, at £119 it promises bang for buck.
Best cycling helmets: Giro Synthe bike helmet (from £224.99, £249.99 with MIPS)
A long standing favourite, the Synthe combines claims of aero gains with a high level of ventilation – it’s been tested in temperatures over 30ºC with success. Clean looks and a great fit combine to create an incredibly popular option among pros and amateurs alike.
Best cycling helmets: Bontrager Starvos MIPS bike helmet (£69.99, £49.99 without MIPS)
A comfortable helmet with a price tag that will suit those looking to purchase at the entry level end. Pressure points are avoided with careful shaping, there’s lots of ventilation and you get added an MIPS layer, too.
Best cycling helmets: Endura MT500 mountain bike helmet (£149.99)
As a trail specific helmet, this one comes with lots of ventilation for riders planning to get sweaty. A lower back offers protection and the 4-position visor is secured by aluminium bolts with plenty of room for goggles.
Best cycling helmets: Giro Switchblade mountain bike helmet (£249.99)
It’s not cheap, but this 2-in-1 helmet has a removable chinbar, so you can wear it as a full-face helmet, or an open lid.
Best cycling helmets: Bontrager Rally mountain bike helmet (£79.99)
Representing excellent value for money, the Rally provides plenty of ventilation and ample protection. The trade off is a heavier weight than most, at 400g, but it’s still comfortable