9 Expert-Approved Bike Helmets for Every Type of Ride

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It’s no secret how important it is to wear a helmet while riding a bike. There’s plenty of research that shows the safety benefits of them—it’s definitely in your best interest to put one on. “People [who crash] without helmets tend to have more severe injuries,” Steve Broglio, PhD, director of the University of Michigan Concussion Center, tells SELF. In fact, wearing one can help reduce your chances of serious head or facial harm in a wreck. As for how to select your ideal option? That can be a bit less straightforward, so we spoke with safety and cycling experts to get their advice on the best bike helmets out there.

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How to choose a bike helmet

In the US, all helmets have to be certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which ensures they provide protection against skull fracture. But this doesn’t tell us much about how the helmet performed in testing, just that it passed.

One way to see how helmets stack up against each other—in terms of safety—is to check out the Virginia Tech (VT) Helmet Ratings. The school has been impact-testing head protection since 2011 and rates the effectiveness of sports helmets in reducing concussion risk. They give each piece of gear a numbered score (referred to as the VT impact score), which correlates to the estimated concussion risk—a lower score means less chance of it. Each helmet also gets a coinciding star rating: The smaller the impact number, the better the protection, and the more stars it receives.

It’s also worthwhile to consider additional safety features too. For instance, experts recommend opting for a helmet with Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology, a liner underneath the foam shell of the helmet. This “reduces the amount of rotational forces that are transmitted with impact,” Dr. Broglio says. In other words, it’s an added layer of protection that makes hitting your head during a crash less dangerous.

Once you’ve found a helmet that meets your safety standards and suits your riding style, it’s important to select one that’s the proper size and shape for your head. You should measure the circumference of your head to make sure you’re choosing a correctly sized helmet—a good fit means you shouldn’t have any issues with it staying in place during impact, Alex Jerome, category leader of helmets at Specialized, a California-based bike company, tells SELF. It’s also crucial to consider the shape: If you’ve never worn a helmet from a certain brand before, it’s best to try one on before you buy it to make sure it fits your head (which might be more oval or round shaped). A properly fitted helmet should sit level on your head and low on your forehead and shouldn’t move around once you tighten it.

Keep in mind that even if your bike helmet looks fine after a crash, it’s a one-and-done thing. You can’t always see all the micro-cracks that might happen under the plastic outer shell, Jerome says. “So if you wreck, replace your helmet.”

The best bike helmets

Based on these experts’ criteria and picks, we’ve selected the top helmets across three categories: road biking, mountain biking, and commuting. All of the helmets earned a five-star rating in the VT lab—which is the recommendation for athletes to best reduce concussion risk—and we’ve also noted the specific impact score, for reference.

In addition to their safety features, these road-ready helmets were designed with aerodynamics and ventilation in mind.

1. Giro Aries Spherical

Giro Aries Spherical Helmet

Out of all the helmets sent to VT for testing, the Aries Spherical was rated number one, earning the best score for impact mitigation. It uses a ball-and-socket style connection between the outer liner and the inner liner, which works in tandem with the MIPS system to deflect rotational forces and prevent injury. This is doubly impressive when you consider its low-profile, lightweight design, and huge air vents. Plus, “the Aries Spherical fits my oval-shaped head very well,” former semipro bike racer Cody Lacosta tells SELF.

  • Weight: 270 grams (size M)
  • VT impact score: 8.40

2. Liv Relay MIPS

The Liv Relay is a no-frills model, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices safety, style, or fit. With its clean lines, moisture-wicking and antimicrobial inner padding, and 360-degree retention system (a.k.a. how a helmet secures to your head), the Relay looks as good as it feels. Bonus: The rear has room to mount a tail light (so drivers can see you better), and space for your ponytail above the fit dial. Plus it offers good value for the price,” Simon Fisher, the CEO of Headspace Design Lab, a leading engineering and design firm for many major helmet companies, tells SELF. “Overall, this is your basic bike helmet with straightforward style and features like MIPS,” he says. “With a five-star VT rating, this is a good all-round road helmet.” One note: Given that the EPS, or expanded polystyrene (a crushable foam typically used in helmet liners), is exposed on the bottom of the Relay, it should be stored with extra care, in a cool, dry place (heat and chemical exposure can mess with the material).

  • Weight: 348 grams
  • VT impact score: 12.48

3. Bell Formula MIPS

Bell Formula MIPS Adult Road Bike Helmet

Another great all-arounder and solid value, this Formula helmet has a ventilation system designed to allow cooling airflow over your head while keeping you streamlined in the wind. The dial-adjustable retention system lets you cinch the liner around your noggin for a snug, comfy fit. “This is a classic road helmet with MIPS integrated into the fit system and no exposed EPS, which will help with durability,” Fisher notes.

  • Weight: 285 (size M)
  • VT impact score: 11.90

If you’re heading onto dirt, single-track, or gravel roads, opt for a helmet that features a visor, trail-ready ventilation, and more surface coverage around your head.

4. Troy Lee Designs Flowline MIPS

Troy Lee Designs Flowline Helmet with MIPS

An adjustable visor and retention system help the Flowline fit comfortably and stay put as you cruise down the trail. This helmet is also NTA-8776 certified, meaning it’s approved to withstand impact from crashes during speedy e-bike riding. “The three-position visor and an easy-to-adjust fit system make this a solid helmet for the price,” Fisher says, adding that it also has a five-star VT rating. One thing: Because the helmet uses an older MIPS system, some riders may find it runs hotter, he says.

  • Weight: 364 grams
  • VT impact score: 12.42

5. Specialized Tactic 4 

Specialized Tactic Helmet

The Tactic 4 ranks third overall on VT’s list of tested helmets. It also comes in a “round” fit option, in addition to the classic (similar to how some shoe models come in different widths), to help accommodate various head shapes. Fisher calls the Tactic 4 a “quality-built mountain bike helmet at a good price for the features,” noting the deep coverage, MIPS, and five-star VT rating that tick all the boxes for a higher-end helmet. He also appreciates the dedicated eyewear storage vents, which he says are “a big plus when you need to take your shades off mid-ride.”

  • Weight: 380 grams (size M)
  • VT impact score: 8.55

6. Sweet Protection Trailblazer MIPS

Sweet Protection Trailblazer Mips Helmet

The Trailblazer (which is fifth on VT’s rankings) offers proven protection in a highly adjustable, stylish package. You can reposition the visor to make room for your glasses or goggles, and you can cinch the liner around your head using a dial at the back. Lydia Camarda, contributor to Bike Mag, likes its breathability and low profile. “The Trailblazer gives you more protection without the heavy, floppy feeling you often get with full-coverage trail helmets,” she tells SELF. This one hits the sweet spot.

  • Weight: 325 grams
  • VT impact score: 8.69

7. Fox Dropframe Pro MIPS

Fox Racing Dropframe Pro Helmet

This is another high-scorer in VT’s testing, coming in at number seven on their list. The Dropframe Pro model is considered a three quarter helmet because it provides protection down around the base of the skull, as well as over the ears and top of the jaw. But even with this extra coverage, the large vents and antimicrobial pads help keep your head cool and dry. The one downside to this helmet is that it doesn’t come with an adjustable visor or retention system. But even though it’s more built-out than other styles, it doesn’t feel like it: “Fox’s Dropframe offers more coverage and protection than the typical half-shell helmet, but more ventilation than a full-face, and is lighter and less claustrophobic to boot,” Bicycling magazine’s senior test editor Matt Phillips tells SELF. “It is very comfortable and secure—the ear cups add stability on bumpier terrain—with excellent airflow.”

  • Weight: 499 grams (M)
  • VT impact score: 8.85

For riders cruising around their neighborhoods or pedaling to work, these helmets offer traffic-friendly features and a more casual look.

8. Thousand Chapter MIPS

Thousand Chapter MIPS Helmet

The style and top-tier safety performance of this helmet make it a crowd favorite. It comes with some really thoughtful features, including an attached 30-lumen magnetic tail light with two-hour flash runtime to keep you visible on the streets. Because of the stellar design and retro style, Jessica Ma of Gadgets, Gear, and Coffee tells SELF it’s convinced her that helmets are cool: “It looks simple but is very well designed. Thousand is a big reason I now wear a bike helmet without fail.”

  • Weight: 370 grams (size M)
  • VT impact score: 12.91

 9. Specialized Mode

This sleek helmet offers all the safety benefits you’d want (MIPS, a five-star VT rating) without the super technical look. Hidden vents will keep you cool (especially important when you’re riding to work!), and with classic and round shape options, you can get a truly comfortable fit. If you commute with an e-bike, this is a great option, as it’s also NTA-8776 certified.

  • Weight: 420 grams (size M)
  • VT impact score: 8.80

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