- Wearing a bike helmet is incredibly important for a cyclist’s safety, so we’ve rounded up the best bike helmets you can buy.
- The POC Octal X SPIN is the best bike helmet we’ve tested with its great ventilation, protective design, enhanced visibility, and other great safety features.
Bike helmets have moved a long way from the polystyrene buckets that many of us grew up with. So specialized have they become that I have a shelf by my door that is just for bike helmets. It’s a little embarrassing how many of them I own, and I’m considering passing my collection off as a conceptual art piece next time my mother comes to visit so I won’t have to explain why anyone needs half-a-dozen pieces of safety headwear.
Cycling helmets can be aerodynamic, lightweight, high visibility and super protective. That’s why the helmet I reach for to ride home from work in the dark is different from the one I pull down if I’m off for a Sunday session on the local trails.
In general, cycling helmets are designed to prevent a traumatic brain injury in the event of an impact. All helmets sold in the US have passed a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) test, which means they satisfy certain criteria that the CPSC determines will help reduce the risk of brain injury.
In recent years, systems such as MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) and SPIN (Shearing Pads Inside) have been included in helmets to help prevent brain injuries when there are multiple impacts or oblique collisions. These technologies go beyond CPSC requirements but can be helpful if a specific type of collision happens.
Obviously, the most important element of a helmet is its protection against brain injury, and this isn’t something we could test. But the safest helmet is the one you always wear, and so we tested the fit, ventilation, weight, and practicality of dozens of helmets to determine which ones are the best you can buy.
Here are the best bike helmets you can buy:
- Best bike helmet overall: POC Octal X SPIN
- Best budget bike helmet: Bern FL1 Trail
- Best high-end bike helmet: Giro Aether MIPS
- Best portable bike helmet for bikeshare: Priority Bicycles Stack
- Best bike helmet for commuters: Lumos Kickstart
Updated on 10/29/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated prices and formatting.
The best bike helmet overall
The POC Octal X Spin is well ventilated, comfortable, and offers enhanced visibility and safety features that will benefit cyclists and commuters alike.
Some people like shoes, some people like bags, and some people like watches, but I like bike helmets. I will admit that it is a bit strange to have half a dozen pieces of protective headwear hanging by more door, but I like to be sure I always have the right tool for the job, and I figure there are worse ways to spend your money than protecting your brain.
What’s even weirder is that I tend to pull down the same helmet every day. Whether I am riding a hundred miles on the road or five miles to the shops, the OCTAL X SPIN is the helmet I pick for 90% of my riding, and that’s why it earned the title of best bike helmet overall.
POC is relatively new to the cycling game, but its focus on safety and a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic has won the brand a loyal following. The POC brand has become associated with placing rider safety above aesthetic or aerodynamic concerns, but its recent models have proved popular with the racing crowd thanks to their support of the Cannondale pro cycling team.
POC tends to favor bright colors to make riders more visible in traffic, and this has the added benefit of making their athletes stand out from the crowd and giving the brand a strong image.
To make the Octal X SPIN, POC took its popular road cycling helmet – the Octal, and gave it a few tweaks to make it equally suitable for trail use. Along with a shell that fully covers the lining – a common feature of off-road helmets – POC added SPIN technology. SPIN, which stands for Shearing Pads Inside, is designed to protect against oblique impacts – something that many standard helmets don’t do so well.
While CPSC regulations don’t require protection against these impacts, POC offers SPIN technology to people who want protection above and beyond the legal minimum. The main function of a helmet is protecting your brain, so POC made this its main selling point for the Octal X SPIN.
Safety might be a good reason to pick the Octal X SPIN, but you won’t be let down in terms of performance either. Reviewers love the comfy straps and 21 vents, which make the helmet disappear in use. One biker said the new helmet “seems to move air a little better” than the previous model.
The easy-to-use and highly adjustable retention system also garnered praise from experts. They appreciated the light weight of the helmet, which makes it equally appropriate for road or mountain use. Lastly, the quick adjustment saw one reviewer taking the Octal from box to bike ride in two minutes.
When I first put on the Octal X SPIN, I noted how much more of the back and sides of my head were covered compared to a conventional road helmet. This makes the Octal a safer choice, especially for riding off-road where low-speed falls and hits to different parts of the head are likely.
Despite its larger size, the Octal didn’t feel heavy in use, and the scales confirm that it weighs in at a very competitive 267 grams for medium. The larger footprint didn’t seem to impact ventilation, either, even on slow climbs, the helmet provided ample airflow. On evening commutes, I felt reassured by the high visibility orange shell, and found the “Eye Garage” useful for holding my sunglasses without them slipping out.
Pros: Lightweight, well ventilated, highly visible, enhanced coverage and SPIN system for better protection
Cons: Some riders may have to size up from the non-SPIN models, the appearance will not appeal to everyone, POC’s crash replacement policy is not as generous as some brands, expensive
The best budget bike helmet
The Bern FL1 Trail combines the styling of helmets five times its price with great venting and an adjustable fit for a performance that belies its incredible value.
Two-hundred-and-fifty bucks can seem like a lot to spend on something that is designed to break. While it is true that you only get one brain, and it is worth protecting, starting cycling can be expensive enough as it is. Luckily, all helmets approved for use in the US have to pass the same tests, meaning that while cheaper helmets might weigh more or offer less venting, they’ll protect you just as much as their higher-end brethren.
With the FL1 Trail, the compromises are pretty minimal. Bern uses the same in-mold 18 vent construction as its top of the line helmets, but save money by using a non-brand-name adjustment dial on the rear closure mechanism. The helmet offers a visor, to protect from rain, sun, and trailside vegetation. It doesn’t feel that much different in use to more expensive helmets thanks to its light weight of just 271 grams and plenty of venting.
Bicycling magazine loved the F1 trail with its four-level height adjustment for fit and snug-fitting chin strap and color options to suit every rider. The helmet did seem to sit rather high on the head of reviewers at Bike Rumor, which might be a concern for low-speed impacts.
The helmet does not offer MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System), either, but BERN offers an FL1 model with MIPS for $30 more. Some reviewers found the sizing ran a little small, but Amazon users note that Bern has great customer service if size is an issue.
Pros: Great value, highly vented and adjustable, looks and weight on par with top brands
Cons: Sits a little high on the head, non-MIPS, visor is not adjustable
The best high-end bike helmet
Giro’s Aether is a slimline helmet that doesn’t compromise on breathability, aerodynamics, or safety, making it a great choice for the racer who wants to go fast uphill and down.
Giro has long been a name associated with the highest level of performance in bike racing. Its helmets have won bike races in just about every category, and the brand has innovated not only in performance but also safety.
Two of the biggest trends in cycle helmets recently have been aerodynamics and multiple impact protection (MIPS). Both have been driven by Giro but, until recently, both required compromises resulting in racers often owning several helmets. Aerodynamic helmets, such as Giro’s first-generation air attack, were fast on the flat but tended to be heavy and poorly vented and thus a poor choice for hilly days.
Giro Pioneered Multiple Impact Protection Systems in bicycle helmets in 2015, but in its previous generation of MIPS helmets, sometimes sizing was a little off and the MIPS liner tended to squeak annoyingly and catch on sunglasses or long hair.
The Aether is a no-compromises racing helmet. Instead of placing the MIPS layer by the riders’ head, Giro has sandwiched in between EPS foam layers, resulting in a more comfortable and aerodynamic helmet. Eleven huge vents make the helmet virtually disappear on climbs.
Expert reviewers said that the Aether was “among the coolest and best ventilated helmets, at high and low speed, we have ever ridden.” Of course, the big benefit of the Aether is one that nobody wants to test. Impact protection with the MIPS spherical system is better than ever before, and now the helmet’s fit and ventilation are uncompromised meaning that, should the worst happen you’ll always be the best protected.
Gone is the yellow MIPS liner of previous models. Instead, the new Spherical MIPS system is built into the helmet and provides more impact protection and less inconvenience. The adjustable Roc-Loc 5 fit system means that the helmet will retain the fit, which one expert described as “exceptionally comfortable, for all shapes and sizes of head.
Giro also claims that the helmet is slightly more aerodynamic than its current Synthe model, and weight is about the same. One biker did note that this integration of the MIPS system meant they had to size up from a medium to a large, and this has been my own experience as well. Giro provide a handy sizing guide that should help you pick the right helmet size for your head.
Pros: One of the safest helmet son the market, lightweight and aerodynamic, comes in a variety of colors to match your bike or kit
Cons: The Aether is expensive, but you only get one brain, this is more of a road style helmet and off-road riders will have to wait for mountain bike appropriate model
The best portable bike helmet for bikeshare
The Stack uses a unique design to reduce in size by almost 50%, making it perfect for stashing in your bag if you aren’t riding.
Bikeshare bikes are everywhere – more than one million miles have been ridden on them in NYC already and many other large urban areas are following suit. Most people who ride bikeshare bikes do so without helmets, and it can be hard to carry around a full-sized helmet on the off chance that you decide to pick up a bikeshare bike to ride to lunch. This is where the Stack comes in.
It’s as safe and comfortable as a regular helmet, but when collapsed it takes up just half the space in your bag. If you use bikeshare bikes regularly or as part of your commute, the Stack will quickly become something you never leave home without.
When in use, the Stack acts like any other bike helmet, complete with ventilation and an adjustable elastic fit strap. Just like every other helmet here, it has to pass a set of stringent tests that determine its ability to prevent brain injury in the event of a crash or fall.
The Stack locks in its expanded position dependably, it never collapsed on us during testing which was a worry we had before we got out hands on one. The hidden air vents and elastic strap make for a comfortable fit, and the helmet comes in two sizes and four colors, so there should be something for everyone.
The really great thing about the Stack is how it behaves when not in use. Instead of requiring a special tie-down on the outside of your backpack or hanging awkwardly off your messenger bag all day, the stack collapses into itself and can be stashed in a bag, drawer or desk.
One expert tester loved that the Stack, which packs down to the size of a takeout container, allowed her to store it inside her bag rather than having it swinging on the outside at social engagements.
Travel blogger ThePointsGuy found the packability of the helmet so useful that he suggested it as a gift for citybreaks. It can be packed in a carry-on bag and used to safely explore a new city.
At only 330 grams, the Stack isn’t heavy, and it’s small enough to fit in almost messenger bag or backpack. If you use bikeshare systems or electric scooters on a regular basis or intend to borrow a bike while you travel, this is a fantastic alternative to riding helmetless and, at less than $80, a cheap way to stay safe as you make your way around town.
Pros: Collapses to a smaller size, portable, easy to travel with, protective design, easy to use, great for bikeshare fans
Cons: None to speak of
The best bike helmet for commuters
The Lumos Kickstart fits and feels like a regular helmet, but its host of high-tech features make it a great pick for anyone who rides at night in the dark.
For half of the year, I ride home from work in the pitch black. I make every effort to light myself up like a Christmas tree with both flashing and steady rear and front lights as well as reflective clothing and even hi-viz socks. But it wasn’t until I tried the Lumos Kickstart that I realized that drivers knowing where I was is only part of the safety equation. To be really safe, I also needed to let them know where I was going.
When it’s too dark for drivers to see hand signals indicating a change in direction, the Lumos Kickstart uses an automatic rear warning light to signal braking and a handlebar-mounted signal to indicate changes in direction. Just like a car, the Lumos gives you red brake lights and orange turn signals.
The Kickstart also includes white LED lights on the front and red LEDs on the rear, meaning that you are visible even when not braking or turning. When combined with a sensible outfit and bike lights, the Lumos really does feel like the safest way to get home in the dark and several drivers at stop lights have asked me where I got the helmet, I guess that means it achieved the goal of getting their attention.
The helmet is set up via a smartphone app, which Amazon reviewers found to be “easy” to use. It is charged using a proprietary magnetic charging cord. The charging system works well, as the above review confirms, but it does mean making sure you always have the right cable and we would love to see a more standard Micro USB charging standard – this reviewer shared our opinions. Luckily, Lumos sell extra cables so you can keep one at home and one at work.
The Lumos isn’t just a light system, though. It also works as a helmet. One reviewer said it was “the most comfortable helmet I’ve owned” and an expert tester noted that it was “surprisingly comfortable” despite weighing much more than a standard helmet thanks to the lights and battery.
While the Kickstart might lack the adjustability of truly high-end road helmets, it’s designed more with commutes in mind and isn’t likely to see much use in 100-mile road races.
Overall, the Kickstart is not a replacement for lights, it is a great addition to the safety toolkit of any cycle commuter. If you’re riding home in the dark, this helmet really stands out as a great choice for safety and visibility and even if you keep another helmet for fun weekend rides this will soon become your daily driver.
Pros: Highly visible and noticeable to drivers, wireless controls let you signal turns without taking your hands off the bars, easy set up and good fit
Cons: Proprietary charger, heavier than a standard helmet, lacks the adjustability of high-end helmets
Check out our other bike gear guides
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