Like any helmet for any sport, road bike helmets protect against knocks to your head and reduce the risk of life-threatening brain injuries. But safety does not come at the expense of performance. The best road bike helmets are tested and engineered to give you a cycling advantage in addition to protection. We’ve assessed helmets for features that enhance speed, aerodynamics, ventilation, and even style and created a top 10 best road bike helmets list to help you choose a helmet that fits your performance goals and criteria for comfort. There are many more great road cycling helmets beyond this list, so we’ll explain what to look for in a bike helmet as you explore your options.
What to look for in a road bike helmet
If your cycling helmet doesn’t keep you safe, there’s no point in wearing it. You know this and so do helmet manufacturers. All helmets in the U.S. are required to undergo testing and pass safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). All helmets sold must meet standards that deem them “safe,” but every helmet is unique and some offer additional safety features or new and innovative technology for a lower risk of injury. Oblique head impact holds a greater risk of head trauma for cyclists than linear impact, so different brands and styles of helmets offer different designs and features meant to reduce this risk.
Most helmets are constructed with an outer polymer shell that encapsulates EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam. Upon impact, the shell will crush and the foam will compress, both absorbing some of the impact. Virginia Tech tests individual bike helmets in the STAR test and rates the helmets according to their ability to reduce concussions. They recommend helmets that receive 4-5 stars. We’ve featured several 5-star helmets in our list. However, not every helmet model has been tested, so just because it’s not mentioned as having 5 stars, does not mean it’s unsafe.
What is a Mips bike helmet?
More often than not, bike helmets include Mips (Multi-directional Impact Protection System). Mips is a branded thin slip-plane layer incorporated in helmets to reduce the rotational forces that would otherwise damage brain tissue. How Mips is used in the design of a helmet varies.
We can’t be 100% certain as to just how effective Mips is. The company claims that a helmet must be at least 10% at reducing rotational forces to use the Mips label, but the exact percentage effectiveness for individual Mips helmets is uncertain. Some believe that better and safer technology exists due to advancements in testing. Some helmet brands, like POC (SPIN) or Bontrager (Wavecel), have independently tested and developed their own technology to reduce rotational impact that they claim is more effective than Mips. Bontrager’s Wavecel, for example, is a cell-like material that collapses in and absorbs impact. Testing by the Legacy Research Institution in Oregon concluded that the Wavecel is more effective than Mips at reducing impact.
The bottom line–all of the helmets listed here are tested and proven safe by the CPSC, whether they include Mips or not. But extra precaution is never a bad idea. So whether you pick a helmet with or without Mips, we recommend choosing one that takes extra measures to ensure your safety.
Fit is right next to safety in its level of importance because if your helmet doesn’t fit properly, then it isn’t safe to wear no matter how many safety features it has. You can measure the circumference of your head to determine what size helmet you need, but trying a helmet on is the best way to ensure a proper fit. Some helmets fit certain head shapes and sizes better than others. Features like Mips may make a helmet feel snugger, and wearing a cycling cap or ponytail may influence the size and type of helmet you need. The best-fitting helmets have easy adjustability. Retention systems or strap adjustments shouldn’t be difficult to make, even while riding.
Weight is a more crucial criterion for road bike helmets than recreational or mountain bike helmets since it can influence performance. Road cyclists lean low, so heavy helmets cause neck strain. Lighter helmets won’t weigh you down and reduce your speed. But sometimes higher quality helmets are heavier because of the additional safety features. Safety should be a more critical factor than weight. European helmets are often lighter than U.S. models because safety standards aren’t as strict, so these helmets may have less EPS foam. But don’t let the number of grams stop you from trying a helmet. If a heavier helmet fits better than a lighter one, it might feel lighter than it actually is and will certainly be safer and more comfortable for you.
A helmet with good ventilation helps keep your core temperature down and your rides comfortable. Quality helmet design will channel air from the front of the helmet to the back so your entire head stays cool. Deep channels or crevices move the air through the helmet. The channeling and level of ventilation are different for each helmet. Ventilation is especially important in warm weather to keep your head dry and the sweat out of your eyes.
Fit, weight, and ventilation all contribute to the comfort of your bike helmet. If any of the three aren’t quite right, then there’s no way you’ll be comfortable in your helmet. Helmets include padding for additional comfort. This padding should be placed in strategic places so it doesn’t create uncomfortable pressure points or block ventilation. The padding should also be made from moisture-wicking materials to keep your helmet from becoming sweaty and slippery and should be removable for easy washing.
How much should you expect to spend on a road bike helmet?
High-quality road bike helmets are designed for performance, and most range from $100-$300. High-end helmets are top contenders for the best ventilation, comfort, aerodynamics, weight, and safety in one package. But you don’t necessarily need to purchase the most expensive helmet to get what you need. You should consider your cycling type and goals. If you’re not concerned with shaving seconds off of your time for competition, then you don’t need an exceptionally aerodynamic helmet. If you cycle to commute, then lights, comfort, and style will be more important than weight or drag reduction. Also, a higher price tag does not make a helmet safer. You may pay more for additional safety features, but all helmets sold must undergo testing and pass safety regulations.
Best road bike helmets
Best overall road bike helmet: POC Ventral Spin II
- Cost: $290
- Weight: 280g (M)
- Safety: SPIN technology
- Best feature: Venturi effect airflow
Pros: The sleek POC Ventral Spin II is the best all-around bike helmet. Its design incorporates the Venturi effect for improved ventilation and aerodynamics. Just as fluid velocity increases as it’s restricted, the air is compressed throughout the helmet’s channels and ejected out the back of the helmet at a higher velocity. It’s designed to direct air through the helmet rather than around it, which reduces drag. POC was one of the first brands to add Mips to their helmet, and they’ve continued to innovate since. This POC helmet uses SPIN (Shearing Pad INside) technology in the place of Mips. SPIN uses comfortable padding instead of the Mips liner for a better fit and more responsive impact reduction. Cyclists have expressed that the excellent fit of POC Ventral Spin makes its weight go unnoticed.
Cons: Higher price tag, but otherwise, pretty much perfect.
Best road bike helmet runner-up: Giro Aether Spherical Mips
- STAR rating: 5
- Cost: $150-320
- Weight: 280g (M)
- Safety: Mips
- Best feature: Improved Mips design
Pros: The Giro Aether Spherical Mips has two layers of EPS foam that rotate independently for improved rotational force reduction. This provides the extra layer of safety without inhibiting cooling or comfort that is more common with Mips sandwiched against the head. The helmet has a shatter-resistant arch or band across the top for additional reinforcement. The Roc Loc system elevates the helmet slightly on the head for increased airflow and temperature regulation, and it allows you to custom fit the tension and tilt in seconds. This system plus deep internal channeling provides excellent ventilation.
Cons: Some cyclists have reported squeaking and hair-pulling.
Best aero bike helmet: Specialized S-Works Evade II
- Cost: $275
- Weight: 305g (M)
- Safety: Mips SL
- Best feature: ANGi crash sensor
Pros: The Specialized S-Works Evade II claims to be the “fastest road helmet” and to save 50 seconds over 40 km. Aerodynamic helmets help shave seconds for time trialists but often at the cost of ventilation. This helmet solves the ventilation versus aero dilemma. It’s tested and developed in Specialized’s own wind tunnel by engineers. The unique Mips SL system incorporates Mips into the padding for increased comfort. The ANGi electronic sensor will signal your phone to call for help if an accident occurs. The helmet also includes an easily adjustable micro-dial retention system and magnetic buckle.
Cons: Padding gets in the way of brow vents.
Best low-profile bike helmet: Kask Protone
- Cost: $299.95
- Weight: 230g (M)
- Safety: Standard with internal testing
- Best feature: Close fit
Pros: The Kask Protone is well-known for its semi-aero design with a great balance between performance and practicality. The helmet has no Mips, but Kask claims it undergoes rigorous testing in replicated real-life accident scenarios. The best part about the helmet is its lack of bulk and design that nearly morphs to the head. It has comfortable and washable moisture-wicking padding and a plastic cradle substructure to secure the head. The Protone is one of the lightest helmets, but it does not include additional safety features that make the few extra grams on other helmets worthwhile.
Cons: Pressure points in the helmet may be uncomfortable for some head shapes, and the fit is not the most secure or easy to adjust (no adjustable Y-strap)
Best ventilated bike helmet: Bell Z20 Mips
- STAR rating: 5
- Cost: $220
- Weight: 330g (M)
- Safety: Mips
- Best feature: Cushioned cradle fit
Pros: The Bell Z20 Mips has superb overbrow ventilation with intake ports that push air straight through the air channel for airflow over the whole head. The Sweat Guide over the brow regulates moisture to keep you cool as well. The quick-dry material integrates silver fibers that prevent bacterial growth. The cushioned cradle at the back of the head gives a comfortable and secure fit. The Y-straps can be adjusted in three ways for custom height, width, and tension. This helmet will keep your head cool on the hottest and most challenging rides.
Cons: The helmet is on the heavy side and still leaves some EPS foam exposed.
Best lightweight bike helmet: Bontrager Velocis Mips
- STAR rating: 5
- Cost: $224.99
- Weight: 266g (M)
- Safety: Mips
- Best feature: Deep ventilation channels
Pros: The Bontrager Velocis Mips is a great lightweight helmet that still prioritizes safety features. Its lightness and ventilation make this helmet an aerodynamic asset. The deep channels and large vents give the helmet great ventilation. To prove temperature regulation, Bontrager tested the helmet on a heated head form to demonstrate how well it keeps the head from overheating. The helmet provides a secure fit with a dial adjustment and a convenient sunglasses port.
Cons: The helmet has some exposed EPS to allow for its lighter weight.
Most comfortable bike helmet: Lazer Z1 Mips
- STAR rating: 5
- Cost: $219
- Weight: 275g (S)
- Safety: Mips
- Best feature: Horizontal and vertical adjustment
Pros: The Lazer Z1 Mips is constructed in a classic helmet design with an optional aeroshell. The straps are comfortable and won’t twist as you ride. The helmet contains an internal polycarbonate cage for a secure fit and additional comfort. The thumbwheel adjustment dial on top of the helmet allows you to tighten the helmet around your entire head to keep it secure. The Lazer Z1 includes 31 vents placed strategically for optimal ventilation. This cycling helmet is also ponytail-friendly for female cyclists.
Cons: Helmet sits a little too high on the head for some cyclists.
Best commuter bike helmet: Lumos Ultra
- Cost: $119.95
- Weight: 370g (M)
- Safety: optional Mips and safety tech
- Best feature: Turn signals
Pros: Lumos has thought of everything needed for a safe commute in their Lumos Ultra helmet. It includes full LED coverage, with 30 front lights and 64 rear lights that simply have to be pressed on. Left and right turn signals are controlled by buttons on the handlebars or on your Apple watch. You’re also able to use the app or connect the helmet to your Strava to track rides. The helmet is easy to adjust with a click-dial fit. It’s water-resistant for rainy commutes and comes with free accident replacement. Brake lights are also available as an optional upgrade.
Cons: It’s comfy but still heavy because of all the safety gadgets, and a lot of EPS foam is left exposed.
Best looking bike helmet: Thousand Heritage
- Cost: $89
- Weight: 460g (M)
- Safety: Standard
- Best feature: Poplock anti-theft mechanism
Pros: This stylish, retro-inspired commuter helmet is street-style approved and incredibly comfortable. The low-profile visor keeps the sun out of our eyes without stealing the show. The magnetic buckle is strong enough to lock your helmet securely in place while still allowing you to fasten and remove it easily. The helmet logo is a Poplock anti-theft mechanism so you don’t have to worry about leaving your helmet behind. But on the off-chance it does get stolen or damaged, Thousand will replace it for free.
Cons: The helmet is a little heavy and scuffs easily.
Best bike helmet under $100: Bell Formula Mips
- STAR rating: 5
- Cost: $95
- Weight: 285g (M)
- Safety: Mips
- Best feature: LED rear light
Pros: It’s not easy to find such a great-value helmet that includes performance-enhancing features and Mips like the Bell Formula does. It has a full-coverage polymer shell, leaving no EPS foam exposed. It has great ventilation for the price and has a moisture-wicking brow pad to keep sweat from the eyes. The Bell Formula also includes an adjustable dial and a 20-lumen LED rear light with different modes of flashing.
Cons: No complaints for the value!
Whether cycling on your favorite bike path or racing on the open road, there is no denying the thrill of riding, but like any sport, there is a risk of injury. By choosing a helmet that meets or exceeds safety standards you help reduce your odds of a head injury if or when a fall happens.