If you're looking to get a bit more exercise this year and start riding your bike more, then we hope you're on this page because you know that wearing one of the best bike helmets could, quite possibly, save your life.
We're not being hyperbolic. In 2019, sixty-two percent of bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Previous studies in New York City (opens in new tab) found that almost all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet.
But finding the best bike helmet for you can be difficult, not just for the fit, but also depending on the type of biking you plan to do. What's more, some bike helmets are downright expensive. That's why we tested a dozen of the best bike helmets on the market ranging in price from about $50 up to around $300.
The best bicycle helmets you can buy today
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If you hate wearing a helmet, the Giro Register MIPS may be the best bike helmet for you. It was one of lightest helmets we tested, and we found it was extremely comfortable, so much so that usually when stopping the first thing we do is remove our helmet, but the Giro Register MIPS was so light we forgot we were wearing it while shopping for groceries at a local farm stand.
In addition to its light weight, the Register has an extra strip of padding on the brow and its interior padding strips extend back toward the rear of your head more than others, accounting in part for its better feel. The only models we found to rival the Giro Register in terms of comfort were the Bell Super Air R and the Scott Vivo Plus. This helmet comes with a snap-on visor and uses the RocLoc Sport Fit system, a back-of-the-head dialing system very much like the BOA Fit used by Bontrager and others, and just as effective.
If there was one model that seemed to adapt to a variety of uses and required the least amount of fussing, it was the Bell Trace MIPS helmet. It was very comfortable in hot and in cool conditions, included a clip-on visor, and didn't cost a fortune.
We found the sizing to be accurate, and the dial-and-cable fitting system as easy to use as those found in models costing twice as much. While it might not be the most stylish helmet on the market, that may actually be one of its virtues. Because the Bell Trace design is less radical and more reserved than several other models, that makes it a good compromise if you have to satisfy a variety of tastes, say, making it the ideal helmet choice if you have to outfit an entire family with headgear.
Thousand proves it's possible to look cool wearing a helmet. (Well, at least not look completely geeky.) The company is best known for its retro-styled, enclosed skater/biker helmets that have a certain cache among riders, and the Thousand Chapter helmet is a nice addition to the line up.
The Chapter helmet uses the MiPS system to offset the rotational effects of an impact, and it has a thick foam layer, so it protects you more from the elements, like dust and dirt in urban environments. Still, it's relatively light (about the same weight as the Lumos and Scott and Bontrager helmets in this review), and it is equally at home on one of the best electric scooters or a skateboard. So if you like to switch between wheeled microtransportation devices, this could be the perfect helmet for you. Its magnetic clasp can be single-handed, and the Chapter helmet is decidedly comfortable — although a tad more padding on the forehead would be nice.
We also very much appreciated the detachable, rechargeable rear red light. It's magnetic, so it can be removed and put in an included attachment that straps onto a seat post so that the light can be used on the bicycle itself. That's a nice option, and the light can be set to stay lit continually or flash, depending how visible you want to be. In our testing, it lasted about an hour and a half when on full time. The final feature that we did not avail ourselves of was the "poplock" access hole with a removable cap in the back of the helmet. It's designed for threading it though a bike lock so you don't have to carry the helmet around with you when you reach your destination. Thousand promises to replace your helmet if it gets damaged or stolen while it's locked up. Now that's a good deal.
The most comfortable helmet offering the most complete protection we tested — especially for mountain bikers — was the Bell Super Air R. Among the best bike helmets we tested, it was the only model that included a chin guard to protect you in case of an off-road face plant, and it offered a more snug yet comfortable fit than any of the others we tried. The Bell Super Air R uses a dial-in Float fit system, similar to others, but it also has thicker padding inside than any other model we tested and the padding stretches farther back for a better fit.
If you think the chin guard is too aggressive and unnecessary on city streets, it can quickly be removed; two front hooks secure it with a pair of snap-down clips in back. With its open vented design, however, you can also choose to leave the chin guard in place without worrying about fogging up your glasses. For visibility, the visor also has three positions, so if you're going uphill you can push it back so it's not obstructing your view. Ultimately, if you're a serious mountain biker, the Bell Super Air R may be the best investment you can make.
Lazer has been in the bike helmet business for a century (starting with leather caps), so the Belgian company has plenty of experience in designing gear for cyclists. The company's Blade+MIPS helmet is an open, well-ventilated model that we found comfortable and easy to adjust. It uses a unique thumb screw (they call it Rollsys) on the top of the helmet that tightens or loosens the interior cage.
The Blade was surprisingly snug both front and back (some systems just feel like they are grabbing the back of your head). If you have trouble, Lazer is one of the few companies that include an extra strip of padding you can add inside. There are also options like an aero shell cover ($19.99) for a more aerodynamic shape and to help fend off the rain (or snow if you're that adventurous). One recommendation: We suggest going larger than what you're used to in terms of sizing for Lazer models.
Boasting an accident alert system, Specialized's S-Works Prevail II was the most technical helmet we tested. It starts with a carbon and aramid fiber layer, giving it rigidity and lightness, and the MIPS impact deflection system. Then the bike maker added its ANGi system: It stands for angular and g-force indicator, and comprises a sensor attached to the back of the helmet. If it detects a severe fall, it will trigger a countdown to an alarm on a connected smartphone using the Specialized Ride app.
If all that's been bruised is your pride, you can then terminate the alarm; otherwise it sends a text to your emergency contacts with your location. This can literally be a life saver for solo riders who enjoy country roads — just remember to start the Ride app before you set off. In terms of comfort, we found we had to tighten and loosen the fit dial every time we put it on and off. Nevertheless, the S-Works Prevail was better than average in terms of fit, although not as comfy as the Giro and Bell models we tested.
Note: The S-Works Prevail II has been replaced by the S-Works Prevail III ($300, Specialized (opens in new tab)), which has improved ventilation. It has received a 5-star rating from the Virginia Tech helmet test lab.
This Wisconsin-based company now owned by bike maker Trek touts its own exclusive technology called WaveCel. In independent tests, the design, which crushes on impact, has been shown to be an improvement over traditional foam helmets in protecting from head injuries caused by certain cycling accidents. Like MIPS designs, the intent is to offer better protection in angled impacts by absorbing the rotational energy.
We found the Specter model to be very comfortable, although it is a little narrower than some of the best bike helmets on this list, giving it a less bulky appearance, but larger heads should try before buying. For adjustments, the helmet uses the BOA fit system that employs an interior cage of cables, and it works well. The Specter also uses a magnetic snap on the chin strap, which makes it easier to clasp. Some people find the magnetic latch easier and quicker, but you can also open or close any of the traditional snaps with one hand, so it's more a matter of personal preference.
One of the most comfortable vented road rider helmets we tested was the Scott Vivo Plus. We tend to think of the company for its snowboard and ski helmets but were very pleased with this MIPS bike helmet as well. Among the best bike helmets, it’s considerably heavier than say, the Giro Register, and it doesn't use longitudinal vents to improve aero flow. Consequently, on longer rides in the sun it tended to generate more heat than we would have liked.
However, we found the Scott Vivo Plus fit to be extremely comfortable, and it didn't tend to slide forward, like some other models we tested. Its profile was a little bulkier than others but it didn't affect sizing or fit. The helmet also includes a detachable visor with two positions and a soft white tote bag.
Congested city streets pose many dangers for cyclists, so being seen is often your best defense. The Lumos Ultra is designed to do just that with a front LED headlight and red turn signals embedded in the rear of the helmet. It comes with a built-in rechargeable battery, and a wireless Bluetooth 4 controller that straps onto your handlebars in seconds. Better still, if you have an Apple Watch, when you make a hand gesture to turn, the appropriate signal on the helmet will blink in sync.
An included iPhone/Android app also lets you customize the lights. You can set them all to flash rapidly, slowly, or remain on, for example, and you can also adjust the lights' brightness and the turn signal's audio prompts. (When you trigger the left or right signal, they emit different frequency beeps to confirm that you've signaled properly--and to remind you to turn the signal off.) The app will also track your rides and is compatible with Google Fit and Strava.
We found the wireless turn signal buttons can be tricky to operate while wearing gloves. On the other hand, if it were too easy to depress the buttons, there would be the danger of hitting them inadvertently. And if the left/right button controller were any bigger, it wouldn't sit properly on handlebars already festooned with shifters, electric horns, and ebike displays. So we found that the Lumos controller struck the right balance — and the helmet easily and automatically paired with the controller every time we turned it on (which is no mean feat).
The Lumos Ultra can also be ordered with the integrated MIPS system, which is the model we tested. It has a low friction layer that is designed to provide extra protection in an angled, twisting impact. We found the Lumos Ultra to be very comfortable, with an extended front brow pad and rear-dial fitting system that worked well. The Lumos is not as light and carefree as, say, the Giro Register, but it's also much lighter than models like the Bell Super Air R. Overall, it's an excellent combination of safety and comfort.
The Smith Express is designed for urban riders and commuters who favor city streets over country roads. Rather than extensively vented, the Express is an enclosed design also typical of designs for skateboarders. Consequently, it's a warmer helmet, and better suited to fall days than sultry summer rides. Aesthetically, even though it's not smaller, the Express' more enclosed design makes it appear less bulky and bulbous than typical vented helmets.
Unfortunately, we didn't find the Smith Express as comfortable as some of the other best bike helmets, primarily because the padding is not sufficient to keep the back sides of your head from hitting the hard foam of the liner. It could be corrected with some additional padding around the top back of the helmet, but Smith doesn't include any additional padding. After wearing it for hours of riding, we did get used to the fit, but if you're resistant to wearing a helmet to begin with, this isn't the model for you.
POC's Axion SPIN is an example of an off-road or enduro helmet that's equally at home on city streets commuting to work, which makes it one of the best bike helmets for those who want one model for a variety of conditions. Its design is not completely enclosed like urban models, but it does cover more of the back and sides of the head than typical lightweight road helmets designed for speed and hot weather. The Axion also eschews the MIPS impact system and instead uses POC's own solution, SPIN for Shearing Pad INside.
The Axion SPIN deploys a system of silicone pads to deflect rotational forces and appears to do better than traditional foam-only designs in tests. We like the look of the Axion as well, although it also didn't deliver as comfortable a fit as some others, and we wished it shipped with additional pads to reduce friction in the back.
The POC Ventral Lite is literally the coolest bike helmet we tested. It is the most open and thereby the lightest, as well, so if you find yourself sweating under most helmets, this may be the solution for you. However, to achieve such featherweight status, the POC Ventral uses a traditional expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner rather than a MIPS design or POC's own SPIN system. Consequently, you are giving up some more sophisticated crash protection in favor of weight.
We also found the Ventral wasn't as comfortable as some other models; we snugged it up using POCs dial-to-tighten system but we could still feel the friction from the hard PC shell in places. A few extra pads (which POC often includes with its ski helmets) would go a long way to solving the issue here.
How to choose the best bike helmet for you
Shock absorption technology: There is still some debate about the most effective helmet technology for protecting your head. However, most researchers agree that it's the rotational forces that tend to cause the most damage, including concussions. The most popular technology today to address these types of crashes is the multi-directional impact protection system or MIPS technology. It is designed to reduce the rotational force on one's cranium in an accident by allowing the outer shell of the helmet to slide slightly on impact. Many helmet makers offer MIPS models, and there are a couple of competing designs including POC's SPIN pads and Bontrager's Wavecel liner that compresses to reduce rotational forces.
Fit Matters: Helmets need to fit snugly in order to protect your pate in an impact. Most models now feature a cage-like design that can loosen or tighten an interior set of straps to fit around your head. Over time, chin straps can stretch and loosen, so don't forget to snug them up on occasion. Also make sure you don't push the helmet back; they're designed to sit slightly forward over your brow to protect your forehead.
Use case: Bikes are used in a variety of ways, from commuting to mountain biking, and bike helmet manufacturers make helmets tailored for those scenarios. While it's perfectly acceptable to wear a mountain bike helmet when cycling to work, it may have extra features, such as a visor or a chin guard, that you don't necessarily need, or want to pay extra for. Look for a helmet that will best match how you plan to use your bike.
How we tested the best bike helmets
One of the criteria in selecting the best bike helmets to test was if they had MIPS protection, or the equivalent. MIPS, which in this use stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, includes a layer that allows the helmet to slide relative to the head, thus reducing rotational forces which can cause concussions or other brain injuries.
Of course, we could not test the helmets under actual crash conditions, so we consulted several test reports that conducted extensive lab-based impact analysis. Those included Virginia Tech and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's evaluation of 162 bike helmets (opens in new tab) and a 2021 study of 27 helmets (opens in new tab) tested in oblique impacts published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. We also considered the results of a 2020 study conducted by a Swedish insurance company (opens in new tab) as part of our evaluation.
Below is a chart with the Virginia Tech ratings of the helmets we reviewed; the lower the number, the better.
|Helmet||Va. Tech rating (lower is better)|
|Giro Register MIPS||17.06|
|Thousand Chapter MIPS Helmet||12.91|
|Lazer Blade + MIPS||12.32|
|Specialized S-Works Prevail II||12.65|
|Bontrager Specter WaveCel||10.79|
|Scott Vivo Plus||15.38|
Since fit and comfort are two of the most important features of bicycle helmets, we then head-tested every model, riding many miles in different circumstances (off road, dirt roads, highways and city streets) to see how they held up under real world use.
What size bike helmet do I need?
In order to be effective, a bike helmet must be properly sized to your head. Most helmets come in multiple sizes, and will also have some sort of adjustment mechanism so it will fit snugly on your head.
In order to find your head size, take a tape measure or a piece of string, and wrap it around the widest part of your head, about an inch above your eyebrows. Most bike helmet manufacturers will have a sizing chart, so you know the appropriate model for your noggin.
When to replace a bike helmet
Any time you have an impact or even a tumble that doesn't result in injury, your helmet should be replaced—even if there is no visible damage. Any impact can reduce its ability to protect your noggin. (The same goes for ski and motorcycle helmets.)
While there’s no hard and fast rule, the general consensus is that bike helmets should be replaced every five years or so, depending on use. If you rarely use your helmet, it could last longer, but with normal wear and tear, five years is a good benchmark.