Buyer's guide to cheap bike helmets

The top lids for under AU$100

We’ve reviewed 17 Australian standards-approved helmets, all priced below $100. Owing to Australia’s laws, buying a helmet is a crucial – indeed compulsory – part of buying a bike.

The helmet is one item you'll need to buy locally. Australia has different safety standards for helmets to other parts of the world, and helmets bought from international online sellers may not meet those standards. Buying from a store in Australia should ensure it passes standards, but always check for the appropriate sticker. 

Fit is the most crucial part of a helmet purchase: an uncomfortable helmet will quickly ruin a ride. Fit is a completely subjective measure, though, and rarely did our testers agree what is, and isn’t comfortable.

The helmets tested feature plenty of ‘trickle-down’ technology, which helps provide a lightweight and well-ventilated helmet. At higher price points, the helmets go from being a ‘universal size’ to having multiple size options for a more refined fit. Additionally, more expensive helmets will often offer greater air-cooling and lower weight, all while still passing mandatory safety testing. Durability and overall quality also play their part, and so the more expensive helmets are generally better under regular use.

The first step in buying a helmet is to decide what type of cyclist you are. We’ve divided our findings into three main categories: mountain bike/urban, road and women’s specific. Each of these helmets can be used for any disciple, but they are all have their own advantages/disadvantages that make them serve their designated purposes.

We only tested three women’s specific helmets; however, our women’s test group stand by their beliefs that beyond colour choice – and perhaps hairstyle! – there’s little reason not to try on a men’s helmet.

All helmets were tested on a range of riders, and popular Oakley Radar sunglasses were used to judge eyewear compatibility – Radars are notoriously long to fit into helmets, so if Oakley’s fit, others should too.

In the end, not one helmet scored less than a ‘average’ score, highlighting how difficult it can be to choose the perfect lid. The best advice we can give? Always try before you buy.   

Mountain bike and urban:                                                                                                                          

Mountain bike helmets are designed to offer large ventilation ports for low-speed ventilation, be lightweight and offer increased head coverage, with the rear of the head often more protected than it would be on a road lid. A visor is a likely feature to help keep sun out of the eyes and deflect branches or other dangling dangers.

While all these features sound superficially ideal for road cycling too, that’s not the case. The large ventilation ports create a lot of wind noise at speed, which can be dangerous if riding in traffic.

Generally, either a road or mountain helmet will serve well for use in an urban environment. Urban specific helmets are more about the addition of styling and ‘be-seen’ safety features. Many urban specific helmets will feature a higher level of reflectivity and in some cases can include integrated rear lights.

Scott Watu

  • Price: $69.95
  • Weight: 252g
  • Size tested: Uni: 54-61cm

The Watu has us extremely impressed with its gapping, wide-open vent ports that are more likely seen on helmets at least twice the price. Between the low weight and enormous vents, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing this helmet – at least until you’re at high-speed, when a distracting wind noise is  produced.

Bug mesh protects the front vents – however, this won’t stop branches and sticks poking through in the event of a crash.

Met 20-Miles

  • Price: $99.99
  • Weight: 320g
  • Size tested: Large: 59-62cm
  • Additional sizes available: Medium

The 20-Miles is an urban focused lid that features a high-vis cover matched with a rear red light integrated into the retention adjustment dial for ultimate night safety. The light isn't the brightest, but is a great addition nonetheless.

In the daytime, sports sunglass compatibility is limited with the 20-Miles, although a casual pair does fit. A stubby visor helps to keep sun away from the eyes, and even without ventilation ports at the side, the helmet does a surprisingly good job of channelling air through.

Lazer Ultrax

  • Price: $99.95
  • Weight: 365g
  • Size tested: Medium: 52-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Large

The Ultravax features Lazer’s new ‘Auto-fit’ technology, where the pre-tensioned retention harness automatically adjusts to your head. This helmet is universally comfortable with all our testers and is no doubt the easiest fit.

Feature packed, with an adjustable visor, built-in rear reflector (light optional) and generous head coverage, it’s a great helmet for trail and urban use. Unfortunately the ‘auto-fit’ feature does come with a significant weight penalty and this is one of the heaviest helmets on test.

Bontrager Quantum

  • Price: $89.95
  • Weight: 351g
  • Size tested: Medium: 54-60cm
  • Additional sizes available: Small, Large, X-Large

Bontrager is a brand sold through Trek dealers and offers both a 30-day money back guarantee and one-year crash replacement policy. The Quantum brings a little additional trail protection into a lid that’s suitable for all styles of riding with decent ventilation and no significant noise issues.

Construction quality is overall high and with four sizes available, it’s easy to find a precise fit. However one tester did notice the retention ratchet digging into the back of their head.

Giro Revel

  • Price: $69
  • Weight: 304
  • Size tested: Uni: 54-61cm

Giro is a brand that has a long-lasting and loyal following in the helmet market; the Revel brings some of the manufacturer’s classic styling and design elements at a budget price. With enough ports to provide generous channelling, it’s comfortable on a hot day – for both on and off-road.

Stopping it from scoring higher is the retention system, which lacks a smooth ratchet action – with more than one tester complaining of it causing discomfort at the back. Sunglass compatibility isn’t great, with the glass arms sitting on top of the retention strap.

Lazer Cyclone

  • Price: $69.95
  • Weight: 318
  • Size tested: Medium: 54-58cm
  • Additional sizes available: Large

Lazer is probably best known for its unique wire-based retention systems at the higher-end. The Cyclone uses a more traditional plastic retention and offers a respectable number of forward facing ventilation ports, though the helmet still feels rather hot with limited side and rear ventilation.

Unusually, all testers agree that this helmet is a comfortable shape. The straps are a little fiddly to adjust and for some don’t sit flat. The Cyclone’s retention system works perfectly, but looks and feels cheap.

Limar X-MTB

  • Price: $99
  • Weight: 281g
  • Size tested: Uni-L: 57-62cm

The X-MTB is superbly lightweight and breathable with a staggering range of adjustment in a trail focused design. It offers a smoothly rounded shape and deep coverage at the rear.  

However, it’s awfully noisy at anything above 25km/ph and we couldn’t get our sunglasses to fit at all. With just one size brought into Australia, the X-MTB will only suit the larger headed – its depth is similar to that of an X-large sized helmet. 

Met Crossover

  • Price: $74.99
  • Weight: 301g
  • Size tested: Uni: 52-59cm
  • Additional sizes available: X-Large

The Met Crossover is a feature-packed lid that defies its price. With an integrated rear safety light, bug catching net and extremely effective ventilation, there’s plenty to like – and an X-large option means there should be something to fit nearly any head size.

Sadly it’s not perfect. Sunglass compatibility isn’t great, due to the additional material at the temples. The non-adjustable visor is also placed too low, affecting vision. Lastly, one tester felt the retention knob dug sharply into the back of their head.

Limar 685

  • Price: $89-$99
  • Weight: 229g
  • Size tested: Medium: 53-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Large

The 685 is the same as the incredibly lightweight road focused Limar 660, but with the addition of a visor. It’s well suited to a wide range of riding, but lacks the deeper coverage of a trail-specific lid. The non-adjustable visor isn’t obtrusive, but it does bounce a little and so seems an afterthought.

Ventilation is reasonable, and improves at speed, but there’s limited breathability at the helmet sides. Bug-catching mesh and padded chin straps and retention harness add to a helmet that otherwise feels and looks a little cheap.

Limar X-Urban

  • Price: $59
  • Weight: 433g
  • Size tested: Uni-L: 54-61cm

This is our only ‘bucket’ style helmet on test. As far as bucket/skate helmets go, the Limar is a good one.

However, testing this against the more conventional ventilated helmets, it’s obvious that breathability is greatly sacrificed: it's notably hot and stuffy to wear. Further to this, weight is substantially higher, something that will become noticeable as distances increase. But, it’s certainly worth a try if you’re set on this style.

Limar 535

  • Price: $59
  • Weight: 250g
  • Size tested: Medium: 52-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Large

The 535 is the most basic helmet on test, and yet is weight-competitive with top-end options. The price constraint is most obvious in the ventilation department, with little material cut-away from the helmet’s sides and only small forward vents offering airflow. Because of that lack of vents, though, noise is kept to a minimum at speed.

The 535 has a notably 'budget' construction but is still a great helmet for the price.

Road helmets:

Road helmets are designed to breathe well, be lightweight, and comfortable for hours at a time. Due to a higher average speed, copious smaller sized vents help channel air through without the wind noise of larger vents. Visors rarely feature as they often impede vision with the low ‘head-down’ position of a road bike.

Specialized Echelon II

  • Price: $99.95
  • Weight: 284g
  • Size tested: Small: 51-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Medium, Large

The Echelon brings some of Specialized’s top race-features to an entry-level price point. Such features as the forehead vents and fixed side-straps increase comfort; with a reinforcing composite skeleton, Specialized is able to remove further material so the many vent ports provide efficient air channelling.

Overall build quality is high, including a positive retention mechanism. With three sizes available, the Echelon feels plenty more high-end than it really is.

Scott ARX

  • Price: $99.95
  • Weight: 252g
  • Size tested: Medium: 55-59cm
  • Additional sizes available: Small, Large

The ARX is a road specific helmet with price-defying aero styling and ventilation. Unfortunately the large vent ports produce a lot of noise at speed, so stopping it from being the very best.

Available in three sizes, the fit is precise but the straps are attached very far to the rear and can make for an awkward fit around the ears.

Limar 660

  • Price: $89-$99
  • Weight: 221g
  • Size tested: Medium: 52-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Large

As mentioned above, the 660 is the same lid as the 685 but without a visor. The 660 is aimed at the road enthusiast and offers a very lightweight construction. Breathability is decent, but a lack of side ventilation does hold some heat. Curiously though, we found the helmet noisy at speed.

The whole helmet – retention system, chin strap and shell – is generously padded for comfort.

Women’s specific

As previously mentioned, there’s often little difference between a men’s and women’s helmet except colour. Some brands, such as Specialized, design the helmet to be worn with ponytails, something that’s not always possible on other helmets. Otherwise, there’s little reason not to try on a men’s helmet if women’s-specific options are limited.

Specialized Aspire

  • Price: $99.95
  • Weight: 287g
  • Size tested: Small: 51-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Medium, Large

The Aspire is the women’s-specific version of the Echelon II tested above: a helmet best suited to the road. The biggest difference is the addition of the ‘hair-port’ retention system that provides greater room for a ponytail or similar long hair.

As with the men’s Echelon, the fixed strap system keeps the fastenings away from the ears and makes fitting an absolute synch. Ventilation is extremely generous, with air being channelled across the head. It's available in three sizes, meaning we were able to find a precise fit.

Bontrager Solstice WSD

  • Price: $59.95
  • Weight: 287g
  • Size tested: Small-Medium: 50-57cm
  • Additional sizes available: Medium-Large

The Solstice WSD is the same as the men’s version (not tested), but in a different – we'd say more appealing – colourscheme. This goes to prove that a men’s helmet will work perfectly assuming the colour does too.

The Solstice, like the Specialized Aspire, features a reinforcing skeleton to facilitate further material removal and therefore increased ventilation. Sadly, space for a ponytail isn’t as generous compared with Specialized's women’s offerings.

The Solstice is a great low-cost option, and taking into account Bontrager’s after-sale polices is well worth a try.

Specialized Duet

  • Price: $79.95
  • Weight: 293g
  • Size tested: Uni: 50-58cm

The Duet is a slightly cheaper version of the Aspire: the drop in price is achieved by only offering a single universal size and taking out the internal skeleton reinforcement, meaning there are fewer ventilation ports and the weight is slightly higher.

Ventilation is still decent, but we did notice some extra heat from the limited side ventilation after using the Aspire. Specialized’s ‘HairPort’ retention system remains, which is great.

A basic visor is included (as pictured) that spoils the look of the helmet, but it’s the easiest visor to remove and install of all we’ve ever tested.

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