We’ve tested a wide range of road cycling helmets to find out if getting the right lid means spending big bucks or whether a more modest sum can buy the right fit, comfort and cooling for you. Here's our pick of the best helmets we've tested this year.
Best helmets for road cycling
Winner: LAS Victory Limited
£139.99 / US$
The LAS Victory Limited has a highly adjustable fit and comes with three different pad sets, a soft bag and a hard case for travelling. Extras are all well and good, but the Victory’s construction quality, high-coverage hard shell, strap material, pads, buckles and clasps are among the best we’ve seen. If your budget can stretch to £140, we strongly recommend you check it out and try it for fit.
- Weight: 275g (L)
- Vents: 25
- Included: Bag, case, peak, pads
- From: www.lashelmets.com / www.chickencycles.co.uk
Runner-up: Bontrager Circuit
The Bontrager Circuit is seriously tough. Its hard shell extends right over the EPS core, minimising the likelihood of accidental damage, the fit is highly adjustable and it has good quality pads. The Circuit stands not just above similarly priced helmets – some of which are excellent in themselves – but puts plenty of pricier helmets in their place too.
- Weight: 319g (L)
- Vents: 21
- From: www.bontrager.com
Value award: Giro Savant
The Giro Savant features the same ‘wind tunnel’ vent and Roc Loc retention system as the £200 Aeon. Combine this, the low weight, the all-round quality and its good looks and you’ve got our best budget helmet.
This range-topping lid from Spesh was partly developed using a wind tunnel, to create a standard helmet that not only offers great airflow but real aerodynamic advantages. We can’t confirm whether the Prevail will make you faster or not, but we can say it’s among the best-ventilated helmets available. Fit is superb, with 5cm of vertical adjustment and a tiny rotary cradle adjuster for excellent fine tuning. The bottom of the polystyrene core is less dense, reducing weight but also making it easier to damage, so for this price we’d have liked a hard case or padded bag to protect this excellent quality lid while travelling.
- Weight: 228g (L)
- Vents: 31
- From: www.specialized.com
Giro have taken what they learnt with their ProLight and applied it to the Aeon. It has a dual density EPS foam core and an internal roll cage that weighs less than half that of the Giro Ionos. Further weight is shed with the silk-thin webbing straps and a new version of Giro’s Roc Loc cradle adjuster. The Aeon offers an impressive adjustment range – 5cm horizontal and 2cm vertical – and that’s before you use the ratchet to tune the fit. The lightweight touches are great and add up to a helmet weighing just 224g, but the best part is that this is simply the most ventilated helmet we’ve tried. The worst part is the price.
This helmet has a feature we like that’s rare on mid-price lids – a hard shell extending over every vulnerable part of the EPS core. The rear cradle’s three-point vertical adjustment provides 2cm of movement, with a micro-adjust ratchet for horizontal adjustment. The large vents pull plenty of air in and there’s a full one-piece pad with integrated insect mesh, though we’d like a non-meshed pad set for hot days. Fit is generous and comfortable, it’s light for the price, and the exterior is smooth, which is claimed to be better in a crash.
Mavic Plasma SLR
Mavic’s entry into the helmet market has gone against the current trend for ever lighter lids but it really scores with everything else. The full in-moulded shell is finished with absolute precision, the heavily vented outer design is mirrored inside with deep channels in the EPS core, and the inner pads, extending over three-quarters of the surface, are fully seamed and finished, the padding a low-density foam that draws moisture away from your skin and holds it in the pad.
- Weight: 380g (L)
- Vents: 23
- From: www.mavic.com
The Estro combines a rounded internal shape, 19 good-sized vents and plenty of core material for protection. Airflow is good, though bettered by some of the more minimal helmets here, and it’s solidly put together, with a perfectly finished in-moulded shell. Anti-bacterial pads on the crown paired with a gel brow pad offer much more comfort than their appearance would suggest. The shape is rounder than most so it’s even more important that you try before you buy, and the interior is sculpted around the vents. The web strap adjusters are substantial and easy to adjust.
Rudy Project Windmax
Rudy’s latest lid has plenty to offer, as you’d expect at this price. It has 21 large vents and the foam EPS core is one of the best protected here, the hard shell extending over all the exposed edges. Its rear cradle has three vertical points of adjustment and is only anchored at the sides, making it a good choice for women because you can pull a ponytail through above the adjuster. It’s airy too: the huge front vents provide masses of airflow while the internal sculpting allows heat to escape rapidly. It comes with a mesh one-piece winter pad set, summer pad set and additional thicker side pads to tune your fit.
- Weight: 255g (L)
- Vents: 21
- Included: Bag, 2 peaks, pads
- From: www.rudyproject.com / www.yellow-limited.com
Scott Vanish R
Scott have come up with one of the lighter lids at this price. With 24 vents – the largest of which is split by a slim reinforcing bar – ultra-thin, silk-like straps and a minimalist cradle, it’s easy to see how the weight has been kept to a minimum. But thanks to the sculpting of the EPS core, with plenty of space between your head and the helmet, it’s airy and well vented too. The hard shell does extend over the helmet’s edges, helping to reduce day-today damage, though ideally we’d have preferred a bit more coverage of the EPS core.
- Weight: 249g (L)
- Vents: 24
- Included: N/A
- From: www.scott-sports.com
Specialized Propero II
Specialized's flagship Prevail is one of the best-performing road lids on the market. Those who find everything about it appealing except the heady price can instead look to the Specialized Propero II, which packs in almost the same performance and arguably better looks at less than half the cost. It's a brilliant lid for a fantastic price – all the helmet most of us will ever need.
- Weight: 238g (S)
- Vents: 31
- From: www.specialized.com
What to look for when buying a helmet
All helmets work in much the same way. During a crash the helmet spreads the impact area, through the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner, to reduce the concentration of forces in a small area. Most modern helmets are manufactured using an in-mould system. This consists of an external hard plastic shell fused under pressure with the impact-absorbing EPS liner. Some more expensive helmets feature internal carbon fibre skeletons for extra strength, although these can add weight.
A helmet will only work if it’s a good fit, and as helmet shape varies between manufacturers, checking fit before you buy is crucial. If it doesn’t fit you properly, don’t buy it. The helmet must be secure when you’re wearing it too, with the straps snug under your chin. Most manufacturers make helmets in three sizes, with precise alterations made using a rear occipital cradle, with either a rotary adjuster or sliders. Some helmets feature cradles that encircle your whole head for more comfort.
After fit and protection, ventilation is the next most important aspect of a helmet. The number of exterior vents only suggests how well a helmet’s ventilation works. For a better idea you need to look on the inside. Deep and wide internal channels will not only allow air to flow through in straight lines, but will also keep more of the EPS foam core away from your head.
The current trend for helmets at the higher end of the market is for ever lower weights. That’s supported by the latest designs from Giro (Aeon 224g), Specialized (Prevail 228g) and Rudy Project’s new range-topping 255g Windmax. While lightness can offer more comfort, in our opinion airflow and fit are more important than chasing ever lighter lids.
How to care for your helmet
Don’t use solvents or strong chemicals to clean your helmet as these can damage the outer shell – we recommend cleaning with mild soap and warm water. Pads can be taken out to wash. Avoid exposing your helmet to high temperatures and replace it after any strong impacts. A well looked after helmet should last around eight years.