Head protection is obviously the priority when it comes to helmets, and it continues to be realised by using expanded polystyrene structures shrouded in polycarbonate shells. But new aspects are coming into play as our understanding of the dynamics of crashing deepens.
(This article was updated in October 2016).
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The newest helmets on the market now incorporate MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system), which provides extra protection against the rotational forces your head encounters during a crash.
The thing is, helmets are now expected to provide more than just protection, which complicates matters somewhat. And the main thing people now look for, aside from protection, in a performance road helmet is an aerodynamic advantage, which naturally has an effect on a lid’s shape, size and overall look.
Any lid that has even the slightest leaning towards competition will have been analysed and experimented with in the wind tunnel to reduce drag as much as possible. But whatever form these aerodynamically optimised helmets eventually take they still need to be comfortable, so padding and sizing options/adjustability are things you should pay close attention to before parting with your cash.
A helmet also needs to keep your head cool when conditions heat up so it needs to be able to do a good job of providing ventilation, too. And as if all that wasn’t enough, helmets are increasingly being used as a place to store sunglasses when they’re not on your face. So if you haven’t got space for your shades in your pockets it’s worth considering whether the helmet you’ve got your eye on has a way of holding on to them.
• Price: £59 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Excellent ventilation thanks to 22 vents plus internal channels
- Secures comfortably to your head with Lazer’s Advanced Rollsys System
- Low weight at just 220g for a size small
The Blade might be an entry-level model in Lazer’s road range, but its excellent venting, light weight, great looks and clever cradle make it one of the best performing and best value helmets out there.
With similar looks to the pro-level Z1 for less than half the price, what we have here is a bargain. You still get Lazer’s Advanced Rollsys System for keeping it secure yet comfortable on your head – there’s a finger-operated roller located on the top of the helmet which can symmetrically tighten or loosen the helmet’s cradle.
What’s more, our size small sample came in at just 220g – 10g under the claimed weight and 5g lighter than the claimed heft of a size medium Z1. Even comparing listed weights medium to medium, the Blade only loses out by 15g.
- Price: £200 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Big aero claims – Giro says it’s faster than nearly anything else out there
- Well ventilated at all speeds with deep internal channels and large rear ports, plus plenty of comfort
- Seriously light – just 209g for a size small
Aero road helmets have historically been an exercise in compromise: you could have a speedy shape, good ventilation, low weight, or sleek aesthetics but not all four. Giro finally breaks that paradigm with the Synthe, which doesn’t look like many other aero helmets.
While we weren't able to verify this in a wind tunnel, Giro boldly claims that the Synthe's sleek shape and unusual 'Aero Mesh' side panels lend it some fantastic advantages in terms of drag. It is said to be faster than even the company's own Air Attack (at least in typical 'head up' riding positions), and supposedly speedier than the decidedly more radical-looking Specialized S-Works Evade.
It’s also got great ventilation at all speeds thanks to a surprisingly open architecture with lots of forward-facing ports,some deep internal channels, big vents and clean, unobstructed paths for air to flow make the Synthe very well ventilated at both high and low speeds. Plus it’s light – seriously light at just 209g for a size small.
Giro Foray MIPS helmet
- Price: £75 / US$85 / AU$TBC
- Great looks, a drag-friendly shape and MIPS — this is an excellent helmet
- Good fit and adjustability, thanks to the Roc Loc 5 cradle and four internal pads
- The exposed EPS base isn’t to all tastes
The Giro Foray MIPS pays more than a nod to Giro’s range-topping Synthe aero helmet, with a smooth, rounded compact shell and truncated rear to maintain efficiency in all head positions. The in-mould construction means that the polycarbonate outer shell is fused to the EPS core for strength, but it doesn’t extend to the underside.
Its MIPS system adds £25 to the standard cost, but for that you are also getting great reassurance, and along with the super-adjustable Roc Loc 5 cradle is an excellent fit. Four internal pads keep things comfortable and five pronounced internal channels ventilate the majority of the head very well at all speeds, making this model an attractive, safe and great value choice.
The MIPS system, or Multi- Directional Impact Protection System, employs a slim, flexible plastic cap that’s perforated to match the helmet’s vents, and four elastic fixings allow it to float within the inner EPS foam shell, creating a slip-plane, much like the brain’s own, to slow or reduce rotational energy transfer.
Lazer Tonic road helmet
- Price: £50 / $75 / AU$110
- Good fit, good looks, great weight and a great price
- The chin strap material is a little heavy and stiff
- An excellent budget road helmet
The Lazer Tonic is an excellent budget road helmet that looks and feels like a much more expensive lid. At 230g for a Medium, it weighs the same as helmets more than twice as expensive, such as the Specialized S-Works Prevail or the Bontrager Velocis.
Internal channeling on the Tonic keeps air moving across the head, and probably reduces the weight a little, too. Ventilation is very good for a helmet at this price point — not as airy as something like the Prevail but much better than helmets in its class. The 29 vents offer plenty of places not only for the air to come in, but also to store your sunglasses.
As with most helmets in this category, the Tonic comes in three sizes, but unlike some other brands the Tonic comes in a whopping seven styles, from the more muted (white, black, black/blue and this white titanium) to see-me-now hi-vis options (flash yellow and flash orange).
An easy-to-use dial at the back handles circumference fit, and the rear cradle can be adjusted for height. The chin strap material is a touch heavier and more inflexible than higher-end helmets, but once it is adjusted you likely won’t notice it at all. The generous pads are easily removable for washing and generally keep sweat from running into your eyes.
Specialized S-Works Prevail
- Price: £160 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Muscular looks and aggressive venting
- The Mindset adjusting cradle comfortably accommodates nearly all heads
- Horizontal brow vents are good for glasses storage
It may have been around for a long time, but the Specialized S-Works Prevail helmet still delivers on all fronts: styling, comfort and ventilation are all superb. It manages to look both chunky and supremely vented at the same time, with muscular shaping and aggressive vents.
Specialized’s rear Mindset adjusting cradle offers five height positions, well placed pads and a rotary dial. Older Specialized helmets used to be quite narrow, but now accommodate rounder heads very well with no squeezing or pinching. The straps are fixed by clasps at each side, but are ideally positioned to let the pliable chinstrap do its job.
Deep internal channels align with the large frontal vents to rush cooling air across your cranium, and the horizontal brow vents do a fine job of managing sweat and drying the front pad. It’s very good for glasses storage when not wearing them too.
Zero RH+ Z Alpha MIPS
- Price: £160 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Removable cover to prioritise aero or cooling options
- MIPS version helps reduce rotational impact forces
- Comfortable and cool with distinctive looks
With its sweeping, almost conventional shape, and 22 sizeable vents, the Z Alpha looks very open for an aero helmet. The snap-on front cover is said to provide the biggest aero gains at over 40kph. It only hides the central four vents but has a slot to channel some air through. Our large sample weighed 326g without the 14g cover snapped into place.
It’s superbly comfortable and secure, and despite the MIPS system touching much of your scalp, manages to stay cool. Two central internal channels, plus the gap between the MIPS cradle and EPS shell, ensure good air movement even with the cover installed.
The Z Alpha is less specific than some aero lids and all the better for it, with great ventilation and classy looks. You can opt to have MIPS or not, but a little extra outlay for enhanced head protection is a no-brainer in our book.
- Price: £195/ US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Subtly sculpted curves based on CFD design and wind tunnel testing for aero performance
- Otto Fit retention system offers a huge adjustment range – achieving a perfect fit is simple
- Superb ventilation thanks to eight forward-facing vents and six large exit ports
With its high profile appearance on the heads of some Team Sky riders just before the 2014 Tour de France, Kask’s Protone immediately became both interesting and desirable. Its very rounded shape looks slippery, with no protruding ridges or peaks, just subtly sculpted curves that flow between the vents.
Its skull-hugging compact profile is the result of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) design and wind tunnel testing, and it’s certainly less bulky than some. The Protone was designed to maintain aerodynamics and airflow in any common riding position, and however you move your head, it remains consistently quiet.
Ventilation is superb thanks to eight forward-looking vents and six large exit ports, and the Octo Fit retention system offers a huge adjustment range to keep everything secure and comfy. Our 251g medium fitted well, even with a skull cap, when we’d usually wear large.
MET Rivale HES
- Price: £110/ US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Impressive cooling for an aero helmet
- Minimal padding is well positioned and keeps your head comfortable
- Vertical adjustment in retention cradle enables precise positioning
MET’s Rivale tips the scales at just 257g (for a large) and is said to save 3Watts at 50kph, equating to a second’s advantage over comparable vented helmets at the same pace. As well as that it complies with CE, plus the tougher Australian AS and American USPC standards.
The Rivale’s shape is more rounded than most aero helmets. The internal padding is minimal yet well placed, and the micro-adjust dial offers plenty of tensioning to keep it securely on your head. We especially loved the 4cm vertical adjustment in the retaining cradle, which enables you to situate it in just the right spot.
Despite the Rivale’s fairly closed design, the venting and airflow are impressive, with large internal channels keeping things cool. Plus, the large port on the crown allows you to affect even more air conditioning by dipping your head towards the air for a quick blast of air.
- Price: £100 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Aerodynamic shaping combined with a hint of retro looks
- Dedicated sunglasses port
- Super comfortable merino-wool padding
Specialized has taken its ultra-aerodynamic S-Works Evade lid as the template for the Airnet, although it still has touches of the old leather ‘hairnet’ helmets (hence the name) worn by racers from the 1970s.
Beneath the shell is a heavily channelled EPS (expanded polystyrene) core that offers far more ventilation than your usual aero lid. The large base vents at the temple also feature textured grippers to hold your glasses when you’re not wearing them.
The shell contributes to its 325g weight, but provides extra protection from accidental damage, while inside the padding is made from merino wool for super-soft comfort.
The fit should suit most head shapes, with the Mindset rear cradle offering plenty of vertical adjustment and the dial allowing you plenty of adjustability around the circumference of your head.
- Price: £159.00 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Excellent one-year crash replacement policy
- Very competitive weight of 228g in medium
- Uses a solid Headmaster II retention system
With a very competitive weight (228g in size Medium), ample venting and good looks, the Bontrager Velocis stands toe-to-toe with similarly priced competitors such as the Giro Aeon or the Specialized Prevail. Notably, the Velocis comes with a one-year crash replacement policy: if you crash it in the first year, you get a free replacement.
A continuous pad across the forehead is suspended slightly away from the wavy EPS inside of the helmet, allowing for a little ventilation and some conformity to various head shapes. The removable, antimicrobial pads do their job well. In days of sweaty riding without washing in between, the helmet never smelled bad.
The Headmaster II retention system tightens and loosens easily with a small dial. The three height settings, however, are pretty stubborn; we have to use a screwdriver to 'encourage' the Headmaster to move up. The Velocis comes in five styles, from low key black to hi-vis yellow.
POC Octal Aero Raceday
- Price: £220 / US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Bulky construction is due to extra protection for your most vulnerable areas
- Single vent is enough to provide ample cooling on all but the hottest days
- Plenty of fit adjustability
Although 268g (for the large) hardly makes the Octal Aero a heavyweight, it’s a substantial helmet size-wise. Its bulk is attributable to the extra-thick EPS at the temples and rear of the head — your most vulnerable areas.
This lid’s aero emphasis means ventilation is reduced to a single central vent, which is helped by internal channels that begin at the brow. In normal conditions it’s very comfortable, with a constant flow of air across the head and no obvious hot spots, but it probably wouldn’t be our first choice for a summer Alpine assault.
Fit is controlled by a minimal system with five height settings, a wide occipital (back and lower part of the skull) cradle and rotary dial, and superbly adjustable straps.
Scott Arx Plus
- Price: £75/ US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Addition of MIPS adds extra protection with minimal weight increase
- Enough adjustment to find a comfortable fit
- Well vented and padded front keeps the sweat out of your eyes
Adding MIPS increases the weight — the large now weighs 282g — but the increase is just 20g more than the standard ARX. And frankly, low weight is not the first thing we look for when it comes to safety.
The ARX Plus is particularly impressive at the front, where its large internal channels and a well-vented brow prevent the build up of sweat. Vertical adjustment may be limited to three press-studs offering 20mm of adjustability, but it proved perfectly adequate in practice. The small rear dial offers true micro-adjustment, which helps get a precise fit.
Despite having 22 vents in total, the extended rear gets warm on rides in the heat and lacking any padding means moisture collects around the nape of your neck, but that’s the only downside on what is an otherwise impressive performer.
- Price: £80/ US$TBC / AU$TBC
- Clever cradle design helps it find the right spot on your head
- Fantastic cooling at slow speeds thanks to sculpted vents
- Detachable peak keeps it ‘on-message’ for MTBers
Initial concerns about the single skinny cradle strap being flimsy proved unfounded and the way the helmet seems to float slightly above your head helps it naturally find a comfort sweet spot. The two ovals that contact the back of your skull are not only spring loaded but can be independently adjusted for width too. That means they work with ponytails and/or particularly bony skulls, and it’s a really neat, genuinely comfort-boosting feature for the price. It also keeps weight down to a reasonable 294g (for the medium).
The minimalist design allows maximum airflow around the back of your bonce too and ventilation is the obvious strength of this helmet as soon as you start rolling. A removable peak makes it suitable (or at least more fashionable) for mountain bike use.