The safest road, mountain bike and urban helmets as rated by Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech rates 138 cycling helmets for safety, with the top helmets all featuring MIPS

Specialized fourth-generation Tactic helmet

Virginia Tech’s Helmet Lab has released its latest round of cycling helmet safety assessments, rating 138 helmets this year – a number that’s grown from 86 in 2019.

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The helmets tested include mountain bike, road and urban models, as well as helmets that include MIPS and non-MIPS helmets.

Virginia Tech’s tests are carried out with funding support from the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and are more comprehensive than the standard test that all helmets must pass before they are put on sale. 

As well as straight-on impacts, the tests include assessment of oblique impacts, as well as points of impact on the side of the helmet.

Virginia Tech assigns a score to each helmet based on its tests, with a lower score being better. It also gives each helmet a star rating out of five.

The full list of the 138 helmets tested is here and can be filtered by the style of helmet, budget options costing under $100 and whether helmets are certified for use in snow sports or skateboarding, as well as for cycling.

Ten safest mountain bike helmets as rated by Virginia Tech

Specialized fourth-generation Tactic helmet
The Specialized Tactic tops the MTB helmet ratings from Virginia Tech.
Specialized
  1. Specialized Tactic 4 MIPS
  2. Sweet Protection Trailblazer MIPS
  3. Fox Dropframe Pro MIPS
  4. Bontrager Rally MIPS
  5. Specialized Align II MIPS
  6. Troy Lee Designs A2 MIPS
  7. Scott Centric Plus MIPS
  8. Lazer Cyclone MIPS
  9. Scott ARX Plus MIPS
  10. Fox Speedframe Pro MIPS

Read our pick of the best mountain bike helmets we’ve reviewed.

Ten safest road cycling helmets as rated by Virginia Tech

Giant Rev Comp MIPS
It may be a budget helmet at only $65/£70, but the Giant Rev Comp MIPS topped Virginia Tech’s road helmet rankings.
  1. Giant Rev Comp MIPS 
  2. Lazer G1 MIPS
  3. Specialized Align II MIPS
  4. Lazer Tonic MIPS
  5. Lazer Century MIPS
  6. Scott Centric Plus MIPS
  7. Giant Rev Pro MIPS 
  8. Liv Rev Pro MIPS
  9. Lazer Sphere MIPS
  10. Lazer Cyclone MIPS

Read our pick of the best road bike helmets and our 35 favourites.

Ten safest urban helmets as rated by Virginia Tech

Specialized Mode urban helmet
Another helmet with MIPS, the Specialized Mode, topped the urban helmet category in Virginia Tech’s testing.

You’ll see some helmets in Virginia Tech’s list of urban helmets that appear in the list of top ten road helmets too. That’s because it assessed them under multiple categories.

There are also a few helmets that are skate certified and/or snow sports certified as well as being designed for cycling.

The eagle-eyed will note the one helmet that doesn’t have MIPS in its name is the Lazer Anverz NTA. That’s because it’s designed for ebike riders, with the ‘NTA’ suffix signifying that it passes the Dutch NTA ebike helmet standard, which is tougher than that for regular cycles – and the Anverz NTA does indeed include MIPS in any case.

  1. Specialized Mode MIPS
  2. Specialized Align II MIPS
  3. Scott Centric Plus MIPS
  4. Lazer Cyclone MIPS
  5. Scott ARX Plus MIPS 2020
  6. Lazer Anverz NTA
  7. Bontrager Solstice MIPS
  8. Lazer Cruizer MIPS
  9. Bern Union MIPS
  10. Lazer Cannibal MIPS

All the top tens include MIPS

Helmet with yellow MIPS liner
Helmets with a MIPS liner rule the roost.
Ben Delaney / Immediate Media

One word appears in all but one of the helmet names above, and that’s MIPS.

In part, this reflects just how prevalent MIPS is in the cycle helmet market now, but also the MIPS patent’s overall dominance in sliding plane technology in helmets.

It’s designed to help dissipate energy in oblique impacts so that less of the impact force is transferred to the rider. Many bike crashes involve oblique impacts to the head and Virginia Tech’s testing suggests that extra protection from this type of crash is an important feature.

The majority of tested helmets rank highly

Another take-away is just how many of the tested helmets are highly ranked by Virginia Tech. Its methodology includes a formula to assign a star rating, so it’s not just an arbitrary number.

Of the 138 helmets tested, 72 were rated five stars – that’s 52 per cent. A further 37 – or 27 per cent – were rated four stars.

This means that, overall, 80 per cent of the helmets tested achieved Virginia Tech’s recommended level of five- or four-star protection.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a helmet that will protect you well either. Virginia Tech quotes a price of just $65 for the top-rated road helmet – the Giant Rev Comp MIPS – while four of the top ten road helmets cost under $100.

There are two MTB helmets costing under $100 and four urban helmets costing under $100 in their respective listings too.

How does Virginia Tech test its helmets?

Virginia Tech tests helmets vigorously so, hopefully, you'll come out unscathed in crashes like this.
Virginia Tech tests helmets vigorously so, hopefully, you’ll come out unscathed in crashes like this.
Peter Smith

Virginia Tech’s testing uses a standard drop tower, which is the standard tool used to test bike helmets. 

It drops the helmet down a slider and lands it on a steel anvil. Virginia Tech covers this with coarse sandpaper, which it says helps to better simulate real-life road conditions. 

Tests are carried out at two different impact speeds and in six different positions on the helmet, including on the rim. 

The method tests oblique impacts as well as those taken head-on. Each test is repeated twice, for a total of 24 tests on each helmet.

Accelerometers are positioned inside the headform on which the helmet is mounted to measure the linear and rotational forces acting on impact. 

A formula is then used to convert this data into an overall score and a star rating, with a lower score being better.

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Virginia Tech says that its testing is more complete than standard tests, which do not include impacts on the rim, although this is often where contact will occur in a crash. You can read Virginia Tech’s full description of its methodology here.