At this point, most of us know the deal with aero road helmets. They offer “free speed” thanks to reduced drag, with the only real downside being the fact that they are usually a bit warmer on long, slow climbs.
- Best road bike helmets: 16 of our top picks
- Specialized S-Works Evade II aero helmet review
- Aero is bunk (unless you're racing)
There are dozens of options on the market, so with some looking around you’re guaranteed to find one that fits you well and suits your aesthetic tastes. I hope this eight helmet test sets you well on your way.
I did things a little differently for this aero road helmet test. Instead of heading to the wind tunnel, I started with a few assumptions:
- Each of these is faster than a more heavily ventilated model from the same brand
- Good fit matters more than ultimate aerodynamic prowess. Why wear an uncomfortable helmet?
- Looks matter. Admit it, we’re all vain
So instead of drag numbers or watts saved, we’ll be looking at aesthetics, weight, overall size, comfort, sunglasses compatibility and cost.
I collected eight of the most popular aero road helmet models and rode in them for several weeks, taking notes along the way. All the helmets tested were a size medium and each helmet was the correct size for my 57.5cm circumference head.
Never did I want a larger or smaller size, though in some cases a hat was a bit of a squeeze and in other cases, a hat helped take up excess space.
I measured each helmet repeatedly to get a sense of its overall size, looking at width and length at each helmet’s widest and longest dimension. This plays into both aerodynamics as well as aesthetics. No one likes a head bucket for a helmet.
Please note that all helmets tested were CPSC models (for the North American market), as opposed to CE (Europe) or AS/NZ (Australia/New Zealand). CPSC helmets are usually a little heavier than their CE and AS/NZ cousins.
I also used a variety of eyewear with each helmet, jotting down those that interfered with each helmet’s rear closure/fit system. Without any further ado, here’s the breakdown.
|Giro||Vanquish MIPS||309 +53g visor||275||239||27.1cm||20.8cm||3||3.5|
|Oakley||Aro 5 MIPS||303||250||199||25.7cm||20.4cm||4.5||4.5|
Specialized S-Works Evade II
- £200 / $250
- Top-notch fit and finish
- Excellent ventilation
- Magnetic buckle is sweet
- Mercifully made in black and white
First, about that color scheme… While I dig the high-vis green, this so-called Acid Lava just doesn’t do it for me. It looks like an accidentally faded red. Alas, no one ever accused me of being fashion forward. Thankfully Specialized also offers the Evade II in black and white, as well as another wild fade.
That out of the way, let’s talk about why the Evade received five stars. While the original Specialized Evade fitted me pretty poorly, the new Evade II fits like a glove. Now that’s pretty personal, but I think that the refined internal shape will fit more heads.
The straps on the Evade II sit really flat against your temples and cheeks. It can take some getting used to, but this also keeps the straps out of the wind. There is no under-ear adjustment whatsoever, but I never felt the need to change where the junction sat even with a cycling cap or winter hat underneath.
Connecting the straps is a magnetic buckle and I adore it. It makes mid-ride wardrobe changes quicker, allowing you to buckle the helmet with one hand. It’s also a great feature for triathletes hustling out of transition.
The Gutter Action brow pad does as it claims, drawing sweat to the temples and away from your eyes. The Evade is compatible with every pair of sunglasses I tried thanks to a pair of widely set front vents and the slim Mindset HairPort II dial fit system.
Overall, the new Evade is a far lower profile helmet than its predecessor. It has a smoother shape overall, blending front to back without any jagged edges or abrupt scoops.
At $250, it sits right on the average price for helmets in this round up. Weighing 298g, it is lighter than the bunch average of 304g. (Admittedly that’s helped by the hefty Lazer’s outlier weight of 398g).
It is the third narrowest in terms of width.
Those figures point towards an average result, but the Evade is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It shows how an evolution of a design can bring both improved performance (according to Specialized, the Evade II is the fastest aero road helmet they’ve tested) and better comfort in the form of refined pads and enhanced ventilation.
If there is a glaring omission on the Specialized helmet, it is the lack of a MIPS liner or other rotational impact protection. Specialized declined to comment on why it chooses not to use MIPS.
But when it comes to an aero road helmet that will deliver day in, day out comfort and aerodynamics, the Evade II takes the top step.
- Best eyewear: The Evade II worked swimmingly with Oakley, POC, Adidas, and Smith sunglasses.
- €200 / $200
- Nice, low-profile shape
- Affordable aero
- Limited ventilation
The MET Manta is something of a bare bones aero road helmet. No MIPS, no fancy padding, and very little in the way of vents. But it ranks alongside the Giant Pursuit as one of the only two helmets under 280g, with the MET taking the weight title by a slender three grams.
The Manta is also perhaps the lowest profile of the helmets, sitting snugly against my cranium’s profile as well as Specialized’s Evade II. The Manta feels the shortest internally front to back, so as always it’s good to try on a helmet before you buy it.
Its mixed black matte/gloss finish with red accents looks great. The straps lie flat and adjust easily. The rear Safe-T Advanced fit system works nicely. And all that comes at a price tag that tied with the Bontrager Ballista MIPS for the lowest of this collection, $200.
Where the MET falls behind is in ventilation. While I never baked in the Manta, I still haven’t experienced the hottest days of the year yet either. Other helmets, like the Specialized Evade II, the POC Ventral SPIN, and the Giant Pursuit, have a noticeable sensation of wind passing over your head. The MET does not. But it’s saved by its great looks, affordability, and low weight, ranking it near the top of this aero road helmet round up.
- Best eyewear:The MET Manta worked nicely with POC, Oakley, Adidas, and Smith glasses.
Oakley Aro 5
- £199 / $250
- Distinctive rounded profile
- MIPS liner and BOA closure
- Good eyewear integration
Oakley only recently introduced its own helmet line, with the Aro 3 vented helmet, the Aro 5 aero road model, and the Aro 7 for time trials and triathlon.
The Aro 5 has a very rounded profile that is a departure from many other aero road helmets. Compared to others in this test, the Aro 5 has some of the smallest exit vents, but that doesn’t seem to limit airflow drastically. But if you love long climbs, you might look at other options.
The Aro 5 is a very comfortable helmet with a MIPS liner and a BOA fit system. The under-ear junction is just like ones found on the POC. It is adjustable fore and aft but not in height. As you would hope, sunglasses fit nicely into the wider front vents of the Oakley helmet.
While I like the aesthetics of the Oakley helmet and it is certainly comfortable, I can’t help but wonder what the next version of this helmet will look like. The Aro 5 represents an impressive first go at an aero road cycling helmet, but with Oakley’s reputation, I think it could have gone further with the design and really wowed us.
If I sound underwhelmed, I don’t mean to. The Aro 5 sits right where it should in terms of cost, weight, and overall size. As such, it ties for second in this test alongside the MET Manta.
- Best eyewear: While certainly made with Oakley glasses in mind, the Aro 5 worked well with POC, Smith, and Adidas as well.
- £169 / $230
- Great ventilation: large front & exhaust vents, internal channels
- Unique styling sets the Giant apart
- Best for climbers
The Giant Pursuit has a distinctive look, with large front vents and a swooping rear section. It’s the helmet that seems to flex with styling cues that are reminiscent of 1970s sports cars. Personally I like the look quite a lot. Those svelte lines are aided by ventilation that is top notch, on par with POC’s wide-open Ventral. If you get hot quickly or take on long climbs but want an aero advantage, Giant’s Pursuit may be the perfect lid for you.
Five of the eight helmets I tested have either MIPS or a rotational pad that purports to help in a glancing blow. The Giant, along with the MET and the Specialized, uses a more traditional construction. While I don’t mind that at all, there are helmets in this lineup that include MIPS and with a lower price tag than the Giant.
The Pursuit has easy-to-adjust straps and a low-profile rear dial closure. It also has front vents that easily hold a variety of sunglasses when not in use. Many other helmets in this test have too solid a front for that.
If there is a downside, it’s in the comfort department. A small piece of plastic in the back of the helmet, to which the straps anchor, can sometimes dig into the back of a rider’s head. Be sure to try one on to make sure this isn’t an issue for you.
- Best eyewear: Oakley, Adidas, Smith, and POC all worked nicely with the Pursuit.
Giro Vanquish MIPS (Firechrome LTD shown)
- £239 / $275 ($300 for Firechrome LTD version)
- Great ventilation from large front and exhaust vents and internal channels
- Unique styling sets the Giant apart
- Integrated visor is great for racers who also take on time trials
Giro helped to popularize the aero road helmet with its first Air Attack in 2012. A few years on and now the Vanquish is here with a long list of claims about aero efficiency and ventilation.
I’ll save you the marketing copy, but with its integrated visor, I have an inkling that the Giro Vanquish is the fastest of the bunch. But that’s pure conjecture on my part.
The Vanquish uses what Giro dubs a TransformAir design to reduce drag. It’s essentially a shelf on the top of the helmet that tricks air into behaving like there is a longer tail section.
In daily use, the Vanquish is very comfortable. The straps are easy to adjust and they stay put once dialed in. The Roc Loc Air is slim, holds well, and keeps out of the way of eyewear stems.
The Vivid Shield has a lens by Zeiss that is held in place with magnets. Like on Giro’s Aerohead time trial helmet, the visor pops off and can be secured upside down on the helmet with yet more magnets.
So, about that visor. Well, it’s a great option for triathletes and time trialists, but you have to be pretty self-assured to show up on the group ride with it installed. Thankfully, Giro also made a concession for sunglasses with an eyewear dock on the front of the helmet which has a rubberized surface to grab onto glasses.
- Aesthetically, the Vanquish doesn’t do it for me. On my smaller face it appears to consume my head especially when compared to the slimmer Evade II or MET Manta. This is one example of function over form that just doesn’t settle well for me. I understand that the whole point is to reduce drag, but if I feel like a bobble head in the process, I have to pass when it comes to daily use. But, for hot time trials, where I already look silly, why not!
- Best eyewear: Oakley, Adidas, Smith, and POC all fit well on the Vanquish.
Bontrager Ballista MIPS
- £149 / $200
- Small form factor
- New BOA retention is slim and works well
- Increased visibility for cyclists who ride near dusk or dawn
- Great value
The Ballista MIPS is perhaps the oldest model in this collection of helmets. But with a very narrow profile, subtle good looks and a low price, it’s a great aero road option.
Recently the Ballista was updated with a BOA closure that plays more nicely with eyewear than the previous dial fit system. Classy gold accents make the Bontrager aero road helmet the most subdued of the bunch.
In keeping with Bontrager’s recent push for increased rider visibility, the Ballista has accents on each side that are reflective. I really appreciate this nod to the everyday cyclist. Heck, even pros train on open roads. A little extra safety is always a good thing.
Where I’ve struggled with the new and the older version of the Ballista is with the helmet straps. Adjusted for my head and ears, they never seem to lay flat, instead rotating and presenting broadside to the wind. It’s a small complaint, but one that I don’t have with other aero helmets in this round up.
The Ballista is a very comfy helmet though. Its straps stay put, the BOA works well, and at 289g, it never feels heavy on the head. It’s a great aero road helmet.
- Best eyewear: The Ballista worked well with all the glasses I tried, thanks in some part to the slimmer rear BOA fit system.
POC Ventral SPIN
- £250 / $290
- Superb ventilation
- High quality feel and construction
- Refined aesthetics, though appears large on some heads (including mine)
POC just released its new Ventral SPIN helmet. Designed using computational fluid dynamics software, it is easy to mistake the Ventral for a more traditional helmet instead of an aero road model.
While POC, almost refreshingly, doesn’t boast any wattage savings or CdA figures, the company claims that the design aggressively directs air through the helmet instead of around it.
In lieu of MIPS, POC employs its own so-called SPIN padding that has rotational impact protection capabilities. POC says the SPIN pads are lighter and don’t block ventilation the way a MIPS liner can.
The Ventral is a comfy helmet with heaps of airflow. Under-ear adjustment of the straps takes a little elbow grease, but it also doesn’t slip around during use like some looser arrangements. The rear dial mechanism has a reassuring series of clicks as you tighten it.
The POC also gets the award for nicest excess helmet strap management. It uses a small sleeve of elastic fabric instead of a glorified rubber band to keep things looking tidy.
POC includes a well-designed sunglasses “garage” using tacky surfaces inside the outermost front vents. They really grab onto sunglasses and keep them in place even over bumpy roads.
POC’s website says the Ventral SPIN runs small, but I beg to differ. It appeared larger than other mediums in this test and measured widest, but only by a slim margin. That said, the internal size is a little smaller.
If you are on the upper end of a helmet size normally, try this one on before you buy, as you may need the next size up.
- Best eyewear: The Ventral SPIN works well with Oakley, POC, and Smith eyewear. Because the Ventral sat lower on my forehead, Adidas glasses hit the brow of the helmet.
Lazer Bullet MIPS
- £249 / $290
- Adjustable aero/ventilation with a large sliding front vent
- Great fit and comfortable shape
- Heavier than the competition and pricey too
The Lazer Bullet MIPS is the Transformer of this bunch, with its Airslide open/close ventilation system and accessory inserts.
It has a sleek, rounded look with a finned tail. While a comfortable helmet with easy to adjust straps and dial mechanism, the Bullet has a weight problem. At 398g in its lightest configuration, the Bullet is the heaviest of the bunch by a healthy margin, most likely due to the aforementioned Airslide mechanism.
That figure places it 89g heavier than the next heaviest, the Giro Synthe without its visor. That’s nearly a 30 percent increase in heft.
The Bullet also arrives with an extra set of inserts that cover the center Airslide ventilation system completely, making it more aerodynamic, a bit lighter at 398 grams, but sacrificing ventilation in the process. With the more ventilated options installed, the Bullet balloons to 412g.
Fit is very similar to other Lazer helmets, but with a more traditional dial retention device at the back of the helmet instead of the Rollsys system found on the top of Lazer’s Z1 and other models.
The Bullet also had a somewhat difficult buckle. There’s nothing strange about it, but buckling it up required a bit of extra force. Unbuckling was never an issue.
The Bullet also features a mount for Lazer’s accessory LifeBEAM heart rate sensor, eliminating the need for a chest strap.
While a good helmet, the Bullet won’t win any prizes here. It looks cool and fits nicely, but there are better aero road options available.
- Best eyewear: Shorter stemmed Adidas, POC or Smith options. Longer Oakley glasses can interfere with ATS Fit System.