The 6 best bike helmets, for road cyclists, commuters, or casual riders

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • Bike helmets offer vital protection for all cyclists, and can save their life in the event of a crash.
  • The best should fit comfortably, protect from blunt and rotational impacts, and be highly visible.
  • Our top pick, POC's Octal X SPIN, has great ventilation, a highly protective design, and enhanced visibility.

Bike helmets aren't the same polystyrene buckets they used to be. They've since become so specialized that the helmet one might use for commuting differs greatly from what they might grab for a road bike ride - and that's a good thing. Now, anyone can leverage that variety and specialization to find a helmet suited perfectly to their needs and ride style.

The most important bike helmet feature is that it should be highly protective. Of course, you hope to never get to the point where you need it to perform its ultimate function of protecting your head, but no matter where you live, hopping on a bike comes with plenty of injury risk.

Thanks to a rigorous set of standards, modern helmets dramatically reduce that risk. They protect your head from the force of impact but also do well to avoid limiting your vision or coming loose and falling off as you ride. Helmet manufacturers have even started going a step further and implementing new technology (MIPS and SPIN) that build off those guidelines and protect you even better.

So, what exactly is the best bike helmet? Considering we couldn't reasonably test each helmet for how well it protected our head in a crash, we were still able to judge other important factors like fit, comfort, weight, ventilation, and value.

After testing dozens of helmets, we settled on six that are worth the investment. At the end of this guide, we've also included some tips on how to shop for a bike helmet, as well as insight into our testing methodology.

Here are the best bike helmets:

The best overall
POC Octal helmet

The POC Octal X Spin is well ventilated, comfortable, and offers enhanced visibility and safety features that benefit cyclists and commuters alike.

Pros: Lightweight, well ventilated, highly visible, enhanced coverage and SPIN system for better protection

Cons: Some riders may have to size up from the non-SPIN models, the appearance will not appeal to everyone, POC's crash replacement policy is not as generous as some brands, expensive

Whether I'm riding a hundred miles on the road or five miles to the shops, the OCTAL X SPIN is the helmet I pick for 90% of my riding. POC is relatively new to the cycling industry, but its focus on safety, along with a distinctly Scandinavian aesthetic, won the brand a loyal following.

To make the Octal X SPIN, POC took its popular road cycling helmet, the Octal, and gave it a few tweaks to make it equally suitable for trail use. Along with a shell that fully covers the lining — a common feature of off-road helmets — POC added SPIN technology. SPIN, which stands for Shearing Pads Inside, is designed to protect against oblique impacts — something many standard helmets don't do well.

While CPSC regulations don't require protection against these impacts, POC offers SPIN tech to people who want protection above and beyond the legal minimum. The main function of a helmet is protecting your brain, so POC made this its main selling point for the Octal X SPIN.

Safety might be a good reason to pick the Octal X SPIN, but you won't be let down in terms of performance either.

The Octal X SPIN covers more of the back and sides of a wearer's head compared to a conventional road helmet. This makes the Octal a safer choice, especially for riding off-road where low-speed falls and hits to different parts of the head are likely.

Despite its larger size, the Octal doesn't feel heavy in use, and the scales confirm it weighs in at a very competitive 267 grams for medium. The larger footprint didn't seem to impact ventilation, either. Even on slow climbs, the helmet provides ample airflow.

The best budget
bern helmet

The Bern FL1 Trail combines the styling of helmets five times its price with great venting and an adjustable fit for a performance that belies its incredible value.

Pros: Great value, highly vented and adjustable, looks and weight on par with top brands

Cons: Sits a little high on the head, visor is not adjustable

It might seem counterproductive to throw hundreds of dollars on something designed to break. Luckily, all helmets approved for use in the US have to pass the same tests, meaning that while cheaper helmets might weigh more or offer less venting, they'll protect you just as much as their higher-end counterparts.

With the FL1 Trail, the compromises are minimal. Bern uses the same in-mold 18 vent construction as its top of the line helmets but manages to save money by using a non-brand-name adjustment dial on the rear closure mechanism.

The helmet also offers a visor to protect from rain, sun, and trailside vegetation. It doesn't feel that much different in use to more expensive helmets thanks to its light weight of just 271 grams, along with plenty of venting.

The best for racing
giro helmet

Giro's Aether is a slimline helmet that doesn't compromise on breathability, aerodynamics, or safety, making it a great choice for racers.

Pros: One of the safest helmets on the market, lightweight and aerodynamic, comes in a variety of colors to match your bike or kit

Cons: The Aether is expensive, but you only get one brain, this is more of a road style helmet and off-road riders will have to wait for mountain bike appropriate model

Giro's long been synonymous with the highest level of performance in bike racing. Its helmets have won bike races in just about every category, and the brand has routinely innovated not just performance but also safety.

Two of the biggest trends in cycle helmets have been aerodynamics and multiple impact protection (MIPS) — each of which driven by Giro. Until recently, however, both required compromises resulting in racers often owning several helmets. Giro's aerodynamic models were fast on the flat but tended to be heavy and poorly vented, making them a bad choice for hill climbs.

The Aether is a no-compromises racing helmet. Instead of placing the MIPS layer by a rider's head, Giro sandwiched it between EPS foam layers, resulting in a more comfortable and aerodynamic helmet. Eleven vents make the helmet virtually disappear on climbs, too.

Of course, the Aether's best benefit is one nobody wants to test. Impact protection with the MIPS spherical system is better than ever before and now the helmet's fit and ventilation are uncompromised meaning that, should the worst happen, you'll always be the best protected.  

A new Spherical MIPS system is built into the helmet and provides more impact protection and less inconvenience. The adjustable Roc-Loc 5 fit system also means that the helmet retains its fit.  

The best portable
stack helmet

The Loop uses a unique design to reduce its size by almost 50%, making it perfect for stashing in your bag when you're not riding.

Pros: Collapses to a smaller size, portable, easy to travel with, protective design, easy to use, great for bike share fans

Cons: Not as robust as some higher-quality models

Most people who ride bike share bikes do so without helmets — it makes sense, too. It's not easy to carry around a full-sized helmet on the off chance you decide to rent a bike. This is where the Loop comes in.  

It's as safe and comfortable as a regular helmet but when collapsed, it takes up just half the space in your bag. If you use bike share bikes regularly or as part of a daily commute, the Loop will quickly become something you never leave home without.

When in use, the Loop acts like any other bike helmet, complete with ventilation and an adjustable elastic fit strap. It passed the same set of stringent tests that determine its ability to prevent brain injury in the event of a crash or fall as any other helmet, too.

The Loop locks in its expanded position dependably and never collapsed during our testing. The hidden air vents and elastic strap make for a comfortable fit and it comes in two sizes and four colors, meaning there should be a combo for everyone.

The best aspect of the Loop is how it behaves when not in use. Instead of requiring a special tie-down on the outside of your backpack or hanging awkwardly off your messenger bag, the Loop collapses into itself and can be stashed in a bag, drawer, or desk.

At only 330 grams, the Loop is light, too. If you use bike share systems or electric scooters on a regular basis, or intend to borrow a bike while traveling, this is a fantastic alternative to riding helmetless. At less than $80, it's also a cheap way to stay safe as you make your way around town.

The best for commuters

The Chapter from Thousand comes with an attachable 50-lumen rear taillight that's capable of running for up to one-hour of solid light or two hours of blinking light.

Pros: Comes with a 50-lumen taillight that magnetically affixes to the back of the helmet or can attach to your bike, stylish design, features MIPS technology, easy to use clasp system

Cons: Light offers just one hour of battery life of solid light (though it does offer two hours of a blinking light)

If you bike regularly, chances are you find yourself riding in low light (or even night) conditions quite often. Riding with a light attached to your bike is a common practice but having a light affixed to your helmet helps dramatically improve your visibility. Though more helmets are starting to come standard with light functionality, our favorite is the Chapter from Thousand.

The Chapter comes with a 50-lumen rear taillight that attaches magnetically to the back, of which can also be affixed to your bike via an included adapter. Fully charged, the light stays on for up to an hour in solid light mode, and up to two hours while blinking. The ability to pop on or off the taillight gives the helmet great versatility for the everyday rider, as it doesn't force you to lug it around every time you hop on your bike.

Other features include a small visor designed to improve your field of vision, Thousand's signature PopLock that allows you to attach it to your bike via your bike lock, and an easy-to-use magnetic clasp system for easy on and off. It also has MIPS built into the helmet for added safety against impacts.

What also sets the Chapter apart is its modern design. Thousand's made a name for itself designing stylish bike helmets and the Chapter continues that trend. The helmet comes in either an all-black colorway, a navy finish with a sort of tortoiseshell visor, and a vibrant matte white with a rose gold visor. -- Rick Stella, fitness & health editor

The best high visibility
lumos helmet

The Lumos fits and feels like a regular helmet, but its host of high-tech features make it a great pick for anyone who rides in the dark. 

Pros: Highly visible and noticeable to drivers, wireless controls let you signal turns without taking your hands off the bars, easy setup, and a good fit

Cons: Proprietary charger, heavier than a standard helmet, lacks the adjustability of high-end helmets

For half the year, I ride home from work in the pitch black. I make every effort to light myself up like a Christmas tree with both flashing and steady rear and front lights, as well as reflective clothing. It wasn't until I tried the Lumos helmet that I realized drivers knowing where I was is only part of the safety equation. To be truly safe, they also need to know where I'm going.

When it's too dark for drivers to see hand signals indicating a change in direction, the Lumos uses an automatic rear warning light to signal braking and a handlebar-mounted signal to indicate changes in direction. Just like a car, the Lumos gives you red brake lights and orange turn signals.

The Lumos helmet also includes white LED lights on the front and red LEDs on the rear, meaning you're visible even when not braking or turning. When combined with a sensible outfit and bike lights, the Lumos really does feel like the safest way to get home in the dark.

While the Lumos helmet might lack the adjustability of truly high-end road helmets, it's designed more with commutes in mind and isn't likely to see much use in 100-mile road races.

Overall, the Lumos is not a replacement for lights but it is a great addition to the safety toolkit of any cycle commuter. If you're riding home in the dark, this helmet really stands out as a great choice for safety and visibility.

The lab testing process

In general, cycling helmets are designed to prevent a traumatic brain injury in the event of an impact. All helmets sold in the US must pass a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) test, meaning they satisfy certain criteria that help reduce the risk of brain injury.

There are generally four tests each helmet must pass. These tests are:

1. Peripheral Vision Test: A helmet must not block a rider's vision

2. Positional Stability Test: The helmet must not come off a rider's head during a fall

3. Retention Strength Test: A helmet's straps do not stretch too much to allow the helmet to come off during an accident

4. Impact Attenuation Test: The helmet is capable of significantly reducing how much force is exerted on a wearer's head when it hits a hard surface

In recent years, systems such as MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) and SPIN (Shearing Pads Inside) have been included in helmets to help prevent brain injuries stemming from multiple impacts or oblique collisions.

These technologies go beyond CPSC requirements but can be helpful if a specific type of collision happens.

How to shop for a bike helmet

Since the jack-of-all-trades bike helmet is mostly a thing of the past, it's important to consider the kind of riding you plan on doing before purchasing. If you're a road biker, you'll likely want one that's aerodynamic and lightweight while commuters should opt for a helmet with some sort of built-in light or visibility marker.

Even if you're just casually riding around your neighborhood, you still want to find the correct helmet (likely one that teeters more towards comfort than aerodynamics while still offering a premium level of protection).

Above all, a bike helmet should excel at protecting your head against all sorts of impacts, be it a light crash or something more severe. Research the lab testing standards and how well certain helmets rate in those tests before buying. A good rule of thumb is to always side with helmets that have MIPS or SPIN technology, as those are the latest innovations designed to protect against a wider range of rotational forces upon impact. 

How we test bike helmets

Each helmet picked in this guide went through a thorough testing process to determine if it's worthy of a recommendation (and, ultimately, your investment). To do this, we looked at a number of factors, consisting of comfort, fit, safety features, and value. Here's how each of those categories factored into what helmets made the cut:

Comfort: If a bike helmet isn't comfortable while worn, you'll be less inclined to want to throw it on, even if you're just quickly running to the store. The best bike helmets should certainly feel like you're wearing something but not to the point where you're either constantly adjusting it or counting down the seconds until you can take it off. 

Fit: Similar in the way an uncomfortable helmet isn't ideal, an ill-fitting one is just as miserable. A poor fit can also jeopardize how well it keeps you safe in the event of a crash or direct impact. Many modern helmets feature adjustable sizing, too, allowing you to customize a perfectly dialed fit.

Safety features: How a bike helmet protects your head in a crash is, hands down, it's most important feature (and the entire reason why you're wearing a helmet in the first place). Look for safety features such as MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) or those with WaveCel technology, as these are advanced systems designed to reduce the force of impact on your head. 

Value: A helmet's value is the combination of the categories that come before it (plus, of course, its price). If you're paying a premium sticker price, you should expect a premium product in terms of safety, fit, and comfort. Going the budget route isn't taboo but do make sure that if you're looking to save a few bucks, the helmet you purchase should still be effective at keeping you protected (we included a reliable budget pick that checks this box).

Check out our other bike gear guides
thule bike rack
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