The cycling boom is continuing apace. While in-stock bikes are still proving hard to find, helmets of all shapes and sizes remain relatively easy to track down. But availability doesn’t exactly help solve the problem of which helmet to choose, especially when there are hundreds of models out there. To find the best bike helmets, we consulted an array of experts — including bike retailers, cycling bloggers, and riders — about the ones they’d recommend.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of our experts say the first thing to consider when shopping for a helmet is the type of biking you do. Ben Sawyer, the head mechanic at CycleMania in Portland, Maine, says there are basically three categories: Helmets for road biking (“generally lighter weight, with better ventilation and more aerodynamic design”), helmets for mountain biking (“typically with a front visor for protection and more coverage in the back”), and helmets for what he calls commuter biking (“designed for a little bit of everything”). Sawyer adds: “I always split my customers into one of these three categories.” Beyond finding a helmet suited to your style of biking, the experts remind us that the best helmet is the one you’ll wear — so choosing one you actually like the look of is important, too. As Kyle Kelley of Los Angeles’ Golden Saddle Cyclery explains, “Over the years, I’ve found that if a helmet is a bit more pleasing to the eye, people will wear it more.”
Many of the experts we spoke to mentioned one other detail when it comes to shopping for helmets: Whether or not they have MIPS technology, or an interior lining designed to further protect against brain damage should you fall. MIPS is not among the basic safety standards all helmets sold in the U.S. have to meet, which is why you won’t find it in every helmet. But Sawyer says his store doesn’t even sell helmets without MIPS technology, even though they can be cheaper. As John Watson, a writer for cycling blog Radavist, puts it: “I don’t see ever wanting to own a non-MIPS helmet. It’s your life you’re talking about.” Given the majority of experts’ preference for MIPS technology, this list only features helmets designed with it (or versions of it). But if you see one you like and don’t want to shell out for the extra protection, chances are the brand will have a (slightly cheaper) non-MIPS alternative. Below, the experts’ 17 recommended helmets, arranged by the type of biking they are best suited for; wherever possible, we led each section with any helmets we heard about more than once.
Best helmets for commuter biking
Best overall commuter bike helmet
Christina Torres, founder of City Girl Rides, says she has long been “obsessing over Thousand bike helmets for their retro look, functionality, and sustainability practices.” Sitting pretty at the intersection of form and function, the brand unsurprisingly was mentioned by several of the experts we spoke to. “While the design is clean and simple, the helmets have innovative features that include vegan-friendly straps, a creative pop lock to help leave your helmet with your bike, and a simple-to-use, pinch-free magnetic clasp,” says Lauren Jones, manager of marketing and product development at Brilliant Bicycle Co. Kelley agrees, telling us that a lot of his customers are really like this helmet, particularly for getting around the city of L.A. It’s also popular among shoppers in New York City, according to Adam Bernstein, a sales representative at Echelon Cycles. “Here in the city, I see a lot of people wearing those right now,” he says.
Best less-expensive commuter bike helmet
Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Co., calls this less-expensive helmet “stylish yet incredibly functional,” adding that it offers “an abundance of ventilation to keep your head cool while riding.” It also has a removable visor to shield your eyes from the sun. The combination of these features, Zagata says, makes this one “a top-notch city helmet.” Giro’s helmets came up throughout our reporting — Laurence Wattrus, the head of technology at cycling brand Hammerhead, tells us he’s “historically used” the brand because he appreciates the aesthetics of its helmets as well as its safety features.
More expert-recommended commuter bike helmets
If you’re riding anywhere near cars, it’s a good idea to make yourself super-visible. Joseph Nocella, owner of 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn, says he uses Giro’s Cormick helmet and likes that it comes in a shade of “high-visibility yellow so the most people can see me as possible.” Nocella notes that it’s a “nice hybrid of the roadie style and the bowling ball/skater style,” meaning it “looks nice and sleek but has ventilation.” Bernstein likes the Cormick too because of its ventilation holes and easy-to-adjust straps that he says allow for a comfortable fit on most head sizes.
This equally bright (and affordable) helmet comes recommended by Sawyer, who says he “sells a lot of” it to commuters “because it’s really lightweight and a good ride-around-town kind of helmet.” It is made by Bontrager, a brand that also came up multiple times throughout our reporting.
One of the first companies to offer MIPS technology, POC (the maker of other products cyclists have told us about before) has since developed its own comparable proprietary technology called Spin. “Instead of a plastic liner that moves independently of the helmet, Spin is silicone injected into the foam pads inside the helmet that slips side to side,” explains Alex Strickland, the editor-in-chief of Adventure Cyclist magazine. He calls this “a super-comfortable, well-ventilated helmet” that features “a lower profile fit, so you don’t have a bobble head feeling so much.” Plus, it comes in some other highly visible colors in addition to the yellow shown.
This helmet from Specialized combines the comfort of a commuter helmet with the kind of ventilation you’d want for more intense biking, according to Charlie McCorkell of New York City’s Bicycle Habitat, who says its ample air vents help keep your head cool whether you’re biking to work, road cycling, or traversing bumpier routes. He adds that it also has a “static yoke below the ear so the straps don’t tangle when you hang it on your handlebar when not riding, and it never needs adjustment after the first fitting.” That yoke is also great because, while most helmets need readjustment, this one doesn’t — the yoke keeps the strap in place. “This is my favorite helmet feature, as the helmet is always ready to go when you are.”
You should already have lights on your bike. (In New York City, it’s illegal to ride at night without a white headlight and red taillight; this USB-rechargeable set is a good pick to anyone in need.) But if you regularly commute before sunrise or after sunset, a light-up helmet makes you that much more visible to cars on the road. Peter Reynolds, a co-founder of the Discerning Cyclist blog, told us that Lumos’s light-up helmets are particularly popular among commuters, in part because you can use a corresponding app to program the lights to change color when you brake or need to indicate.
As proof that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good-quality helmet, Neile Weissman, the public-relations director at New York Cycle Club, recommends this affordable model from Specialized. It features the latest MIPS technology plus plenty of ventilation to keep your head cool when you’re riding in the heat. Like other helmets on this list, it comes in several bright colors for visibility in traffic.
Best helmets for road biking
Best overall road bike helmet
Instead of MIPS, this helmet for road biking features an even newer impact-reduction technology called WaveCel that both Strickland and Sawyer told us about. “It looks kind of like a honeycomb,” explains Strickland, who tells us that Bontrager used to only put WaveCel in its high-end helmets, but now “it’s sort of trickled down to this $100 price point.” Even with the extra protection, he promises this helmet is “super-comfortable; you don’t notice that it has this extra layer of stuff in it.” This helmet also received a five-star review from Virginia Tech, which does independent impact testing that’s said to be more thorough than the testing done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Best less-expensive road bike helmet
If your focus is on maximizing speed, both Kelley and Watson love the Register as an inexpensive, lightweight, entry-level road helmet with MIPS. They praise its great air flow and good venting, and say its mini visor also makes it handy for (off-road) dirt biking.
More expert-recommended road bike helmets
For serious road riding, the Giro Cinder represents “the latest and greatest helmet design,” according to Kelley. One reason for this is because it’s ultralight. Another: It utilizes the same Roc Loc 5 Fit System found in the brand’s pricier helmets.