What do you get if you pay £100 or more for a cycling helmet? As this selection of high-performance cycling helmets shows, you get a hard-to-achieve combination of low weight, ventilation, comfort and, in the latest models, aerodynamics.
You can get a fairly decent cycling helmet for £30, but if you want a helmet that’s so light and comfortable you’ll forget it’s there, or you want the latest aerodynamic designs, then you’ll have to pay a bit more.
The main advantages of high-performance cycling helmets are lower weight and better ventilation, both things you'll be grateful for on longer rides
Better adjustment systems and more careful attention to shape means these cycling helmets often provide a better fit
You'll also find more cycling helmets with MIPS, which is claimed help reduce the severity of certain types of injuries if you crash
Some high-performance cycling helmets are claimed to be aerodynamically superior too. Should you buy an aero helmet?
Want to spend less money? Check out the best cheap cycling helmets
What improvements do you get when you choose a high-performance cycling helmet over a cheaper model?
The lightest modern cycling helmets come in around 200g which is light enough that you really do barely notice they’re there. Achieving very low weights while still meeting standards isn’t easy, though, and involves the use of high-tech materials and very careful design. Specialized’s 185g Prevail S-Works, for example, is internally reinforced with an aramid skeleton. Other super-light helmets have minimal, pared-down adjustment systems, necessitating the use of light but strong plastics, and featherweight webbing straps, none of which comes cheap.
The materials that allow a cycling helmet to be light also allow better ventilation because they make it possible to increase the size of the vents and internal channels. Quite simply, there’s less helmet there, so there’s more room for air to flow.
In some helmets the cradle that fits around your head lifts the body of the helmet away from your scalp, further improving ventilation. That has been an important feature of the latest generation of aerodynamic helmets.
The days of foam pads resting on your head and making it sweaty are long gone. Many modern performance cycling helmets have cradles that lightly wrap your whole head, spreading the already-low weight over a large area and leaving plenty of bare scalp for sweat.
Helmet shapes have improved too, and the almost-universal use of some sort of dial adjuster to fine-tune the fit means these helmets can be easily tweaked; a lot less hassle than picking the right thickness of pads out of the box.
As in almost every other aspect of cycling, aerodynamics is the latest big thing. Aero road bikes and aero wheels have been joined by helmets claimed to be wind-tunnel-tested to provide an aero advantage.
It started with simple plastic shells to cover the vents for situations like a finishing sprint where every fraction of a second counts, followed by helmets with fewer vents and smooth outer shells. Not having a wind tunnel, we can’t verify the aero claims, but this crop of cycling helmets does have the advantage of being warmer in winter. The previous generation of high-end helmets are so airy your gets distinctly chilly without a skull cap.
This new version of Scott's Centric Plus has been developed for world-class road and mountain bikers, focusing on aerodynamics, airflow and weight. At 222g for this medium (55-59cm) size, it is certainly a very light helmet and feels that way when you are wearing it.
With 18 vents it is also one of the most airy we've used. Catching the tail end of the warm weather of the summer during testing and then heading into autumn, it certainly keeps you cool when you're riding hard or the temperatures are high.
The Abus StormChaser is an exceptionally comfortable helmet with great ventilation. It's light, offers lots of adjustment, and all pads and straps can be stripped out for washing – in fact, it gives some of Abus' own more expensive helmets a serious run for their money. The lack of MIPS or similar at the price may put some off, though.
The name is somewhat confusing as StormChaser suggests some form of wintry protection, but this helmet is really well vented and actually best suited to summer warmth. It has most, if not all, the features found on Abus' high-end AirBreaker, including in-mould EPS construction, ActiCage internal reinforcement and the Zoom Ace retention system.
Fit is excellent and the helmet very comfortable despite minimal padding. The amount of adjustment is enough that it should fit most head shapes. The dial adjuster is easy to find and use, even with gloves on, and the steps are small enough to really fine-tune the fit. You can also adjust the height by almost 4cm, and even the mounting points for the cradle itself can be moved between three options for the most secure, comfortable fit.
The Giro Syntax MIPS is a well ventilated and comfortable helmet that deals well with all kinds of road riding. The rotational-force damping MIPS system is really well integrated for noticeable gains in cooling and comfort, and the quality is high. It's only significant downside is that it's a bit heavier than some of its competitors.
The MIPS system is particularly well integrated. It's fairly obvious when you're wearing a helmet that's been retrofitted, and Giro has clearly designed the Syntax with MIPS in mind. For a start, it's the same colour as the shell, and more importantly it's shaped around the vets for uninterrupted airflow. It takes a few seconds to see it, and in use it's almost imperceptible.
The channels in this helmet aren't as deep as some, but those 25 vents still keep your head nice and cool regardless. It's very comfortable regardless of temperature, too, with soft and plush pads that keeps the MIPS system off the top of your head. They don't become unpleasantly saturated or start smelling over time, either.
Lazer's Genesis has evolved from a mid-range helmet into a lightweight, breathable lid that performs well on hot days and during races. The ventilation is among the best that we've tried and it works brilliantly when climbing at threshold. The fit is very comfortable and the Rollsys retention system works well to spread pressure. The price is the only slight issue.
Lazer's latest version of the Genesis cycling helmet sees it go on a diet, losing 65g and quite a bit of material too. Vents have increased in size and number, from 19 up to 22, but the Rollsys retention system is unchanged and still works very well. While we're impressed by the low weight – it's the lightest ever Lazer helmet – we'd pick the heavier Mips-equipped version (£189.99) for the increased crash protection.
To be clear: this is a new Lazer Genesis that's lighter than both the original Genesis of a few years ago and Lazer's previous top-end helmet, the Z1 (see below). There are still quite a few original Genesis helmets available via the likes of Amazon, so if you want the latest version, make sure that's what you're ordering. If it's under £100 it's almost certainly not the new model.
The Abus AirBreaker is an excellent cycling helmet that provides loads of ventilation in a lightweight and low profile package.
The AirBreaker's overall shape is the same as that of Abus's GameChanger aero lid. Aero helmets tend to be heavier than most others and ventilation is usually compromised, hence the introduction of the AirBreaker. Our medium sized test model hit the scales at just 214g and it has a similar level of ventilation to the Abus Aventor.
The AirBreaker's venting is its best feature. It's an in-mould design (meaning that the outer shell is permanently connected to the expanded polystyrene inner) with what Abus calls ActiCage structural reinforcement – essentially a plastic framework within the EPS, the idea being that you can have big vents without the helmet's safety being compromised. Many other brands do something similar.
The LEM Gavia cycling helmet offers safety, comfort and style. Its ventilation is excellent and a decent range of colours means you've got a good chance of getting one to match your bike/kit. The only potential drawback is its lower than average profile, which might interfere with certain sunglasses.
LEM might be new on the cycle helmet scene, but it's not new to head protection: for 30 years it has been developing and producing helmets for motorsports. It's now focusing on cycling and is offering seven different helmets, in 50 colours, covering road, mountain biking, commuting and kids. If you like to match your kit with your bike you're in with a good chance here: the Gavia is available in seven different colours, each in small, medium and large.
The Laser Z1 MIPS cycling helmet brings together the already impressive strengths of the original Z1 and adds the extra protection promise of the MIPS – Multi-directional Impact Protection System – layer.
The original Z1 offered impressive comfort thanks to the innovative closure system, with the dial on the top of the helmet tightening the system around the entire head. The system holds it in place well even when you're particularly sweaty, and whatever your head shape. The MIPS has been integrated really well so it doesn't impact this.
Ventilation is also a real strength, with the MIPS layer having negligible impact compared with the original. You can still feel the wind blowing through your hair as you ride, with just a slight reduction that you only really notice if you wear the MIPS and original version on consecutive rides.
Giro's Aether is a fabulous cycling helmet that offers an excellent level of ventilation, plenty of comfort and new MIPS Spherical technology.
The MIPS Spherical tech is its most important feature. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. According to the company behind it, MIPS is "scientifically proven to reduce rotational motion by absorbing and redirecting rotational energies and forces transferred to the brain from angled impacts to the head."
MIPS usually comes in the shape of an internal liner – a polycarbonate plastic layer that sits between your head and the expanded polystyrene (EPS). Here, though, rather than being added after the event, the MIPS Spherical technology is an integral part of the Aether's construction.
The Bell Stratus MIPS cycling helmet is quality, comfortable with a great fit, and comes in a wide range of colours. The Stratus MIPS is Bell's latest second-rung helmet, below the Zephyr, and shares many of its features, the main differences being a single polycarbonate shell instead of the dual-density laminate and a significant saving. If you can't stretch to the Zephyr, look here.
The Met Trenta 3K Carbon cycling helmet is lightweight, it feels cool in use and, if you accept Met's claims, it offers an aero advantage over a traditional lid, but you're going to have to dig deep for this one.
Our medium sized Met Trenta 3K Carbon helmet was 220g on our scales. The weight saving over most other helmets will have a negligible effect on your speed but you might find it more comfortable than one that's even 50g heavier.
Met has kept the weight down by using EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam that's 20% less dense than normal, it says, without affecting the helmet's capacity to absorb energy in the case of impact. How come? It's down to the elastic modulus of the carbon cage that's embedded into it, says Met. You can see the black woven carbon beneath the white in-moulded polycarbonate shell. Met insists that this carbon is structural rather than cosmetic. It's the addition of the carbon, which you don't get on the standard Trenta, that allows the use of the lighter EPS.
Met's Strale cycling helmet strikes a balance between aerodynamics, cooling and comfort that makes you wonder whether you really need to spend any more on a polystyrene lid.
The Strale is half the price of the Met Manta Aero, below, but offers nearly the same performance. No doubt there'll be some data out there to say it doesn't save as many watts at a given speed, but for the majority of your riding that probably doesn't matter.
With eight vents up front, the Strale has a lot fewer than most traditional helmets but you certainly don't overheat when you're wearing it. A few weeks ago the temperature in this part of the country was nudging 30°C and I spent the week riding in the Met without issue.
Aerodynamics are important in a bike race and we're seeing the pros concentrating on cheating the wind from every direction, head to toe. 'The fastest closed aero helmet' claims Met about its brand new Manta; a big claim but this cycling helmet is about more than just going fast.
Met claims the Manta saves 10 watts at 50km/h compared to its rivals and although that is hard to test in the real world even half of that isn't to be sniffed at for free. That'll be at an optimal position too, most likely the handlebar-staring, stem-chomping head angle employed by the world's best sprinters but hey, when you're really going for it in the drops the Manta does actually make you feel quick – nothing wrong with a placebo effect.
If you want top aero performance for that final burst to the line at the end of a race, coupled with reasonable ventilation, the BBB Tithon is a great option.
Let's start with that ventilation, which you'd be right in thinking isn't spectacular. Of course it isn't: there are only two holes at the front and three at the rear. However, the way they work in practice by pulling air through from a high pressure to low pressure area means you do still get a surprisingly good level of airflow in spite of appearances.
It's one of those cycling helmets where, if all you're interested in is saving the odd watt here or there at the end of a race, then it's going to appeal; if not, then it's likely you'd be better suited to one with more ventilation.
The Kask Mojito X is an updated version of Kask's well-respected Mojito helmet. It's had some small changes, and first impressions are that it's a helmet that punches well above its weight, or should that be price? It's well finished, offers an excellent fit and is nicely styled. You can even get a gravel version too.
The Mojito is now Kask's mid-range helmet after being used by Sky pro team up until 2014, so still carries a lot of the ventilation tech and lightweight construction you'd hope for from a pro-level model.
The Kask Rapido is a rather excellent lid, and one of the cheaper models that rates as a lightweight, high-performance cycling helmet
The understated looks, fantastic ventilation and low price make this a really good deal. They are robust and come in a variety of colours, which due to a full plastic shell, wipe clean.
The low profile suits many head shapes and the retention system provides a very wide range of adjustment.
The element of the Lazer Z1 that stands out most is that it has been designed with ventilation in mind, with 30 vents throughout the body. The airflow is about as good as you will find and certainly among the best we have used. It has great word-of-mouth too; this is one of the best liked cycling helmets around for its ventilation and fit.
The strong fit is achieved through Lazer's Rollsys system, which maintains pressure around the entire head rather than placing it on the rear like most other helmet adjustment systems. This means there are no hot spots of pressure, making it comfortable to wear for long periods of time. In terms of fitting the helmet, it is effortless as it just has a wheel on the top of the helmet that you twist to either tighten or loosen.
The Z1 also comes with an aeroshell, which covers the top to improve the aerodynamics or keep you warm in cold weather, depending on how you look at it.
The Bontrager Ballista is an aero road helmet with very good ventilation that keeps your head cool and comfortable as you ride.
Bontrager says the Ballista has less drag than any other aero road helmet out there. The company says that the Ballista outperforms the Specialized Evade, Louis Garneau Course and Giro Air Attack, according to measurements in the wind tunnel. The other brands might well contest that of course.
What we can tell you for sure is that the Ballista feels very cool in use. You get three very large vents up front and two more on the top of the helmet. These lead into deep channels in the EPS (expanded polystyrene) that run right over the top of your head and on to a series of exit ports at the back.
If ‘performance’ means ‘low weight’ then this is the helmet you want. The Specialized Prevail II is the pinnacle of Specialized's vented helmet design: the lightest and best ventilated helmet they've ever put on sale. And in use it is indeed, cool, light and very comfortable.
The very latest version of the Prevail incorporates MIPS tech, plus the ANGI feature which sends an emergency alert if you crash.
The Prevail helmet has long been a popular helmet with performance-focused cyclists because it's comfortable, well ventilated and seriously lightweight. This version retains everything that was good about original but has a much lower profile. It not only looks better but offers better ventilation and sweat management as well as reducing the wind noise of the original.
The only criticism it was possible to level at the original Prevail was its very wide profile that looked a bit bulbous on many heads. That has been addressed with the Prevail II. It's a much sleeker and lower profile helmet, sits lower on the head and doesn't protrude at the sides as much as before. Good job, Specialized.
That reduction in bulk hasn't reduced the weight, as you might expect. The Prevail II weighs 201g on our scales, compared to 190g for the original Prevail, both in a size medium. Still, it's one of the lightest helmets on the market. You might think there's little point in a lightweight helmet. And then you try one and it's hard to go back to a heavier helmet. Specialized also says the lower profile offers a small aerodynamic improvement as well.
Kask's Protone helmet, developed in collaboration with Team Ineos when they were Team Sky, is a highly adjustable, cool and comfortable lid, although it comes at a premium price. If Kask's claims are to be believed, it boasts impressive aerodynamics for a well-vented helmet too.
You know how some helmets feel like they perch on top of your head a bit like a flat cap? The Protone is the exact opposite. It feels like it fully encompasses your head, more like a beanie, say, reaching low at both the front and, especially, the back.
Testing the Protone involved a lot of climbing in high temperatures and we found the venting to be very effective. Our tester didn't get a noticeably hot, sweaty head, or anything close to that, despite relatively little venting towards the rear of the helmet. There's good airflow right across the top of your head that keeps the humidity down.
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