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The Smith Trace MIPS helmet is the 'top choice for road, gravel and XC athletes that need a lightweight well-ventilated helmet with premium protection systems'. Well, that's what Smith says. This claim inevitably brings up the question: can something trying to be a jack-of-all-trades be sufficiently good at any of them to justify it as a premium purchase? Personally speaking, I felt it straddled the various lines quite deftly.
Our best cycling helmets buyer's guide not only lists our top lids but also advice on how to choose your helmet.
Apart from being aimed at riders across a wide range of riding disciplines, the Smith Trace lays claim to a lot of safety features too, as it features both MIPS and Koroyd for maximum protection.
MIPS is a fascinating technology that MIPS licenses to helmet manufacturers – MIPS not actually making helmets itself. It consists of a liner that allows a little movement – 10-15mm is enough apparently – between the outer-shell of the helmet and your head.
The idea is to reduce impacts that occur at an angle, theoretically allowing the impact to be 'redirected' and glance off the helmet rather than penetrate and rotate it. Virginia Tech University, in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (pretty much the gold-standard), recently tested a wide range of helmets, and the top 23 helmets all featured MIPS, or a system like it, for mitigating angular impact force.
It's something you never want to use of course, but as far as I'm concerned it represents a watershed in bike helmet design. My recommendation is that if you can, get a helmet with MIPS or comparable technology.
In addition to this, Smith has added Koroyd to 11 of the helmet's 18 vents. Koroyd was developed as a safety system in a lab in 2010 and looks like a rough honeycomb lattice – as if you're looking down on a handful of straws. But unlike straws, these are rigid rather than flexible, and are designed to dissipate impact forces by crumpling, with the system as a whole designed to work in tandem with the EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam layer. It's the helmet equivalent of a car's crumple-zone.
Koroyd says it developed the product in 2010 as a result of aerospace safety research, while EPS foam quite remarkably dates back to 1839. And Koroyd goes on to say that while EPS is 'relatively light, durable, and can absorb energy in the event of an impact. Koroyd is lighter, more breathable and absorbs more energy – distinct performance advantages without compromising one for another'.
I certainly feel better knowing my little grey cells are so well protected, but the downside is that Koroyd marginally decreases the airflow through the helmet vents to your head. Without a way to test this empirically, it's hard to say by exactly how much, but it doesn't feel like a big reduction to me. To counter this, the two large central vents are fully open, and airflow through the helmet does feel decent.
The VaporFit ratcheting closure at the rear has a positive 'click', gripped my head securely and was light without feeling weak. The helmet is not over-adorned with padding and though I found it comfortable, I wouldn't have said no to a little more cushioning.
The shape was well suited to my head and there was no discomfort from it even on longer rides. The lightweight chinstrap was also comfortable, with the 'Y' separators doing a great job of keeping the straps from rubbing on my ears.
The Trace held my Koo Demos sunglasses pretty snuggly in the usual inverted position between the Koroyd and the outer shell. When I was wearing my sunnies, the AirEvac system – Smith's name for the vents on the side of the inside of the brim – kept the glasses clear of fog.
There are of course lots of potential variables at play, such as how your glasses, face and helmet work with each other, but I think Smith has done its part.
And this is highly subjective, but I really like the way it looks. I wore the helmet with full-branded team-livery Lycra, commuting, schools-runs, and even with looser clothing on one of my favourite gravel runs. At no point did it look or feel out of place.
It doesn't sit too high and the helmet itself isn't that thick, which mitigates any 'mushroom-head effect'. It also straddles the line of having sufficient vents for keeping you cool while feeling substantial enough to feel trust-worthy in the event of a smash.
To say it doesn't excel in any single area sounds disparaging – but it isn't meant like that. In fact, if this this helmet fulfils your specific needs, it's a great option. If you're an out-and-out roadie looking for the latest premium lightweight aero lid, and don't mind paying lots, then the Smith Trace is not that – but then again, it's not trying to be that.
It's not especially light – it has a claimed weight of 280g though on our scales it was 289g. Neither is it especially aero or incredibly well ventilated, but it has a foot in both camps. It doesn't have the most daring looks, nor is it drab, and it doesn't scream roadie or mountain biker.
To be fair, if you're looking for a super-light lid or a helmet for maximum aero-friendliness, then you have lots of options from which to choose. But if you ride a variety of disciplines and want a very good performance across all of them, the Smith Trace MIPS is well worth considering for its impressive versatility.
While its full retail price is a fair bit north of £200, you can find it for a fair bit less. But even at full price it undercuts the Giro Aries Spherical, which is perhaps the best road lid available at the moment. Suvi loved it, as did Virginia Tech who ranked it number one for safety. But it does come with a heavyweight £290 price.
If you're looking for a new lid for a lot less money, the Giro Agilis lid comes in under £100 and still features MIPS, which is great to see. Neil found it well made, good looking, light and comfortable
The Smith Trace MIPS is a safety-laden helmet that doesn't necessarily excel in any single category but majors on versatility – and I felt it was sufficiently successful across the board for me to recommend it, especially if you can find it at less than its full retail price.
Versatile and comfortable helmet with must-have MIPS, nice-to-have Koroyd and understated looks
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Smith Trace MIPS
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Smith claims it's designed for the Road, Gravel and XC rider. It doesn't have a brim, which might count it out for some XC riders, but it's a great premium helmet that does most things really well.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
MIPS, a brilliant technology that aims to deflect impacts, and mitigate/reduce concussions
Koroyd breathable crumpling technology
EPS foam body
Feels well made, solid and dependable. The external plastic shell extends over all the edges of the EPS, which should reduce wear and tear too
While this is a product designed to straddle a lot niches, I chose to see it is versatile rather than unspecialised.
Plastic shell covers almost all the EPS, which should extend its life and keep it looking tidy.
It weighs 289g, and while this didn't feel too heavy to me, it could be viewed as being slightly heavy for a premium road helmet. Personally speaking, I was happy to accept the trade-off.
Helmet fit is necessarily subjective but I found the fit pretty good. I usually take a medium helmet, and I found myself in the mid-upper range of the fit.
Reasonable anti-bacterial padding.
It has an RRP well over 200 quid, which isn't great value, though this is a premium lid, but shop around and you can find it for a good deal less.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
A versatile helmet – quite cool, quite comfortable and suitable for gravel and road use, and perhaps some light XC as well.
It's chock-full of the big name safety features, which is always reassuring.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I like its looks, which I'd describe as smart without being too shouty or aggressive while still looking like a premium product.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There are lots of other really great helmets on the market, but I think the Trace is one of the most versatile around. You can get better safety scores from more road-focused helmets such as the all-conquering Giro Aries Spherical – but that comes at a price.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
As someone who likes road cycling, cycles for commuting, and tackles the occasional gravel path, I found this helmet appropriate for all disciplines, and easily comfortable enough.
About the tester
I usually ride: Custom titanium gravel My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Tom is features and tech writer who's been writing and riding for over 20 years, and has had misadventures on almost every conceivable bike. From single-speeds, to aero race-bikes, gravel bikes, ebikes and mountain bikes, he's a big fan of almost everything that rolls on two wheels.