By Stan Purdum
You can pay less than $100 and get a good bicycle helmet — and in some cases, considerably less — and thanks to standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which all helmets sold in the United States since 1999 are required by law to meet, any of those helmets will protect your head in a crash. But, if you’re willing, you can also pay more than $200 or even $300 for a helmet.
So what do you get with the top-end (no pun intended) brain buckets that you don’t with the less expensive ones? We decided to take a look. So here’s a roundup of several top-of-the-line helmets that are not aero-specific.
If, by the way, you’re looking for cheaper, safe helmets, see this article: Best of the Best: These Bicycle Helmets Tested Safest at Multiple Labs
Giro Aether Spherical MIPS Helmet
The single biggest difference between the Giro Aether Spherical Helmet and less expensive ones is the way it integrates MIPS technology (Multi-directional Impact Protection System). Most helmets do this with a plastic slip plane as an inside liner. The Aether, however, replaces this with a foam slip liner, meaning that your head is protected by independent layers of EPS (expanded polystyrene — the generic term for “styrofoam”) foam that fit together with a spherical ball-and-socket design “giving riders the benefits of MIPS without obstruction to comfort or cooling power,” says Giro. Other features include a six-piece polycarbonate shell with 11 large air vents and a fit system that allows 3-way fit tuning and quick sizing adjustments. There are also built-in rubber grippers to hold your sunglasses for those times when you don’t want to wear them but still want them near at hand.
Specialized S-Works Prevail II Helmet with ANGi
The S-Works Prevail II includes crash-sensor technology called ANGi, which, when combined with the S-Works iOS or Android app, will detect a crash and send a text message to specified contacts in your phone. It also syncs with the S-Works app and STRAVA to provide GPS-based activity tracking. The Prevail II uses a version of MIPS Specialized calls MIPS SL — a new, ultra-light, comfortable version of MIPS available exclusively on Specialized helmets (one reviewer described the helmet as so light and airy that it “sometimes feels like a net in the wind”). Specialized essentially integrated MIPS technology within the helmet padding itself, which provides 10 to 15 millimeters of rotation in every direction and offers the same brain protection benefits as other versions of MIPS, the company says. The helmet is intentionally made to look less big than comparable ones, creating a smaller profile that fits lower down on the head. It has deep internal channels aligned from front-to-rear, so the air intake and exhaust are optimized and has a Gutter Action System that manages the flow of sweat, keeping it away from your eyes and the pads over your temple.
Lazer G1 MIPS Helmet
Regarding the G1 MIPS, Lazer touts its lightness (235 grams), ventilation (22 vents that create 8 percent more airflow over the head than no helmet at all!) and versatility (an Aeroshell, sold separately transforms the road helmet into an aero helmet). The multi-use polycarbonate cover fits over top of the helmet, blocking the front and side vents to protect your head from rain and cold or, says Lazar, “to gain an aerodynamic advantage.” Two sets of pads are included so you can choose between superlight and comfort pads. Regarding fit and comfort, the back part of the retention system can be adjusted up and down by means of a nylon ratchet, depending on preference. Its MIPS system has a five-star “best available” rating from the Virginia Tech impact testing lab. In the event the G1 is damaged in a crash, Lazer offers a 50 percent discount on replacing the helmet.
Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike Helmet
Bontrager emphasizes the engineering of its Velocis MIPS road bike helmet, explaining how it tested both air flow and head temperature in designing the helmet. This results, says Bontrager, in “a well-balanced, race-ready helmet with the added protection of MIPS for serious riders looking for maximum cooling and an aerodynamic advantage.” In other words, this helmet lets you go faster while staying cool. The fit system permits one-hand adjustment. The helmet has ports to store sunglasses when not in use and includes a removable visor for the benefits of a cycling cap without extra bulk. Comes with a guarantee for free helmet replacement if involved in a crash within the first year of ownership.
Bell Z20 Ghost MIPS Helmet
The Z20 is the result of the years Bell spent analyzing how helmets fit, and applying its cumulative knowledge of impact management. Thus, the Z20 Ghost utilizes two separate layers of hard-shelled EPS foam in addition to integrated MIPS. The fit is optimized with a system that features height- and width-adjustable cradles and an easy-to-use tension dial. The padding inside is sweat-wicking to keep your head cool and the sweat guide pad design pulls moisture away from the brow pad and away from eyewear. The outer shell is polycarbonate that is bonded to the EPS foam liner to create a sturdier helmet. Design includes an air-channel matrix for full-head ventilation. The helmet also has built-in reflectivity: a durable, reflective coat under the outer clear coat.
Kask Protone Helmet
Because it weighs just 215 grams, Protone has the lowest drag and the fastest heat dissipation coefficients compared to any other ventilated helmet, says Kask, which also touts its many ventilation holes and thick padding material. That material consists of a 3D Dry padding that is treated with an antimicrobial process and is also removable and washable. The Protone uses its Multi In-Moulding Technology to create a polycarbonate cover for the top, base ring and the back of the helmet’s shell. This is joined to the inner polystyrene cap to improve the shell’s shock absorption. Its strengthened frame further reduces the risk of a shock breaking the shell. The Protone’s description does not mention MIPS, so it presumably does not offer that feature. But it has a hi-viz reflectivity.
POC Octal X SPIN Helmet
While the Octal X SPIN is built on the heritage of the Octal road helmet, the X SPIN is tailored to the needs of the gravel and cyclocross riders. Thus, the outer shell covers more of the helmet liner compared to the Octal road helmet, though with very little increase in weight, It boasts of extreme ventilation and aerodynamic efficiency, a unibody shell construction and an EPS liner, as well as POC’s aramid bridge technology, which is a molding process that spreads impact forces over a larger surface and adds structural stability to the helmet. SPIN refers to Shearing Pad Inside, which is POC’s alternative to MIPS. Includes an “eye garage” for storing your sunglasses.
Smith Trace MIPS Helmet
The Trace MIPS helmet features Smith’s patented Koroud (or Koroyd — they spell it both ways on their site) protection that fully surrounds the helmet, but since Smith never explains what Koroud/Koroyd is, it’s anybody’s guess what that means (one assumes it’s something to do with the protective ability of the shell). The Trace has 18 large vents “strategically placed to create an intake and exhaust system.” Smith also builds the Trace with an AirEvac system that works to keep your shades fog-free while riding, and vents that neatly secure your glasses when you need to take them off after dusk falls.
Rudy Project Racemaster MIPS
Though the Racemaster weighs a few grams more than some of the other helmets included here, reviewers say they especially like the fit of this helmet and the “Garage Eyewear Dock” that holds sunglasses at the back of the helmet, and prevents contact between the sunglasses’ temple arms and the user’s head. The Rudy Projects says the Racemaster is built for extreme performance and unparalleled protection, and, of course, it includes MIPS technology.
Readers, do you tend to ride with a high end helmet, or a mid or low range model? Do you choose based on weight, looks, safety, price, or something else?
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.