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Cycling is more popular than ever – and if you’re joining the bike brigade, a good quality helmet is perhaps the most important bit of kit you can buy to keep you safe, whether you’re a keen road cyclist or a mountain biking fan.
What kind of bike helmet do you need?
The first question when buying a bike helmet is simple – what kind of cycling are you into? There are helmets available to suit different disciplines, and they’re roughly divided into road cycling, mountain bike and urban commuter styles.
Road helmets are light and well-ventilated, mountain bike helmets cover more of your head and have peaks to protect your eyes, and commuter helmets are more casual, often come in retro-inspired styles and may include built-in lights.
What do I need from a helmet?
All helmets are designed to protect your brain in the event of a crash, and should meet European safety standards, but some also feature a MIPS safety system – this is a layer inside the helmet that reduces force to the head on impact, and brands that use MIPS technology (which stands forMulti-Directional Impact Protection System) also have their helmets safety tested before release. We’d always recommend choosing a MIPS helmet.
Avoid knocking your helmet, and if it gets damaged or if you do have a fall, replace it immediately.
Once you’ve got the right kind of helmet, the next consideration is fit. Your new lid should fit snugly on your head with no tightness anywhere, but still feel cool and breathable thanks to multiple vents. Look for a light weight – under 300g is ideal for feeling unrestricted as you ride.
Helmets are usually sold in different sizes, and each brand will have a guide to how to measure your head and find the right size for you, and most also have an adjustable fit system such as an adjustment wheel on the back of the helmet. Finally, a chin strap further keeps the helmet in place, and should be snug without feeling restrictive.
Once adjusted, you should be able to shake your head without the helmet moving, and you shouldn’t be able to fit more than one finger between your forehead and the helmet. We like to pick brightly coloured helmets as an extra way to be visible when cycling.
Best for: Best road cycling helmet
Key specs – Discipline: road; MIPS: Yes; Sizes available: S,M,L ; Colours available: seven; Weight: 245g.
Feel the need for speed? Dedicated road cyclist clocking up the miles should choose a helmet that can keep up with them – meet the Giro Aether.
This is the most expensive helmet in our round-up, but it’s worth the spend if you’re shopping for great comfort and great performance in one sleek package.
The Aether is also so lightweight at 245g that you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it – but if you should need it, MIPS safety technology is there, ready to protect your head.
We did notice that the sizes of the Aether run small – consider trying out a size larger than your usual for a snug but comfortable fit.
Kask Rapido Helmet
Best for: Best entry level road cycling helmet
Key specs – Discipline: road cycling; MIPS: no; Sizes available: M,L; Colours available: seven; Weight: 220g;
The Italian-made Kask Rapido is a very popular entry-level road cycling lid, and for good reason.
We’ve had the Rapido on long-term test and can’t fault it – it’s lightweight, well-ventilated, very comfortable all day long and it looks good, too.
It’s a pity this design doesn’t use MIPS in its lining, but it does feature Kask’s own-brand MIT safety technology. We did notice you need to carefully get the right size and adjustment to keep the helmet snugly in place, but once you get the fit right, it’s great.
At under £50 we can’t fault the affordable Rapido for newbie road cyclists after their first helmet, or anyone looking for decent protection on a budget.
Bern Watts Bike Helmet 2.0
Best for: urban riding and commuting
Key specs – Discipline: Urban cycling; MIPS: Yes; Sizes available: S,M,L; Colours available: five; Weight: 510g;
Bern specialise in helmets for snow sports, skating and cycling, and urban, skate-inspired looks run through their whole collection.
This second incarnation of the Watts helmet was designed with the city in mind but is a good all-rounder for beginner cyclists, too.
This helmet looks and feels solid, but 11 vents go far to keep your head cool. This design isn’t as light or as breathable as a dedicated road lid, but it’s suitable as a stylish all-rounder.
An integrated, rechargeable light makes this helmet ideal for commuting, too.
While a non-MIPS version of the Watts 2.0 is available for £69.99, we would definitely recommend the extra spend to keep your bonce safe.
Oakley Aero3 Lite
Best for: best for hot weather rides
Key specs – Discipline: road cycling and cyclocross; MIPS: Yes; Sizes available: S,M,L; Colours available: two; Weight: 295g.
The Aero3 stands out for its comfort when the road gets tough.
As the name suggests, this is a lightweight model at 295g, and that lack of weight plus great ventilation make the Aero3 ideal for hot climbing rides in the summer months.
An inner lining wicks away sweat well and also feels soft around the face, unlike other plastic-y helmets. T
his design may be a streamlined model but it’ll still protect your brain, with MIPS technology built-in to the protective foam lining.
Oakley is perhaps best known for their sunglasses, and the Aero3 nods to that with docks that let you stick your sunnies up on your helmet when they aren’t in use.
Dashel Urban Cycling Helmet
Best for: style in the city
Key specs – Discipline: urban cycling; MIPS: no; Sizes available: S, M, L; Colours available: six colourways; Weight: 390g.
Looking to make a style statement on city bike adventures? Dashel’s dashing retro-inspired helmets are designed with commuters and urban riders in mind.
We love the sleek looks of the Urban helmet, and the fact that you can also add clip-on rear lights for an extra £20, which is well worth it for staying visible at night.
The Urban helmet is best worn for chilled-out rides, as although it has four vents it’s not as breathable as sportier models, and we wouldn’t wear this design on hot days or when cycling hard.
The only downside for us is that Dashel’s helmet can’t be adjusted, so if your head measures between the sizes that are available you may struggle to get the perfect fit.
Decathlon ST 500 Mountain Biking Helmet
Best for: Best budget mountain biking helmet
Key specs – Discipline: Mountain Biking; MIPS: No; Sizes available: M,L; Colours available: five colours available; Weight: N/A;
Need a helmet that won’t break the bank but that still provides decent protection? We rate Decathlon’s affordable ST 500.
This lid is designed as a mountain biking helmet, but we think it has neutral enough looks and enough ventilation to work as an all-rounder for road and commuting, especially if you’re a new cyclist looking for one pocket-friendly helmet to wear while you try out different bikes and disciplines.
The ST 500 is adjustable, but only available in medium and large sizes, so petite women may find it too roomy for them.
Liv Coveta MIPS helmet
Best for: Best for protection on MTB and trail
Key specs – Discipline: Mountain and trail biking; MIPS: yes; Sizes available: S,M,L; Colours available: one; Weight: 341g;
Liv design bikes and helmets specifically for women and with input from female cyclists – if you favour a female fit over unisex helmets, this is the brand for you.
The Liv Coveta is our top pick on test for mountain bikers and trail riders – it offers great all-over protection for your head, is highly breathable when you’re riding hard.
On test we found the Coveta super comfortable, even after long hours in the saddle.
A GoPro-compatible mount also lets you film your adventures as you pedal. Decent price point, too.
Specialized Airnet MIPS
Best for: Gravel riding
Key specs – Discipline: Road and gravel; MIPS: yes; Sizes available: S,M,L; Colours available: two; Weight: 364g;
While there aren’t many gravel-specific helmets on the market, if you’re a fan of hitting more technical terrain we’d recommend picking a helmet with built-in MIPS for protection, plus plenty of ventilation.
The Specialized Airnet (the design is based on old leather ‘hairnet’ cycle helmets) wicks away sweat very well, with an inner merino wool fabric designed to keep the helmet cool and odour-free, and a whopping 22 vents to keep air circulating – you’re very unlikely to overheat in this design.
A visor is available separately from Specialized, and we’d recommend adding this on to keep sun and mud out of your eyes.