When it comes to cycling, having the best cycling helmet is not optional, it's a must. Safety comes first, whatever the season and regardless the amount of traffic on the roads. Donning your ultra-flattering high-viz and setting your lights to max output before you head off is a given, but bike helmets are the real king of road safety, and whether you cycle to work or race on the weekends, having the right one could save your life.
In the UK, it’s not required by law for you to wear a cycle helmet on the road when you ride a bicycle, but the risk of injury can be reduced by up to 70% by putting one on. These days there are plenty of helmets in attractive designs, from prestige brands, so you needn't feel like too much of a tit whilst protecting yourself, either. Even with the roads relatively empty right now, a helmet is still a wise precaution.
Cycling helmets are recommended for all types of cyclists but especially riders of the best road bikes as they tend to go fast and also e-bike cyclists who tend to navigate around in heavy traffic in urban areas. To improve visibility and therefore safety, make sure you use the best bike front lights and best bike rear lights. You can't be safe enough on the roads.
How to buy the best cycling helmet for you
First, the basics: most road helmets are designed to be used once. By 'used' we mean, to be involved in one collision. You don't have to buy a new helmet every time you ride; that would be silly. But if it protects you from a crash, it has in effect given its life to save yours, and must be thrown away.
More advanced/modern helmets use a multi-directional impact system (or MIPS). This offers even more protection than a standard helmet, by resisting the twisting effect of an impact from certain angles. These tend to be more expensive, but then, not as expensive as buying a new head.
If you’re a frequent road cyclist, you’ll want a helmet that’s aerodynamic for reasons of both speed and ventilation. Most helmets aren't waterproof, but they do offer at least some protection from rain, cold and wind.
Road helmets have also become increasingly “smarter” with features such as Bluetooth connectivity and LED lights for safe cycling at night but you can always just attach a light to a non-smart helmet. Some helmets also include a pull-down, usually removable visor to protect your eyes, and/or to make you look awesome.
Most bike helmets are suitable for men and women, but you should either try a helmet on for size in a shop, or be ready to return and replace a wrongly sized helmet in timely fashion, if you order online. That's because a lot of helmet brands' stated head diameter for each size of helmet seems to have been reached through use of a random number generator. If you like to wear a cap under your helmet, this is particularly necessary.
After that, it’s simply down to style. Most helmets come in a range of bright colours which help with visibility as well as looking good. We’ve compiled a list of the top 9 helmets to suit a range of cyclists needs, including a variety of colours and patterns to cater to personal style.
What's the safest cycling helmet?
For urban cyclists, the Hövding 3 cycling airbag might be the safest option. This cycling helmet-cum-airbag deploys within 0.1 seconds in event of an accident and when it does so, it'll cover most of your head, all the way down to the neck, giving you more protection than just standard cycling helmets. Hövding claims that its proprietary algorithm reads movements 200 times per second to determine what position the cyclist is in at any given point. You will need to charge the unit relatively often, though.
Are cheap cycle helmets safe?
The short answer to this question is no. Cheap cycling helmets use inferior materials which will result in the helmet breaking clean off your head when it would supposed to give the most protection. Not to mention, micro-cracks on the plastic shell might render cheap cycling helmets unsafe straight out of the box. You don't need to buy the most expensive cycling helmet but spending a little bit more than just the bare minimum is most certainly recommended.
Best cycle helmets to buy today
Probably the best thing about the Kask Utopia cycling helmet is that although it was designed for road racing and triathlons, it can be used for commuting too, due to its lightweight construction and great ventilation properties.
The medium size of the Kask Utopia weighs only 235 grams and when you get it out of the box, it feels unbelievably airy. In the box, you get a manual with the helmet too that explains how to adjust the fit, using the micro-dial at the back, so it sits on your head correctly. Turning the micro-dial lets out/tightens the plastic frame in 1 cm increments.
Close to the head, you'll find 5 mm of fast-wicking Resistex material and moisture shunning is further enhanced by the space-grade ventilation system. The air vents have another purpose too: the Kask Utopia is aerodynamic to the highest levels. Regardless of your riding position, the Kask Utopia will control the flow of the air so it goes around the helmet as close to perfect as possible.
Being a cycling helmet designed for road and triathlon racing, the Kask Utopia really shines at high speeds: wind is channelled away from the riders' ears so you won't get deafened by the windrush and thanks to the aero control system, your head is kept cool even when doing top speed on your triathlon bike.
And, of course, the Kask Utopia will keep your skull intact on the roads, too. Kask's MIT technology uses a policarbonate layer that covers the shell on the top, on the base ring and on the back. The "in moulding" technology joins the inner polystyrene cap to the outer polycarbonate shell for better shock absorption.
The Oakley ARO5 is a good example of a very decent MiPS-enabled road cycling helmet that's highly functional yet absolutely affordable. Sure, you can buy the ARO5 at Oakley for twice as much as everywhere else, whatever floats your boat. If you are savvy enough and check third-party retailers, though, you can save some money on your new cycling helmet.
Don't get me wrong: the Oakley ARO5 might be affordable but is not 'cheap' by any means. Sure, Oakley might be more well-known for its sunglasses, but the California-based company can manufacture other types of performance cycling gear, such as cycling helmets.
The Oakley ARO5 is as comfortable as it is safe and comes equipped with 360-degree BOA fastening system and MiPS Brain Protection System. The former will help find the best fit that's not too loose, neither too tight by tightening the whole frame as opposed to just the part at the back of your head. The padding around the forehead not only makes wearing the ARO5 more comfortable but it is also silver-lined to "inhibit the growth of bacteria on fabric", as Oakley puts it.
I'm sure everyone is familiar with the MiPS technology but just to reiterate: The MIPS Brain Protection System is a helmet integrated, low friction layer designed to reduce rotational motion transferred to the brain during an impact. Show your brain some love with the Oakley ARO5.
And since Oakley is a sunglasses manufacturer, the ARO5 comes equipped with an 'eyewear dock', meaning you can store the glasses on the helmet when not in use. Just stick them in the helmet and forget it's there as you pedal. The ARO5 also comes with a travel bag and an Oakley decal too. You'll definitely get your money's worth here.
Check out the Tour de France themed Oakley ARO5 colourway too!
The Smith Trace helmet features Koroyd, which a super-light ventilation-slash-protection system that fully surrounds the helmet. It kind of looks like a bunch of straws cut into shorter pieces and glued together in a honeycomb-shape under the outer shell of the helmet.
Thanks to these little plastic tubes, however, the Smith Trace provides exceptional ventilation not just for your head, but also your cycling sunglasses that can be stored in a variety of ways on top of the helmet. Glasses fogging up doing longer distances won't be an issue with the Trace.
Paying extra attention to eyewear is not a surprise from Smith, it being one of the most prominent manufacturer of cycling and safety eyewear. But the company also designs exceptional headwear, too, and the Trace is an excellent example of what Smith has to offer when it comes to head protection on the bike.
The Smith Trace is easily adjustable using the Vaporfit turn-dial at the back of the helmet and the XT2 antibacterial performance lining is as comfortable against the skin as cycling helmet lining gets. Comfort levels are further enhanced by the 18 vents around the outer shell of the helmet that circulate the air around your skull, removing excess heat and keeping your head cool.
On the downside, the Smith Trace cycling helmet looks a bit bulky viewed from the front and does cost quite a lot but in our opinion, it does worth the price for people who are after a no-compromise performance helmet.
POC is like the Volvo of the helmet world: Swedish, renowned and revered for its impeccable safety standards and investment in new technology, but once avoided due to the fact its products were a little, shall we say, 'unflattering'.
But as with Volvo, the times have a-changed. POC now offers numerous, seriously safe helmets that also look great, and the award-winning Octal is a distillation of this effort.
Octal weighs less than 200g in medium size, yet goes above and beyond most other road bike competition in so much as it offers additional coverage and protection for the temples and back of the head, while the EPS liner is strategically thicker in the most exposed areas.
On top of this, there's all the ventilation a sweaty head could lust after and the aerodynamic shape makes it as good on the racy sportive as it is on the morning commute.
If you want the absolute cutting-edge of safety – sorry for the unfortunate choice of words there – POC also now a version of the Octal with its multiple-impact protection system (MIPS), which is built to withstand potentially catastrophic twisting forces on your dome in the event of a prang.
The look of the Union has much less race-day DNA than the POC helmet – little wonder; Bern was born as a brand for skaters. As such it's perfect for urban cyclists who don't want to be thought of as MAMILs or, er, MAWILs, if that's the female version of it.
A relatively low profile – okay, it is a little bulbous, as Bern's helms usually are – and light weight mean it's still sufficiently aerodynamic to not hold you back.
More importantly, it looks great in our opinion. A removable, clip-in 'visor' works like the peak on a cycling cap, flipping down to add a bit of sun protection, or just to make you look cooler. It also does a stand-up job of absorbing forehead sweat, but could be easier to flip down.
As with the POC, there's also an MIPS version of the Bern Union available. With more resistance to rotational force, it'll be of interest to off-roaders and anyone who prefers the maximum available insurance against cranial trauma. Does cost a bit more, though, pushing the price just over a ton.
If you don't put a high price on your safety, the Lazer Blade Helmet is an excellent, no-frills, affordable-yet-acceptably-stylish helmet that does everything it’s meant to for a pocket money price.
The 22 vents are impressive for the price, giving great ventilation and air circulation, and it will, obviously, protect your head from any potential injuries sustained whilst showing off. If you’re after a solid, good-value helmet for occasional use, this Lazer should be your weapon of choice.
The Kask Mojito is one of the most recognisable cycle helmets, thanks to Kask's long association with Sky. Despite that, and being one of the best cycling helmets for aerodynamics, thanks to no fewer than 26 ventilation holes, it's also pretty commute-friendly.
The vents also channel plenty of air to keep you cool, the interior gel liner is supremely comfy, and the pricing isn't too stringent either. The indecisive may be alarmed to find that the sleek design comes in approximately 500 billion colour choices, however.
If you’re after a helmet to optimise your performance and speed, the Specialized S-Works Prevail Helmet is a winning choice. With its ultra-light construction and 4th Dimension Cooling System that evaporates sweat, this is the best cycling helmet for road racing at its price.
Its light, soft webbing doesn’t stretch with water or sweat and the Tri-Fix straps make it easy to adjust. It complies to all the usual cycling safety standards.
Although not an out-and-out time trial helmet, this slippery devil from Giro is designed to slice through the air with minimal fuss, without the wearer looking like they've developed some sort of alien cranium.
Its compact proportions make it a good distance helmet, while the TransformAir design actively streamlines airflow to reduce drag and ease the rider along the more punishing routes.
A built-in Magnetic Vivid shield by Zeiss offers additional aero performance and some eye protection, while a variety of colour schemes means there's a whacky design for every rider. It does look absolutely bad-ass, but maybe not one to don when straddling a Boris Bike.
If you spend frequent time in the saddle then the Bell Zephyr MIPS helmet is ideal, offering considerable comfort and safety. It has height- and width-adjustable cradles, allowing you to find the perfect fit, and stay-fresh X-Static absorption padding. At just over £200, it’s undeniably pricey, but as a frequent cyclist, you won’t want to leave the house without it. Bell also offer a crash replacement scheme to replace your helmet at a much lower cost should you have an accident when wearing it.