Ready to start pedaling? Protect your head with the best bike helmets of 2021.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t need convincing you should get a helmet. (Still on the fence? Get one!) But not all helmets are equal. Just as there’s a range of bikes, helmet designs are unique to the riding conditions.
We’ve tested more than 20 helmets this year while pedaling, gravel-riding, and commuting on everything from short road rides to more rowdy single track to extended tours. Here are our favorite bike helmets for 2021. If you’re looking specifically for a mountain bike helmet, check out our review of the Best Mountain Bike Helmets of 2021.
The Best Bike Helmets of 2021
Best Overall: Specialized S-Works Prevail II Vent + ANGi MIPS Helmet
Surprise! Specialized did it again and tops yet another cycling list. A cycling industry juggernaut, Specialized knows how to do things right, and their carbon fiber Prevail II Vent ($250) is a fine example. It’s the perfect marriage of form and function and lightweight materials that fit like a glove. Fortunately for us, this S-Works model won’t break the bank.
Borrowing from their already successful Prevail II helmet, the Vent removed seven foam bridges from the helmet’s frame. Specialized replaced the bridges with small rods that maintain structural integrity. It also provides better airflow and ventilation across the head through the 32 vents.
Protecting the noggin from rotational impact, Specialized integrated MIPS technology directly into the padding. Flip the helmet over and you can push the padding around and see the 360 degrees of directional play. It offers the same brain protection benefits as other versions of MIPS and received five stars from Virginia Tech’s Helmet Rating.
The helmet snugs under the chin with a simple single strap. We find a single strap easier to manipulate than the more popular double strap mechanism, which often requires taking the helmet off and using both hands to work the webbing. The strap clips together with a traditional buckle and is secured around the cranium with an easy-to-adjust dial.
Adjacent to the dial you’ll notice an inconspicuous black box. Like every notable black box, this one tracks data that can share your location, detects crashes (including rotational impact levels), and alerts loved ones or emergency services that you need help.
The ANGi (Angular and G-Force Indicator) system is free and pairs with your smartphone. Already got a helmet? ANGi is available aftermarket ($50). It’s a no-brainer for, um, your brain.
- Weight: 274 g (on our scales)
- ANGi alert system
- Great ventilation
- Less comfortable than other models on this list, but less expensive, too
Best Budget: Lazer Chiru MIPS
Yes, there are countless cheaper helmets available on Amazon. And they’re cheap for a reason. These helmets are often manufactured and sold outside the U.S., and they probably won’t meet the safety standards set by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). Safety simply isn’t a place to save coin.
The Chiru MIPS helmet ($65) was our best budget pick for mountain bike helmets, and it makes a fine choice for gravel cycling if you don’t mind the mountain-oriented design. It comes in at a lower price point but with high comfort and protection.
The design has lower-skull coverage (the material extends low on the back of the head, slightly behind and in front of the ears), which is optimal for trail rides, but it’s what we’d want for more gnarly gravel rides.
For $64, you’re still buying into the integrated MIPS layer, giving you added protection against the rotational motion that impacts the brain during a slam. And the interior head basket system, called Turnfit Plus, offers a 360-degree customizable and anchored fit.
This is a great option if you often fall between helmet sizes. And the helmet received a five-star safety rating from Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings during a third-party analysis.
Overall, we were impressed with the comfort and coverage. The Chiru weighs in at 335 g and is decked with a visor that provides adequate sun blockage. The breathability is OK with 15 large vents that let the air flow well on long, warm climbs — but it’s not too much that it feels chilly on cold rides.
Overall, for the price, this is a great helmet with an agreeable fit without any real drawbacks in its performance.
- Weight: 335 g
- Good ventilation
- No visor adjustment
Best Mountain-Oriented Helmet: Giro Manifest Spherical Helmet
If your rides pull you off the beaten path, it’s worth investing in more protection. Shell materials drop a little lower, protecting more of your head. And you buy into a visor and often a more secure fit.
Our favorite mountain bike helmet this year comes from Giro. While the brand makes a gravel-specific helmet, the Helios ($250), we fell in love with the fit, feel, and overall protection of their recently released Manifest ($260).
A pure mountain bike helmet, the Manifest is a double-shell helmet with an outer shell that floats over the inner shell through MIPS Spherical Technology. They describe it as a “ball-and-socket design,” which is an appropriate description. The outer shell articulates over the inner shell.
The two shells align ports, so ventilation remains generous. Donned on the head, it’s a wonderfully comfortable helmet.
The padding is generous, and the straps drop off the helmet and around the face, giving you a secure fit with no gaps. The straps clip together with a magnetic Fidlock clip. It’s a little fidgety at first but intuitive once you figure it out. The system is easy to clip and unclip with gloves on.
This is the most comfortable helmet we tried this season. Weighing 360 g, it’s also the heaviest.
- Weight: 360 g (on our scales)
- Incredibly comfortable
- Visor tilts
- Can’t easily be removed
Best Style: Bontrager XXX WaveCel
The XXX WaveCel ($300) is Bontrager’s top-shelf road helmet, and we gave it high points for performance, comfort, and style.
Core to the XXX is Bontrager’s WaveCel technology. In a crash, the corrugated “waved” core crumples and glides to absorb impact and rotational energy. It’s Bontrager’s alternative to MIPS liners.
Bontrager shares the WaveCel tech is five times more effective at protecting the noggin in an accident than traditional foam helmets. While there’s been some controversy around that study, it’s certainly proven to be effective. Even Virginia Tech’s helmet evaluation tests stamped the WaveCel with their highest safety five-star rating.
Safety aside, the XXX is one of the most versatile, user-friendly, and comfortable helmets for road and gravel cycling. The helmet has fantastic contact with most heads.
The lid secures around back with a quick-adjusting BOA system. It’s easy to dial in a no-slip fit. Dropping over and around the ears, the straps secure under the chin with a traditional buckle. The fit is snug, comfortable, and one of the best we tested this year.
While the honeycomb-like WaveCel structure maintains good airflow, the ventilation is capped by the nine slots. Five run across the top of the head, and four ports allow outflow in back. Compared to other helmets on the list, this is a conservative number of vents, and the XXX feels hot on warmer rides.
But we tested this helmet in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, where the thin air exposed a good amount of solar heat, and we still found the helmet sufficiently cooled the alpine air.
What stole our hearts, though, is the fantastic look. The XXX WaveCell sits around the head, not on top of it, and feels equally good paired with our road kits and backcountry gravel rides. Because cycling is often best appreciated over espressos, this makes the XXX a fantastic helmet both in the saddle as well as après ride.
- Weight: 352 g (on our scales)
- Extremely comfortable
- Extra coverage in back
- High visibility options for road rides
- Not as breathable
Best Ventilation: POC Octal X Spin
As we’d expect from a Swedish company, the Octal X SPIN helmet ($250) brings a stylish, polished, and streamlined design. The perforated shell gives POC’s Octal its distinguishable look. The 20(!) vent ports spill heat like an open oven.
Connecting the vents, POC’s Aramid bridge technology provides structural bridges to reinforce the helmet while minimizing bulk and weight. Around back, a dial-fit system allows you to quickly lock in the diameter. The entire occipital suspension system clicks forward and backward to customize the helmet drop over the brows.
For rotational impact protection, the helmet uses POC’s SPIN (Shearing Pad INside) pads. The SPIN pads are made with a silicone gel-like membrane, which allows the helmet to “spin” on impact.
The helmet has RECCO reflectors, allowing rescuers to quickly locate you if you crash. And should that spill render the helmet unwearable, POC offers a replacement program within the first 2 years after purchase. Just save your receipts and fill out the warranty form.
Fit-wise, we found the Octal’s padding minimal, which detracts from the overall comfort. You feel the helmet against the head more than others.
But weighing in under 300 g (men’s medium), it rides nearly undetectable. And given the sheer volume of ports, the Octal is our preferred helmet for cycling in hot climates in the desert southwest or humid Minnesota summers.
- Weight: 257 g (on our scales)
- Ample ventilation
- Good fit
- Extra coverage in back without sacrificing weight
- POC’s Crash Replacement program
- Dial can slip a little
- Not as comfortable
Best Bike Helmet for Commuting: Lumos Ultra
Are you looking to increase your visibility on the road? Then you need to check out this record-breaking helmet. The Lumos Ultra ($115) comes in at a very reasonable price and brings not just head protection but lights as well.
It has an LED headlight as well as two rear lights that work as turn signals and brake lights. The included control mounts on your handlebar and can easily be used to enable the left and right turn signals. You can also use your Apple Watch to control the turn signals.
We found the nine vents offered adequate breathability on all but the hottest summer days. And we’re happy to report that everything works great even during a torrential downpour.
The click-dial system makes for a comfortable fit, though we did find the fit varies from other major brands. Be sure to refer to the fit guide before purchasing. And while we still recommend using a bike light, this helmet does offer extra visibility while commuting.
- Weight: 370 g
- Integrated lights
- Fast charging
- Sizing varies from other manufacturers
- Heavier than some helmets
Best of the Rest
While many helmets on the market focus on advanced slip layers and proprietary tech to handle a crash, LEM aims to make a more comfortable helmet for the ride itself.
The MotivAir ($225) hangs its success on two tech innovations: a carbon fiber shell covering the low-density EPS foam. The two work hand-in-hand to carve precious grams out of the helmet’s construction.
The result isn’t revolutionary. The exo-carbon shell looks like a traditional helmet. But it keeps the weight very low. Contributing to the helmet’s welterweight status are 23 vents stripping the shell.
“As temps climbed into triple digits, the MotivAir kept me from sweating out of the helmet,” our Denver reviewer noted. “There was plenty of airflow to keep any sweat from beading down my forehead.”
The dial fit can be a little finicky, and the price is steep for a helmet without proprietary rotational impact protection add-ons. But if weight is your main concern, the MotivAir is a good choice, especially for cyclists who primarily ride road and occasionally turn the wheels toward gravel.
Check out our full LEM MotivAir review.
- Weight: 220 g
- Good venting
- No rotational impact protection
If LEM’s MotivAir is too much coin or you prefer a more mountain-oriented helmet, we liked the fit and feel of ABUS’s Moventor ($100). It’s is a no-frills, non-MIPS helmet that sneaks under $100 by a penny.
And you get what you’d expect from a mountain bike helmet: more coverage around the back of the head, a visor, and vents that coordinate with sunglasses. The venting pattern supports ample airflow across the head without compromising structural integrity.
The internal padding isn’t robust, and you feel the helmet more than other helmets on the list. But the occipital cage can be adjusted forward and backward and closes around the head with a dial in back. And at 320 g, it’s a reasonably light helmet for the price.
- Weight: 320 g (on our scales)
- Inexpensive and light
- Lacks rotational impact protection
- Not as comfortable
Sweet Protection’s Falconer II ($230) is a GearJunkie staff favorite. This helmet combines great ventilation with protective coverage and an aerodynamic design.
You’re buying into MIPS technology that protects against rotational forces found in certain crashes. And you can adjust both the tension and height of the helmet with a handy dial.
The ventilation is ample and wins style points. We also appreciate that this aero helmet has a touch of extra coverage out back.
- Weight: 285 g
- Fit runs small
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Gravel Cycling Helmet
Riding Style: Road, Trail, Gravel
When we tested gravel bikes last spring, we put the bikes on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being more closely aligned to the road and 4 trending toward single track.
The same scale applies to helmets. The kind of terrain you ride will dictate the helmet you buy. Before you open your wallet, give some thought to where and how you plan to spend the majority of your time in the saddle. It will point you in the right direction.
Mountain-oriented helmets have more materials that wrap the side and back of the head, protecting the occipital lobe — that bony knob on the back of your head. Steeper trails increase the risk of falling backward and onto the back of your head.
Mountain bike helmets often come with a visor, shading their eyes as the route moves in and out of the direct sun. A visor also brings a little extra protection from brushy limbs that tend to stretch out over unmaintained roads.
Riders who pedal more road and smooth gravel will appreciate the aerodynamic qualities of a sleeker helmet. With less drag, a streamlined helmet will cut through the wind (though not as much as good ergonomics).
And because flatter terrain is a lung workout, helmets with perforated ventilation holes allow fresh air to pour over the head, cooling you as you exert more energy. Good ventilation is a godsend in hot, humid environments.
More vents and racier styling can also mean less weight. There’s less material to weigh you down. But less surface also means less material in contact with your head.
In a fall, this can focus impact forces on a single point, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI). So choose the right protection for your needs.
Innovations in crash protection, like MIPS (multidirectional impact protection system), have been shown to reduce rotational forces on the brain in a crash. Helmets with these kinds of protection may cost a little more, but they provide confident protection in a lightweight package.
The best helmet is one you don’t notice. Because you’ll be wearing it every mile in the saddle, look for a helmet that fits your head. Compromising on fit can be dangerous, increasing your exposure to injury in an accident or fall.
Once you decide on the style, it’s time to try a few on. And this is where your local bike shop is a huge asset. You’ll want to actually try on several helmets to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
A helmet should fit snugly, but not too tightly, and never cause pressure points or hot spots. A good-fitting helmet should snug around the head even before clipping the straps.
Microadjustment features, like a dial-fit system and chinstraps, tighten behind the head and under the chin to fine-tune the fit, minimizing movement.
Look for a helmet that sits level on your head without tilting forward or backward and that touches your skull all around without any gaps. The straps, which close and hold your helmet on, should feel snug but not strained while you ride. It shouldn’t move more than an inch in any direction.
If you can pull, twist, or slip it off, try another helmet.
If you do decide to buy a helmet online, start by measuring your head. Take a tailor tape measurer and wrap it around the dome of your head — the widest circumference of the skull, just above the brow.
Most helmets have a range of measurements — small, medium, large, and XL — that have some wiggle room for between sizes.
Not all brands fit the same. For example, we found that Bern tends to run larger, as did Specialized.
In a crash, a bicyclist can experience an angled impact, which causes rotational motion. When you hit the ground, the brain will continue to travel through space until it hits the skull.
In addition to the impact force, the sheer force can pull brain tissue, causing trauma. While CPSC certification guidelines account for vertical free fall, they don’t address angular collision.
MIPS is a Swedish-based company that specializes in helmet safety and brain protection. It specializes in a polycarbonate plastic layer that allows the head to shift 10-15 mm relative to the helmet, slowing rotational motion to the brain.
The evidence certainly shows MIPS reduces brain trauma when you hit the ground at an angle. Good marketing has awarded MIPS gold in the headspace.
But other brands have poked at the problem with their own solutions. Bontrager uses WaveCel, Kali developed its Low-Density Layer, and POC has SPIN. All of them work to reduce rotational impact force.
To be clear, all bicycle helmets are built with a layer of stiff foam materials that crushes, expands, or collapses to absorb energy in a crash. To measure their impact protection, helmets sold in the U.S. must meet the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) bicycle helmet standard. Your best bet is to look for the CPSC sticker label inside the liner, certifying that the helmet meets safety standards.
Is MIPS the best? As Vibram is to outsoles, MIPS is to helmets. As a consumer, expect to pay a little extra for the yellow sticker in coin (and in weight).
How Much Should I Spend on a Bike Helmet?
The helmets in our guide range from $65 to $300. Recreational bike helmets with basic impact protection are adequate for casual, mellow rides and will sit on the lower end of the price scale.
Expect to pay more for helmets that provide above-and-beyond accessories like chin guards, proprietary clips, and rotational motion impact reduction.
The farther out you ride, the more you might want to consider extra protective features. A helmet is like buying an insurance plan. Yes, they are expensive, but we can guarantee it’s cheaper than a hospital bill.
I Already Have a Road or Mountain Bike Helmet. Do I Need a Special Helmet for Gravel Cycling?
Gravel sits at the crossroads of road and mountain biking. Depending on the terrain you ride, you can use the cycling helmet you have.
Road bikes are generally more aerodynamic and lighter. Stylistically, they look different.
Most mountain bike helmets have extended coverage on the back of the head, which is important if you fall backward. They usually have an integrated visor that shields the eyes from the sun and brush.
If you primarily ride mountain and are dabbling with gravel, you can save a few bucks and use your mountain bike helmet. If you’re coming to gravel from the road and want to tackle more remote roads and maybe dabble with single track, we’d err toward safety and recommend buying up into more protection.
Regardless, all bicycle helmets in the U.S. are CPSC-certified whether they’re designed for road or trail rides. You can safely wear a road or mountain-oriented helmet.
Helmets are sport-specific, designed to mitigate specific risks. Mountain bike helmets are not verified to protect a climber or mountaineer in an accident and vice versa.
How Long Will My Helmet Last?
Keep track of your helmet’s age. Over time, exposure to environmental factors like sunlight or extreme cold, moisture, and sweat will diminish the life of the helmet. So will repeated small impacts, such as dropping the helmet at the trailhead or tumbling around the back of the rig on the commute home.
The CPSC recommends replacing your helmet every 5 to 10 years, depending on the frequency of use, storage conditions, and overall care. But each manufacturer’s guideline is different.
For example, Sweet Protection recommends replacing your helmet every 3 years. Check with your helmet’s brand and mark your calendar.
If you need to retire a helmet, it’s one gear item you shouldn’t donate at the local thrift shop. You can check with the manufacturer to see if they will properly dispose of it for you.
Some brands, like Kali, have a crash replacement policy. You’ll need to register your helmet, and they may want to see the damage. If they approve your claim, they’ll often award a discount toward your next helmet purchase.