As someone who’s tasted pavement unwillingly more than once, I can tell you how important road bike helmets can be. In this article I’m going to delve deep in every aspect of this product and show you how to choose a road bike helmet that’ll ensure many safe miles.
What should you look for in a road bike helmet?
There are a handful of criteria that are important when considering choosing your next road bike helmet. The most important of them, and the ones I’m going to cover, are:
- Safety technology
1. Safety technology
Though the basics of road bike helmets hasn’t changed in 2 decades, almost without exception high quality helmets feature a variant of MIPS technology.
MIPS is shorthand for Multi-directional Impact Protection. It’s not a road cycling specific technology, since it’s also used in other sport activities where helmets are a much as equestrian activities and motorcycling.
Although there’s an entire science behind the concept of MIPS, the general principle is to dissipate the energy created during the impact of a crash, thus reducing the force exerted on the head and the possible trauma.
It does so by inserting a low-friction layer located between the EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) and inner helmet liner that reduces rotational impact forces.
It’s a Swedish technology which has been around since the nineties, but only fairly recently has really come to the forefront of road bike helmets. MIPS cycling helmets have become their own category and are marketed as such.
Since MIPS technology needs to be licensed, road cycling helmets using it are more expensive than non-MIPS helmets. Even premium helmet manufacturers are favoring MIPS technology over their own in-house developed safety technologies.
Virginia Tech crash tests
Helmets which have the best safety rating according to the Virginia Tech crash tests incorporate MIPS. Yet we have to be careful to unequivocally equate helmet safety with the incorporation of MIPS technology.
Nonetheless you can safely assume its ubiquitousness is at least a very good indicator of its ability to increase helmet safety. So it makes sense to want a helmet that features this technology
The outer layer of a road cycling helmet is known as the shell. Without any exception they are made from polycarbonate.
Polycarbonate is a very hard plastic, which offers similar characteristics as carbon, but is much cheaper to make.
Where it outshines carbon by far is its impact resistance, which is an excellent characteristic to have when considering its usage in safety products like a helmet.
Because it’s a plastic, you can easily create it in any shape, form, size, color, and texture. It’s basically the ideal material, and it’s ubiquitous usage for road bike helmet shells proves it.
Reinforced polycarbonate shells
The safest road cycling helmets offer more than your standard polycarbonate shell with MIPS technology.
They offer reinforcements in those areas of the helmets where the impact is most likely to occur. That way structural integrity is maintained during a crash, further reducing the risk of head injuries.
By reinforcing the shell instead of offering a closed shell, like with BMX helmets, the road bike helmet’s ability for ventilation is maintained
Giro offers variants of reinforced shells, offering roll cage technology, spherical technology, and hardbody shells.
Road bike helmets with reinforced shells are generally speaking very expensive. That’s because these helmets are lower in weight, and need to do the same or more in terms of safety protection with less material because of it.
The liner of (almost) all road bike helmets is made from EPS, shorthand for Expanded Polystyrene or styrofoam.
It’s been used for decades because it’s very light, very strong, and is an incredible energy absorption material.
It can be made in various densities, where different layers crumple at different impact levels. This is called progressive layering.
Depending on the strength of the impact the EPS liner folds in on itself, rather than transferring the energy to a person’s skull.
Another innovative EPS safety technology, developed by helmet manufacturer Lazer, and incorporated into their lineup of road bike helmets is KinetiCore.
It means part of the EPS liner has been removed, mimicking the effect of crumple zones in areas of the helmet where they’ll have the most effect.
The reduction of EPS material in these areas also means a reduction of weight and increase in air flow. So instead of MIPS technology which absorbs energy during an impact by way of providing rotational movement, this helmet absorbs energy by letting its liner be destroyed instead of your skull.
Koroyd has a honeycomb-like structure, and is made by gluing polymer tubes together. It means you don’t have to cut holes into your liner, but instead can cover the interior of the helmet entirely.
A Koroyd liner is a full shell inside the helmet. So it offers impact protection no matter where it occurs, but still keeps the weight down because it’s lighter than EPS.
There’s no clear-cut evidence which would support an industry-wide adoption of the Koroyd for helmet liners.
Another thing is that with Koroyd being a full shell, ventilation seems to be lower no matter what helm you pick. Depending on what weather conditions you use the helmet, that could be a good thing, but in general it’s not. And it at least makes the helmet less versatile from a seasonal perspective.
If you’re going to wear something on your head, especially for many hours, how a road cycling helmet fits is of the utmost importance.
Though every manufacturer comes up with their own names and technology to describe the way their helmets stay in place, the basics are the same across the entire product line. The include the following
Every helmet has some kind of webbing that wraps around the head. To accommodate for multiple head shapes, the webbing is flexible and can be pulled taut using, oftentimes using a dial.
Between the inflexible shell and EPS liner and the flexible webbing is a small space to ensure ventilation. High quality helmets offer the best webbing to ensure the most ventilation and the least likely risk of hot spots.
Webbing alone will not be enough to prevent the hard parts of the helmet from rubbing against a person’s head.
To further increase comfort padding is added to the liner of the helmet. Besides serving as a cushion, padding can also have anti-microbial aspects, sometimes lined with silver, as well as serving as a way to absorb sweat.
High quality padding can be removed easily to wash and clean.
Weight is always an important aspect when it comes to road bikes and road bike components and gear.
There’s always a delicate balance to be struck between how much weight you can reduce from something before you’re compromising its structural integrity. It’s no different when looking at road cycling helmets.
I’ve already discussed that a way to reduce weight yet still offer a high degree of safety is by reinforcing the polycarbonate shell and using multi-density EPS liners.
The average weight of a road bike helmet, according to my article on the lightest road cycling helmets, is around 280 grams. That’s also the weight of the helmets offering the highest safety ratings.
If you’re looking to safe weight as a roadie, and considering the fact that the best selling road bike helmets are not the lightest but the safest, you might consider looking somewhere else than this important safety aspect to reduce a couple of grams.
Cycling has become more expensive for years, and prices exploded with the pandemic. It’s no different with road bike helmets.
According to my article on budget MIPS road bike helmets the average price of a road bike helmet is 180 USD. That’s a lot of money.
What might be even more interesting is that when you look at the best-selling road bike helmets people are pretty willing to spend that type of money and more.
They seem to value their head more than they value their money. Kind of makes sense.
Why you should trust us
Johan van Seijen is an experienced roadie who’s been riding road bikes for over two decades, and finished several well-known races like the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. He’s the founder of restoration.bike and member of the TFC Weesp road cycling club.
He builds rather than buys his bicycles himself, which means his expertise extends into the realm of bike components, their durability, and lifespan. His collection includes bikes meant for gravel riding, commuting, and touring. Beyond standard road racing he’s done bikepacking trips as well.
How we picked and tested
As it’s impossible to review every road bike helmet available, we carefully curate a selection of helmets that warrant a more detailed examination. Our comprehensive assortment includes over 100 helmets chosen to provide a diverse and thorough representation.
To streamline our process, we prioritize brands renowned for their excellence in road bike helmets. This selection features well-known brand names such as Bell, Giro, Kask, Lazer, Oakley, POC, and Smith.
Continually maintaining the relevance of our selection of road bike helmets is important. That’s why we regularly update our list, removing helmets that are no longer available for sale and incorporating new additions as they enter the market.
Every road cyclist has a different budget and has different requirements. That’s why we’ve created various helmet overviews to cater to those different needs. In the end budget and most expensive sit at opposite ends of the same spectrum, and the lightest road bike helmets may be at odds with being the safest.
There are a number of things you need to take into consideration when looking for the right road bike helmet that suits your needs. And to take subjectivity out of the equation as much as possible, we compare these criteria to come up with the right selection within the right product context.
It’s important to note that any products purchased for testing purposes are acquired using our own money. Our reviews are conducted impartially, and we have neither received sponsorships nor accepted products in exchange for favorable reviews.
Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website.