The 8 Best Bike Helmets of 2021

The right helmet can help you stay safer—and cooler—while biking

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The Rundown

Best for Mountain Biking: Smith Forefront 2 at Amazon

"While MIPS helps to absorb motion and avoid jarring, Koroyd absorbs immediate impact."

Best for Road Biking: Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike Helmet at REI

"Does the best job of directing airflow, making it the most efficient at keeping your head cool during long rides and steep climbs."

Best Budget: Schwinn Intercept at Amazon

"For around $25, you'll get a simple helmet with useful features like ventilation."

Best for Commuting: Thousand Helmets Chapter MIPS Helmet at Amazon

"Equal parts modern minimalism and vintage design."

Best for Women: Giro Source MIPS at Amazon

"Not only does it have industry-leading safety features, but it's comfortable and lightweight."

Best for Road and Neighborhood Biking Kids: Bern Nino 2.0 at Backcountry

"The helmet comes in kid-friendly and more adult color options so kids can find one to suit their style."

Best for Mountain Biking Kids: Giro Tremor Youth at Amazon

"It has the features adults love in a kid-sized package."

Best for Toddler and Babies: Nutcase Nutty MIPS Helmet at REI

"We love that this one comes with removable foam to increase in size. "

Regardless if you're new to biking or have been doing it for decades, you probably (hopefully!) already have a helmet. But if you're one of the newbies, you may not know what separates a quality helmet from one you ought to replace. Aside from key safety features like fit and impact protection, the right helmet can help you stay cooler while biking, help prevent fogging on your goggles or glasses, and make it easier to adjust the fit in seconds.

We rounded up our favorite bike helmets to help point you in the right direction on safety and sportiness.

Best for Mountain Biking: Smith Forefront 2

What We Like
  • Exceptional impact protection with both MIPS and Koroyd technology

  • Proprietary air channel system eliminates lens fogging

  • Antimicrobial liner helps prevent odor

What We Don't Like
  • Cost

  • Longer hair occasionally gets wrapped around the inside liner

Weight: 12 ounces | Vents: 20 | Material: Polycarbonate, anti-microbial fabric liners

Whether you're just starting to navigate steep downhill switchbacks or are already sending it down double-black enduro lines, you likely already know mountain biking has the potential for seriously brutal injuries. Crashes. Impalements. Or painful skids if you pump the brake too hard to avoid a squirrel. If you're a mountain biker the question isn't if you'll wreck. It's when. Protecting your noggin as well as possible is crucial.

That's why we don't hesitate to recommend the Smith Forefront 2. It has MIPS technology as well as an additional high-end safety innovation called Koroyd. While MIPS helps absorb motion and avoid jarring, Koroyd absorbs immediate impact, akin to a crumple zone. It looks like a honeycomb and crushes down on itself to spare your skull.

Fortunately, that's not the only feature you get for the spendy $240 price tag. The Forefront 2 has an AirEvac ventilation system to keep fog off your goggles or glasses, 20 vents, an adjustable visor, a one-hand adjustment tightening wheel, and an antimicrobial liner to keep it as clean and odor-free as possible after all-day rides.

Best for Road Biking: Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike Helmet

Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike Helmet

Courtesy of REI

What We Like
  • Excellent ventilation system to keep your head cool on long climbs

  • Extremely light and aerodynamic

  • Free replacement if you crash within a year

What We Don't Like
  • Cost

Weight: 8.6 ounces | Vents: 12 | Material: Polycarbonate

Though mountain biking may seem more dangerous, experienced road cyclists know high speeds and shared roads can be a deadly combination, especially when adding in distracted drivers and poorly maintained pavement.

That's why we recommend the Bontrager Velocis MIPS Helmet, despite the steep price tag. In addition to MIPS, the Velocis has aerodynamic vents running the length of the helmet and weighs in at about half a pound (size medium), so there's no excuse for not wearing it. Buyers also get a BOA multi-point adjustment dial, which evenly tightens across the head with one twist. Bontrager put the helmet through various high-tech tests and determined it's the most aerodynamic helmet in their line. It also does the best job of directing airflow, making it the most efficient at keeping your head cool during long rides and steep climbs. 

One other strong selling feature of the Velocis MIPS is Bontrager will replace it at absolutely no charge if you take a crash while wearing it during your first year.

Best Budget: Schwinn Intercept

What We Like
  • Very affordable

  • Has basic ventilation and fit adjustability

  • Meets CPSC safety standards

What We Don't Like
  • No MIPS technology

  • Basic materials may not last as long as other options on this list

Weight: 12.32 ounces | Vents: 10 | Material: Polycarbonate

Not everyone should make a helmet-buying decision based on budget. Even beginner cyclists may hit a loose stick or crack in the pavement and take a spill. But if you are extremely budget conscious and need an affordable helmet for occasional use through your neighborhood park, consider the Intercept Helmet from tried-and-true cycling brand Schwinn. For around $25, you'll get a simple helmet with useful features like ventilation, a snap-on visor, and a basic, yet efficient tightening dial. It doesn't have MIPS tech or any other modern features, but it does meet the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) national safety standards.

Best for Commuting: Thousand Helmets Chapter MIPS Helmet

What We Like
  • Stylish, subtle design

  • Magnetic rear light

  • Safely locks with your bike

What We Don't Like
  • Ventilation is basic

  • Not well-suited to mountain biking or racing

Weight:  12.96 ounces | Vents: 8 | Material: Polycarbonate

If ever there was a business casual helmet, the Chapter Helmet would be it. Equal parts modern minimalism and vintage design, it comes standard with MIPS tech, a magnetic 30-lumen road light, and a pop-out piece so you can thread your helmet through your bike lock rather than carrying it into the office. Thousand Helmets is also a climate-positive business, so it offsets more carbon dioxide than it produces—something bike commuters will probably appreciate.

Best for Women: Giro Source MIPS

What We Like
  • High-tech channel system to reduce heat and head sweat

  • Adjustable visor

  • Price in line with expectations

What We Don't Like
  • No Koroyd technology

  • Vents not as large as other mountain bike-specific options

Weight: 11.84 ounces | Vents: 16 | Material: Polycarbonate

Though women don't necessarily need a "women's" helmet, we recommend the Giro Source MIPS for women. Besides its industry-leading safety features, this lid is comfortable and lightweight and comes in colors other than pink (though a magenta option is available for riders who like to be bold.)

This helmet excels on the three fronts that should matter most to riders: safety, weight, and breathability. 

In addition to MIPS, ladies get 16 oversized air channels to help wick away head sweat, which keeps you both cooler while pedaling and warmer in the shade. And the smart channel system forces cool air across your scalp to dry any moisture that does arise. 

It also has a few other features we're surprised to see at this price point, like an adjustable visor and a back wheel to quickly and evenly adjust the tightness with one hand. 

“Spring for the adjustable visor in a mountain bike lid. Spring for the adjustable fit features in general, they're worth it. I may be especially keen on them because I prefer to wear my hair in a ponytail or bun," says Catherine Harnden, pro mountain bike racer and head mountain bike coach at Stratton Mountain School

By the way, men's and women's helmets aren't particularly different, except for the fact that women's helmet sizing is a little smaller. If you're a guy and you like the magenta color better than the "men's" versions, go for it.

Best for Road and Neighborhood Biking Kids: Bern Nino 2.0

Bern Nino 2.0 MIPS Cycling Helmet - Kids'

Courtesy of REI

What We Like
  • MIPS tech

  • An elastic fit system that's easy to fit kiddos without adjustments

  • Headlight compatible

What We Don't Like
  • Could always have more color options

Weight: 11.52 ounces | Vents: 13 | Material: Polycarbonate

If your kiddos are road cycling, riding around the neighborhood, or cruising with you on trails through the park, we recommend the Bern Nino 2.0 MIPS Cycling Helmet. The helmet comes in kid-friendly and more adult color options so kids can find one to suit their style, and MIPS technology keeps growing heads safe. It's baseball-cap-compatible for sunny days, and it comes pre-cut to mount the Bern Asteroid Light on the rear to give your kids extra visibility when riding in bike lanes. It also has an elastic adjustment system so kids can pull it on and have the perfect fit every time.

Best for Mountain Biking Kids: Giro Tremor Youth

What We Like
  • Adult styling

  • Good ventilation and built-in visor

  • MIPS technology

What We Don't Like
  • Some reviews comment that the ear straps are hard to adjust

  • Can be pricey if your kid takes frequent falls

Weight: 10.2 ounces | Vents: 18 | Material: Polycarbonate

If your little grom is already climbing singletrack—and presumably mountain biking back down—he or she will want a more mountain bike-specific helmet. We recommend opting for the Giro Tremor MIPS Youth Visor MTB Bike Cycling Helmet. It has the features adults love in a kid-sized package, including ample ventilation and a visor. Since mountain bikers sit more upright while riding, visors are essential for keeping the sun out of their eyes while also offering extra protection from tree branches and bushes. The Tremor Youth comes only in solid colors and looks like an adult helmet, which will probably appeal to kids anxious to look like their favorite professional mountain bikers.

Best for Toddler and Babies: Nutcase Nutty MIPS Helmet

Nutcase Little Nutty MIPS Helmet

Courtesy of REI

What We Like
  • Comes in cute kid-friendly patterns

  • Remove the foam to make more space as kids grow

  • MIPS technology protects little heads

What We Don't Like
  • A little pricey for only occasional use

  • Safety testing only covers kids older than one

Weight: 11.6 ounces | Vents: 11 | Material: Polycarbonate

All right—your toddler probably isn't quite ready to start shredding just yet. But if you're planning on tooling around the neighborhood park with a baby carrier, your little one needs a helmet. And since kids seemingly grow overnight, we love that this one comes with removable foam to increase in size.  

The Baby Nutty Helmet from Nutcase is $60 but comes with MIPS technology. It also has 11 vents and comes in many colors, so you can pick whichever you think your kiddo will like best. (We're partial to the shark print.)

Nutcase's infant size only comes in XXS, but the toddler version (which has a few more color options) comes in both youth and toddler sizes.

Final Verdict

Picking a bike helmet is personal. It depends on what sort of riding you'll primarily be doing and your head shape. That said, if you're going to be doing a lot of mountain biking, you can't do much better than the Smith Forefront 2 (view on Amazon). If riding on the roads is your style, opt for the Bontrager Velocis MIPS helmet (view on REI).

What to look for in a Bike Helmet

Buying a helmet isn’t as complicated as buying your bike, but there are a few key features to look for.

Fit

Your helmet should be snug but not tight. If it slides around while you're shaking your head, it's too big. And if it won't push all the way down on your head, or gives you a headache after wearing it for an hour or two, it's too tight. Your chin strap should be loose enough that it hangs below your chin but not so loose that you can pull it around your chin while buckled. Helmets should sit across your head (just above your eyebrows)—not angled above your hairline.

Ventilation

Good ventilation serves two significant purposes. Primarily, it keeps you from getting overheated by creating gaps for sweat to evaporate. High-end helmets have custom-shaped channels to direct airflow across the parts of your head that sweat the most. However, good ventilation can also help prevent lens fog on your goggles or sunglasses by directing hot air away from your lenses. That makes it easier to see the trails and keeps your forehead cooler.

"Without proper airflow, heat and sweat will build up inside the helmet and cause overheating, leading to shortened rides and heat exhaustion," says Peter Nicholson, brand manager at Giro Brands. "Before purchasing a helmet, consider the type of riding you plan to do and the season you will ride the most in to best determine what type of ventilation you’ll need.”

Safety features

Nothing makes you look like you don't know what you're doing more than not wearing a helmet. They're non-negotiable when riding. Wear a helmet, or stay off your bike. Impacts, of course, are the greatest risk, and helmets have to meet federal safety standards. Any helmet made in the U.S. has to withstand a drop of two meters onto a steel anvil, giving it a CPSC rating. Don't buy a helmet without this rating. Additionally, most major brands make helmets with Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology. It allows the helmet liner to move independently of the foam core, which reduces the impact and motion passed on to your skull in a crash. Many mountain bikers and road cyclists consider MIPS to be a must-have safety feature. These days, it's pretty much a basic feature of most legit helmets.

FAQs

How should you measure yourself to see what size will fit best? 

Don’t assume because you wear a medium or large in clothing that your helmet size is the same. Nicholson recommends an old-fashioned method: Measure your noggin. 

“I’d recommend measuring the circumference of your head, using a fabric measuring tape, and comparing those centimeters to the helmet size guide available on the helmet brand's website,” Nicholson advises.

If you’re between sizes, Nicholson says to size up if you’re a cold-weather rider who plans to wear a cap or headband under your helmet. Of course, if your helmet arrives and you didn’t get the size correct, return it right away for a different one. A snug—but not tight—fit is essential to ensure your helmet protects your head during impact.

Is it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet?

Believe it or not, it’s not illegal to forgo a helmet—though you absolutely should have one. Road and mountain bikers can easily hit speeds of 30 miles per hour or faster, and when riding across boulders or pavement (or next to moving traffic) having a helmet can make the difference between whether you get up again or not after your crash. No serious biker or cyclist would ever go without a helmet.

However, that’s for adults only—in a handful of U.S. states, children and teens must wear helmets. Some 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating helmets for kids ranging from 18 and younger. In other states, the range is 12 and younger. Some municipalities in states without statewide helmet legislation may have their own laws.

How often should bike helmets be replaced?

This question has an extremely easy answer: After it takes a hard hit. “It’s time to replace your helmet anytime it takes an impact. Falls off the storage shelf in the garage onto the concrete floor? It's done. Did you crash and it looks fine? Nope—it's time for a new lid. Don't let your helmet take an impact into a hard surface until that impact is a protect-your-brain impact,” explains Harnden, of the Stratton Mountain School.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Suzie Dundas is an experienced cyclist based in Lake Tahoe, California. She regularly logs multiple days of cycling a week on both roads and trails in and around the Tahoe basin.

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