18 of the best mountain bike helmets ridden and rated
We all know by now that helmets are an essential bit of kit to take out on the trail. Thanks to recent advances in bike technology, riders are now going faster than ever and this has led to a revolution in helmet design.
The default shape for a trail helmet is now to have the shell extended over the back of the head. Obviously, this design offers extra security in a very crucial area. You would expect the added protection to be traded for heat but most trail helmets also have the ventilation to keep you cool when you’re working hard for added versatility.
Extending the shell down at the tail and around the temples means this new breed of helmet puts more meat between your head and whatever you point it at, and makes them more secure and stable in terms of fit.
Watch the Lazer helmet that’s open face and full face at the same time
They’re also less likely to ride up and expose the forehead, like some XC helmets, and are generally more comfortable and durable. It might say ‘all-mountain’ or ‘enduro-specific’ on the label, but if you want a do-it-all helmet then this is the type we’d recommend.
Scroll down to read reviews of the best mountain bike helmets, but first, here’s a quick guide to what to look for:
This stands for expanded polystyrene and it’s at the core of every helmet. It’s lightweight, cheap and, like a crumple zone in your car, compresses during an impact to absorb the energy.
The Multi-directional Impact Protection System uses a second internal plastic liner, close to the scalp, that can slide over the inner shell by a few millimetres at the moment of impact. This helps reduce rotational brain injuries from glancing impacts. MIPS adds cost, takes up space inside the helmet (which impacts on sizing) and usually restricts airflow.
Padding thickness and density has a significant effect on sweat absorption as well as overall comfort. The helmets with thicker internal padding may run a little hotter than those with minimal, narrow strips, but are less likely to dribble sweat.
A retention device allows you to adjust the size and fit of the helmet. They generally fall into two camps — the dual-pinch type or rotating dial. Both systems are effective, but the dial system can be used one-handed, so you can adjust the helmet on the move.
EPS can dent easily, so to increase durability it’s protected by a thin micro-shell. This is made from plastic, making it lightweight, easy to mould and available in a wide range of colours.
Front cooling ports, rear exhaust ports and a combination of internal shaping to encourage airflow are typical ways of reducing heat build-up.
The best visors can be tilted up and down, but there’s no point getting it out of the way if it falls down again. It needs a stable adjustment system, either via a ratchet or fixed screws.
The Interceptor is a reassuringly solid helmet with a raft of innovative safety features. The slim, ventilated profile should appeal to a broad spectrum of riders. The (relatively) heavier weight when put against other comparable helmets is the only real sticking point.
With a loud and proud colour scheme that continues onto the straps, the M2 helmet is not subtle, but the rugged design combines well to make it an aesthetic winner. At £60, the M2 is killer value and a decent trail helmet.
The additional features make the Lithos look and feel like a top-quality product, and the inclusion of a sticker kit to customise the go faster stripes is a nice touch, but we couldn’t detect any vast improvement in comfort or ventilation over the more basic Bontrager Rally.
In terms of fit and comfort, the Rex is up there with some of the best helmets. Unfortunately, the limited visor adjustment and meaty price tag counts against it.
Bell Super 2.0
There’s extensive coverage around the temple and occipital lobe; in fact the Super 2.0 is one of the sturdiest feeling helmets here with first-rate construction quality and solid fasteners that incorporate an easy to use (with one hand) tensioning band.
Troy Lee Designs A1
The Troy Lee Designs A1’s stability is so secure you quickly forget you’re wearing it, and construction quality and durability has been fantastic during a full year of bashing around. It’s still a staff favourite at mbr, but the heat issue and the steepish price just keeps the Troy Lee A1 from gaining top marks.
One concern might be the looks — a few people commented on the strange shape — and there is plenty of unprotected polystyrene around the rim that’s prone to potential damage over time too. However, neither stops the Golden Eyes being one of the most stable, comfy and well-vented helmets on test.
Smith Optics Forefront
The sky-high price might be prohibitive, and it’s still unclear how the short plastic tubes would cope with a constant splattering of UK winter gloop. However, if this technology trickles down to a more affordable price point, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this helmet boom in popularity very quickly.
The AllTrack is a sorted product, with excellent build quality, that has resisted scuffs and scrapes. Overall function is top drawer, but it’s neither the lightest nor the cheapest all-mountain lid, making it a good choice, if not an exceptional one.
Kali is known for pioneering modern safety technologies and the Maya uses interlocking layers of conical EPS low-density foam in the liner. The company claims this dual construction spreads energy sideways away from the brain in a crash impact.
The Giro Feature offers a sorted shape, quality construction and dialled fit adjusters for a fair price, but it’s a warm helmet and we’ve noticed the polystyrene edges around the underside are already starting to look a little scruffy compared to the helmets that feature fully wrapped shells.
iXS Trail RS
If trail popularity is any gauge, Swiss brand iXS has done well with the Trail RS because we see a lot of these out there. One of the big draws could be the extremely comfortable fit. The Trail RS shares the cosiest padding of any trail helmet alongside the Troy Lee A1 and is well cushioned.
Bell Stoker MIPS
The Stoker gets the impact-reducing MIPS rotating liner for less than most lids without it, and the helmet is also available for £65 without the technology. The thin plastic MIPS layer does make the helmet run marginally hotter, and together with less absorbent padding, the Stoker is considerably steamier than its big brother and more sweat dribbled into our eyes on hot days.
O’Neal Orbiter II
Even with extended wraparound coverage, which goes all the way down at the back of the head, cooling is good. This is probably thanks to several huge venting ports on top of the helmet, but heat build-up around the forehead is a little excessive due to the thick wad of internal padding and a big bug mesh.
Sweet Protection Bushwhacker
Bringing a bit of Scandinavian style to the trail helmet market, the Bushwacker’s sleek, close-fitting shape is well vented and uses a fully enclosed, five-piece shell with thicker EPS around the top, sides and rear for added protection.
661 Evo AM
The sturdy build quality extends to the fully wrapped shell, dense, comfy pads and solid strap webbing points. It’s quick to fasten too, with one hand if needed, thanks to the innovative magnetic buckle. The EVO AM isn’t as dished-out inside as some other trail helmets and two testers complained of it feeling perched, and even tipping back to front on steeper trails while tightly fastened.
At 320g, the weight is competitive and the three colour options all use an understated matt finish. For protection, a cleverly engineered EPS liner better directs and manages impact energy in the event of a crash. The internal headband can’t be adjusted for height but the turn-dial retention device has a decent action widthways.
Once on and adjusted it feels really lightweight, almost as if the helmet floats above your head, and there is equal pressure from all the contact points with your head. On the trail that floating feeling is exactly want you want — light and well ventilated but still keeping your head fully protected.
Mavic Crossmax Pro
We rated the previous Mavic Notch highly, and the new Crossmax Pro takes the old helmet’s comfortable fit and good durability and adds a couple of worthwhile features and updated styling to really move it on a (ahem) notch.
The Trailfox is TSG’s new trail/enduro helmet, in the same mould as the Troy Lee A1 and Giro Montaro. It extends quite far down at the rear and is bottom-wrapped to protect the EPS. Ventilation is via eight intake and exhaust vents, linked with internal air channels, and multiple visor cutaways.
Build-quality is excellent, and at £80 it’s great value for money. The only downside is that, at 400g, it’s a bit on the heavy side, and the deep internal vents produce some truly spectacular helmet hair.
At £130 the Giro Montaro is not cheap, but it’s a top-quality helmet with a high level of protection and a ton of trail-friendly features — you just need to make sure you sort the sizing before handing over your cash.
Modern all-mountain helmets have adopted the best features and technology from one another and this cross-pollination rewards every type of rider with unprecedented choice, superb quality and improved functionality.
Every head is a different shape so we recommend trying different brands for fit, but the best products always seem to be comfortable for most riders. We can’t emphasise how important this is to helmet choice because if a helmet is uncomfortable you’re not going to wear it.
We love Smith Optics’ classy Forefront helmet. For a first attempt this superbly ventilated lid is an impressive entry into the mountain bike market. The design of the honeycomb inner shell sucks the heat away from your scalp, but sadly at £190 we felt it was just too expensive to win, and the look of the two-piece shell really is an acquired taste.
Bluegrass and Troy Lee Designs both offer superb products that are very comfortable with excellent protection – there’s a real sensation of feeling safe and sheltered in both thanks to the rock-solid positioning.Troy Lee’s A1 is a little expensive and the thick padding means it’s better suited to cooler weather, but the fit is excellent.
The Bluegrass Golden Eyes worked right from the off too. It has some cool features including, literally, the O2 gel sweat band, which really delivers in diverting perspiration away from your eyes. If the Bluegrass helmet had a bottom-wrapped shell to improve durability it would score a perfect 10.
Worthy winner in this test is the latest version of the Bell Super 2.0. It ticks boxes in every area and is a fantastic product in its own right, but what really sets it apart is its unique ability to morph into an enduro racing-friendly full face by adding the optional chinbar. It’s an amazingly versatile, comfy and rugged helmet that’s well worth the £100 asking price.