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.
On some helmets the visor can be adjusted so far up that you can park your goggles underneath. This allows you to push them out of the way on a climb and pull them back down again for the descent.
To add extra protection in this vulnerable area, the shell often wraps under the bottom of the helmet.
Bell Super 3.0 MIPS
We awarded the Super 2 a test-winning score the last time out, but Bell has made a couple of revisions to the new Super 3 and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
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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.
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.
Troy Lee Designs A2
The Troy Lee Designs A2 is an improvement on the original design from one of mountain biking’s coolest brands. The A1 had breathability issues but no such problem with the new A2 — it has massive air vents, which are 25 per cent larger, putting this helmet easily in the top three when it comes to breathability.
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.
- Bluegrass Goldeneyes helmet at Merlin Cycles for £81
- Bluegrass Goldeneyes helmet at J E James for $41.54
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.
- Smith Optics Forefront helmet at Chain Reaction Cycles for £134.99
- Smith Forefront helmet at Chain Reaction Cycles for $176.49
Giro’s Chronicle MIPS is a bit of a halfway house between the Montaro and the now discontinued Sequence. With 14 vents, the Chronicle runs a little hot, but it’s the perfect helmet for harder trail riding — it’s also killer value, has tons of protection and fits like a glove.
Giant Rail MIPS
Giant’s Rail MIPS helmet rolls low weight, comfort and great features into a helmet suitable for harder riding. A few little niggles prevent it from being a truly excellent all-round performer.
Also worth a look…
There are many helmets which didn’t quite score 9/10 or above in our tests. Here is a list of the best of the rest which are definitely worth checking out.
Louis Garneau Raid MIPS
Read the full review of the Louis Garneau Raid MIPS
Read the full review of the POC tectal
Sweet Protection Dissenter
Read the full review of the Sweet Protection Dissenter
Read the full review of the Kali Interceptor helmet
Read the full review of the 7iDP M2 helmet
Read the full review of the Cratoni AllTrack helmet
Read the full review of the Kask Rex helmet
Read the full review of the Kali Maya
Read the full review of the Giro Feature
iXS Trail RS
Read the full review of the iXS Trail RS helmet
Mavic Crossmax Pro
Read the full review of the Mavic Crossmax Pro helmet
Read the full review of the TSG Trailfox helmet
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There’s a lot of technology built into modern trail helmets, including dual density foam layers, impact reducing liners, multi-adjustable fit systems and innovative strap and buckle designs. These don’t necessarily add weight or complexity, but they do ramp up the price.
However, you don’t have to spend the earth to get a really a good helmet with tons of protection and a great fit, as the Louis Garneau Raid MIPS ably proves.
It’s not the most aggressive looking trail helmet we’ve seen, and the coverage is a little lacking, when compared to a helmet like the Giro Chronicle, but a MIPS helmet for £70? We just don’t know how the company does it.
Looking at the scores, you can see there are a lot of very good helmets in this test, and it was really hard to pick a winner. That’s not a cop-out, it’s just that most manufacturers have really upped their game recently and are producing some cracking lids.
Worthy of special mention includes Bontrager’s Lithos MIPS. It’s one of the heaviest helmets, but the fit is great and it’s extremely well-made and supportive.
The Giro Chronicle is even more supportive, and offers leech-like grip on your head. It is probably the most comfortable helmet on test and is properly goggle-friendly. It also came close to taking top honours, but it’s a hot helmet and is already starting to look a bit battered at the lower edge.
Troy Lee Design’s new A2 is the exact opposite to the Giro Chronicle. It has amazing venting and airflow. The peak isn’t really adjustable, and the rear coverage doesn’t come down as far compared to the Giro, but it’s great for hard riding in warm weather.
One of the main reasons the Bell Super 3 scored top marks is because it has something none of the others have — it can be converted to a full-face by fitting Bell’s aftermarket chinbar.
The Super 3 works perfectly as a normal trail helmet, but with the chinbar it’s one of the most versatile helmets you can buy. Bell also sweats the details — the Super 3 gets a MIPS liner, multi-adjustable peak that is goggle compatible, an off-road specific retention device and an optional clip-on mount for attaching lights or a GoPro.
It also fits better this year and the venting is not bad either. The price is at the upper end but the Bell Super 3 has the most potential, combined with excellent functionality, and is easily our test winner.