The best mountain bike helmets ridden and rated
A mountain bike lid is a mandatory piece of kit on the trail. Here’s your guide to finding the best mountain bike helmets, plus our pick of the favourites.
Hitting the trails, you don’t want to second-guess whether or not your mountain bike helmet is going to protect you if things go pear shaped. Thankfully, modern open face lids have kept pace with how the latest bikes allow riders to go faster and harder than ever, and the best examples are just as cool and comfortable as ever too.
Extra protection is always welcome, but not many riders want a stuffy full face on all the time, so it’s unsurprising half shell helmets with more coverage have become the staple shape. With deeper shells, these helmets offer way more protection above the ears and down to the nape of the neck, but also maintain the ventilation needed during hard exertion, so are suitable for any kind of riding.
Essentially, by reaching down lower, there’s more hard shell, (and whatever inner liner each brand uses to absorb impacts), between your head and whatever you point it at. It also means, in terms of fit, helmets feel more secure and stable than they used to be and less likely to ride up and expose the forehead or neck like older XC style lids.
As trail and enduro helmets have evolved they’ve picked up more specific features along the way too. Some brands share usage of protection technologies like MIPS that aims to reduce rotational impact forces by twisting a fraction in a crash, while others use their own proprietary technologies for a similar safety boost. Strap grippers and clips now help secure enduro essentials like goggles, with plenty modern helmets even geared up to stash them under the visor. P.O.V cam and night light mounts are also offered by some manufacturers and can be useful features for those that need them.
Key features of the best mountain bike helmets
All bike helmets sold in the UK need certification. This means helmets must meet certain fixed test criteria like impact velocities, roll-off tests, and strap system strengths. This is a minimum and many modern helmets surpass these requirements by incorporating composite materials into sub frames or “roll cages” for extra protection.
Crash replacement schemes
If your helmet is involved in an accident, most manufacturers offer a reduced price crash replacement scheme. With proof of original purchase, these programmes can save you up to 50% on an expensive replacement lid.
In-Mold construction describes how the impact-absorbing foam EPS liner is “fused” to the exterior shell in the manufacturing stage. It means helmets can be made lighter and stronger, yet still have more venting than traditional methods.
Expanded Polystyrene is used as standard for impact protection in the liner, with more expensive helmets also incorporating variable density technologies and implants such as Kevlar or Aramid webbing for extra puncture protection. Exposed EPS is easily damaged, so fully hardshell wrapped lids should last longer.
The aim of a Multi-directional Impact Protection System is to reduce the violence of rotational impacts. The design uses a second internal plastic liner close to the scalp to slide over the inner shell for a few millimetres at the moment of impact to reduce rotational brain injuries. (Bell has now incorporated this liner directly into its fit system). Not all brands fully buy into the system’s protection claims, however, and MIPS helmets can run warmer than the same models without the technology.
Internal padding thickness and density has a significant effect on sweat absorption, as well as overall comfort. Helmets with thicker pads may run a little hotter, but can dribble less sweat, and be ‘squeezed dry’ by pressing into the skull. Pads need to be well placed to relieve pressure, durable and easy to remove and wash too to stop helmets from stinking over time.
All the tensioning devices here use a variant of a rotating dial that incrementally tightens an internal headband. Most of these take the form of overlapping plastic webbing although Kali use a thin wire ‘boa’ thread system. Look out for small ratchet increments to get precise tensioning and for a range of cradle height adjustment options for perfect positioning on the brow and ears. Long haired or ponytailed riders might need to check compatibility too.
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.
Typical EPS liners have excellent insulation properties, so helmets use cooling vents, rear exhaust ports and a combination of internal shaping to encourage air flow to reduce heat build up. One helmet uses a technology called Koroyd, which looks like a bundle of short plastic tubes perpendicular to the head. These ‘tubes’ collapse along their length if impacted and also channel heat build up away from the head effectively.
Peaks provide shade and keep stuff out of your eyes, but need to be out of your line of vision riding as it can be very distracting. If you wear goggles, check whether they fit underneath, as it’s often the easiest place to stash them when climbing. Peaks that can twist independently on each side can end up wonky – something riders can’t spot themselves.
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.
How to find your helmet size
Get hold of a fabric or paper tape measure if possible. If you don’t have one, don’t try and wrap a metal tape measure around your noggin, it doesn’t work – believe us. In the absence of a fabric/paper tape measure, find some string and wrap that around your head and note its length.
Whereabouts to measure around your head? Essentially around the widest (biggest circumference) part of your head. Around your forehead and around the most prominent bit of the back of your head. Note down the measurement in centimetres. All helmets have size ranges and with your head measured it’s then easy enough to find which sizing has your head size covered.
The best mountain bike helmets 2018: best value
7iDP M2 helmet
mbr review: “Killer value and a decent trail helmet. 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. It’s not all style though; the M2 is a comfortable place to be, thanks to decent padding and a really big dial to ratchet the helmet securely and easily round your head.”
Lazer Roller MIPS helmet
mbr review: “The lower price doesn’t mean any lack of quality or protection though, as it’s solid and well finished and includes a MIPS impact-reduction liner system. This extra MIPS layer is a low friction plastic webbing that allows the outer hardshell to twist relative to the liner before it starts to rotate the scalp (and your brain), adding further protection in a crash or glancing strike.”
The best mountain bike helmets 2018: trail riders
Bell 4Forty MIPS helmet
mbr review: “With fantastic quality, finish and features, the Bell 4Forty ticks all the boxes. Performs exactly as you’d want from an all-day trail helmet.Overall, this new Bell lid is fantastic quality though, stable in use, and lighter than the more expensive Sixer model, so ticks just about every box for a great value price.”
Endura Singletrack II helmet
mbr review: “We reckon this must be one of the lightest trail helmets available on the UK market – our size M/L weighed in at just 284g, meaning the lid went almost completely unnoticed on the ride. There’s plenty of large vents, and internal channels which deliver air across the scalp, making this an excellent choice on a hot day. A moulded rear stops goggles slipping, and the peak tilts for easy parking.”
The best mountain bike helmets 2018: enduro racers
Abus Montrailer Ace MIPS helmet
mbr review: “The Abus Montrailer ACE MIPS helmet is the cherry on the top of the German security specialist’s off-road helmet line-up. If you want a super comfortable and secure helmet for enduro and trail riding then you won’t go far wrong with the Abus Montrailer Ace MIPS. It’s looks are likely to divide opinion and there are lighter helmets in the category but it performs its tasks without fuss.”
Giro Chronicle MIPS helmet
mbr review: “Giro’s Chronicle MIPS is a bit of a halfway house between the Montaro and the now discontinued Sequence.The Chronicle’s internal shape is a deep cavity that really cradles the head, so it feels solid and planted even before you fasten the chinstrap. It’s a cinch to tighten the rear Roc Loc 5 dial one-handed and the intuitive way Giro’s retention system works to change tilt angle and hold feels perfectly refined, hugging the edges of your head firmly but gently.”
The best mountain bike helmets 2018: convertible
Bell Super DH MIPS helmet review
mbr review: “Bell was one of the first to go down the convertible helmet route, and this evolved model scored a perfect 10, and made its way into our 2018 Editor’s Choice awards. There’s more protection in the newest version, and as a result the weight has crept up by more than 150, to 891g – however, we still feel it’s light enough to be a top scorer. There’s ample ventilation, with a neat camera mount. We found thew chin bar a tad tricky to fit, but once clicked in place, we found it was super secure.”
Giro Switchblade helmet
mbr review: “Chinbar or no-chinbar, the Switchblade instills a genuine sense of safety and security. You really are wrapped within a protective cocoon that makes you feel naked in most trail helmets by comparison. The comfort and fit is superb, too, with no unwanted movement, and you don’t ever need to torque up on the Roc Loc Air DH retention system to keep it stable. At £250 the Switchblade is more expensive than the similar Bell Super 3R but it feels more substantial, and still good value considering you’re getting a single helmet that can be both worn on your regular weekly ride, as well as days out at the bike park and holidays in the alps.”
The best mountain bike helmets: verdict
How often should you replace a helmet?
You should replace a helmet after any slightly significant impact or crash. A lot of helmet companies offer crash replacement schemes so it’s worth checking out their websites for info about such things.
In terms of general lifespan, it’s typically advised that you should think about replacing your helmet every two to three years. Some companies in the past have stated a longer term than this but we’d feel a bit iffy using a helmet that’s had more than three years proper trail riding use. General wear and tear as well as things like UV degradation can have negative affects on the performance and reliability of your helmet.