THE BEST AERO HELMET FOR ROAD CYCLISTS
Summary: An aero helmet will help you ride faster or expend less energy at the same speed. If you pick one that fits your head well, the better aero bike helmets we tested will be just as comfortable and cool on a hot summer day as the most well-ventilated standard road bike helmets we’ve tried.
I recommend the Trek Ballista (available here) and Specialized S-Works Evade 3 (here, here, here, and here) for enthusiasts whose head shapes with long oval or intermediate oval head shapes, terms I define immediately below.
If you are looking for an aero cycling helmet that looks more like a standard one, the Giro Eclipse Spherical (here, here, here, here, and here) is the best choice that fits long and intermediate oval heads, though it’s not as good a performer as the ones above.
Before the aero helmet was created for road cyclists, helmets were mostly about keeping your head safe and comfortable. You found one that fit, had a lot of vents, was reasonably priced, in a color you liked, and off you went.
Now, a well-fitting aero bike helmet made for us roadies can not only help us stay safe, keep cool, look good, and all the rest, but they can also help us go faster.
Also called an aero road helmet, aero bike helmet, or aero cycling helmet, one of these helmets can save you nearly as much time or energy on your rides as an aero wheelset or an aero frame for a lot less money.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the funny-looking, oversized, no vent, pointy, full-on aero helmets that track cyclists and dedicated time trialists wear.
Instead, I’m talking about a road helmet that provides nearly as good aerodynamic benefits as one of those track or TT helmet but cools more like a standard one.
What’s the difference between an aero helmet and a standard one?
The better helmets optimized for aero performance and those optimized for cooling are both priced in the US$300, £250, and €300 range. That’s US$100, £75, and €100 or so more than standard, safe road helmets that aren’t designed to be the best at either.
However, you can go faster wearing an aero road helmet than a standard one with the same amount of power output or expend less energy to ride at the same speed. For example, you can save 30-60 seconds on a solo 40K effort riding with an aero helmet with the power output you would need to ride at 25mph/40kph with a standard helmet on.
On a 100-mile ride at slower speeds, you can save minutes if you’re riding with your nose in the wind (i.e., not drafting).
Alternatively, you’ll need 10 to 15 fewer watts of effort to hold a 25mph/40kph speed. That’s about 3-5% less work to finish in the same time with one of the better aero road helmets than one of the better standard road helmets designed to maximize cooling.
In our testing, we don’t notice enough of a difference, or any difference at all, in the fit or cooling between the best aero and standard road helmets to dissuade us from wearing one on even the hottest and most humid summer days.
While aero bike helmets generally have a larger and longer profile, they only weigh up to 10% or about 20-30 grams more, not an amount you’ll feel.
Given the racier look of some of these lids, you might feel or look a bit conspicuous. That’s going to be the biggest difference. But your riding buddies may take more notice that you are going faster or aren’t working as hard as they are rather than the helmet you’re wearing.
How have aero bike helmets changed?
I did my first comparative review of the best aero helmets in the summer of 2015 after they first became available from the leading brands. They have now been through two or three design generations, generally getting both cooler and lighter. Some also look more like standard road helmets than they did earlier. Others are rocking distinctive aero bike helmet profiles.
The brands will tell you these helmets have become more aero. Perhaps so, but it also looks like the better standard helmets have as well. So, the performance gap between them and the time or wattage savings likely has stayed much the same.
I will also say many of the latest aero helmets we’ve tested are better ventilated than earlier models. But so are the newest standard road helmets we’ve reviewed. So, there’s that too.
In this update, my fellow testers Nate, Miles, Adam, and I, who ride at different speeds and sweat at different rates, share our take on several of the most recently introduced models. I’ve also included reviews of those I tested earlier that are still current or little changed compared to the current model.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you need a new helmet or want to trade up to a helmet that will help you ride faster, you should buy an aero road helmet. Short of stocking up on razors to keep your legs shaved or getting the latest tires with low rolling resistance, which I’m guessing most reading this review already have done, an aero road helmet is one of the least costly things you can buy to ride significantly faster. (Click this link for my post on gear and kit that can help you ride faster).
Helmets and heads need to share the same shape to fit you and be comfortable. Some are designed to fit heads that are more oval than round (“long oval”), others are best for those that are more round than oval (“round oval”), and still others fall somewhere in the middle (“intermediate oval”) or can fit all shapes well.
Cyclists with long oval head shapes can usually fit intermediate oval helmets with little problem. Those with round oval shapes who’ve tested helmets for me didn’t fit well in long or intermediate oval helmets. And my intermediate oval head has never fit securely in a road oval helmet.
If you’re uncertain which of these categories best describes your head, go here to help you figure it out. Simply stated, you will feel equal pressure at the front and back of your head as you do on the sides of the cradle when you tighten the circumference strap of a helmet that is well-suited to your head.
If the helmet is too round for you, you’ll likely feel more pressure on the front and back of your head. Conversely, if it’s too oval, you’ll likely feel extra pressure along your cradle’s left and right sides.
If your head shape is toward the middle of the oval-round shape range, aka an intermediate oval, I recommend the Trek Ballista and Specialized S-Works Evade 3 aero helmets. In addition to being aero, they are also comfortable, cool your head well, and have a distinct aero look. (Click any of the helmet names to go directly to my review of them)
I recommend the Giro Eclipse Spherical and POC Ventral MIPS aero bike helmetsfor more oval-shaped heads (long oval). Each is quite comfortable. The Giro is one of the lower-priced helmets and looks more like a standard cycling one than any of the others. The POC cools very well and has a distinctive look that you may love, or hate.
The Kask Utopia is one of the few aero road helmets I and other testers have worn that seems to fit any head shape quite well. While the helmets I’ve recommended above fit better and are more comfortable for those of you with long and intermediate oval head shapes, the Utopia is the better of the two helmets we’ve reviewed for those with round oval heads.
You can see a chart comparing our ratings for these helmets from our tests just below. Before you decide which to buy, I strongly urge you to read the section What Matters Most that explains how to help you make a better-informed choice between the best aero helmets.
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With each new generation of aero road helmets, brands have significantly changed their designs while merely tweaking the model name suffixes – Specialized Evade 3, Oakley ARO5 Race, Giro Eclipse Spherical.
The Ballista Mips has changed its brand name from Bontrager to Trek – same company, new brand strategy – rather than its model suffix
More importantly, the Trek Ballista Mips looks more like an aero helmet than it ever has, yet its latest design makes it feel more like one of the lightest and most comfortable standard-shaped road helmets we’ve ever tested.
Integral Mips, not an overlay
While several alternatives to the original Mips have been introduced and score well in safety tests (e.g. HG11, Wavecel, Spherical), many helmet brands continue to license the technology and consumers remain willing to pay the premium for a helmet with the Mips sticker.
The key to any Mips helmet’s fit, comfort, and safety is how well it integrates the Mips system into the helmet. In the rush to show consumers that they were now on the Mips bandwagon, many of the first-generation Mips aero road helmets felt and looked like they had just slapped the apparatus into their existing helmet designs. They seemed like clumsy and often ill-fitting afterthoughts.
The Mips system inside the Trek Ballista Mips helmet looks and feels integral to it. Four front-to-back center strip pads and one that crosses your forehead and extends out to your temples attach to the helmet shell with two small velcro tabs on each strip, allowing all of the unattached area to move freely.
It’s all barely visible and doesn’t feel like an added helmet component.
A secure and comfortable fit
My head fits easily in the Ballista. The rear Boa dial provides simple and secure micro tensioning to adjust to my head’s shape. Instead of using a wire or strap as other helmets do, the Trek mechanism has a comfortable yet sturdy thread coming out of the dial that connects at the temples to a plastic piece on which the forehead pad rests.
The thread also runs through the cradling frame at the rear of your head in four places. This makes the pliable plastic material in that frame snuggly conform to the shape of the back of my head.
Trek also uses a somewhat novel though simple approach to adjust the rear height of the Ballista. Instead of a tab that slides up and down in a channel to one of typically five stops to set your height, you insert the Ballista’s tab into one of three fixed slots at different heights. Since I didn’t read the instructions (kudos to you if you do), this took a little time to figure out.
But once I found the right slot for my preferred helmet height, it was done. I didn’t need to bother with readjusting the helmet height when I put it on (e.g. Kask) or worry about it self-adjusting as I tightened or loosened the circumference strap (Lazer).
The Trek Ballista Mips uses locking clips to hold the down straps in place below your ears. The stiffness of the straps themselves is somewhere in the middle of the range of those I’ve experienced on different helmets. While that’s good in keeping the helmet in position, I’ve had to add a twist tie below the clips to get the straps to lay together.
The left and right straps connect with a standard push-in/out clip that sits directly below my chin. Beyond the clip, there’s also a lot more strap length than I’ll ever need. I’d want to cut off the extra if I wore this helmet beyond my test period.
The combination of adjustments gives me a secure, comfortable fit that doesn’t move around once I’ve dialed it in. I’ve also found that I don’t need to loosen or readjust it much or at all to take off or put on the helmet, depending on how thick or matted down my hair is on a given day.
My intermediate oval head shape, slightly more oval than round, suits the Trek Ballista head shape. It’s also relatively quiet on a fast ride, indicating a good fit and well-engineered design. The quiet also adds to the comfort.
As cool as a standard road helmet
Speaking of comfort, let me come back to one-half of what makes this Ballista different than its predecessor and shows just how far the aero road helmet category has come.
Air flows freely through the Ballista. My head never gets hot, no matter the temperature or ride intensity. The helmet has a large front center vent and smaller ones on either side that easily dock the various sunglasses of different sizes that I tried. These vents are similar in position and size to the previous Ballista and the Kask, Scott, Oakley, and Specialized aero road helmets and less than the POC.
The combination of a large intake vent just in front of the crown of my head and the wide open rear of the helmet that exhausts the air make the Trek Ballista unique and probably add to the cooling effect or at least the sense of riding with good airflow around your head. It’s almost as if I’m driving my old, before-kids ragtop convertible with the top up, but the side windows rolled down and the rear window removed. Then cut a good-sized hole in the canvas top, or just enlarge one of the ones that are already there, just above the front seats.
You get lots of air flowing through but little wind noise and some protection from the elements above.
The ample padding inside isn’t too stiff or spongy, wraps front to back and fully across my forehead, and doesn’t accumulate sweat.
Additionally, the Trek Ballista remains the lightest of the aero road helmets we weighed. At 289 grams for the Large size, it also weighed in on my scale lighter than the same size and latest, top-of-its-road-line, standard-shaped Trek Velocis helmet introduced at the same time as the Ballista.
Leaning into the aero look
If anything, Trek seems to have leaned into the aero look of its aero road helmet. Previous Ballistas have always looked more like a straight-up aero bike helmet than a standard road one, but this latest model really seems to accentuate its rear beak-like tail.
At the same time, an indent across the outside shell just beyond the upper crown vent seems to separate the tail from the rest of the helmet visually. While I guess it’s there to trip the outside airflow so that it re-attaches to the tail, it tricks the eye into looking like some kind of hybrid aero and road helmet (or an aero road helmet) rather than a pure aero one.
In the glossy white/black color combo I tested, this works pretty well, or at least better than the one-tone white, matte black, and matte purple options it also comes in. But alongside other aero road and standard road helmets, the Ballista look isn’t probably fooling anyone.
Yet, as aero road helmets have become more accepted as the choice of regular enthusiasts, they are no longer seen as one worn by a time trial rider who showed up for a group ride with the wrong lid on. There’s no, or perhaps less shame wearing an aero road helmet these days for those of us looking to get 5 watts or so of marginal gains from our helmet choice.
Oh yeah, that describes me. The recent opening day event I attended by 100 or so of the riders in my local club made clear that I’m not alone.
If you’re one of us, the Trek Ballista is a well-fitting, proud-to-be aero road helmet option that looks the part but is as comfortable and cool as a standard one. At US$300/£230/€300, you can order it directly using this link to Trek’s online store.
With the latest Specialized S-Works Evade 3, the company has turned it up to 11 (Spinal Tap reference). They’ve taken an already great helmet and made it a notch better.
For this test, I turned to my two fastest fellow testers. Nate leads our club’s Tuesday morning “bullet train” group ride that averages 24-25mph/38-40kph and owns an Evade II model. Miles races P/1/2 and Masters events in the northeast and podiums a lot of them. They independently reviewed the helmet.
Simple fit adjustments and high safety rating
Specialized takes a minimalist yet effective and slightly improved approach to the Evade 3 fit.
It uses a proprietary Specialized dial to micro-adjust the plastic circumference strap yet still leave room to accommodate a summer weight cap that Nate wears or a thicker winter weight hat.
Miles and Nate noted that the strap sits relatively high around their heads, across their brow, and above their ears. While Miles would prefer it to run lower, Nate appreciates how the height allows him to wear large-lens sunglasses without any interference from the helmet.
The Evade 3 height adjustment offers five options, each about 5mm apart, and is easy to slide from one to the next. For those of you with asymmetric heads, there are left and right adjustments, one for each hemisphere.
There is no width adjustment to guide the circumference strap shape. I’ll say more about the potential effects of that near the end of this review.
It looks like Specialized has tried to design the fixed-length down straps and wide under-the-ear connecting bar to sit in an acceptable position for most riders. You can move the clips forward or backward, but that takes a lot of work. They work fine without adjustment for Nate and Miles.
The clip under your chin is the standard plastic buckle on most helmets. However, only one strap on each side comes from the under-ear clip to the one under your chin. That’s a welcome departure from the two straps you get with most helmets. Those can misalign or leave some space between them.
The Evade 3 down straps also start well inside its shell rather than at or in the edge, as you get with Specialized’s Prevail II and 3 helmets. With the Evade 3, the arms of your sunglasses easily go over the down straps. That looks better, follows the Velominati rule about how to wear your shades, and is probably more aero.
Inside the shell, the Evade 3 uses a MIPS safety system. It’s so well integrated into the helmet that you might not realize that the minimal padding sits on a plastic substrate that will slide separately from the shell if your head hits the deck. Based on the Virginia Tech safety testing, it works well, as it gets a 5-star rating and ranks slightly better than the Giro Eclipse Spherical and Trek Velocis.
Cool comfort in an aero helmet
Aero bike helmets are known for not keeping your head as cool as standard road helmets, with their vents designed to optimize airflow at the expense of aero performance.
But many of the latest generation aero road helmets we’ve tested do a great job of keeping the air flowing across your head. And the Specialized S-Works Evade 3 is one of the best of this generation at keeping our heads cool..
While Nate admittedly doesn’t overheat in the hot summer and often wears a cycling cap under his helmet, he wore the Evade 3 without a bother on warm 90F+/30C+ days in the summer sun.
Miles found it cooled him especially well, thanks to the large center front intake and rear exhaust vents.
That, along with simple fit adjustability and ample-sized forehead pad make this one of the more comfortable lids either has worn.
When it’s time to take off your sunglasses either for a café stop or when the clouds come through, the Evade 3 has slots in the shell just above your temples that look like they are designed specifically for docking your sunglasses. Miles’s most oversized sunglasses, the Oakley Sutro, store securely in them, as does a slightly smaller pair of Koo Supernova.
Best for more oval than round head shapes
The only knock on this helmet is its lack of universal appeal. That’s a bit ironic since most Specialized kit, including their shoes and bibs, are designed to fit as many cyclists as possible.
But the S-Works Evade 3, like the max-ventilated S-Works Prevail 3, works best for heads like Nate’s with an intermediate oval shape. When you crank down the circumference dial, he feels the pressure evenly across the front, back, and sides of his head.
Conversely, when Miles cranks the same dial down tight for the front and back of his more oval-shaped head, he feels some side-to-side movement. Miles likes the fit overall, and while not “perfect,” he rates it better than most helmets he’s worn.
If you have a rounder head, you might find the helmet pitches up and down a bit when it’s secured tight on the sides. With air flowing at you principally from the direction you are riding rather than the side, I’d think that would be more problematic with this helmet than one shaped for a rounder head.
While not as boldly aero-looking as the Trek Ballista and several other aero road helmets, the Evade 3’s shape hasn’t evolved to look more like standard road helmets. Its aero form likely follows its aero function.
The Evade look may not be for everyone. Perhaps it attracts those who can pull off what its distinctive aero styling seems to be boldy saying: “I’m going fast” or ” Don’t I look like I’m going fast?”
Come to think of it, that may be a pretty big group of roadies.
Priced for US$300, £250, €320, you can order the Specialized S-Works Evade 3 helmet using these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, Performance Bicycle, Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10), and Cyclestore.
Whoosh! That was the first and continues to be the lasting impression I have wearing the Kask Utopia aero road helmet.
Whoosh because it feels that I’m riding faster. Not that I know that I am riding faster wearing this helmet. I probably am, and my times and average speeds suggest that I am, but I don’t know if that’s because of the helmet’s aerodynamics or if the feeling the helmet gives me motivates me to go faster.
And that leads to the other, more knowable part of the whoosh. The air whooshes through the Utopia. It’s not just an audible whoosh but a tactile one too. I feel the air flowing across my head.
The faster I go, the more I feel it. The more I feel it, the faster I want to go.
Kask Utopia’s cooling on the warmest days is among the best of any helmet I’ve worn, aero road or standard road. It’s almost like a Venturi effect is happening atop your head as you ride along. With fewer and smaller openings on the front and sides of this aero road helmet, the velocity of air flowing through them increases compared to a helmet with more and larger ones.
The vents in the Utopia, which are more like narrow horizontal or vertical slots, seem to be located at just the right places. The air comes rushing through your helmet across your forehead, along the sides, and down the middle of your head. There’s also a square port near the top of the Utopia, a place where I’ve found heat can get trapped in other helmets.
The Protone and Valegro, two Kask helmets I’ve also worn and really enjoyed for their comfort and similar fit, have more and larger openings. Kask recently introduced the Elemento (available only in Europe), a helmet it claims is as aero as the Utopia but has a shape and vents more similar to the Protone and Valegro.
Finally, Kask also makes the Utopia Y with a brow pad for more comfort and a larger diameter rear dial for better grip. The rest of the Y is unchanged from the original Utopia, the one this review is based on.
The Utopia’s mold shape and internal bracing make it more versatile than the other aero road helmets I’ve evaluated. While most helmets are ideally suited for riders that with a shape more oval than round or more round than oval, the Utopia fit can be adjusted for oval, round, and heads in between.
The key to making this possible is the combination of the adjustable rear cradle and the rear cut-out starting much higher on the back of your head. There’s plenty of freedom for you in the back of the helmet if you’ve got a more oval head for it to have room out the back. Don’t worry; there’s still plenty of protection should you make contact with the pavement as the sections just above and to the side of the back of your head reach out well beyond it.
At the same time, if your head is rounder or somewhere in between oval and round, you can just bring in the rear brackets that slide along the cradle to fit the shape of your head.
The Kask Utopia is not the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever worn. It’s not uncomfortable but there are more comfortable ones. There’s much less padding in the top of the helmet – two long narrow strips running on the EPS either side of the center of your head – and just a couple of short pads on the inside of your helmet above your temples.
Most notably, there’s no padding running across the width of your forehead like there is in most other helmets. Instead, the Utopia’s two long strips extend to the forehead and provide cushioning. (The Utopia Y addresses this with a pad that runs across your forehead.)
It took me a few weeks to get used to riding without the front forehead pad and doing a little trial and error with the rear cradle brackets and the right amount of tension with the cradle dial so that I could properly judge the relative comfort of the helmet.
I got to the point where I had it all dialed in and acclimated to the feel of the Utopia pads and was fine doing 3-4 hour rides on hot summer days without thinking about the helmet comfort at all.
Like most of the top Kask helmets, the Utopia has a leather chin strap with a buckle on the side that is both comfortable and easy to set up. Over time and a lot of sweat, I’ve found the strap to be durable and easy to keep clean, the latter of which I can’t say for traditional fabric straps.
The “fit and finish” on this helmet is also well done. My sunglasses dock easily, though much higher up than on most helmets.
Kask has never adopted MIPS or funded the Virginia Tech safety tests. They believe, as do some other helmet makers that the headforms used in some tests “have a higher coefficient of friction than those of the human skull and therefore may not reflect what occurs in some accidents.”
While not naming Virginia Tech specifically, a group of representatives from these companies formed a working group to develop test protocols they felt were more representative of what cyclists actually experience during bike crashes than those used by independent and government testing organizations.
Kask started using a proprietary protocol starting around 2021 to test the safety of their helmets against rotational impact. They’ve branded the protocol WG11, which was the working group’s name but make no reference to that group’s work or detail what’s behind the company’s test protocol.
To date, Virginia Tech has tested just one Kask helmet with a WG11 seal, the Elemento, and it received a 5-star rating. The Kask Utopia and Utopia Y are also WG11-approved and approved by the US and European government-funded consumer safety organizations.
While both the Utopia and Utopia Y helmets remain in Kask’s current line-up, they appear to be phasing out the original Utopia. Both models have a full retail price of US$300, £245, €275, but the Utopia is discounted more than the Utopia Y at the stores I recommend that carry both of them. You can choose between them and pick among a range of colors using these links to Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Planet Cyclery, Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10), and Wiggle.
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The Giro Eclipse Spherical is a very capable aero road helmet. Its safety, fit, comfort, function, and form are all quite good.
But in the continually evolving aero road helmet category, my fellow tester Adam and I didn’t find any performance or characteristics that stand out about this helmet compared to those from other brands we’ve tested.
That may be fine for those who want the solid attributes and 20% lower price the Giro Eclipse offers compared to the features and style of some of the other leading, more expensive lids.
Spherical MIPS drives safety and fit characteristics
As with the Giro Aries Spherical, the brand’s standard road helmet, the Spherical MIPS system used is central to the safety and fit of the Giro Eclipse Spherical.
Both helmets have a shell within a shell design. Like a ball and socket joint, the upper shell can move in multiple directions, independent of the lower shell that’s closest to your head. This reduces the rotational impact on your head in case of a fall.
The Spherical design approved by MIPS earns the Eclipse five stars in the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings. Its score is roughly in the middle of the 100 or so cycling helmets of all types using traditional MIPS and other safety approaches that also achieve five stars.
The circumference strap in the Eclipse sits about 3/8” or 5mm away from the shell across your forehead and out to your temples. That makes the helmet feel somewhat independent of your head and lighter than those where the shell remains in direct contact with those areas of your head.
As Adam learned, this design aspect, which I believe is also part of the Spherical system, can lead to some helmet bobbing and sunglass contact if you ride it off-road with large-lens sunglasses. I experienced the same thing riding the Aries on gravel. I eliminated it by raising the helmet height a notch or two so the helmet stayed above my goggle-size shades.
Giro adds a Velcro tab to the large forehead pad that connects it to the brow of the helmet shell. Perhaps they did this to reduce the bobbing without reducing the somewhat detached and lighter helmet feel of the Eclipse Spherical design.
The circumference strap and pad are key to how the helmet fits. You tighten the strap to shape it to your head with a dial integrated into the cradle that sits just below the Eclipse’s lower back edge.
The rest of the fit adjustment mechanisms – straps, clips, etc. – are proven and rather straightforward. There’s a 3-position helmet height adjustment but none to change the cradle width. The rear strap laces through the cradle and comes down behind your ears. There it connects to the front straps with simple threading clips.
You can adjust the height and fore-aft position of the clips by pulling them and the straps one way or another. While the straps themselves aren’t particularly stiff compared to others, and I need to ensure the back strap is centered and not twisted before I put the helmet on, I found the force of the straps against the clips keeps everything in place.
A standard locking clip below your chin connects the straps. The extra strap length beyond the clip is good for both Adam’s big neck size and my small one. A solid band keeps the excess in place. Finally, the straps lay against each other neatly below the ears.
With that tedious but hopefully clear description out of the way, the key point is that it all works to deliver a secure and safe fit.
Good comfort for an aero road helmet
You can only judge a helmet’s comfort after you dial in the fit. While you can make a helmet feel comfortable by fitting it loosely, you won’t be safe or aerodynamic if your shell or straps are flopping around.
Adam and I found the Giro Eclipse Spherical comfortable for an aero road helmet. The forehead pad and four pads that run front to back across the top of the head supply good cushioning.
As I described earlier, the Spherical system’s circumference strap makes the helmet feel somewhat independent of your head. This adds to the comfort, at least for me. Adam favors the more integrated feel of the standard MIPS system, where the pads running front to back across the top of your head are attached to a thin layer of plastic. In the event of a crash, the pads and plastic will stay with your head as the shell they sit inside moves to reduce rotational impact.
Of course, airflow is also critical to comfort. I find the Eclipse does as good a job as many aero road helmets on the warmest and most humid days. Fortunately or, perhaps, unfortunately, we’ve had many of those days lately to test out how comfortable helmets are in those conditions.
The Eclipse’s forehead pad also soaks up a lot of sweat, some of which would have dropped down into my eyes or sunglasses with other helmets.
All of the above said, note that I have added the qualifier “for an aero road helmet” several times when describing the Giro Eclipse comfort.
While most better aero road helmets weigh within 20-30 grams, or about 10% of the best-ventilated cycling helmets that aren’t optimized for aero performance, the airflow in helmets optimized for ventilation is noticeably better than most aero bike helmets, making them more comfortable on hot, humid days for those who sweat a lot.
However, we have recently tested several aero road helmets, including the Trek Ballista, Specialized S-Works Evade, and POC Ventral, that are as cool as the best ventilated, non-aero optimized road helmets. The Giro Eclipse isn’t to the same level.
Fine form and function
While not displaying the most aero lines or polarizing style of several of its aero road helmet competitors, the Giro Eclipse Spherical is a sleek helmet with a blunted back end that distinguishes it from standard cycling helmets for the discerning observer.
That said, a more casual viewer might not notice the difference compared to a standard road helmet the way they would those with more distinctive aero profiles.
I have no way to assess the aero drag of the Eclipse scientifically and don’t buy into the figures helmet makers provide. Anecdotally, the air I feel and the noise I hear rushing over my ears while wearing the Giro Eclipse Spherical is more than what I’ve experienced with standard road helmets, including the most ventilated ones, and is in the same range as other aero road helmets we’ve tested.
The Eclipse is a little quieter than most other aero road helmets within that range. I don’t know what, if anything, that says about its aero performance.
Sunglasses don’t conflict with the circumference or down straps in the Eclipse or with the helmet’s outer shell brow if you have the height adjustment set to avoid it. Placing your shades upside down, they also dock securely in the outermost front vents.
I’ll admit to buying the black and red model for testing to match my bike’s frame colors. The Eclipse also comes in white-silver and matte black-glossy black combinations, blue, and charcoal with pink and sky blue sprinkles.
The matte finish on the black and red we tested mutes the colors and look of the helmet somewhat. That’s consistent with it not standing out for its features or aero look.
If that performance and styling speak to the stealth side of your cycling nature, the Giro Eclipse Spherical is a good, well-priced option. With an MSRP/RRP of US$250/£240/€260, you can order it online at Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Planet Cyclery, Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10), and Wiggle, all stores I’ve vetted and recommended for their competitive prices, high independently verified customer satisfaction ratings and good, enthusiast-level product selection.
I hate to start a review that you should consider buying mostly for its performance by writing about how a product looks. But with a POC helmet, you’ve got to start there. POC helmets have such a distinctive look that they draw people in or send them away.
After all, you wear a helmet on your head that will likely be one of the first things your fellow enthusiasts notice if it looks very different.
So, right up front, here’s the photo array of how the POC Ventral. I’m wearing the black matt, probably the most muted of the color options, along with white. But it also comes in colors as unusual as its form, from bright orange and red to navy, forest green, burgundy, amethyst, gold, and peach.
Of course, they have much more interesting names for these colors. Would you like your POC in the Himalayan Salt Matt or Cerussite Kashima Metallic/Matt?
If you are drawn in by the looks of the POC Ventral SPIN aero bike helmet or just want to read a good review about a helmet you would never wear because of its looks, read on.
Quite simply, the POC Ventral is one of the most comfortable, coolest, and quietest helmets – standard or aero – I’ve ever worn. If you have a long or intermediate oval head shape and are comfortable with the look, it’s one of the best aero helmets I can recommend.
I originally reviewed the POC Ventral SPIN version of the helmet introduced in 2018. The only change they’ve made to it since then is to replace POC’s proprietary SPIN technology to reduce the effects of rotational impact with the better-known MIPS version.
The Virginia Tech helmet safety testers gave five stars to several POC helmets equipped with SPIN, though not this one. They haven’t tested any POC MIPS helmets.
The extensive use of pads along the EPS liner creates a great cushioning feel, though based on the sweat that showed on the pads, I think my head was probably only in contact with those in the front and rear thirds of the helmet.
In the straight-on photos above, you can see through the top of two front and back vents to the wall I stood in front of for the shoot. In the photo from the back, you can also see through to the wall from one of the back outside vents. The Ventral is definitely cool, in a temperature kind of way.
I don’t know how they make it so quiet. Perhaps having more of the air go through the helmet and less go around the sides and across your ears is the key. Whatever the theory or engineering, it is noticeably quieter than other helmets I’ve worn.
With all of its large vents and Volkswagon Beetle-like shape, I wonder about the Ventral’s aero performance. I’ve got to believe there is more air passing turbulently through it than over and around it in a smoother or more laminar flow.
POC claims that getting more air through than around reduces the “wake” behind the helmet, improving its aero performance based on their testing. Either they’re right about that and have felt no need to improve on it in five years, or they decided not to invest the money in product development during the pandemic and tough economy we’ve just come through.
Note that POC makes several helmets in the Ventral line with the same shell shape. In addition to the Ventral MIPS, POC sells thhe Ventral Air with more vents running through it for even more cooling, while the Ventral Tempus has most of its vents covered for winter riding. There’s also a Ventral Lite and still some Ventral SPIN versions of all of these models in stock at some stores.
The Ventral MIPS, the one I’m recommending here, carries a retail price of USD$300, £270, €300. You can buy it using these links to Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10), and Wiggle.
The lesson of the blind men and the elephant parable tells us that, despite only being able to experience part of a complex object or issue, we project our partial experience as the entire truth and disregard the truth of others who experience a different part of the same object or issue.
This parable came to mind when I sat down with my notes to review the Scott Cadence PLUS. Much like the complex elephant, there are many ways to experience this aero bike helmet for roadies, each of which could define a different truth or review.
To guard against this, I try to evaluate helmets and other gear using category-specific criteria and prioritize performance over design ones within a price range and exceeding a quality bar.
The challenge with the Scott helmet is that there appear to be many more contradictions in these partial experiences that could easily lead to different truths if I’m not careful.
Let me tell you what I found, and perhaps this parable nonsense will make sense and help explain my take on the Cadence PLUS.
First, this Scott helmet cools exceptionally well, equal to the bear we’ve tested. It feels light, almost as if you hardly have a helmet on. Yet, it is the heaviest helmet of those I tested for this review, albeit by about 85 grams or about 3 ounces heavier than the lightest helmet in this review. Feels light but measures heavy.
The Scott is also one of the quietest aero bike helmets I tested, yet it has a more bulbous shape and a long, funky tail like the Specialized Evade 3 and Trek Ballista, which are noisier. The round shape would suggest the designers want the air to flow around the Scott, which should make it noisier than it is.
The helmet also has big front vents, like the tail-less POC, which should take a lot of air through the helmet, making it quieter as it is.
While not as heavily padded as the POC, I found the Scott padded well in the right places to give my slightly more intermediate oval-shaped head comfort nearly as good as any in this test, even with its early-generation MIPS system, which typically limits the places you can put pads.
While it has a MIPS safety system, it only gets four stars in the Virginia Tech safety ratings, likely because helmets with newer MIPS designs outperform it.
The head-on view of the Scott shows you the big vents on a rounded helmet. It’s not an uncommon combination that works well to cool your head quietly and looks okay in my eyes.
The side, back, and back angled views show a tail with venting uniquely coming out the sides rather than directly out the back between the smooth sides. This looks weird to me, especially with all the exposed and less attractive EPS foam in view.
The helmet has been largely unchanged for five years. I’ve only seen it recently in a stealth black color. This gives it a less garish look than the white and black one I tested.
But its US$230 price hasn’t changed with inflation, though the discounting that is running through the cycling kit world can bring the higher prices of many helmets back down to similar levels.
My truth? The Scott Cadence PLUS performs well and offers real value for those who like its looks. For others, there are enough things to object to – safety rating, weight, looks, etc., that will cause you to look elsewhere for your aero cycling helmet.
It’s available using this link to Competitive Cyclist.
Nothing about the Lazer Vento KinetiCore helmet thrills me.
Yes, it does get a top, 5-star rating in Virginia Tech’s helmet impact tests. These tests claim to “evaluate a helmet’s ability to reduce linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head resulting from a range of head impacts a cyclist might experience.”
Lazer’s Kineticore safety system is also well integrated into the Vento helmet rather than applied as an overlay the way many early MIPS helmets were. It combines a series of 5-10mm wide and deep raised trapezoid shapes molded into the inner shell and three foam pads running down the center with another across the brow on a slip frame.
So that’s all good.
But 106 other road helmets also get a 5-star rating, and the Lazer Vento KinetiCore’s test score is bested by 101 of them.
The Vento also trails other aero road helmets we’ve tested in the more qualitatively judged categories of fit, comfort, function, and form.
Subpar adjustment components challenge fit
Some of its Lazer Vento KinetiCore fit adjustments are unique while others are old school.
For example, where many other top-of-the-line models now use a dial that hangs below the helmet’s back edge to adjust its circumference strap, the Vento uses a tractor-like belt built into the top of the shell for that purpose. However, when I tighten the circumference belt, the conventional tab mechanism that sets the height of the plastic frame meant to cradle the back of my head slides that frame up rather than staying in the place where I set it.
And, where other helmet brands now sew the down straps that come together below your ears or use a locking clip to join them firmly in place, the Vento KinetiCore uses a more traditional threading clip that holds your adjustment in place, or not, based on the resistance to movement the straps offer to the clip.
Yet, I find the straps on the Vento to be relatively thin and pliable – my notes say “flimsy” – such that I had to readjust the clip while testing this helmet regularly.
Lazer also uses a standard buckle mechanism that works well to bring the right and left straps together below my chin. The strap length was just right and didn’t require any cutting. The extra length is held firmly in place by a rubberized band.
Whereas my head shape fits a helmet shape somewhere between the most round and oval ones, the Lazer Vento KinetiCore seems more suited to and would likely fit rounder heads better than mine.
Comfort and functionality are lacking
Without being able to dial in the Vento’s fit, I find it hard to get as comfortable in this helmet as others. Riding on all but the smoothest roads and windy days, the Vento doesn’t feel secure on my head. That’s discomforting in and of itself.
But it’s not just the fit that challenges the comfort level.
The pad running down the helmet’s center stops atop my head. I wish it didn’t; my head easily feels the shell at that point. The pads across the forehead to either side of the center strip are welcome yet compress far more easily than those in other helmets.
When I’m doing a hard group ride or intervals in temps around 65F/18C, the Vento doesn’t let enough vento (wind) through its openings to keep my head cool.
I’m not an aeronautical or fluid dynamics engineer, and I don’t pretend to play them in my reviews. But as a cycling consumer, one look at the Lazer Vento tells me it isn’t likely to have as much cooling airflow as other aero bike helmets I’ve tested and may not be the most aerodynamic of designs.
There are just two vents in the front of the helmet, both in the center, and the exhaust vents on the top and in the back are small. Is this design why my head doesn’t stay cool on warm days?
Most of the original aero road helmets had similar issues, but that was two or more model generations ago. Cooling is not an issue for the best models now; even those I rate average cool better than the Vento.
Does the minimal vent design lead to maximal aero performance? It’s hard to know without a wind tunnel. Once again, being the circumspect cycling enthusiast consumer that I am, a simple look makes me wonder.
Yes, the surface is smooth and with fewer cutouts in the front, the air might flow more aerodynamically across it. But the front of the helmet has good-sized indents along the sides that would seem to capture air and create turbulence that would be hard to reattach to the helmet area behind them.
Sunglasses of various sizes that I’ve worn haven’t interfered with the Lazer Vento KinetiCore across my forehead or above my ears. However, the absence of vents or cutouts along the sides of the front of the helmet gives you no place to dock sunglasses. You can put them through the outermost rear exhaust vents, but it takes some work and requires two hands, something I don’t advise that you do underway on all but the smoothest surfaces in still breezes (see Froome, Chris for more).
A style of its own
Stylistically, the Vento KinetiCore appears to be putting its stamp on some of the latest helmet styling trends. With its combination of glossy and matt finishes and other unique styling aspects that I’ll describe below, I would guess Lazer was going for a look that stands out in the aero-road helmet field.
Yet the red-burgundy combination I tested – the brightest combination – to me looks quite subdued. Perhaps that’s because the largest surface area of the helmet has a matt finish, whether it’s the burgundy color on the helmet I tested or the black, white, or blue on the others. A fellow enthusiast in my club wears the white helmet Vento with black highlights that also seems more modest than modern.
Whether it is or not, the Vento shell also appears to be created in sections – the matt-finish large center-middle, two glossy colored sides, a section surrounding the circumference adjusting belt in the back, and a matt-finish bottom section on which the others sit.
It’s another aspect that makes the helmet unique but, for me, not particularly appealing as the sections create many junction lines where they come together.
Altogether, the combination of these fit, comfort, function, and form inconsistencies make it seem that the Lazer Vento KinetiCore was designed by putting some new and unique but untested approaches together with some tried and true but earlier generation ones. It feels and looks less like a finished or well-executed design and more like a prototype awaiting feedback and further improvements.
At a top-of-the-market US$300, £249, €300 and available through these links to Competitive Cyclist and Cyclestore, it would take someone with a more suitably shaped head than mine who rides in mild temperatures and appreciates the look of Lazer Vento KinetiCore better than I do.
As with all In The Know Cycling reviews, I consider four groups of criteria – performance, design, quality, and cost – when evaluating and comparing a category of cycling gear or kit. Within your chosen budget, I believe the performance of a product is paramount. Design can lead to good performance or not, but all too often, companies talk about, and the cycling media hypes about, product design to suggest how something will perform rather than tell you about or compare its actual performance.
These are the criteria my evaluations and research suggest matter most for aero road helmets.
PERFORMANCE – SAFETY, FIT, COMFORT, AERODYNAMICS, COOLING, AND NOISE
All bike helmets should have a safety compliance sticker that meets a credentialed safety standard. Helmets sold in the US must meet the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission) standard. The helmets I evaluated for this review all do. Other countries or regions also have groups that set safety standards for helmets, including Australia and New Zealand (AS/NZS), Great Britain (BSI), Canada (CSA), Europe (CE), Japan (JIS), and Sweden. Helmets must meet these standards, or reputable stores won’t carry them.
While the requirements and testing regiments are detailed (e.g., CPSC test here), the results we get on them are more of a “pass-fail” grade than a relative score. To pass the CPSC test, a helmet must stand up to an anvil strike with a force that would cause a skull fracture or severe brain injury.
Of course, it would be nice to know whether a helmet just passed that test or scored so well that it might hold up against a lesser force that could still cause a concussion. Other criticisms of the CPSC test include that it doesn’t consider a head strike at different angles or at different places on the helmet.
Consumer Reports (or CR), a highly regarded US independent consumer product testing publication, periodically runs tests on bicycle helmets and publishes its results in its buying guide. It tests helmets dropped on their front, rear, side, and crown at the same force as the CPSC test. Unfortunately, it had only tested one aero road helmet when I last looked.
CR has tested the performance of several MIPS systems or Multi-directional Impact Protection System helmets. The theory behind MIPS is to have an inside liner stay with your head while the rest of the helmet slides or rotates a few millimeters upon impact. This is supposed to reduce the rotational force that is often the cause of a concussion and reduce the amount of energy absorbed by your head.
The results of CR’s testing on two pairs of helmets, each in a MIPS and non-MIPS version, showed that the rotational force transferred to the head by the MIPS helmets was significantly less than that of the non-MIPS one of the same model.
While CR cautions that “it’s difficult to prove that any helmet will protect against concussion because concussions are diagnosed based on symptoms and the results of a neurological exam” and that “it’s not possible to say for certain that MIPS helmets can reduce the chances of a concussion… our tests suggest that there may be some added benefit, so even if it’s not definitive, a MIPS helmet may be worth the extra cost.”
So there’s that.
The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, whose experience includes testing football and hockey helmets, started testing bicycle helmets late in the last decade. In a short time, they have become the most widely referenced source of helmet testers.
Virginia Tech’s testing protocol differs from that of the CPSC and CR tests. They attempt to simulate helmets hitting the ground at speeds, angles and places their research shows are more typical of real-world bike accidents. They focus on estimating how effectively a helmet reduces the risk of concussion rather than CPSC’s and CR’s testing focused on skull fracture.
Virginia Tech’s results have shown a) higher priced helmets don’t predict better safety ratings, b) most MIPS helmets they tested performed better than ones not equipped with MIPS, c) helmets didn’t need to be MIPS to perform well, and d) road helmets performed better than urban helmets, the kind your teenage kid throws on when he heads out on his BMX bike or skateboard.
[You can stop reading this post now and go confiscate your son’s urban helmet right away. He probably doesn’t wear it much anyway, and certainly not with the straps synched up.]
While Virginia Tech doesn’t publish a list of the Tech Labs’ funding sources, they both assert their independence and “accept donations from individuals, companies, or organizations that are interested in helping this project.”
The Snell Memorial Foundation, a 70-year-old non-profit focused on research, education, testing, safety standards development, and certification of bicycle and motorcycle helmets, did testing that concluded that MIPS doesn’t improve safety performance.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute is a non-profit, consumer-funded bike helmet advocacy group with a really excellent compendium and links to articles, information, and what looks to me to be even-handed considerations of bike helmet-related safety research.
BHSI states what they view as “limitations and caveats” with the Virginia Tech research, including an insufficient number of helmets tested and that the testing protocol uses the MIPS methodology, which would be expected to favor the MIPS models. They also share the MIPS representative’s response to the Snell test, where he reportedly said that the Snell test doesn’t simulate bike accidents close enough for the benefit of MIPS to show up.
Mips itself is a public company listed on the Stockholm Nasdaq that sells and licenses its MIPS systems. It spun out of the work of two researchers at Stockholm universities.
Finally, a long-operating European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) working group called WG11 has also focused on developing rotational impact standards for helmets. The group includes experts, organizations, and manufacturers, notably including Kask, Lazer, Rudy Project, and Mips.
As I understand what’s been reported, the WG11 believes that Virginia Tech uses a head form in their testing, one recommended by Mips, that has too high a coefficient of friction and doesn’t give an accurate assessment of a helmet’s effectiveness in the case of a rotational impact.
Kask contracts an independent laboratory to test its own helmets using a head form that it feels is more appropriate. While the tests performed by Kask don’t follow a protocol laid out by the WG11 and aren’t endorsed by the group, in part because that working group hasn’t agreed on the details of a rotational impact test, Kask puts a WG11 certification on its helmets that pass the tests they contract.
Feeling better about all of this yet?
I’m always wary of the motivations of a research project supported by a commercial group or a foundation whose funding sources may have a point of view going in. The former applies to the Virginia Tech test and the latter to the Snell test.
There are also potential conflicts of interest all around. Bell and Giro were early MIPS proponents, and Bell has invested in Mips. Mips was an early funder and technical supporter of bicycle helmet testing at Virginia Tech. The lab likely has many bike helmet companies whose helmets it tests as financial supporters. Mips is part of the WG11 that doesn’t believe Virginia Tech uses the right head forms, yet others assert that Virginia Tech’s protocol is biased toward the MIPS technology.
Mips is undeniably a successful company, having marketed its technology so well that some of the leading helmet manufacturers have abandoned their proprietary rotational impact safety technologies in favor of paying to license and brand the MIPS system.
This is really about companies and organizations promoting what they think is best for their customers, clients, and of course, themselves, and the typical competition for standards and technology leadership that I’ve seen in many industries. I’d like to see more research and testing before concluding MIPS or any other approaches to the issue of concussion safety matters.
Meanwhile, I look at this similarly to the tale about the old woman who is asked why she repeatedly suggests giving chicken soup – a mythical elixir of all that ails you – to the deceased in the middle of his funeral. “It couldn’t hurt”, she responds.
Perhaps a bad joke in the serious context of a helmet safety discussion, but all else being equal, some will suggest spending extra on an MIPS helmet or another with concussion prevention technology (WG11, Wavecell, Spherical MIPS, etc.) while others will say you are wasting your money doing so.
For this review, I don’t rate MIPS helmets higher on safety than those that don’t use MIPS or are given five stars in the Virginia Tech testing, although most now do. Indeed, as you can see from the disagreement about the effectiveness of different designs and testing protocols, I can’t rate one helmet as safer than another.
Generally speaking, round and slick surface helmets that slide easily on the pavement are said to offer the best solution to reducing impact. Aero road helmets are amongst the roundest and slickest helmets available, though again, no independent tests show they are any better in reducing impact than standard road helmets.
If it’s any consolation, we seem to be riding in safer brain buckets than skateboarding, BMX, and mountain biking kids. Wait a minute… that doesn’t make me feel any better about them. In a few years, they’ll all be driving or riding in driverless cars and not wearing helmets at all!
Fit is a critical prerequisite to helmet safety. If a helmet doesn’t fit you well, all the helmet safety stickers, protection systems, and arguments about which are better at protecting you from a concussion or worse will not help you much.
You probably know how to make your helmet fit comfortably. However, fitting comfortably and fitting safely aren’t the same things. You can have a helmet that fits safely but isn’t comfortable; you can have one that fits comfortably but isn’t safe.
Ideally, you pick a helmet that you can fit both safely and comfortably.
Let’s talk first about how to get helmets to fit safely.
Consumer Reports published a good list of things to do to ensure your helmet fits safely. I’ll repeat it here as a public service for you, my dear fellow enthusiasts, and ask that you take it to heart.
**Always replace your bike helmet after a crash. It’s designed to withstand only a single impact.**
1. The front edge should be no more than 1 inch above your eyebrows. With the straps done, push up firmly on the front edge of the helmet. If it moves back, the straps are too loose.
2. Push the helmet side to side and front to back: It should be snug enough that the motion wrinkles the skin at your temples.
3. A ponytail can alter your fit, so make sure to test a helmet wearing the same hairstyle you ride with.
4. To test that a buckled chin strap is tight enough, open your mouth halfway; the helmet should press down on the top of your head as you do.
5. The front and back straps should make a V that meets just below and forward of the ear.
6. Grab the back tip and try to pull it up over the top of your head to the front. If the front of your helmet slips down, shorten the back straps.
There are several ways the helmets in this review will allow you to adjust them to attempt to fit your helmet safely per this list.
All the helmets have a dial at the back to adjust the circumference of the strap surrounding your head. This is now standard fare on today’s good helmets but not usually the case in the mid-tier road helmets that typically sell for less than half of what the average aero road helmet does.
All of these helmets also have chinstrap buckles that allow you to adjust the overall length of straps.
They differ, sometimes significantly, in whether and how they allow you to adjust the height of the helmet and the location of where the front and back straps come together below your ears. This can make all the difference in how well and how easily you can adjust the fit.
Some of these height and location adjustments gave me almost unlimited degrees of freedom to make the fit work, while a couple didn’t have enough adjustment to fit my head well enough to check off all six items no matter what I tried.
A few helmets have straps that come down from your helmet that are fixed at the back, and others allow you to adjust those straps in or out depending on whether the area where your neck and head come together is wider or narrower.
Some have front and back straps that are sewn or fixed together where they meet under your ears. When they fall in the right place, that’s a no-hassle solution you never have to touch again. When it doesn’t, there’s no way to change it.
Other helmets use a clasp or clip to move the straps through to put that V where the straps meet more to the front or back of the area below your ear. Still others have a clasp that allows you to do that and move it up or down closer or further from your ear.
I’ve found some helmets use straps and clasps that are too flimsy or have so much range built into them that getting the adjustment just right is a bit of a hassle, and then the clasp loosens, comes undone too easily or isn’t very comfortable against your face in the first place.
It’s a real winner when it’s the right combination of a firm strap with a simple clasp that you can position easily and stays there.
If this all sounds like design and features rather than a performance consideration, I used to think so too, but now I see these fit adjustments as critical to the helmet’s safety performance. Aero testing also shows that when straps and clasps are flush with your face, the drag is reduced compared to angled or loose ones.
When I did my first helmet review, I wore a few helmets that I could easily adjust for a safe fit, and had good padding in the right places but weren’t comfortable on my head.
The discomfort I felt from pressure points forced me to loosen these helmets to get relief, but they didn’t fit well (i.e., safely) anymore. And since I loosened them up, they were probably moving around a bit in the wind and not as aero as they might have been if they were synched up for a safe fit.
After an earlier review, I also heard from some of you who said the helmets I found comfortable weren’t when you tried them on, and the ones you found comfortable were the same ones I wrote were uncomfortable for me.
Hmm… I had a hunch about what was happening and followed up on it.
Clearly, some of us have rounder heads, while others have more oval ones. Could it be that adjusting a helmet only gets you so far to a good level of comfort if your head has one shape and the helmet you are trying is ideally suited for another? My starting hypothesis was that the answer to that question was yes, and I set out to see if that was right.
I didn’t find any suggestion of head shape geometry or bias in the company product descriptions of aero bike helmets I have reviewed here or for the broader lines of helmets made by the same companies.
However, I found the illustration you see below from Chris Kraus at the retailer Revzilla who did a great job explaining what’s going on for his biker gear customers in his Motorcycle Helmets 101 article.
You can pretty much figure out where you fall on this oval-to-round spectrum either by taking a selfie of the top of your head or by asking a trusted friend to look down at your noggin. I’m more oval than round (or as some have said, a real egg head or, even worse, a scrambled eggs head.)
You are probably somewhere in the middle if it’s unclear from your self or friend’s examination. Make sure you look at just the top of your head because, as Chris writes, “the length or shape of your face or the pudginess of your cheeks doesn’t affect head shape.”
How can you tell if you’ve put on a motorcycle helmet that has the wrong shape for your head? To quote Chris again (love this guy!):
A helmet that is the wrong shape will cause pressure points on your forehead (too round) or the sides of your head (too oval). When you buy a new helmet, we recommend wearing it for 30 to 45 minutes before using it on a ride to check for pressure points. These hot spots may not be immediately apparent but can grow into painful problems over time.
Does this apply to aero cycling helmets? Yes, though there’s a simpler way.
If you tighten the circumference strap and feel even pressure around your head, the helmet is good for your head shape.
If you feel more pressure on the front and back of your head than you do on the sides against the cradle or circumference strap, it’s likely not round enough for you.
Likewise, if you feel more pressure on the sides than against the front and back of your head, you need a more oval one.
The aerodynamic differences between various aero road helmets take us into the hard-to-tell realm. Companies mostly quote the relative performance rankings of tests they’ve run between their aero road and best standard road helmets.
While they’ve undoubtedly run tests against competitors’ helmets, few share the results in detail (or at all) though some claim superiority. These claims could all be true (or not) depending on the approach or “protocol” used in each test or the conditions under which one helmet outperforms another.
While some cycling publications have commissioned comparative wind tunnel tests, these suffer from the same protocol differences and lack of standard approaches.
So while I can’t tell the relative aerodynamic merits of different aero road helmets without commissioning tests of them in a wind tunnel (at least $250 per helmet… I checked), I’m confident they, as a group, are faster than the best regular road helmets.
While this is partly based on tests that companies and publications have commissioned, the superior performance of aero road helmets over the best standard road models reported by all the manufacturers tells me there is something real there
As with all things aero, results will vary based on rider shape and position on the bike, wind direction, environmental factors, and other variables. While it’s quantifiably clear that aero road helmets as a group are faster than standard road helmets, an attempt to undeniably distinguish which aero bike helmet is faster or a claim by one company that theirs is faster than their competition is pure folly.
I did do comparative testing of other performance factors (comfort, cooling, noise) of these aero road helmets against each other and against my own standard road helmet riding at a specified power target.
I noticed that I could ride substantially faster with all the aero road helmets than with my standard helmet on a stretch of road I picked out for this evaluation. However, none of the aero road helmets seemed that much faster or slower than another in my totally non-scientific test to be able to rank order them.
It’s clear to me that some of the helmets feel more aero than others based on how the air flows and the sound goes around and through my helmet. While this comparison of “aero-feel” is totally subjective, as with many cycling-related things, how you feel on your bike can affect your performance.
So if you feel like you are going faster, even though you might not be, you may put out a little extra effort to actually make you go faster. This is both the folly and reality of cycling gear design and marketing.
Since most of us cycling enthusiasts ride during several hot months of the year and our heads can heat up even in the cooler ones, an aero helmet’s cooling ability is an important performance criterion. Fortunately, I’m one of those who heat up pretty quickly and can overheat if not well-ventilated. And that’s true when I’m cycling too! (Ba-boom!)
So while I measured each helmet’s cooling performance anecdotally versus scientifically (no, I wasn’t wearing an array of temperature sensors taped to my head after shaving it), if one helmet didn’t cool well relative to another including my standard multi-vent non-aero road helmet, I was going to notice.
Note that I’m looking at cooling rather than venting. While I can feel a fair amount of venting in some helmets – my hair is blowing around on the front half of my head, for example – that venting doesn’t always lead to even cooling.
The biggest flaw I’ve found in some of these helmets, including some that have a lot of vents in the front, is that they don’t cool the top of your head. Other helmets have smaller or fewer vents, but they keep your head cooler than those with more and bigger vents. So I try to note whether or not my head is staying cool rather than how much air is coming through or the number and area of the vents.
As I had for my first review of aero bike helmets, I went out one day when the temp was in the low 90s Fahrenheit or low 30s Celsius, humid as hell, and alternately rode six of the aero road helmets in this review on a 5.8 mile/9.3 kilometer loop that had a combination of elements that allowed a great comparison.
I put the line-up of aero road helmets in the trunk of my car (see below) for this “bake-off,” and after finishing a test run with one, I’d wipe my brow, enter notes into my laptop, put the next helmet on and repeat the process.
My bake-off loop starts out with a three-quarter mile-long flat section with farmland on either side, so there’s often some wind whipping around, followed by some moderate 2-4% rollers for about a mile. There is then a series of ramps ranging from 5% to 10% also for about a mile. Downhill for three-quarters of a mile, some more rollers up to about 5% for another mile and a half, and then a flat to 1.5% descent for the last three-quarters mile where I could really open it up.
This combination of terrain and heat allows me to compare cooling, noise, comfort, and aero feel, which added to my observations about each helmet.
Bottom line, and sorry to save this until the end, except for the hottest of days, most (though not all) of these helmets will cool you fine. If you do ride frequently in a lot of heat, some will keep you as cool as a standard helmet, and others won’t. That’s important to know if you plan to use your aero bike helmet as an everyday lid, and many of your days are hot and humid.
My helmet-specific observations are in the chart and helmet reviews.
Finally, I attempted to judge the relative noise coming from each aero cycling helmet. I tried to determine if the shape of the helmet and the way the air passed through it and by my ears was annoying or made it more difficult to hear the road noise or talk with others during a group ride.
Again, this noise testing is anecdotal and personal. While my ears aren’t as big and don’t stick out like the Disney elephant Dumbo, I did notice differences between helmets and, with some helmets, differences between the amount and frequency of noise I heard while in an aero, arms and torso bent position versus in a more normal relaxed body up, arms straight riding position (see here for a review of the aero benefits of 5 different body positions).
For the purpose of comparing the helmets on the comfort, aero, cooling, and noise criteria I’ve just described, I took most of the helmets out for multiple 40m/65K or so rides on both normal and very hot days this summer.
A few of the helmets were so uncomfortable for me that I didn’t ride them for more than a few days or until the point when I could tell they weren’t for me and probably not for you. By loosening the rounder helmets to fit my more oval head, I tried to pick up on other things that contributed to comfort.
DESIGN – LOOKS, COLORS, VENTS, SUNGLASSES FIT, WEIGHT, MOLD TECHNOLOGY
For some people, the most important design factor, and perhaps the most important factor in making a decision, is how the helmet looks on us. (Of course, I’m not talking about you!) Some of those on my group rides do appear to care about how we look… uh… how they look on the bike (ok, may me too… but just a little).
The helmet is a big part of a cycling enthusiast’s look, especially if it looks different from others. I’ve tried to comment on looks where I think the helmet is distinctive, or I have an opinion. But I’m certainly not going to “rate” my take on how a helmet looks or factor it into my overall recommendations.
I also ordered the most basic color helmets I could find, usually black or white, to compare the different designs as closely as possible.
I’m not very fashion-savvy (as my wife will readily tell you), but when something looks butt-ugly on me, I’ll usually figure it out, or some friend will kindly tell me I look worse than normal when I join them for a ride. I did get that on a couple of group rides when I wore some of these lids.
The number and placement of vents is clearly a design differentiator between these helmets. These designs can produce the desired aerodynamic and cooling performance or not, as I found in the case of helmets that have very similar front vent designs to my naked eyes but are polar opposites in cooling performance.
As I wrote above, I focused on how cool these helmets felt to me under different scenarios, a performance rather than a design criterion. Vent design also contributes to the look of your helmet though it’s not likely that look played into the helmet designers’ vent layout, or at least I hope not too much!
Sunglasses fit is important when wearing them during a ride and, for some, when looking for a place to stow them during or after a ride. Clearly, you don’t want your sunglasses to be banging against the bottom or side of the helmet. Even though some of these helmets came down pretty far on my forehead, I never found this to be an issue.
If you wear bigger sunglasses than my wrap-around type, this could be a problem with some of the helmets. With the fit goal of having your helmet reach down no more than an inch above your eyebrows, however, you’ve got to have pretty big sunglasses for this to be a problem.
More important is whether the arms or ends of your sunglasses mess with the strapping around the helmet. This hasn’t been a problem with the latest round of aero bike helmets we’ve tested as it was for some of the earlier ones.
Word to the wise: bring your sunglasses with you if you test these helmets in the store and wear them at home if you order them online and before you go out on a ride.
When I’m not wearing my sunglasses, I want a safe place to put them. I like to be able to flip them over and run the arms into a couple of vents of my helmet and have them rest flush and securely against the front. This gives me quick access to them when I’m out on a ride, and it goes back and forth from dark to dawn, bright to cloudy or dusk, and rain to shine.
Also, being able to store them in the vents of my helmet between rides gives me one less thing to remember or find when I’m looking to get out the door.
Your helmet’s weight is just another one of those things that you probably never thought about until you read a helmet review. Considering how little weight difference there is between most of these helmets, I think weight makes no difference in the overall scheme of things.
But since there are some weight weenies out there amongst the aero geeks and because the helmet companies list it, I’ve measured it too.
If you really like one helmet over another but can’t pull the trigger because it weighs 25-50 grams more (less than an ounce or two), even though the fit and other criteria may be the same or better than a lighter one, I can’t help you.
And no, I don’t think your head will tire more or less during a ride with any of these aero helmets.
Most of these helmets are made with what’s called “in-mold” mold technology, where the outer shell and EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) foam liner that makes up the core of the helmet are molded and bonded together rather than having to be glued or taped after being molded separately.
This technology improves the amount of impact a helmet can absorb and provides more design options, for example, to make the helmet more aero or decide where to put vents without affecting the helmet’s structural integrity. You can read more about these two design considerations here.
The plastic MIPS basket liner sits inside the EPS liner and attaches separately at a few spots. Of course, the MIPS liner is designed to stay with your head and move separately from the EPS to reduce the twisting effect on impact.
QUALITY – FIT & FINISH AND MATERIALS
You get a pretty good feel for the fit & finish of a helmet when you put it on and ride it even a few times. How good is the paint job, how well attached are the pads, the application of logos and stickers, etc. Does it look and feel like it’s well made, or does it feel like you are wearing something cheap?
A similar question applies to the materials like the straps and clasps, the circumference adjuster, and the pads that line the helmets. These contribute to the comfort and fit performance criteria but also give you a sense of whether you are getting something that is a quality product or not.
All of these aero bike helmets are pretty good in this regard – they should be for the price you pay for them. But some are exceptional, and a couple disappointed me. I’ve noted the exceptions in my individual reviews.
COST – PURCHASE PRICE, WARRANTY
As I mentioned at the top of this review, good aero road helmets sell in the same range as ones optimized for ventilation and cooling. You can buy less expensive helmets that aren’t aero or don’t cool as well, but trying to save a hundred or so dollars, pounds or euros when it comes to your speed and comfort on a bike only seems appropriate if you don’t want to ride fast and go for short rides.
Most bike companies warranty their helmets for one year against manufacturing defects. If you crash the helmet, some will give you a discount to replace it.
Taking care of your helmet (i.e., not dropping it on a hard surface) should last you a long time. The helmet company MET ran safety tests on some of their models, showing they still passed eight years after being made. Snell Foundation recommends replacing your helmet every five years due to the degradation of the materials used in the helmet caused by interacting with the environment and your own naturally oily head. (See here.)
Most helmet companies suggest you replace them every three years, but that seems that’s a bit early based on the MET tests and Snell recommendation. Paint finishes, glues, resins, and straps may degrade or wear. Certainly, the EPS and plastic shell don’t degrade that fast.
In reality, you’ll likely wear or drop or otherwise damage the helmet before it degrades, in which case you should definitely replace it. Even more likely is that you’ll get tired of it or want a new one before you damage it.
More likely than anything (let’s hope), your helmet will get dirty, and the straps will get stiff from sweating into them. That shouldn’t prompt you to buy a new one. In his always entertaining fashion, here’s Simon Richardson from GCN to tell you how to keep your helmet and straps clean. Simple. Cheap.
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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve