THE BEST AERO HELMET FOR ROAD CYCLISTS
Summary: An aero road helmet will help you ride faster and, if you pick one shaped for you, will be just as comfortable and look more like a standard road helmet than a track lid.
For oval-shaped heads, I recommend the POC Ventral SPIN (available here and here from some of my top-ranked stores with the best prices for this helmet) and Scott Cadence PLUS (here, here). For round ones, the MET Manta (here) is your best option. If your head shape is somewhere in between, I recommend the Kask Utopia (here, here, here).
Before the aero helmet was created for road cyclists, helmets were mostly about saving your head. 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 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. The so-called aero road helmet, aero bike helmet or aero cycling helmet can save you nearly as much time for a lot less money than an aero wheelset or an aero frame, and for not much more than a good, regular road helmet that isn’t designed to improve aero performance.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the funny-looking, over-sized, no vent, pointy, full-on aero helmets that track cyclists and time trialists wear. I’m talking about a helmet made to provide better aerodynamic performance for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me, most that look and work pretty much like regular road helmets do, but are designed with improved aerodynamics to help you go nearly as fast as a pure aero helmet.
What’s the difference between an aero road helmet and a standard road helmet? First, you can spend up to USD$100/£75/€100/AU$150 more than the top road enthusiast-level helmet made by the same company. Most, however, are only about half that much more.
For that added amount, you can cut 30 to 60 seconds off your time over a 25mile/40km course and minutes off a century, Gran Fondo or sportive length ride. Alternatively, if you go the same speed, you will need 10 to 15 fewer watts of effort, or about 5% less work to maintain it.
In my testing, I’ve found that the best of these aero road helmets will fit and cool as well as a standard road helmet. Independent tests show the aero helmet and standard helmet for road cyclists are both safe. While some aero bike helmets can be bigger and rounder, most don’t stand out to so much that you need to explain yourself to your fellow riders.
When my old helmet was getting tired (or perhaps when I was getting tired of my old helmet), I did my first comparative review of aero helmets in the summer of 2015 after the first group of these had become available. Many of the helmets I reviewed then have been updated or replaced with second-generation models and several companies that didn’t sell an aero helmet for roadies then do now.
I got a hold of 7 of the latest aero bike helmet models and wore and compared them to each other and to 3 of the better models that I reviewed before that remain unchanged. I also compared all 10 to my standard road helmet which is still actively sold.
After wearing them on days where the temps were enjoyable and ones where they were hot and humid, on fast flat rides and slower climbing ones and quite a bit in between, I put together this review to share with you what I found.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AERO ROAD HELMETS
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 shaving your legs or buying tires with lower rolling resistance, an aero road helmet is one of the least costly pieces of gear 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 for you to be comfortable regardless of your size. Some are more oval than round while others are more round than oval. I’ve developed a simple approach you can read about further down in this review or by clicking here to help you identify the helmets that will likely be most comfortable for you.
Among the aero helmets for more oval-shaped heads, I recommend the POC Ventral SPIN and Scott Cadence PLUS (click any of the helmet names to go directly to my review of them). Both fit well and have superior comfort, cooling, and low noise ratings compared to the others and are a little more or less expensive, depending on where you live. They each have a unique look, which is true of most aero road helmets for this head shape.
If your head shape is toward the middle of the oval – round shape range, I recommend the Kask Utopia. It is one of the most versatile fitting helmets and cools extremely well compared to other aero road and standard road helmets. The Utopia certainly feels and likely is one of the most aero road helmets I’ve ridden but doesn’t look too much different than a standard helmet.
For those of you with more round-shaped heads, I suggest you consider the Rudy Project Boost 01 or MET Manta. I don’t recommend them as fully as I do the ones above and they each offer some real benefits and their drawbacks may or may not matter to you.
Market prices for these helmets range from approximately USD$150/£140/€160 to USD$400/£200/€250 but most can be had well inside the middle of that range. You can see a table that summarizes the costs and ratings for each of the aero helmets followed by my reviews here.
Before you make your decision, I strongly urge you to read the section What Matters Most that explains how to help you make a better-informed choice between aero helmets. Or, you can read all of what I’ve prepared for, my fellow cycling enthusiast, by working your way through this review section by section.
AERO HELMET CANDIDATES
You can see the 10 aero road helmets I evaluated for this review just below in alphabetical order. My standard road helmet is shown at the bottom.
Standard helmet for comparison:
I didn’t evaluate any of the aero road helmets with sliding vent covers or that have clip-on tops to cover the vents. These helmets don’t seem very practical to me or for most road cycling enthusiasts and suggest a limited amount of engineering effort (and perhaps results) to come up with the best solution.
I’ve also got to believe these helmets would be pretty uncomfortable on a warm summer day in aero mode with the vents covered. I can just picture me wearing one of these and saying “Do I want to be more aero or do I want my head to be cooler? Why can’t I wear one helmet that gives me both!” Anyway, there are fewer of these being sold now than there were a few years ago.
WHAT MATTERS MOST IN CHOOSING AN AERO HELMET
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.
For aero road helmets, these are the criteria my evaluations and research suggest matter most.
PERFORMANCE – SAFETY, FIT, COMFORT, AERODYNAMICS, COOLING, AND NOISE
All bike helmets should have a safety compliance sticker showing they meet 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 stores generally 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 did test the performance of several MIPS system 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.
More recently, the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, whose experience includes testing football and hockey helmets, conducted testing on bicycle helmets funded by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Virginia Tech’s testing protocol differed from that of the CPSC and CR tests. Virginia Tech attempted to simulate helmets hitting the ground at speeds, angles and in places more typical of real-world bike accidents, based on their research. Their focus was to estimate how effectively a helmet reduces the risk of concussion rather than skull fracture.
Virginia Tech’s tests of 30 helmets showed 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 are free to stop reading this post now and 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 only tested two aero road helmets, the Bontrager Ballista with MIPS and the Specialized S-Works Evade II that doesn’t use MIPS, both helmets scored at the level they recommend and at which they suggest that cost, fit and comfort should play the decisive role in choosing between them.
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 which has 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 to be “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.
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 sources of funding may have a point of view going in. The former applies to the Virginia Tech test and the latter to the Snell tests. There are potential conflicts of interest all around. Bell and Giro were early MIPS proponents and then Bell bought the MIPS organization. Specialized doesn’t use MIPS (but does use a design in their Evade II that allows the head to rotate separately from the helmet outer shell) and Snell certifies their helmets. Smith and POC each have their own branded systems to reduce concussion injuries. Etc.,
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 of the other approaches to the issue of concussion safety matters or not.
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 a MIPS helmet or another with concussion prevention technology while others will say you are wasting your money doing so.
For the purposes of this review, I don’t rate MIPS helmets higher on safety than ones that don’t use MIPS. 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 do seem to be riding in safer brain buckets than our skateboarding, BMX, 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 and protection systems and arguments about which are better at protecting you from a concussion or worse aren’t going to help you much.
As an enthusiast, you probably have a good sense of what to do 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 a helmet 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 make sure 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 that surrounds 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 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 that you can 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.
When it’s the right combination of a firm strap with a simple clasp that you can position easily and stays there, it’s a real winner.
If this all sounds like design and features rather than a performance consideration, I used to think so too but now see these fit adjustment as critical to the helmet’s safety performance. Aero testing also shows that when straps and clasps are flush to your face, the drag is reduced compared to those that are angled or loose.
The comparative table and individual helmet reviews below give you my detailed take on the overall fit and what you can adjust for each of the helmets.
When I did my first helmet review, I wore a few helmets that I could easily adjust for a safe fit, 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 then they didn’t fit well (ie. 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.
I also heard from some of you after my earlier review who said the helmets I found comfortable weren’t when you tried them on and ones you found comfortable were the same ones I wrote were uncomfortable for me.
Hmm… I had a hunch about what was going and have followed up on it for this review.
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.
I did, however, find the illustration you see below from Chris Kraus at the retailer Revzilla who did a great job of explaining what’s going on for his biker gear customers in his Motorcycle Helmets 101 article.
You can pretty much figure 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.)
If it’s not clear from your self or friend examination, you are probably somewhere in the middle. Make sure you are looking 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? After reflecting on this during a long ride, I came up with a way to see if you could pick an aero helmet or at least one of those I’ve reviewed here, that is more likely to be comfortable given what you think is your head shape before you buy the helmet rather than learn whether it is or not after you’ve worn it around the house or shop (or on your bike) for a half-hour.
Measuring the length and width of the space that your head can fit into (not the overall length and width dimensions of the helmet itself), I came up with a Length to Width ratio or LtW for each helmet. Kind of like a Stack to Reach or StR ratio for those of you familiar with the modern way to get the right bike fit.
While I was quite careful to measure only the actual distances where your head could go, I rounded my measurements to the nearest 5mm. I don’t have the equipment to be more precise than that and, given the length and width of these helmets, it takes at least 5mm of difference to move you from one spot to another using decimal places on the LtW continuum. (That will hopefully become clearer in a minute.)
After measuring up 9 helmets, the LtW ratios that came out represented a scale from the most oval (1.29) to the most round (1.22). I then compared the LtW ratios with the prior notes I had made on helmet comfort and pressure points during my testing and, sure enough, the helmets that I had previously noted as comfortable were on the middle to oval end of the range and those that were uncomfortable were on the round end.
To be sure, this is a small sample and only includes the Large size helmets I evaluated for this review. While I assume they do, I don’t know for sure whether helmet makers proportionately vary their interior shape dimensions by helmet size or not.
I’d want to see a sampling of a larger number of helmets in a range of sizes with people of different head shapes. I’d also want a more accurate and standardized measuring and testing protocol than I applied and include measurements of other distances (e.g. 1:00 and 7:00, 2:00 and 8:00) in addition to the length (12:00 to 6:00) and width (3:00 to 9:00) to get a fuller view of helmet shape.
It would also be good to come up with a simple strap that would measure your head shape in addition to its circumference.
For now, I offer you this is as a rough start and but found it was quite predictive in my small sample. I’d hope there is a creative, entrepreneurial cycling enthusiast out there that could pick this up and run with it.
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. For example, Specialized says its Evade is faster than Giro’s Synthe and Giro says the opposite. Louis Garneau says its Course is faster than both of them. Etc. 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.
In 2015, Bike Radar published comparative wind tunnel tests they commissioned of aero road helmets (now only available here on sister publication CyclingNews). While the magazine often does great work, this wasn’t one of their finer moments. Unfortunately, their tests were too limited to be anything but misleading, likely due to the short amount of time they could afford to pay (or were given free) for wind tunnel testing.
This is not my view – it is my unvarnished reading of the comments published at the end of the Bike Radar article (but not at the end of the CyclingNews version that outlives it) by the founder and technology director of the (now defunct) Faster wind tunnel that carried out the tests for Bike Radar, a second set of points made by the director of helmet development at Giro available here, and finally these comments by Lennard Zinn, the very well-regarded and longtime technical editor of VeloNews who responded to a question about the tests in his column.
Tour Magazine (available only by subscription), an independent cycling gear testing magazine with a laboratory and highly analytical approach, tested a baker’s dozen worth of helmets for their May 2014 issue including standard road, aero road, and TT helmets. While most of the aero road helmets in my evaluation have been introduced since Tour did its testing, their analysis showed that aero road helmets had significantly superior aero performance to standard road helmets and nearly as good as TT ones. I expect the newer aero helmets are further advanced than the standard road helmet compared to the generation of those tested by Tour.
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 in part based on Tour’s testing and numerous company tests like these here (something I am loath to endorse), 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.
More importantly, numerous independently conducted tests (here, here, here, here, here) have been done over the years and show in a comprehensive, scientifically credentialed way (i.e, lots of equations) the quantitative aero benefits of TT helmets.
From reading through all of these various tests, I’ve concluded that aero road helmets are more aero/faster than standard road helmets that most cycling enthusiasts wear by about 10-15 watts or 30-60 seconds over a 25mile/40km distance.
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 road 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. (Hopefully not folly.) I’ll describe this testing in a moment. What I did notice is that I was able to 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. I reached these same two conclusions with the 7 aero helmets I tested for my first review in 2015 and now with 7 new ones for this review.
It became clear to me that some of the helmets felt more aero than others based on the way the air seemed to flow and the sound going around and through my helmet. While this comparison of “aero-feel” is totally subjective, as with many things cycling related, how you feel on your bike can affect how you perform. 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 heats up pretty quickly and can overheat if not well ventilated. And that’s true when I’m cycling too! (Ba-doom)
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 rode the Giro helmet on this loop twice, first with its visor and the second time without. (What I do for you guys!)
I had 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.
Two new helmets arrived after this face-off but I’ve ridden them on other equally hot days since. Two more are carryovers from my earlier review, as was, sadly, the car I transported them in. You can tell which budget gets priority in my world.
The bake-off loop I rode starts out with a three-quarter mile long flat section with farmland on either side so often some wind whipping around followed by some moderate 2-4% rollers for about 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 allowed me to make a good comparative evaluation about 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 helmet as an everyday lid and a lot of your days are hot and humid ones.
My helmet-specific observations are in the chart and helmet reviews further down.
Finally, I attempted to judge the relative noise coming from each aero 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 have a discussion on 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 or oval-round head (I’m just to the left of oval/round center in the LtW ratio chart), 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 than what others wear. 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.
Further down in this post, you can look at (or look away from) a ton of photos of me with these different helmets on from different angles to see what they look like on your average enthusiast rather than on a company supplied model wearing one taken from the best angle. If I had a square jaw or my wife’s beautiful smile, these photos would look a whole lot better. With me as the model, you are forced to look mostly at the helmet. I guess that’s a benefit.
I also ordered the most basic color helmets I could find, usually black or white, to get as close a comparison of the different designs as possible. As you will see in the helmet comparison chart, some are available in a multitude of colors while others offer just a few choices.
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 but they can’t figure out why. I did get that on a couple of group rides when I wore some of these lids.
Fortunately, I also have a young daughter and older son who are both very fashion conscious, albeit about different things. They are quite blunt and specific, in a loving sort of way, and gave me some good feedback to add to that of my riding partners.
While most of these helmets are distinctive looking compared to the standard road helmet, the Kask Utopia, Louis Garneau Course, Met Manta, Oakley ARO5, and Rudy Project Boost 01 without the visor on going left to right in the array above look to me more like standard road helmets than anything approaching aero time trial ones.
The Scott Cadence Plus, Specialized S-Works Evade II, and Bontrager Ballista, left to right above, have elongated tails while the POC Ventral SPIN and Giro Vanquish, sans visor below are more bulbous than the typical road helmet.
With the visors in place to give you the most aero performance, the Giro Vanquish and Rudy Project Boost 01 make you look like you are on a mission and better have the legs to back it up.
The week after I wore one of the Vanquish on a group ride, a “friend” asked why I had left my space helmet at home. He kicks my butt regardless of the helmet I’m wearing so gets to make fun of me and my helmet testing.
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 example of two helmets that have very similar front vent designs to my naked eyes but were polar opposites in cooling performance.
The Bontrager Ballista is cool on the hottest days while the Oakley ARO5, even with its added vents on the side was hot (and loud) with little airflow to the back on a hot summer day.
As I wrote above, I focused on how cool these helmets felt to me under different scenarios, a performance rather than 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 you are wearing them during a ride and, for some, when you 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 the wrap-around type that I do, 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 was a problem for me with the Bontrager Ballista which wasn’t comfortable for my head anyway. I didn’t catch this when I tried it out in the store as I didn’t think to try it on with my sunglasses. (How vain!)
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 do like a 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 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.
This isn’t a biggie for me as I almost always wear my sunglasses when I’m wearing my helmet. I find that hanging my sunglasses by one arm off the back of my jersey collar is the safest place to put them anyway, as long as you remember that you put them there when you are looking for them again. They are probably more aero there than in the front vents of your helmet and won’t restrict the cooling either.
Your helmet’s weight is just another one of those things which you probably never thought about until you read a helmet review and which I think 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.
I have a big melon so all the helmet weight I measured are for large size aero bike helmets. They range from 289 grams for the Bontrager Ballista (pre-MIPS) and 300 grams for the Kask Utopia to 372 grams for the Scott Cadence Plus. The rest are all in the 318-359 gram range.
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 from a lighter one, I can’t help you. Actually, may I suggest you go with the slightly heavier one that you prefer for all but the extra weight and just spray a little water out of your bottle or take an extra piss before you set out on each ride to equal everything out. No, I don’t think your head will tire any 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 that’s 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 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. Details in the reviews later on.
COST – PURCHASE PRICE, WARRANTY
As I mentioned earlier, these aero road helmets go for market prices of USD$180/£100/€115 to USD$400/£200/€250 but most can be had at market prices in the middle of that range. That’s typically about USD$50/£35/€50 more than a top-of-the-line standard road helmet that enthusiasts would wear from the same companies
Most bike companies warranty their helmets for 1 year against manufacturing defects. If you crash the helmet, some will give you a discount to replace it.
If you take care of your helmet (i.e., not dropping it on a hard surface) it should last you a good long time. The helmet company MET ran a battery of safety tests on some of their models that showed they still passed 8 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 it seems that’s a bit early based on the MET tests and Snell recommendation. Paint finishes, glues, resins, straps may degrade or wear. Certainly, the EPS and plastic shell don’t degrade that fast.
In reality, it’s likely you’ll wear or drop or otherwise damage the helmet before it degrades, in which case you should definitely replace your helmet. Even more likely is that you’ll get tired of it or want a new one before your damage it.
More likely than anything (let’s hope), your helmet will just get dirty and the straps will get stiff from you 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.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR AERO HELMET
As with any cycling product these days, an important question is whether to buy your helmet at an online or physical store. With helmets, it kind of depends on whether you live near a well-stocked store or not. If you do, you can try on helmets at your local shop. Helmet prices are only slightly better (10-15%) sold at online stores and in some cases, they were essentially the same or not sold online (e.g. Specialized and Bontrager).
That said, there are quite a few things working against buying a helmet at your local bike shop. Most carry only selected brands and within those, selected colors and sizes. Further, you’ll usually find even fewer of the higher-priced, higher-performing and slower selling models, like aero helmets, in stock at stores. And when you do find and try one on, wearing it for a minute or so in the store with the salesman telling you how good you look while walking around looking for and then into a small mirror on a sunglasses rack is not the best way to choose a new helmet.
Size is seldom an issue. Helmet sizes are based only on head circumference and most use the same circumference range for each size. If you are a Large in one, you are almost always going to be a Large in all the others. Finding a helmet in your size that suits your head shape is really the key to getting one that fits you.
As I wrote above, I find you need to spend at least 30 minutes in a helmet before you can tell if it is both a safe and comfortable fit. Regardless of where you buy your aero road helmet, you should wear it around at home (and with your sunglasses on) for at least this long to make sure it fits safely (adjusting the straps) and is comfortable (helmet shape matching your head shape) before you take the tags off and start riding with it.
For this review, I looked and called around to several of the dozen local bike shops in the metro area where I live for all of the helmets I wanted to review but only found and bought a couple. I ordered 6 from online stores and two directly from the manufacturers.
I found the online experience far superior. I looked up the helmets in the size and color I wanted at the stores I know from my rankings have the best prices and customer satisfaction without getting out of my chair, entered in my card information and got them delivered to my door in a couple of days.
I wore each of them around the house for a while adjusting the fit and sensing for pressure points before ever going out on my bike, got some feedback on how they looked from the people in my life who offer the most honest opinions (my oh-so-hip kids), and spent as much time admiring or hating each helmet on me as I wanted. The online stores I ordered from were ready to give me a return label if I wanted to send one or more of the helmets back for any reason within 30 days.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND REVIEWS
Let me start off by quickly reviewing and showing you my standard road helmet against which I compared the aero road helmets recommended and reviewed below.
I bought my last standard helmet when I decided I needed a new helmet. I’d grown kind of tired of the helmet I’d been wearing. It was a bit scratched up and getting a bit grungy. None of these were good reasons to buy a new helmet, but that’s often why people buy new helmets or new anythings. So I went to my favorite LBS and asked Andy for something reasonably priced and high quality hoping he’d also show me something that was sharp-looking.
I walked out with the Lazer Genesis, at the time one of the better helmets, or so I was told. It fit me pretty well, the colors went with the red and black theme of my bike and several pieces of kit I wore at the time, and it had a blinky built into the circumference strap dial that was on the top of the helmet. That last bit really won me over. I wore it around the shop for probably about a minute, looked into a mirror, felt a little self-conscious and wanted to be decisive. So I forked over my $150 at the time and off I went.
I know, not a great way to buy a helmet. On the other hand, there was no In The Know Cycling back then.
The Genesis fit well, kept me cool, and looked fast. I had nothing to closely compare it to until I started working on my first review of aero bike helmets.
Here’s the photo array of this standard road helmet I used to wear and love.
After trying out all the aero helmets, I realized that my Lazer didn’t fit nearly as well as some of the others, the pads and straps weren’t very comfortable in comparison, and it wasn’t much quieter or cooler than the some of the better aero road helmets.
At 347 grams, it was also heavier than all but 3 of the aero helmets I’ve tested for this and my prior review of the category. It was definitely slower, or at least I’m slower with it on than any of the aero road helmets. And it got the lowest safety rating (2 out of 5*) of the 30 helmets of all types in the recent Virginia Tech helmet safety study.
Oh boy. Glad I’ve moved on from my sharp-looking Lazer Genesis with the built-in rear blinky that I probably used a dozen times before the odd-sized button cell batteries died and I never bothered to replace.
Now onto my aero road helmet reviews starting with a comparative table of results against many of the “what matters most” criteria mentioned above.
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Kask Utopia – The Whoosh of a top-performing aero road helmet
Market price USD$200, £160, €180
Fits oval-round head shapes but adjustable to more aero or rounder shapes; 1.27 LtW ratio.
Available online at the best prices by clicking through these links to stores I recommended because of their high customer satisfaction ratings – Merlin, Competitive Cyclist, or at other stores I recommend through Know’s Shop.
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 aerodynamics of the helmet or that 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. As your ride along, it’s almost like there is a Venturi effect happening atop your head. 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 openings 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.
All of this is quite different than the Protone or Infiniti, Kask’s other, more rounded looking aero road helmets. The Protone, a helmet I’ve also worn and really enjoyed for its comfort and similar fit, has more and larger openings. The Infiniti is the same shape as the Protone but has a built-in cover you can slide down over the holes when it’s time to get aero.
The Utopia’s mold shape and internal bracing make it more versatile than either of the other two Kask helmets and most of 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 the cushioning.
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 to where I was fine doing 3-4 hour rides on hot summer days without thinking about the helmet comfort at all.
This Kask is marginally or significantly lighter than nearly all the other aero road helmets I’ve tried and the airflow I wrote about above is also superior to most. That likely works to offset the orientation and reduced amounts of padding to creates the overall level of comfort.
Like the Protone, the Utopia has a leather chin strap with the buckle on the side that is both comfortable and easy to set up. Over time and a lot of sweat, I’ve found this leather to be durable and easy to keep clean, that latter of which I can’t say for traditional fabric straps.
The fit and finishes on this helmet are also well done. My sunglasses fit and docked easily though much higher up than on most helmets.
It comes in black, white, black/white combinations, the fluoro yellow highlighted black I tested, a bright orange, and the pro team Ineos colors. I’d expect Kask will introduce it in more colors over time as they’ve done with many of their other helmets.
Overall, I rate the Kask Utopia at the top of the current aero bike helmet performance hill. The fit flexibility, airflow, near-standard road helmet shape, apparent aero performance, and whoosh sensation I get with it on make it the one I want to wear.
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POC Ventral SPIN – If you like the look, one of the coolest, quietest and most comfortable helmets you can wear
Market price USD$275, £240, €275
Fits oval head shapes; 1.29 LtW ratio
I hate to start a review that you should consider buying mostly for its performance by talking about how a product looks. But with a POC helmet, you’ve got to start there. POC helmets have such a distinctive look that it draws people in or sends them away. After all, you wear a helmet above your face which is likely the first thing your fellow enthusiasts focus on when you meet up for a ride after of course checking out your bike.
So, right up front, here’s the photo array of how the POC Ventral SPIN looks. I’m wearing the black matt, probably the most muted of the color options. It also comes in grey, white, and blue matt and in glossy black, grey, white, and orange.
If you are drawn in by the looks of the POC Ventral SPIN aero 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 SPIN is one of the most comfortable, coolest, and quietest helmets – standard or aero – I’ve ever worn. If you have an oval head shape and are comfortable with the look, it’s one of the aero helmets I recommend.
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. These pads are the essence of POC’s SPIN technology which is intended to let your head rotate separately than the EPS liner on impact, similar to the goal of the MIPS liners.
In the straight-on photos above, you can literally see through the top of two of the 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 SPIN is definitely cool, in a temperature kind of way.
I don’t know how they accomplish making it so quiet, perhaps by having more of the air go through the helmet and less of it go around the sides and across your ears as is likely the case in helmets with less venting. Whatever the theory or engineering, it is noticeably quieter than other helmets I’ve worn.
With all of its large vents, I wonder about this helmet’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 and that improves its aero performance based on their testing.
Scott Cadence PLUS – Excellent performance amidst a contrary design
Market price USD$230, £170, €200.
Fits oval head shapes; 1.28LtW ratio
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 a lot of ways to experience this aero 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 put my priority on 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 POC, MET and Bontrager helmets on this performance measure. It feels light, almost as if you hardly have a helmet on. Yet, it is the heaviest helmet of the those I tested for this review, albeit a mere 83 grams or about 3 ounces heavier than the lightest Bontrager Ballista non-MIPS version. Feels light but measures heavy.
The Scott is also one of the two quietest aero bike helmets I tested, yet it has a very round shape and tail like the Specialized Evade II and Bontrager 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 oval than round-shaped head comfort nearly as good as any in this test, even with its MIPS head cradle which typically limits the places you can put pads.
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 quietly cool your head and looks ok by 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 me thinks, less attractive EPS foam in view.
Scott also displays their brand name more prominently on the helmet than most in an era when stealth labeling seems to be the norm and the Scott brand isn’t as strong an asset as are those of others in this field of aero helmets. In addition to the black on white helmet I tested, the Cadence PLUS comes in a more muted black on grey, a red highlighted black on grey, and a fluoro yellow on grey.
My truth? The Scott Cadence PLUS is one of the best performing aero helmets for roadies with oval-shaped heads and one I recommend despite a design that would suggest otherwise.
Specialized S-Works Evade II – A new design that cools well and is comfortable but lacks fit adjustments
Market price USD$275, £230, €250
Fits oval head shapes; 1.28 LtW ratio
As the name of this helmet makes clear, this is the second model of the Evade from Specialized. I liked and recommended the first one. It was comfortable, fit well and sure seemed fast. It wasn’t as cool as the Kask Utopia and others I had tried at the time but was cool enough in all but hot and humid summer temperatures.
Along with the Bontrager Ballista, the first Evade was one of two aero helmets for roadies that looked more like an aero TT helmet than a standard road helmet. I preferred the look of the Ballista, which has been updated to add MIPS, a Boa brand dial, and some new colorways but is otherwise unchanged. The Scott Cadence Plus is the third aero road helmet that also fits in the same category with the Ballista and Evade as more TT than standard looking.
The Evade II vent design has also changed in a way that makes it both cooler and quieter than the Evade I but not quite as good on those criteria as my top-rated POC and Scott among the aero helmets for head shapes that are more oval than round.
As with the Evade I, I found the Evade II very comfortable. Unlike every other helmet, however, it creates comfort with an absolute minimum of pads. The forehead pad doesn’t rest on the EPS liner and the two that do are relatively short and thin.
Look Mom (almost) no pads! Your head is essentially supported by the independent forehead strap in the front and the plastic cradle in the back rather than resting against pads pressing up against the EPS liner. This would seem to give your head enough separation from the EPS to have a slightly delayed rotation in a fall in the same way the MIPS liners are designed to do.
Indeed, the Evade II scored as well as the MIPS helmets in the Virginia Tech helmet testing geared to determine how helmets would do on impact similar in force and direction to that which would normally cause a concussion from a cycling accident.
The only issues I had with the Evade II was its lack of fit adjustment and its quality. While you can adjust the height of the circumference strap to essentially allow more or less room in the helmet for the volume of your head, you can’t adjust the down straps in or out at the back of the helmet or to bring the spot where they come together near your ears either further front or back or up or down.
This was the case with the Evade I as well. As luck would have it, and as the photo shows above the Evade I straps met in just the right spot under my ears. Unfortunately, with the Evade II, the straps met too far forward and too low and I had no way to adjust it.
This fit issue may be something unique to my head but having a little bit of strap adjustability seems as though it would allow more people to fit within this helmet.
I also found the quality of the helmet lacking in a couple of ways. The forehead portion of the circumference strap was off-center from the beginning. Other Evade II helmets I checked in the store had off-center straps, though in different places. It didn’t seem to matter once I put the helmet on since the strap was flexible and wrapped my head evenly and comfortably, but it seemed odd that the helmet would come this way.
Different from any other helmet I’ve ever seen, the chin buckle attaches magnetically. This seems like a benefit when you click in but I found it to be a real hassle when you try to click out. I guess I could figure out how to unbuckle it without thinking about it if I rode it every day (hopefully I’m not too old a dog to learn new tricks), but I didn’t find it natural and really had to play with it far too long to get free of it when I wore it now and again during my evaluation rotation. You’ll also need to trim the chin strap which was probably a couple of inches too long after I synched it up.
My other concern was the outside shell finish. The glossy black helmet seemed to quickly show smudges and small scratches. I do store my helmets upside down between rides so I can leave my gloves, phone and money baggies, and other things I bring on each ride inside the helmet. If you buy the Evade II, I would suggest you store it right side up to avoid this.
Giro Vanquish – A good visor and adequate comfort but insufficient cooling
Market price USD$300, £190, €260
Fits oval head shapes; 1.28 LtW ratio
The Giro Vanquish initially stands out for the visor that comes with it and gives this aero helmet the range to go from standard aero road helmet to maxed out aero helmet for triathletes. I’m not a triathlete and never rode with a visor before so the visor wasn’t initially much of a consideration for me.
After riding with the visor, however, my perspective expanded, pun intended. First, the visor changed the riding experience. With the visor on, I felt more focused with some of the extraneous noise and environmental sensations shut out yet with a better peripheral vision of what was going on around me.
The Vanquish’s visor was also quite good, certainly a better quality lens than those in my sunnies. It attached to the helmet simply using built-in magnets that easily and sturdily attached to the helmet. If you decided to take it off during a ride, you could also flip the visor upside down and use those same built-in magnets to attach to the helmet.
The sensation of not having glasses on my nose or that I have to adjust from time to time was liberating and gave me one less thing to worry about. And the economics of a visor also made some sense. You don’t have to buy an extra pair of cycling sunglasses and, if I were a triathlete, I might not have to buy a full-on aero helmet to add to a standard road helmet.
So I was intrigued by the design, quality, and economic benefits that a visored Vanquish offered. It also feels well made with both the outer shell and the MIPS liner integrated nicely with the EPS helmet core.
Unfortunately, the helmet’s riding performance disappointed me. Regardless of the temperature, the helmet didn’t cool my head well with the visor on, with it flipped upside down (covering the vents), and even when I left it at home and used just my cycling sunglasses. The air flowed into the helmet through the front vents just fine but it never cooled the top of my head. It was like having a ceiling fan with no place for the circulating hot air to get out.
The fit – straps flat, clip positioned correctly, front of the helmet no more than an inch above my eyebrows – was good and easy to adjust. The comfort was ok but not as comfortable as my top-rated ones. It could also have used a bit less styrene or more padding on the front center EPS rib, the latter which isn’t possible with the MIPS liner covering that part of the EPS. Its noise level was also middle-of-the-pack.
All in all, a mixed bag. While it is better made and has far more features than the Synthe, Giro’s first aero road helmet, the poor cooling is a problem with both helmets and a knock-out punch despite some other good features and performance.
Louis Garneau Course – Standard looking aero helmet with a free-floating back strap that isn’t comfortable
Market price USD$180, £140, €165
The Louis Garneau Course is a helmet whose best and worst attribute is its fit. I liked the fit of the front and sides of this helmet but I couldn’t get the back to fit me well. While I tested and returned this helmet before coming up with and measuring its length to width ratio, it fit the front and side of my more oval than round head shape well enough to suggest it would likely measure out to be a slightly more oval-shaped helmet in line with the Kask and Bontrager.
The issue I had with the free-floating back strap, may not be an issue for you. Even so, I don’t believe it’s on the same level as the helmets I’ve recommended. All explain why below.
With the Course, the circumference dial and the head cradle aren’t connected to the back of the helmet with a height adjustment mechanism or with the down straps running through the cradle.
There is a way to alter the strap angle to adjust the height. But, this is done where the strap attaches to the helmet at your temples using one of several slots and then securing it with Velcro. I didn’t find this mechanism very effective at holding the height you wanted. Rather, the strap essentially floats free until it slides into a position when you dial in the circumference strap.
During my testing, this allowed the dial and top edge of the cradle to find its way and dig into, rather than sit on top of the muscles just below where the back of my head curves in to meet the top of my neck.
My solution was to loosen the dial to ease the pressure. Although it made the helmet much more comfortable when I did so, the helmet moved more than I would like when I shook my head. It wasn’t a safe fit.
The helmet cools well and is about the same as many of the others when it comes to the amount of noise you’ll hear when underway. The side straps connect under your ear using clasps; they work fine but you’ll have to trim the ends of the straps or tuck in the extra length of material.
Fit and finish was underwhelming. You see a lot of the dull finish EPS liner material exposed along the front and side seams between the shiny top shell and EPS foam.
The Course is generally a good-looking helmet to my eyes. Its shape is more like a standard road helmet than an aero one. If you buy this helmet, I’d suggest you go with the white or red version. The material that braces its top ribs on the black model I wore are painted bright white and will probably need some regular work to keep clean. The braces on the other helmets are black.
Bontrager Ballista – Low price, great cooling but a fit that may not work and quality below most of the rest
Market price USD$210, £150, €200
Fits oval-round head shapes; 1.26 LtW ratio
The Bontrager Ballista is a first-generation aero road helmet that updated recently to include a MIPS liner, BOA dial, and some new colors. The rest of the helmet – shape, vents, pads, straps, cradle, etc. – is unchanged.
The good news is that wearing the original Ballista (which this review is based on) on a ride makes it feels like it’s sitting high above your head. The air coming through the vents pushed my hair around a good bit and cooled my head really well. It’s a nice sensation. You feel like you are riding fast.
The other good news is that the Ballista is a good deal less expensive than many of the other aero helmets in this review, about enough to pay for a new set of tires. That’s a good deal
It also has more classic lines than the other non-standard looking ones in this review.
On the flip side, the helmet’s front lid, rear head cradle, and circumference dial actually sit lower than most of the helmets I tested. The rear fit was the issue that caused me to pause on this helmet. Like the Garneau Course, the cradle and dial straps came in contact the muscles in my neck which reach into the bottom back of my skull.
I had to unhitch the rear straps and jockey the height tab up a bit to change where it sat on my head but I couldn’t find a comfortable position. The circumference strap also conflicted with the back of my sunglasses arms.
It’s about as noisy as most of the other helmets I wore and has rather basic straps that clasp together below the ears. The pads, down strap, strap connectors, and stickers they use on the helmet don’t feel or look like they are of the highest quality.
Like the Specialized Evade helmet, the front circumference pad is free from the EPS liner and doesn’t align well with its shape. The lower edge of the Ballista’s strap will also sit slightly lower than the edge of the helmet creating a rather unfinished look.
You can’t dock sunglasses in this helmet’s as its front vents are pretty much in the center of the helmet and angle in. If you have large sunglasses you’ll also want to check that they don’t hit the front of the helmet as it comes down as low as any of those I tested.
While I can’t recommend this helmet because of the rather troublesome back fit design, its relatively low price, good cooling and clean look lead me to suggest that you might want to overlook some of its downsides and go into a Trek dealer store to wear it around for long enough to see if it works for you.
Rudy Project Boost 01 – A well built but expensive helmet with multiple aerodynamic enhancement options
Market price USD$290, €175
Available online here at Amazon.
Fits round head shapes; 1.22 LtW ratio
If you dear readers didn’t comment at the end of my posts and if I didn’t occasionally ride with an ophthalmologist, Rudy Project helmets and the Boost 01 would have never been on my radar.
A handful of readers told me they were converts of the Boost and that it was a Kona favorite. Kona is the location for the ultimate Ironman race and apparently, a lot of riders use it there. But readers said, it looked like a regular helmet so I should check it out.
My ophthalmologist friend Marty wears a Rudy Project, though not the Boost, and since he’s not a cycling gear geek like me, I always wondered how he came to wear a helmet I’d never heard of before readers commented about the Boost model.
I came to learn, though not from Marty – we never discuss anything as mundane as ophthalmology on rides when we can talk about our various cycling exploits – that Rudy Project also makes prescription eyewear and sunglasses for all sorts of active sports in addition to making helmets and they sell their products through optometrists and eyewear shops.
All of this is a long way to get around to talking about the Rudy Project Boost 01 and the biggest issue I had with the helmet. Along with the Giro Vanquish, it’s one of the two aero road helmets I reviewed that gives you an option of using a detachable visor instead of your sunglasses.
The theory goes that a helmet with an integrated visor should be more aerodynamic than one that uses regular sunglasses. You can also save yourself a couple of hundred clams by using a visor that comes with and is designed to work with the helmet than getting a pair of sunglasses you primarily use for cycling.
The Boost 01 suits riders with a more rounded head (LtW 1.22) while the Vanquish is best for a more oval headed rider (LtW 1.28). The Boost’s visor also looks more like a pair of well-fitted sunglasses while the Vanquish’s visor makes the whole thing look more like a space helmet.
At least they do for me. Decide for yourself.
But here’s the thing. The Boost 01’s visor was subpar. The glare was bad when I was riding into the sun and the images weren’t really sharp when I wasn’t. Looking through the visor was like wearing an inexpensive pair of sunglasses (no better than the ones I wear actually). And, as I probably bored you with above, this helmet and visor were coming from a company that also sells prescription eyewear and sunglasses for active sports use.
My friend Don, who has a more rounded than oval helmet didn’t have an issue with glare but did find that the visor touched his face and that sweat tended to collect on the bottom where they met. He had to prop up the visor to let the sweat drip out.
Got your own sunglasses you like? Don’t want to wear a visor? OK. Let’s move on then and talk about the helmet itself.
The Boost 01 is well made and feels solid. It’s one of the heaviest helmets I tested but doesn’t feel heavy on your head The pad that goes across your forehead and the ones that cushion the EPS structure closest to your head are larger and more cushiony than most.
The helmet is definitely for a round head shape and I’m more oval-round so it wasn’t really comfortable for me when I had the circumference dial turned for the best fit. But, when I eased off on it to test the cooling, noise and general feel, it seemed like the padding would provide added comfort.
Don said the helmet fit his round head “like a glove”. He found it more comfortable than his standard helmet – also the Lazer Genesis.
The straps and clasps, while not as sturdy as most, gave me a full range left/right, front/back, and up/down adjustment to get everything lined up right for a good safety fit per the CR guidelines. In both Don’s experience and my own, they tended to slip and need to be reset before each ride. That’s an unforced error on an expensive helmet.
In addition to the option to use the visor for better aero performance, the Boost comes with a partial and full screen that you can put into the front chevron vent to let in or deflect more wind. I rode it with no screen and the partial screen and still found the helmet cooled me as well as most of the others even on a hot 90F and muggy day.
If I were headed to Kona or doing a local TT, I’d put in the full screen but I don’t see many roadies doing that for most of our riding situations.
The noise level was also middle-of-the-pack. Not quiet but certainly not loud.
The helmet comes in a good range of colors: black and white and combinations of those, yellow fluoro and red fluoro stripes on white, matte and glossy, and even gold and titanium.
I rode with the titanium one you see in the photo array below.
The full retail price for the Boost 01 in the US is an out of this world $400, far more expensive than any other helmet I’ve reviewed. (My ophthalmologist friend Marty probably sells it for that.) You will see it advertised for 1/2 to 2/3rds that price from some online stores however I don’t recommend them either because there’s not enough or any customer satisfaction data on them from TrustPilot or Google Customer Reviews, the two independent services I use, to separate out the good stores from the unknown or truly woeful ones.
Bike24, an online store based in Germany that does rate well, carries the Boost at about half the converted US price but can only ship it to European and UK residents. If you live outside that region, you may want to look for it at your local optometrist shop… or maybe I need to talk business with my friend Marty.
At the right price and if you don’t plan to use the visor much, this is a helmet for rounder shaped heads I can recommend.
MET Manta – A good value and performer if it will fit your head shape
Market price £135, €150
Compare prices and order online from the best stores using this link to Know’s Shop. It is not sold in the US.
Fits round head shapes; 1.24 LtW ratio
The MET Manta aero road helmet is a bit of a sleeper among this group of helmets. Its profile is much like a standard road helmet, has modest padding and fully adjustable straps and clips like what you’d see on a standard helmet, and is priced like a standard road helmet.
In fact, it’s one of the lowest priced of all the helmets in this review and is only 30 grams heavier than the Ballista, the lightest of the helmets I’ve reviewed.
So is it an aero road helmet or a standard one sold as an aero helmet?
A closer look at the Manta’s shell gives away its clear aero intentions. Looking just at the front half of the helmet and seeing see two narrow vents above the forehead no more than a 1/4 inch/10 mm wide and 2 inch/50 mm long, two similarly sized ones above the temples and one the same size looking like an inlet or intake manifold at the top, you could be fooled into thinking this is a track or time trial helmet.
When you look at the square tail, large outflow vents at the back, it’s clear that this is indeed an aero road helmet.
But would the few, small vent slits at the front keep my head cool? In a word, yep. Not sure that’s a word, but hopefully you get what I mean.
This was one of those cases that you could almost feel the air getting sucked through the helmet and swirling across the top of your head to cool it. I don’t know the theory behind it, perhaps small vents in front and big ones in back create a pressure differential that brings the air through, but it did seem to keep me cool.
Unfortunately, the oval-round shape of my head didn’t fit the rounder shape (LtW 1.24) shape of the helmet. Or perhaps it was sculpting of the EPS in the rib that runs from the inside top to the back of the helmet and the plastic strap that the runs along there down to the circumference dial that didn’t allow for enough room for my noggin’.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t get comfortable no matter how much I adjusted the height or loosened the circumference strap. After 30 minutes on each ride I tried it on, I had to take it off. I also couldn’t get the straps reaching from the back of the helmet to the clasps under my ears to stop flapping in the wind without having the clasps ending up behind my earlobe.
Clearly, it was a fit and comfort mismatch for me.
Whether it would be for you is hard to tell. If you’ve got a rounder head, it might be worth a try given the great price, decent cooling, and likely good aero performance of this lid. If I were ordering two or three helmets to try at home before choosing one, this would probably be one I’d order and see if it fit more safely and comfortably for you than it did me. With the stores I’ve recommended and linked you to above, you can return it if it doesn’t.
Oakley ARO5 – Good looking and well made but noisy and doesn’t cool well
Market price USD$150, £120, €135
Fits round head shapes; 1.24 LtW ratio
The Oakley ARO5 is a good looking aero road helmet that shares some of the fashion flair the company is known for from their sunglasses line.
It’s also a well-made helmet, nicely integrating the outside shell and inside MPS liners with the EPS helmet core.
And Oakley has gone full-Boa with this lid, using not just the dial but also the thin cord coming out of it as the only elements in the sides of the circumference strap. It’s a novel, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that approach that eliminates the taller and thicker plastic strapping that other helmets use which can sometimes be uncomfortable, sweaty, and get in the way of the ends of your sunglass arms.
If only you didn’t have to wear the ARO5.
It is a hot helmet on hot summer days (90F/32C) and on cooler ones (70F/21C). You certainly feel the air coming in through the large front vents but it apparently doesn’t have enough venting out back to carry the air through. While I didn’t wear it on a cool spring or fall day (50F/10C), I wonder if it would allow your head to cool after your body and head heats up on a hard ride even on such a day.
Along with this lack of cooling and perhaps because of it, I also found the helmet quite noisy relative to the others on test. The noise also may have to do with the poor fit of the shape of this helmet, more suited to a rounder head than my more oval one.
I’m not a rocket scientist but I wonder if the restricted airflow in this helmet and noise surrounding it would also lead to a less than ideal aerodynamic performance as well.
I also found the fit to be a challenge. Despite opening the circumference strap fully, I couldn’t get my 59cm head to feel like it was fully inside this Large (56-60cm) helmet. Yes, it’s more round and my head is more oval, and yes, the rear cradle came down below my head but the EPS line of the helmet didn’t feel like it was far enough down to protect my skull as you can see in the side and rear views.
Oakley’s size chart suggests a narrower range of helmet sizes than most other lids. Seems that their Large size helmets don’t get as large as most others (60cm vs 61 or 62cm for most others) and their Small size ones don’t run as small as others (52cm vs. 50 or 51cm). If you have a Medium size, round-shaped head, you probably have a better chance of getting the ARO5 to fit.
While it is entirely possible that a rider with such a head size and shape would find the helmet would fit them, I wasn’t impressed with the one thin forehead and one crown would make it comfortable. While I appreciated the ability to adjust the straps in and out from the rear of the ARO5 and front and back at the clips under my ears, I would have also appreciated being able to move the clip down further below them.
Even with a good fit, however, the poor cooling would make me pass on this helmet.
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First published on August 12, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.