The Best Road and Commuter Bike Helmets of 2020

 

WE AGGREGATED reviews of THE BEST Road and commuter Bike Helmets. HERE’s OUR FINDINGS.

A road cyclist in a helmet at the Kansas State Line.   Photo by Brandon Lampley

We researched the best road and commuter bike helmets available by reading hundreds of consumer and professional reviews, and narrowed the dozens of options for the bike helmets that could span the expanse of activity and safety. 

Whether you’re commuting, biking to your neighborhood grocery store, or taking the kids out for a Saturday ride, this is one piece of gear where you shouldn’t compromise. 

With as many options for bike helmets as there are, it’s no easy feat to wade through the data to find the best option for your needs. We did the research for you, so you can spend less time pouring over websites, and more time on your bike. 

Going bike touring? See our Best Touring Bikes and Bike Touring Packing List stories.


Bell Stratus MIPS in red.jpg

Best Overall Road Bike Helmet

Bell Stratus MIPS

Read why→

Safest road bike helmet

Bontrager Specter WaveCel

Read why→

Scott ARX Plus MIPS in black optimized.jpg

Best budget road bike helmet

Scott ARX Plus MIPS

Read why→

Best Mid-Priced bike helmet

Smith Route MIPS

Read why→


A woman standing next to her bike overlooking a city.
 

Best Road Bike Helmet

Bell Stratus MIPS


The Bell Stratus MIPS was the “overall winner” in this review.

Notable Features

Reviewers from Roadcc and Outdoor Gear Lab liked the Sweat Guide Padding that helps to keep sweat from dripping down your face, onto your sunglasses and into your eyes. Those folks who have long hair and like to tie their hair in a ponytail when riding will like the fact that this helmet is designed to accommodate them.

The Bell Stratus MIPS shown here with a pattern color.

Weight

Overall, the helmets in this review were slightly heavier than their more expensive and slightly lower rated Virginia Tech study counterparts. It appears that impact protection comes at a modest price, in terms of weight. The Stratus was the lightest helmet in this review, but it is a mid-weight helmet when compared to the overall helmet market.

 

Ventilation

The 18 well-designed vents provided “excellent airflow”. Outdoor Gear Lab liked the Overbrow Ventilation SystemTM that is designed to draw air into the front vents and circulate it to the rear ones. One customer griped that the vents do not garage sunglasses securely and complained that their sunglasses had a tendency to fall off of the helmet.

Fit 

Everyone has a uniquely shaped head and “one size does not fit all” helmet-wise. But, the Stratus excelled in terms of comfort and fit for the majority of people. Outdoor Gear Lab wrote that it was well-padded and “pleasing to have on the head”. Roadcc wrote that it was “light and unobtrusive”. And continued to gush “If comfort is very important to you, and if you’ve had problems finding a helmet that sits well, the Stratus will be worth a test fitting”. The Outdoor Gear Lab reviewer had a minor gripe because the straps were a bit stiff. The Cycling Weekly reviewer complained that the straps were “rougher” than straps on other helmets. A few users noted that it runs a little small so they suggested trying it on before buying it. 

 

Style

The helmet’s thin, wispy design was a hit with reviewers. However, a few users complained about the reflective stickers prematurely peeling off the helmet.

Two bicyclists wearing the Bell Stratus MIPS with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
 

Compare prices on the Bell Stratus MIPS

 

The Bontrager’s WaveCel technology can be seen here.

The Bontrager’s WaveCel technology can be seen here.

Safest Commuter Bike Helmet

Bontrager Specter WaveCel


We chose the Bontrager Specter WaveCel as the safest helmet in this review.


Notable Features

The Bontrager Specter WaveCel has recently hit the market with a great deal of fanfare due to its revolutionary material and claims of superior protection against both linear and rotational forces. Bontrager claims that the WaveCel construction is 48 times more effective at protecting your head from injuries caused by certain cycling accidents than traditional foam helmets. However, some competitors have disputed Bontrager’s claim.


The Bontrager WaveCel was the highest rated helmet (by the Virginia Tech study) in this review. But, the other helmets in this review were rated just slightly lower than the Specter. We think the slight difference is still enough that if your most important criteria is safety, the Specter should be at the top of your list.

 

Weight 

This helmet was a tad heavy coming in at 341 grams. It was the second heaviest helmet reviewed. As mentioned with the Bell Stratus helmet, the helmets that had higher safety ratings tended to be heavier than helmets that had lower safety ratings. We weren’t surprised that a helmet with this high of a safety rating comes with a minor weight penalty. 

Ventilation

Cycling Tips noted that riders with more hair should avoid wearing it if they lived in warmer climates, because of limited ventilation. They explained that if you have a short haircut or no hair then ventilation is not a problem. Velonews opined that the “tight weave of the WaveCel material makes it difficult for air to pass through”. Conversely, it makes for a good bug net.

Fit

Overall, reviewers liked the fit of the Specter. The Boa system allowed for easy one-handed adjustment for a snug fit. There were a couple complaints about the chin strap loosening on rides. Also, the CXmagazine reviewer noted that it does not work well with some large framed sunglasses. They complained that on bumpy terrain, the helmet kept hitting their sunglasses.

Style

The Wavecel gives the helmet a distinct style and look that reviewers and users alike found desirable.


The Bontrager Specter WaveCel with multiple views.
 

Bontrager Specter WaveCel

 

Scott ARX Plus MIPS is our pick for budget road bike helmet. Shown here in black.

Best Budget Road Bike Helmet

Scott ARX Plus MIPS


The helmet that gives the best bang for your buck is the Scott ARX Plus MIPS.

Notable Features

Bike Radar’s reviewer wrote, the Scott ARX Plus MIPS is a “great priced helmet” that manages to retain all of the latest safety features. Feed The Habit’s reviewer raved “What an awesome price.” And called it “An affordable MIPS-equipped helmet.” One minor gripe was that the helmet does not have the ability to secure sunglasses. Some users bought this helmet because it was “Consumer Reports’ top-rated helmet”. Overall, this helmet punched above its weight class and was deemed a great value.

 

Weight

Listed at 282 grams for a large it is not the lightest helmet we reviewed, fitting in the middle of the weight spectrum.

Ventilation

The ARX has a well vented brow that helps to prevent sweating at the front of the helmet. However, the rear of the helmet is relatively closed off which can cause the sweat to build up at the nape of the neck when riding in warmer weather. Most reviewers felt that the helmet was well vented. The Feed The Habit reviewer wrote that it “does a great job of venting.” The Roadcc reviewer loved the continuous frontal pad that helps to keep sweat out of your eyes.

 

Fit

Reviewers loved the helmet’s micro-adjustable fit. It is an adjustable helmet that is easy to fit on most heads. The Roadcc reviewer gave it an 8 out of 10 for comfort and noted that it feels “secure on the head”. One user complained that, “the retention system seemed chintzy, the straps are bulky and the pads” didn’t handle sweat very well. Overall, this helmet was rated “comfortable.” 

 

Style

The Feed The Habit reviewer gave it an 8 out of 10 for style. One user noted that it “looks good” and we agree - the ARX looks great on a variety of users’ head shapes and sizes.

A few from the back of the Scott ARX Plus MIPS in white.

 

scott arx plus mips

 
 

The Smith Route MIPS uses MIPS and Koroyd technologies.

Best Mid-Priced Road Bike Helmet

Smith Route MIPS


Smith’s Koroyd structure paired with MIPS technology? The Smith Route MIPS is a lightweight, well-fitting, comfortable helmet.

Notable Features

A few years ago Smith introduced the Koroyd structure to their helmets. The Koroyd honeycomb was marketed as “the next generation of impact protection” because upon impact it is designed “to absorb kinetic energy as it compresses” in a controlled manner. Thus, the Koroyd honeycomb disperses the force of the impact throughout its entire structure, thereby managing the risk of concussion. In addition, the Koroyd inserts act like a bug net.

 

Weight

Listed at 378 grams for a large, this was the heaviest helmet in this review. The Cycling Weekly reviewer noted “it is on the heavy side”.

 

Ventilation

Limited to adequate. The Route has 18 vents but reviewers and users complained that the Koroyd inserts limit the helmet’s breathability. The Roadcc reviewer complained that the helmet was “hot when conditions were a bit warm”.

 

Fit

The Route fits comfortably and, after a little adjustment, felt secure. The Roadcc reviewer noted that the helmet did not create any pressure points on the head. The padding was deemed “sufficient without being excessive.” One user complained that the helmet does not fit people with oval or oblong heads.

 

Style

Most reviewers seemed to like the Route’s looks and style. One user noted that it looks “sharp” and “well made.” Another thought that the helmet “looks great” and noted that it gets a lot of compliments about its “shape and color.”  The Roadcc reviewer noted the “bulky” feel of the helmet and complained that it gave one’s head a “slight mushroom-head” appearance.

Smith Route MIPS with Sunglasses integrated.jpg
 
 

Smith route mips

 

A bikepacker celebrates after reaching the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Other Road Bike Helmets We Considered


Lazer Cyclone MIPS

The Lazer Cyclone MIPS was the top rated helmet in the Virginia Tech study (the Bontrager Specter WaveCel came in second). The reason why it was omitted from this review was because it is no longer being manufactured.


Bern Union MIPS

The Bern Union MIPS was also a very highly rated helmet that was omitted from this review because I could not find any independent professional reviews of it.

Specialized Chamonix

The Specialized Chamonix with ANGi crash sensor is an intriguing helmet that is comparable with the other helmets in this review. Unfortunately, I could not find any independent professional reviews of this product either.

Specialized ANGi

The Specialized ANGi crash sensor is a new safety feature that works with most helmets. It is a live tracking device, crash sensor, and safety beacon all in one that has no annual fees.

 

Just pair ANGi with your smartphone equipped with the Specialized Ride App. When the ANGi detects a crash, it will send a text alert and your most recently uploaded GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts.

A road biker at sunset.
 
 

Our author, professor Kevin Tatsugawa, a few days after his bicycle accident.   Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

Our author, professor Kevin Tatsugawa, a few days after his bicycle accident. Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

Author’s Expertise

I was assigned to write this review of commuter bicycle helmets because I am an experienced bike rider who has the unfortunate experience of testing the efficacy of helmets’ ability to protect cyclists’ from brain injury on multiple occasions. I have broken two helmets in bike crashes. I broke my collarbone in the first crash (a bike bike crash at night) and fractured my first lumbar vertebrae and suffered a traumatic brain injury in the second (a diabetic driver with low blood sugar hit me from behind). I am still riding bikes, but am very conscious of what helmet I wear.

I have been a serious cyclist for over 30 years. I was a bike messenger in college, raced a bit, commuted 25 miles a day by bike for many years, was an early mountain biking acolyte who took to riding the same Mount Tamalpais trails as my mountain biking heroes (such as Joe Murray, Gary Fisher, and Joe Breeze), and was a mountain bike guide. Currently I am a professor of Adventure Education at Westfield State University. I teach students how to lead outdoor activities and educate others about the outdoors. I also teach a bicycling course as a part of my curriculum. 

 

 

Neither myself nor any of my family members are an employee of any of the companies mentioned in this review. This review is unbiased to ensure that we recommend the best products at the best prices for you, the consumer. Treeline Review does not accept sponsored content, native advertising or paid reviews.

The author’s bicycle after his accident.   Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

The author’s bicycle after his accident. Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

 

How we Researched

I read professional product reviews from many sources such as Outdoor Gear Lab, Cycling Weekly, CX Magazine, Roadcc, Feed the Habit, Cycling Tips, Velonews, and Bike Radar. I also perused users reviews of bike helmets on Amazon, Moosejaw, Competitive Cyclist, Backcountry, and REI. I specifically consulted Trek/Bontrager’s website because their helmet, the Specter, was recently released a few months ago and I could not find other sources for user product reviews.


Any good outdoors person knows that the best way to find your position is by shooting more than one bearing, triangulation. Treeline Review uses the same logic when evaluating outdoor products, we use many sources when we review products. We feel that by aggregating these reviews into a meta-review, we can give you, the consumer, an accurate, unbiased review.

A bikepacker on the Pacific Coast route.     Photo courtesy Mike Unger.
 


How we chose the winning Road Bike Helmets

All bike helmets on the market today must pass government mandated safety standards. However, there are many helmets that exceed those standards.

 

The main criterion used for choosing helmets for this review was the rating given to it by the Virginia Tech study. Virginia Tech worked in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to test and rate 69 bike helmets. The Virginia Tech ratings provide additional insight into which helmets best reduce concussion risk. The more stars a helmet received, the better the helmet was rated at reducing the risk of concussion. Only helmets that received 4 or 5 stars (out of a possible 5 stars) from the Virginia Tech study were included in this review.

 

The top four helmets in my review used either the MIPS or some type of new-fangled material such as WaveCel (Bontrager) to mitigate rotational forces in certain impacts. The Smith Route used Koroyd inserts (another type of new-fangled material) to help mitigate linear acceleration.

 

Once I narrowed my review to these top-rated helmets, other criteria included:

  • price ($99 - $150)

  • weight

  • fit

  • ventilation, and

  • style.

In addition, any special features were noted, where applicable.


 

The author’s mangled helmet after his bicycle crash.   Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

The author’s mangled helmet after his bicycle crash. Photo courtesy Kevin Tatsugawa.

Why should I wear a Bike helmet?

This review examines commuter road bicycle helmets that mitigate against both linear impacts and rotational forces - which contribute significantly to the risk of a concussion in a crash.

 

Wearing a helmet while bike riding, much like wearing a safety belt while riding in a car, is pretty much de rigueur nowadays. Obviously, wearing a helmet will not guarantee a cyclist’s safety but it can help to protect your head if you are hit while riding your bike.

 

All of the helmets in this review are highly rated, mid-priced models that are aimed at the commuter market. No matter how highly rated a helmet is, it is still limited in its ability to protect your brain from injury. However, the new material technologies, Koroyd and WaveCel, new slip-plane feature in helmet designs, the Multi-directional Impact System (MIPS), and hi-tech accessories, ANGi Crash sensor, are making riding a bike safer than ever.

 

What is MIPS?

Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a technology developed in Sweden by a neurosurgeon and researcher. Their goal was to “achieve much better protection against the more common, but less researched rotational motion trauma, where the head receives an impact at an angle rather than “head on” (straight radial impact)”. MIPS allows the head to move independently from the helmet, reducing rotational motion to the brain. Their website has a great video which illustrates this. They now have partners producing bike, snow, motorcycle, equestrian, mountaineering, and kids helmets.

An illustration of the layers of a MIPS helmet.

 


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