Best Mountain Bike Helmets: Tough and Durable Protection
Enjoy the trail with these comfortable, sturdy, and padded mountain bike helmets
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BY Scott Roepel / LAST UPDATED ON October 13, 2020
Growing up we were taught to always wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. Whether it’s a leisurely trip around the neighborhood or a fast-paced ride on a forest trail, every cyclist should wear one, especially mountain bikers. There are a number of things that can knock you on the head during a ride, and having the best mountain bike helmet will protect your head through them all. Here are a few of the best-rated mountain bike helmets to wear for protection and for adding a little style to your ride.
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Benefits of Mountain Bike Helmets
- Head protection. In recent years, mountain bike-specific helmets have undergone a design change. As mountain biking has become more extreme, the helmets have as well. These helmets now focus heavily on protecting the rear of the head, so falling backward is less likely to cause serious injury.
- Sun/rain visors. Clear eyesight is important on ever-changing trail conditions. Most mountain bike helmets now come with visors either attached or built into the shell of the helmet. These visors protect the rider’s eyes from sun glare, rain drops, and also debris like mud and branches.
- Personal style. Mountain bike helmets allow a rider to display his or her personal taste and style on their heads for the world to see. Whether it be a drab mono-color style or a multitude of bright colors that match your bike’s color scheme, there is a mountain bike helmet for your taste.
Types of Mountain Bike Helmets
These helmets are all about venting and airflow during long races. They look similar to the helmet road riders wear; however, they’re far bulkier and heavier-duty. The reason for the bulk is mountain bikers don’t need to be quite as weight conscious as the road racers do. Most allow room for a pair of sunglasses, which is important because visors are less common on cross country helmets.
At first glance, a trail helmet might look similar to a cross country helmet with the addition of a visor. These are more accurately described as an all-mountain type helmet. Trail riding helmets offer quite a bit more protection in the rear and the sides of the helmet than a cross country helmet. Aggressive trail riders are more likely to strike these locations than a cross country rider. Some trail riding helmets offer a goggle retention system as well.
Dirt jumping helmets are the classic skate park, bowl design. These helmets nicely wrap around the head on all four sides, don’t have a visor, and aren’t using built-with-venting in mind. They feel heavier than trail or cross country helmets because they’re built to take a serious hit from bigger jumps at a bike park or harder surfaces like you’d find at a skatepark.
Full-face helmets are ideal for anyone taking his or her mountain bike up to high speeds. This usually includes downhill riders, enduro racers, free riders, and any cyclist in need of serious head protection. There is less venting than a trail or cross country helmet. Full-face helmets typically have visors and allow the rider to wear goggles. These are heavier than the other types due to the heavy-duty construction and the addition of the chinbar, which protects the rider’s face.
Making its start in the 1950s hot rod car culture, Bell has been producing high-quality helmets for the biking, racing, and general safety industries for years. It builds helmets for toddlers and children as well as helmets for extreme athletes like this enduro style Bell Super 3R that utilizes MIPS.
POC is a Swedish helmet manufacturer that has been around since 2005. Specializing in skiing, snowboarding, and cycling helmets, POC creates high-quality products utilizing modern designs like the POC Tectal MIPS helmet, with extra protection in the back of the helmet.
Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, Giro knows something about producing tough headwear for extreme people. Giro strives to keep up with the changing needs of extreme sports, even creating the first modular full-face helmet with the Switchblade. Take a look at the Giro Chronicle MIPS MTB Helmet.
Troy Lee Designs
Troy Lee Designs started with a signmaker designing and painting helmets in his garage in 1981. Its high-quality helmets clearly have a racing-inspired theme to them, like this Troy Lee Designs A1 MIPS Classic in youth sizes.
FOX Racing has been a staple in motocross, BMX, and mountain bike communities since the 1970s. Getting its start as a racing suspension parts producer, FOX has expanded to include apparel, safety gear, and head protection in its lineup. This Irvine, California-based company has several mountain bike helmet offerings, including the FOX Racing Flux MIPS helmet, available in several colors.
Mountain Bike Helmets Pricing
- $50 and under: This range is ideal for the casual mountain bike rider that doesn’t require a lot from his or her helmet. This range generally includes cross country and some trail-style helmets.
- $50 to $100: Your choices expand in this range. You’ll find high-quality trail helmets for serious riding, lightweight cross country helmets for long races, and you may start to see full-face options.
- $100 and up: These helmets are typically designed with the latest research and are constructed with the lightest materials. They’re often designed for multiple impacts, and even the full-face options are designed to be the lightest weight with improved airflow.
Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS)
The Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (or MIPS, as it’s more commonly referred to) is a system that allows a helmet to rotate on a plane around the user’s head. Helmets with MIPS technology will have two layers that can mimic the way a human brain floats in fluid within the skull to resist damage done by rotational forces. MIPS technology is a nice feature to have in the event of a serious crash.
Many helmet manufacturers now offer easy-fit systems with loads of adjustability. Some of these have a ratcheting dial in the back of the helmet that allows the user to cinch the helmet down around his or her head for the perfect fit that won’t go anywhere in a crash. Also, having chin straps that are easy to adjust and get just right are important. There are too many good helmets on the market to get one without adjustability-rich features.
If you’ve been riding your mountain bike for any period of time, you know it’s important to wear some eye protection. Some helmets have non-slip pads in the rear to retain a goggle strap, which is a really nice feature on bumpy trails. Other helmets provide adequate space to slip your sunglasses or safety glasses underneath the helmet. Either is a nice feature, it just depends on your eyewear preference.
- Riding Style: If you’re riding a rail trail a few times a year, a cross country style helmet will suit you just fine. If you’re planning to take your full-suspension downhill machine off some serious drops, a full-face helmet might be necessary. For optimal protection, know your riding style when choosing your helmet.
- EPS vs EPP: Extruded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polypropylene (EPP) are two foam types used in the construction of mountain bike helmets. EPS foam crushes under heavy impact, deforming the foam and making it unsafe for future use. EPP foam has an elastic property to it, allowing the user to keep it for a couple of hard impacts. If all else is created equal between two helmets, our choice would be the one with EPP foam.
- CPSC: The Consumer Product Safety Commission rates helmets for their intended uses. You can find a listing of these safety standards here at the CPSC website. The CPSC makes sure that your helmet will work for its activity, whether it be trail riding, BMX, dirt jumping, or any other cycling activity.
- Camera Mounts: Some users might want to consider a mountain bike helmet with a camera mount. There’s a large community of bloggers that gives first-person footage via a camera mounted to their helmets. If you want to provide the world with your epic shredding, a camera mount might be important to you.
Best Mountain Bike Helmets Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- To keep the dangling straps out of your face you can wrap them around the straps near your ears.
- If the padding comes off, you can use a strong adhesive or double-sided tape to secure it onto the helmet again.
- If the helmet is able to move more than an inch or slides over your scalp, it is not secured properly and you may need a smaller size.
Q: How can I be sure a mountain bike helmet fits comfortably before buying it?
A: Measure your head and compare the size with the manufacturer's sizing chart. To do this, measure the width of your skull and consult the sizes listed with the helmet. You will want a helmet that fits comfortably without being too snug or too loose.
Q: Can I mount a camera to any helmet?
A: You will need to check with the manufacturer to ensure you can mount a camera on the helmet. Many may not be able to properly carry the extra weight and that can throw off their effectiveness. Sturdier and more robust helmets should be able to handle a camera as long as they have a mounting bracket.
Q: Can I wear glasses or goggles with a mountain bike helmet?
A: Yes, you can wear both glasses and goggles while wearing a helmet as long as they do not interfere with the helmet or cause it to sit more loosely on your head. You may want to consider putting glasses on first before strapping on the helmet to ensure a tighter fit. Goggles can be placed over the helmet.
For a helmet that fits well and offers maximum protection, consider the Giro Chronicle MIPS Adult Dirt Cycling Helmet. Our more budget-friendly pick, the Lixada Mountain Bike Helmet, helps absorb shock and keep you cool.