If you ride enough, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll fall off at some point. Hopefully, it’s a simple case of getting up and dusting yourself down, or dealing with a little road rash. Yet serious crashes do happen, and with most brain injuries in cyclists occurring from head impacts, wearing a helmet is a no brainer.
Long gone are the days of heavy, ugly and sweaty brain buckets. Now helmets are so light you barely notice you’re wearing one. On warm rides, inner channel airflow systems are so good that you’re kept cooler by wearing a helmet than not. That improved venting is possible because some helmets use an inner skeleton to increase the strength of the inner EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) shell that takes the impact in a crash.
A more recent safety measure is MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact System). This helps with rotational impacts by allowing the outer EPS shell to move up to 15mm over the inner liner. This reduces energy transfer that can cause concussion or more serious brain injuries.
Helmet choice often comes down to budget and here we have kept this at £80 and under. Many of those tested see the inclusion of top-end features thanks to trickle-down tech. Not all helmets fit the same, and we all have different shaped heads, so try before you buy.
Helmet jargon buster
MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact System) is an impact-reduction feature found in some helmets. This technology is becoming widespread but does add extra weight.
All helmets here use an in-moulded shell, which is where the thin robust outer shell is bonded to the inner EPS shell. This inner absorbs the impact of a crash and may well break to save your head, which is why it’s important to replace after a crash.
How we tested these budget cycling helmets
Thankfully we weren’t expected to crash in these helmets to test their impact protection as all helmets pass the European safety standards. The testing for each involved testing the effectiveness of the retention systems (from dials to push and slide systems) for achieving the perfect fit.
Each was worn in British summertime conditions to assess the effectiveness of the ventilation and internal airflow systems. We also looked at features such as the straps and buckles, trickle-down tech from top-end lids, as well as the visuals and value for money.
Best budget cycling helmets
Rudy Project Rush
This could be Rudy Project’s best helmet for training and racing with a price tag under £100. It offers great aerodynamics and a snug fit, thanks to the chin pad and adjustable internal padding with a choice of different thicknesses.
Impressively, there are 21 separate channels allowing for ventilation on the move.
It took a bit of fiddling to get the straps to lie flat and stay in place during our rides, but the most troublesome element of this helmet is its height adjustment system. Snap the fitting nodules and you’ll render the helmet useless, so you’ll need to be careful when prepping the helmet.
Verdict: Feels aero and ventilated, but tricky adjustment.
Van Rysel Racer
Featuring two-tone colouring with exposed polystyrene through the vents, the Van Rysel Racer certainly has an eye-catching design. It should give you good visibility on the road, and it only weighs 260g, making it a highly lightweight helmet.
The Van Rysel Racer performed well in wide crosswinds at our Silverstone wind-tunnel in 2019, but suffered slightly in direct headwinds.
Small downsides include the firm front padding and fiddly adjustable retention system. Also, the straps sometimes become loose on long rides.
Verdict: Well vented, affordable, and sometimes aero.
Limar Air Star Helmet
From a quick first glance, you can tell Limar’s Air Star isn’t as well ventilated as some of the other budget helmets on our list – but it does have some clever features.
The retention ratchet at the back includes a three-mode light, which you can turn on with a single button. If weight is important to you, you can easily remove it to save 10g.
A comfy chin pad completes the package, while the outer red shell gives the helmet a slick look.
Verdict: Smart, light and aero benefits, but could be more vented.
Giro Agilis Mips
A fantastic all-rounder, the Giro Agilis MIPS impressed us, performing well for racing, training, commuting and off-road riding.
You’ll find a grand total of 32 ventilation channels across the helmet, as well as plush internal padding and an easily adjustable Roc Loc 5.5 retention system.
The MIPS liner does add some weight – the helmet is 292g in total – but it didn’t bother us much.
Verdict: Quality construction, safety features and style.
Perfect for gravel riding, the Endura FS260-PRO comes with an internal netting to stop dirt entering the front of the helmet. Despite this addition, ventilation remains impressive, thanks to the 14 large channels.
The thick antibacterial padding is another big pluspoint, along with the effective retention system, which you can adjust easily with one hand.
Verdict: Versatile and durable, comfy and light. A corker!
The Blade takes its styling and many features from Lazer’s top-end Z1 and uses the same ARS Advanced Rollsys retention system with the adjuster barrel on the top of the helmet.
It feels odd at first but is easy to use once you get used to it. Height is also adjustable. The adjustable side straps don’t have locking cams but we never had any issues with them.
The Blade also has a similar-shaped shell to the Z1 featuring 22 large vents with internal channelling to keep you cool on the hottest days.
A classy yet lightweight (235g) road lid offering superb value and seven colour schemes.
Verdict: Good looking, lean and racy. A winner.
B’Twin RoadR 500
Most helmets under £30 look awful or are best avoided, but B’Twin has changed that with their RoadR. It has modern racy looks and the 17 vents help keep you cool on hot days.
The outer shell is in-moulded, even at the rear and around the bottom surface, which makes it robust in day-to-day life but it does take the weight to 320g. The rear ratchet retention system is crude, clunky and isn’t vertically adjustable, but locks in place without any issues.
When combined with the easy-to-adjust straps, which don’t lock down, the helmet sits nicely in place. Overall, an amazing value lid.
Verdict: A visually striking helmet that scores for the price.
The lightweight Rapido has distinctive sleek Kask looks made famous by Team Sky in its top-end lids. This Italian-made race-style helmet has 24 vents, which are positioned to optimise aerodynamics for a fast ride, and graces the scales at 230g.
The hinged rear retention system that slides up and down the rear straps looks cumbersome, but in use it performs well and is easily adjusted with the large twist dial. The side straps are adjustable with lock-down buckles but the webbing isn’t as soft as some.
There’s also thoroughbred race styling that’ll work for a range of head sizes. And it comes in six colours.
Verdict: A svelte racer that performs when the pace picks up.
The road-specific Raven has a racy design with 26 vents and internal channelling that provide a cool ride on hot days.
It’s held in place with a simple dial system that’s easily adjusted with one hand, and it’s good to see the addition of height adjustment on a helmet of this price.
Similarly, the side straps are easy to adjust for the perfect fit. There’s no lock-down facility but they remained in place while testing. There’s also a removal padded chin strap.
The lightweight (255g) Raven offers a good package exceeding what its price tag would have you believe, and it comes in a pick of five colourways.
Verdict: Fantastic for the price, and with a racy design.
Mavic Aksium Elite
Mavic bill the Aksium Elite as a do-everything helmet whether it’s racing, a weekend training ride or commuting. The bright fluoro version we tested (other colours are black or white) is a good way of making sure you’re seen, too.
It comes with 23 vents and a mesh bug guard forms part of the removable inner pads. The rear Ergo Hold SL dial system, which is found on Mavic’s higher-end lids, is simple to fit and adjust.
We like that the rear cradle has three height adjustments to dial in the perfect fit. Overall, then, a solid performing and lightweight (245g) all-rounder.
Verdict: Plenty of versatility and visibility points.
The 21-vent Foray boasts sleek high-end looks not dissimilar to Giro’s range-topping Synthe. The RocLoc 5 twist retention system, which is also found on the Synthe, makes fitting and adjustment easy, even on the fly with gloves on.
The side straps are fully adjustable but not as soft feeling as some. The vents and internal channelling are well positioned to keep you cool, while the internal pads offer a comfortable ride and are easily removed to wash.
This is a quality road-specific lid that looks good (there are six colours) and performs well; it’s just a little heavier (265g) than its close rivals.
Verdict: Features of a high-end helmet in a mid-price package.
Scott Groove Plus
With the Groove Plus Scott has a designed an all-round helmet that works well and is equally at home on the road, commuting to work or ripping around the trails.
It has distinctive looks with a naturally-shaped front peak and plenty of rear head coverage. We were impressed to see a MIPS layer inside and, combined with a simple dial adjustment fit system and lock-down side straps, it delivers a safe and secure fit.
At 310g it’s not the lightest, most aero or racy helmet, but the Groove Plus provides a quality and safe all-rounder without breaking the bank. There are six colour options, too.
Verdict: Secure and comfortable, but exceeds 300g.
The 300g Xtract is Endura’s entry-level all-round helmet and comes with a removable peak that’s ideal for wet days and trail riding. Being made in Scotland it’s no surprise to see an integrated insect net covering the main front vents.
The one-hand micro adjustment works a treat and there’s also vertical adjustment available. The compact chin strap sits well, is quick to adjust and stays in place with lock-down cams.
Endura has fitted a three-mode USB-charge LED light in the rear that helps for flat light days. It’s a good package that works for most riding duties.
Verdict: Good value and versatility with added LED light.
Buy the Endura Xtract II
Bell’s Formula may look a little bulky but it keeps its weight down to a respectable 250g and feels light on your head. The shell features 19 vents with internal channelling that do a good cooling job.
Inside, the padding takes care of sweat and can be removed for washing when they get dirty or smelly. The Float Fit height adjustment and retention system works well, although the clicky ratchet ErgoDial isn’t as smooth running as some.
The Tri-Glide side set-up with soft straps sit comfortably against the face and there are six colours. It’s a good package but not as racy as some.
Verdict: Plenty of cooling but not the best for tri racing.
The overall verdict
Of the sub-£80 helmets on test, we were impressed with the technology on display and what you get for relatively so little financial outlay. If you’re after something commuter specific, Scott’s Groove Plus with MIPS is a good bet and the Oxford Raven is hard to fault for the price. It offers plenty of ventilation and comfort and, combined with that £40 price tag, it’s the winner of our Best Buy award.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum, all of our most expensive helmets offer a good fit, perform well and are easy to use. Ultimately, it comes down to fit and your preferred look.
The Mavic and Giro offer style and substance, but the combination of features, low weight, comfort and price ensure Lazer’s Blade takes our Best on Test gong.
For more buying advice, take a look at our guide to the best aero road helmets for triathlon.