Our most recent helmet buyer’s guides have involved the pick of the aero road helmet crop being put through their paces in the wind tunnel (check out the results here), but this year it’s the turn of the sub-£100 road lids.
That’s not to say drag-reduction wasn’t considered when testing, but the focus on the following pages is more on comfort, ventilation and added features over watts and painstaking yaw-angle analysis.
While EPS (expanded polystyrene) still dominates the build of road helmets (Hexr’s plant-based Polyamide-11 construction helmet is three-times this test’s budget cap), the helmets here still take noticeably different approaches to comfort, ventilation, aerodynamics and safety.
Comfort is key and, while trying before you buy is the ideal, the range of internal height adjustments, retention systems, strap adjustability and sizing variations will likely ensure these helmets fit most head shapes.
As opposed to aero road helmets or especially cone-shaped TT lids, the more traditional helmets here offer increased ventilation due to the larger number of air channels; great for hilly rides in the summer, but you’ll want a skull cap underneath in the depths of winter.
Finally, and most importantly, comes safety. The helmets here pass the relevant safety tests for European retail, but some come with added protection measures, including crash replacement options, reinforced EPS foam and MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact System).
The latter aims to help with rotational impacts by allowing the EPS shell to move up to 15mm over an inner liner, hopefully reducing the energy transfer that can cause concussion or more serious brain injuries.
MIPS does add weight, costs more and the benefits still aren’t 100% conclusive, but recent tests by both Virginia Tech and the Road Safety Trust both highlight the benefits of MIPS, so the signs are good.
Best road bike helmets in 2021
At 227g, the FS260-PRO’s weight is the leanest here, and it shows. The internal netting protects from grime, with 14 channels for ventilation.
The internal padding is thick where you need it and minimal when you don’t. Though MIPS is absent, the FS260-PRO is covered by Endura’s crash replacement policy and product guarantee.
Verdict: Versatile and durable, comfy and light. A corker! 89%
Van Rysel Racer
From Decathlon’s in-house brand Van Rysel, the Racer offers good ventilation and aero qualities. The bright dual colour scheme is a plus, too.
The weight of 260g is light and impressive, especially for the price. It just loses marks due to padding that feels a tough too firm and fiddly adjustability.
Verdict: Well vented, affordable, and sometimes aero, 86%
Rudy Project Rush
Every ride in this lean lid felt fast, with similar tech from Rudy’s high-end offerings clearly at work. We liked the chin pad, effective retention system and a choice of padding thicknesses inside the helmet.
Ventilation is also impressive, though Rudy nearly blows all that good work with a precarious height adjustment system that feels delicate to use.
Verdict: Feels aero and ventilated, but tricky adjustment, 85%
Giro Agilis Mips
The Agilis MIPS truly shines as a do-it-all helmet. The intergrated MIPS is a big plus, though this does add some extra grams.
There are a huge 32 ventilation channels, so breathability was no problem and we felt extra aero.
The padding is plush, and the adjustment is easy to use for a close and comfy fit.
Verdict: Quality construction, safety features and style, 92%
Bell Forumla Mips
Best suited to wider heads, the Formula is quite light (275g) and has MIPS for extra safety appeal.
The Formula’s outer shell is bonded to the EPS foam for a durable build. Plus, it has a cool 19 ventilation channels. The straps and back rentention system were also easy to use in practice.
Verdict: Ticks nearly every box, but we’d go for the yellow, 88%
Smith Optics Persist
The Persist is noticeably heavier and more expensive than others on test, but it does offer more back-of-head coverage and feels durable.
We’re always happy to see MIPS on a lid and the orange colour adds further safety appeal.
The adjustment dial and straps are easy to alter on the move and comfort is added by the impressive 21 ventilation channels.
Verdict: Solid lid, but pricier and heavier than most here, 78%
The Viantor from Abus offers more forehead protection than others on test, yet some might find this infringes on range of vision.
Oddly though, the slight padding set inside this lid doesn’t cover internal ridges. While the adjustment system, 269g weight and ventilation via the 18 channels are all adequate.
Verdict: Functional and stylish enough, if a little pricey, 76%
Limar Air Star
The sleek and light 270g Air Star stands out with its handy back adjustment ratchet doubling up as a three-mode light at the touch of a button.
If you’re looking for an extra aero lid, Limar’s model up from the Air Star – the Air Speed – has scored very highly in our own wind-tunnel tests.
We also like the Air Star’s soft chin pad and slick red outershell covering the EPS foam.
Verdict: Smart, light and aero benefits, but could be more vented, 87%
Developed in the wind tunnel, this helmet is aero-looking with minimal (14) ventilation channels, though we didn’t find this caused any overheating.
Comfort is decent and we like that the EPS foam is covered by the smooth outer shell, though more padding would have been appreciated.
Verdict: Aero on a budget, but beware of the large sizing, 80%
DHB R2.0 Road
DHB is great for affordable yet practical kit, though with decent quality features. The R2.0 has a low-profile design and we like the matte finish.
Despite being one of the cheapest on test, the R2.0 comes in at a slim 273g. However, where the polycarbonate shell is fused to the EPS foam is a little untidy and the ratvhet dial feels flimsy.
Verdict: Nice shell, but it’s a shame about the pads and finishing, 66%
Specialized Echelon II Mips
The Echelon II is a much more affordable option than other Specialized lids like their Evade. The Echelon does everything else superbly well, though, with ventilation aided by 31 sizeable air channels, comfort from decent pads, and lots of adjustment available. Plus, we love the bold colour choice.
Verdict: Comfy, stylish and safe. But about 50g too heavy, 76%
Road bike helmets have evolved massively in recent years, and we can now pick helmets that tick the box in terms of safety, style, ventilation, comfort, and aerodynamics.
If the top-end battle here was close, the ‘Best Value’ gong had a clear winner in the lean, well-vented and £40 Van Rysel Racer. For those seeking aerodynamics on a sub-£100 budget, we’d suggest the HJC, Limar or Rudy Project, with Limar just edging Rudy for our ‘Cutting Edge’ verdict.
For everyday use on multiple riding surfaces, versatility, comfort, style and safety, however, three helmets shone brightest above the competition. We love the Endura’s lean weight and bug net, while Bell’s Formula is very hard to fault. But it’s the Giro that ticks every box and more, a worthy winner with endless appeal.