Look cool, go fast, protect your head. These are the three qualities we demand from a helmet. A bit of ventilation and straps that don’t tangle or flap about are a bonus.
Currently, all helmets pass the same safety standards. Those standards may technically be AS/NZS 2063, EN 1078 or F1952-15 depending on where you are in the world. But every helmet sold in the same place must pass the same tests. So, short of purchasing your own testing lab, it’s not easy to tell them apart when it comes to the protection offered. Likely they all provide something similar, with more cash not equalling more protection.
However, this egalitarianism doesn’t quite extend to some of the latest anti concussion technology, such as MIPS. Now found in more expensive models, it and similar systems aim to lessen rotational forces transmitted to the brain by allowing the helmet to move relative to the head.
Just take a look at what the peloton is wearing...
£220, Shop Met
Much lusted-after since Tadej Pogačar wore one on the way to winning the Tour de France, the MET Trenta is the brand’s all-round road model. Relatively normal to look at, it nevertheless sits just inside the semi-aero category, with only MET’s sprint-specific Manta being more slippery.
Available in either conventional or MIPS varieties, this 3K carbon version pushes things even further. Costing about a third more than the already pricey standard model, the use of carbon throughout its shell has allowed MET to reduce the density of its expanded polystyrene foam interior. Saving you around ten grams, while increasing the penetration resistance of the shell, it’s unsurprisingly one of the lightest helmets out there.
£230, Shop Abus
Despite a name that translated less well than might have been hoped, this helmet from German firm Abus has plenty to recommend it. Fulsomely aerated, it is nevertheless low in profile and supposedly plenty aerodynamic, thanks partly to a mesh covering over a section of its rear panels.
It’s also very light and looks pleasingly normal. Comfy on the head and coming in a host of candy colours, its straps are both low key and feature a thicker leading edge designed to stop them flapping on speedy descents. Sewn together below the ear rather than slid into a splitter, this leaves nothing to twist or irritate, while saving a few grams too.
HJC Furion 2.0
£180, Shop HJC
HJC started in MotoGP, which if you’ve ever seen someone dump their superbike, goes a long way to inspiring confidence in its bicycle range. One upshot of this is the Furion’s internal reinforcement structure which could help prevent it from shearing in the event of a crash.
Pretty slim looking on the head, the Furion’s profile is the result of time spent whittling away in the brand’s in-house wind tunnel. Well-ventilated enough for everyday wear, HJC calls it 'semi-aero', but it looks fully fast to us. Available in a slew of unconventional shades, there’s almost certainly one to match your existing kit.
Sweet Protection Falconer Aero II Helmet
£229, Shop Sweet Protection
Inspired by the aerodynamic properties of the peregrine falcon, a bird that can reach over 200mph when hunting, this imitation is achieved partly by the addition of magnetically attached aero covers. Allowing Sweet Protection’s Falconer Aero II Helmet to switch between quite and very aero, their addition also let the wearer tailor it to the prevailing temperature.
Attaching to a helmet employing the firm’ four-piece variable elasticity shell technology for great protection, this also placeses more material in the areas of highest likey impact. At the same time, its STACC ventilation aims to keep your temporal artery, which supplies your head and brain, cool, while also protecting this critical region.
Giro Aether MIPS
£270, Shop Giro
Giro’s great looking Aether has more going for it than just aesthetics. Hidden inside are multiple technologies that aim to reduce the risk from a crash. First, its dual-density expanded polystyrene foam liner allows it to deal well with bumps both large and small. Secondly, its hidden MIPS system is contained within the helmet’s foam rather than tagged on alongside the padding. Meaning there’s nothing to obstruct with the air flowing through the helmet’s huge vents, finally, a shatter-resistant reinforcing arch aims to stop the helmet breaking apart on impact.
Adding a few grams to the helmet’s overall weight, we reckon knowing there’s not much more you could do to protect your head easily outweighs any slight increase in mass.
£120, Shop Lazer
Now joined by the newer Century model, we’re still big fans of Lazer’s longstanding Z1. It weighs nothing, is more vent than helmet, and is super comfy on your head. Plus it looks nice.
For days when it’s cold, or you want to get in the breakaway, it’s also possible to purchase a snap-on cover which renders it a good chunk more aerodynamic. Making for a helmet that’ll allow you to be a bean-head refusenik one day, yet fully aero the next, it’s available with or without MIPS and has variously graced the head of both Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. And it’s not like they haven’t won a lot of races.
£220, Shop Kask
Plushly padded and reportedly as slippery as Chris Froome’s elbows are pointy, the Protone was one of the first semi-aero designs to hit the peloton. Open at the front and closed over at the rear, it aims to balance aerodynamics with through-helmet airflow. Much imitated since, it now occupies the middle ground between Kask’s aggressively-aero Utopia and the lighter and more ventilated Valegro.
Still, judging by what the Ineos mob spend the most time wearing, someone must have done the maths to determine it still provides the prerequisite marginal-gain. Among its more low-tech features, we appreciate the leather strap guard which sits comfortably under your chin.
If you'd really like to push the envelope, we can't deny having a certain fondness for Paul Smith's Kask Protone collab in 'Rainbow Gradient'.
POC Ventral Spin
£220, Shop Poc
It’s more than just POC’s prices that suggest it takes a different path when it comes to making helmets. Since 2005 the Swedish firm’s science-driven approach has produced results that have both looked and functioned differently; its early adoption of anti-concussion technology being one key example. Now integrated into the helmets pads, its latest SPIN (Shearing Pad Inside) technology uses a silicone gel-like membrane to allow for greater protection from glancing impacts.
Coupled to an aerodynamic design that still manages to cram in a series of air hungry vents right across the front, its look remains characteristically striking.
Title image by Ian Walton Hemingway