November 11, 2016
Peter Reese

Bike Helmet Buyer’s Guide

The Active Junky team put the best bike helmets to the test, selecting 10 models from top helmet brands to help you find the best head protection for your cycling activities.

Editor's Pick Nutcase Tracer

Nutcase Tracer

Best for – Commuting helmet, recreational riding and secondary use on e-bikes; adjustments for inclement weather layering
$89.95 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Editor's Pick POC Tectal

POC Tectal

Best for – Weekend to competitive performance, endurance events as well as Life List single-track
$189.95 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great Coros LINX Smart Cycling Helmet

Coros LINX Smart Cycling Helmet

Best for – Commuting, fitness riding and recreational outings where staying in touch is valuable
$199.99 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
NOW Urbi

NOW Urbi

Best for – Urban riding with an emphasis on ebike and scooter applications for all cyclists
$89.99 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
POC Crane Commuter

POC Crane Commuter

Best for – All-weather commuting, pairing with a handmade or custom-built bike
$129.95 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Triple 8 Gotham

Triple 8 Gotham

Best for – Taking it to the street, elbow and knee pads or not, with multi-sport and urban-styled design
$46.49 + 1.5% Cash Back
Buy Now
XS Unified Skyline

XS Unified Skyline

Best for – Urban, commuting and recreational female cyclists and scooter enthusiasts, though unisex design fits all
$69.95 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Lazer Genesis Lifebeam

Lazer Genesis Lifebeam

Best for – Training and competition in citizen events to improve everyday fitness along with race results
$250.00 + 4% Cash Back
Buy Now
Lumos Helmet

Lumos Helmet

Best for – Both high-traffic areas (where bikes are commonplace) and rural settings (where bikes are a surprise)
$179.00 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Triple 8 Compass

Triple 8 Compass

Best for – Commuting, weekend recreational riding including easy trails – and an incredible value from a helmet-centered company
$59.95 + 2.5% Cash Back
Buy Now

Unless you’re a fatalistic downhill racer, a bike helmet is about accounting for the unexpected (agro mountain bikers excepted). Designated bike lanes or not, pedestrians bolt across urban commuting routes, more concerned about double-latte spillage than inducing a cycling accident.

Parallel scenarios exist in straight-up road riding where attention is focused on route-finding, friending and the latest feeds. Beyond other people, mountain bikers find natural and manmade obstacles combine with trail conditions to stop, slide and flip bikes. While motorists, runners, walkers, other cyclists and whitetail deer aren’t out to collide, life happens. And greater mileage simply increases the probability.

Even when properly sized, secured and worn, helmets are far from magical in these circumstances. Unlike full-face moto versions, the exposure to impact still exists on face and neck with 95% of consumer helmet models. Also, much like ski and ride helmets, a single incident can render the helmet finito. Ditto for multiple, smaller side, back, top and frontal impacts that damage both the shell (through fracturing) and interior lining (primarily via foam compaction).   

In this traumatic one-and-done environment, it’s tough to know what’s really necessary in head protection. Much less why spending more than $50 is warranted for non-competitive riders. This is where Active Junky slides in (a controlled slide, of course) with insight about popular categories, outdoor brands and protective gear models.

Take a look at our selections, grouped into two categories with only minimal overlap: Urban & Commuting and Recreation & Performance. Included are helmets that integrate protection with varying levels of safety, training, and communication technology from commuter helmets to mountain bike helmets. No matter what – and apart from considering our testers’ recommendations – there’s no replacement for sound judgment. That applies to selecting and using any helmet, even those that look more like they’re approved for cosmic clashes with Iron Man, Captain America or Thor. 

Note: Active Junky’s evaluation did not include destructive or dynamic impact testing as manufacturers certify their helmets against federal and/or international standards.

Helmet Brands Evaluated by Active Junky

  • Corus
  • Lazer
  • Lifebeam
  • Nutcase
  • NOW
  • POC
  • Triple 8
  • XS-Unified

How We Tested

What Active Junky’s Discovered: Five Lessons of Helmet Buying

Lesson #1: Helmets, unlike shoes, don’t “break in”

Buy a helmet that fits now, not after you change your hairstyle (or go bald), decide to wear a beanie all the time (to fill in the headband gaps) or alter your riding position (to accommodate the helmet’s balance point or field of view). While sharing a helmet sounds good, there’s no room for faking it on individual fit and comfort when your brain is on the line.

Lesson #2: The number of ventilation ports is not a guarantee – in either direction.

Size, configuration and placement of helmet vents do more for healthy airflow than purely the number of holes. Even UCI road racers test their Swiss cheese-like helmets out in wind tunnels rather than simply looking at them, as neither ventilation nor aerodynamics can be assumed. And may even be compromised by well-intentioned holes that actually catch the wind. 

Lesson #3: Helmets are not hats when it comes to precipitation.

Adjustable vents are primarily for temperature management, not guarding against rain, snow and sleet. In all cases, it’s important to carry a lightweight shell or featherweight rain jacket if bad weather is anticipated. Otherwise, many helmets function more like funnels (directing water to your head) than gutters (guiding precip away from head and neck).

Lesson #4: Your bike helmet is worth taking during travels.

Once proper fit, function and balance are found in a helmet, buy it and take it. Testers have tried to avoid the extra size (more than weight) during domestic and international multi-sport trips. Don’t count on what a friend, rental shop or tour operator has in their garage or shop. Your future is too important to trust to someone else, even on low-speed, guided city tours.

Lesson #5: Spend up to 25% more than you estimated and budgeted.

Really. This is not a pitch for unwarranted expenditures, but a way of elevating the helmet’s importance in your life – even beyond riding. Getting functionality in a model that tracks with your personal style likely requires an upgrade. As we’ll see in subsequent Buyer’s Guides, the same applies to Bike Lighting and Bike Security.

Three Common Mistakes in Helmet Selection

Mistake #1: Selecting the wrong helmet configuration for the majority of riding situations.

Commuting helmets frequently are heavier but handle more low-speed bumps and bangs over time than street bike helmets designed to self-destruct in falls, long skids and faster collisions. One helmet may not cover both scenarios as specific performance scenarios are baked into each category and model. 

Mistake #2: Choosing based upon the thickness of padding inside the helmet or the cushiness of the headband.

Helmets are not shock-absorbers but impact-dissipaters. Spreading the force of impact – and sacrificing the helmet’s materials by being crushed or deformed – is the goal. Adding softer cushioning stops energy from being transferred properly. Therefore, respectable helmets carry thinner strips of top and side soft foam.

Mistake #3: Assuming helmets that appear similar are functionally identical.

While this view turns the decision into a carefree one of style, color and price preferences, there are significant differences across each category. With the addition of integrated lighting, biometric, entertainment and communication technology into some models, the helmet is rapidly being redefined as the centerpoint of the road and trail experience.

Universal Attributes

Active Junky selected models based upon a reasonable combination of these five, knowing more integrated models still needed to adhere to baseline standards. As with all Buyer’s Guides, each helmet model was recognized for a standout Key Attribute to simplify the purchasing decision. In the same way, slight deficits in one or more Attributes is noted in individual product reviews.

Fit

Addresses proper physical attachment to transfer energy to the helmet during impact along with the helmet’s ability to go on and off quickly – and easily return to a competent fitting position once returned to the head.

Venting

Balances temperature management against the impact management and riding aerodynamics associated with each riding scenario (i.e., urban helmets, unlike road models, aren’t built for high-speed mountain descents).

Comfort

More about a well-balanced feel on the head, with enough cushion to making wearing it for three or more hours a reasonable experience. Once again, a road helmet needs to feel good when sitting upright in a bar-top position as well as down in the “drops.”

Design

Combines the helmet’s appearance with the ability to accommodate eyewear (glasses) as well as sunglasses along with ambient-aware ear buds (safety strikes again, cycling friends). If two options offer comparable Fit, Venting and Comfort, Design can be the tie-breaker.

Integration

Centers primarily on technology but includes the potential for trading out linings (summer for winter) and brims (or no brim) to extend the useful life of the helmet as the wearer adjusts to conditions.

Bike Helmet Reviews

Nutcase Tracer Nutcase Tracer

Best Urban & Commuting Helmet

New For 2017

Protection in all directions combines with a relevant refresh in the Nutcase line with Tracer. To this point – and over four years – Active Junky’s experience with this helmet brand has been nothing but positive. Inspired designs and easy-to-wear functionality continue to prevail in the line as Tracer and other new offerings appear to be a “best of” the past presentation plus represent some surprises, particularly with styles ready for e-bike use in addition to their strength in the urban, commuting and recreational categories.

Tester Comment: “Nothing on this model disappointed me. The simple, intentional fitting system adapts well to having a beanie underneath on colder, wetter days. While Nutcase has a playful vibe, Tracer helmet is serious protection that anticipates distracted drivers and iPhone zombie pedestrians.”

Looking for more information about Nutcase Tracer? Read the full review

Buying Options

Nutcase Helmets
0% Cash Back
$89.95
Before Cash Back
$89.95 After Cash Back
POC Tectal POC Tectal

Best Recreation & Performance Helmet

Short of a full-on downhill helmet, POC Tectal is right-built for harrowing challenges. Even if the rider loses track of what’s happening in all directions, this is one of the more three-dimensional defenders reviewed by Active Junky. Never short-cutting visibility or the ability to hear, Tectal anticipates falls, scrapes and slides common to more aggressive riding scenarios.

Tester Comment: “A nice addition to the hard-charging side of the bike helmet spectrum. With a distinctive look, Tectal has the credibility of mountain bike helmet in a lightweight cross-country model suitable for aspiring to accomplished riders. An easy choice from POC (once again).”

Looking for more information about POC Tectal? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$189.95
Before Cash Back
$167.16 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$189.95
Before Cash Back
$178.56 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$190.00
Before Cash Back
$178.60 After Cash Back
1.5% Cash Back
$190.00
Before Cash Back
$187.15 After Cash Back
Coros LINX Smart Cycling Helmet Coros LINX Smart Cycling Helmet

Best Integrated Tech Helmet

Recreational, commuting and fitness riding each are a mix of zoning out and tuning in. Coros recognizes riders need a baseline comfortable, high-performing biking helmet that then connects them to data, communication and even entertainment on the move; the goal here is to ride safely while remaining in touch. Solid controls and speakers that don’t mask critical road cues are delivered in a durable package that triumphs on design (even without the embedded electronics).

Tester Comment: “This model is a worthwhile helmet for today that gives a glimpse of the future. Combining protection with practical technology, there’s no reason not to overlook some minor imperfections to ride with a system that promotes safety first, connections second. I was drawn to Coros based upon its looks – and keep riding it because of its functions. And that includes battery life (essential to powering the tech) that hasn’t let me down yet.”

Looking for more information about Coros LINX Smart Cycling Helmet? Read the full review

Buying Options

Coros
0% Cash Back
$199.99
Before Cash Back
$199.99 After Cash Back
NOW Urbi NOW Urbi

Active Junky tracked the unisex helmet’s makers down at InterBike as few other bike helmets represent the powerful convergence of magnetic design, simple adjustment and on-bike comfort. Best adjusted while wearing, the minimalist interior suspension systems helps reduce weight and rider fatigue. NOW understands the desire for stunning design impact and managing skids, slides, scrapes and collisions. Here, the design promotes balance to capitalize on the helmet’s light weight.

Tester Comment: “This one feels like the future. And looks like its anticipating the intersection of function, fashion in an investment-grade helmet. If you don’t buy this helmet during early going in the U.S. market, reserve some piggybank dollars to catch it on the next round.”

Looking for more information about NOW Urbi? Read the full review

Buying Options

NOW
0% Cash Back
$89.99
Before Cash Back
$89.99 After Cash Back
POC Crane Commuter POC Crane Commuter

Few of the models Active Junky tested have the sense of floating as with the POC Crane Commuter helmet. Balanced front-to-back and side-to-side, the bike helmet is never a burden in any riding position. Weighing in at 375g, Crane seems as light as the helmet could go without employing expensive carbon nano-tube tech. Active Junky trusts POC helmet protection because of snowsports experience including frontside, side country and backcountry skiing and riding. 

Tester Comment: “This one got bludgeoned with a sand-filled hammer in defiance of the brand’s claims of dent-resistance. It took an all-out assault on the pristine exterior to create any evidence of extreme abuse, with the Crane Commuter prevailing well beyond shell durability.”

Looking for more information about POC Crane Commuter? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$129.95
Before Cash Back
$122.16 After Cash Back
Triple 8 Gotham Triple 8 Gotham

This multi-sport helmet goes well beyond commuting to skateboarding and in-line skating. Triple 8’s earned credibility with Active Junky in the last two years based upon solid feature sets, relevant designs and responsible price points with helmets the team’s previously ridden. Ready for the streets within moments, Gotham’s among the most secure fits through smooth riding and vibration – even without the required chin strap in place; testers were nearly incredulous.

Tester Comment: “No two ways about it, Gotham’s a statement on pavement and blacktop as well as established bike paths. Being able to use the helmet for other activities makes it a great value (even though the baseline price is reasonable for a riding helmet alone). This model feels like Triple 8’s contribution to street culture and a model I’ll keep for future, collectible value.”

Looking for more information about Triple 8 Gotham? Read the full review

Buying Options

1.5% Cash Back
$46.49
Before Cash Back
$45.80 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$64.10
Before Cash Back
$62.50 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$65.38
Before Cash Back
$62.77 After Cash Back
XS Unified Skyline XS Unified Skyline

The story here is a performance brand for women. XS Unified’s team includes skaters, riders and skiers of notable accomplishments including Lyndsey Dyer. While walking among hundreds of displays at InterBike in Las Vegas, this snappy, resilient cycling helmet stood out as an easy choice for urban exploits. Even beyond the unisex Skyline helmet, the brand’s designs for all pursuits, including multisport models, are characterized by a sense of flow and thoughtful touches, many of which originate in the skateboarding world.

Tester Comment: “Find your form and keep safety at the ready in every situation. I liked taking the helmet to work and social gatherings to get a conversation started about women-specific brands. XS’ line-up of athletes is impressive, giving me confidence in the company in addition to my great-fitting helmet.”

Looking for more information about XS Unified Skyline? Read the full review

Buying Options

XS Unified
0% Cash Back
$69.95
Before Cash Back
$69.95 After Cash Back
Lazer Genesis Lifebeam Lazer Genesis Lifebeam

Lazer’s competitive credentials extend to the most grueling, contest road and off-road events in the world. Lifebeam addresses a universal desire among both recreational and competitive cyclists for accurate heart-rate data, even if they build upon it to monitor cadence, speed and power output. This was among the first bike helmets to incorporate non-invasive biometric sensors, building on the Genesis Helmet platform Active Junky’s ridden in the past.

Tester Comment: “Fast and easy synching to my phone was simply the start. Comparing Lifebeam’s readings to other heart monitors showed the accuracy is solid, regardless of road vibration (road-bike levels) and helmet position. A traditional helmet look doesn’t attract undue attention. Looking forward to seeing more and more functionality integrated to helmets after riding this one.”

Looking for more information about Lazer Genesis Lifebeam? Read the full review

Buying Options

4% Cash Back
$250.00
Before Cash Back
$240.00 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$250.00
Before Cash Back
$243.75 After Cash Back
Lumos Helmet Lumos Helmet

Safety is the goal with this light-integrated helmet system that stakes its destiny in the product’s name. LED technology now makes it possible to get manual signaling and intelligent emergency flashing into a relatively compact package. The base helmet mimics designs from GIRO, Lazer and others with an aero-road approach.

Tester Comment: “With a solid helmet at the core, Lumos was fun to ride, more from the reaction of motorists than other riders (who either gawked or pretended I didn’t exist, me with my funny lights). Combined with some daytime-stealthy reflective accents on a jacket, activating Lumos even at dusk is a smart move.”

Looking for more information about Lumos Helmet? Read the full review

Buying Options

Lumos
0% Cash Back
$179.00
Before Cash Back
$179.00 After Cash Back
Triple 8 Compass Triple 8 Compass

Triple 8 spins a tale of wind-slicing form, easy comfort and sensible protection to become an Active Junky favorite for all-around riding. The company’s done both commuters and recreational cyclists a favor by building in features that keep the helmet cool and protect the rider from the sun without giving a feeling of exposure to the elements (natural or human). Both men and women will appreciate this helmet’s simple lines and solid color choices at well under $100.

Tester Comment: “With European styling wrapped in a comfort-provoking suspension system, Compass shows the way for everyday, practical protection. Easy to adjust and wear, the helmet accommodates both women and men with a worthwhile visor and the right amount of standing and riding ventilation.”

Looking for more information about Triple 8 Compass? Read the full review

Buying Options

2.5% Cash Back
$59.95
Before Cash Back
$58.46 After Cash Back
4% Cash Back
$69.99
Before Cash Back
$67.20 After Cash Back
1.5% Cash Back
$69.99
Before Cash Back
$68.95 After Cash Back