Best bike helmets of 2020: Bern, POC, Thousand, & others

  • Wearing a bike helmet is incredibly important for a cyclist’s safety, not only protecting their head in the event of a crash but being able to save their life, as well. 
  • The best bike helmets offer some combination of a comfortable fit, protection from blunt and rotational impact, and high visibility. 
  • Our top pick, POC’s Octal X SPIN, features excellent ventilation, a highly protective design, and enhanced visibility, among a few other great safety features.

Bike helmets aren’t the same polystyrene buckets of the past. They’ve since become so specialized that the helmet one might use for commuting differs greatly from what they might grab for a road bike ride — and that’s a good thing. Forget one-size-fits-all, it’s the variety and specialization of today’s helmets that allow different riders to find one suited perfectly to their needs. 

Today’s cycling helmets can be aerodynamic, lightweight, visible, and, perhaps most important, highly protective. Ideally, you’d never get to the point where you need your helmet to perform its ultimate function (i.e. protecting your head) but no matter where you live, hopping on a bike comes with plenty of injury risk. Modern helmets dramatically reduce that risk, thanks to a rigorous set of standards (outlined at the end of this guide). 

How to shop for a bike helmet

Since the jack-of-all-trades bike helmet is mostly a thing of the past, it’s important to consider the kind of riding you plan on doing before purchasing. If you’re a road biker, you’ll likely want one that’s aerodynamic and lightweight while commuters should opt for a helmet with some sort of built-in light or visibility marker.

Even if you’re just casually riding around your neighborhood, you still want to find the correct helmet (likely one that teeters more towards comfort than aerodynamics while still offering a premium level of protection). No matter your desired use case, we’ve tested a wide variety of bike helmets to find the ones best suited to those needs.

How we test

Each helmet picked in this guide went through a thorough testing process to determine if it’s worthy of a recommendation (and, ultimately, your investment). To do this, we looked at a number of factors, consisting of comfort, fit, safety features, and value. Here’s how each of those categories factored into what helmets made the cut:

  • Comfort: If a bike helmet isn’t comfortable while worn, you’ll be less inclined to want to throw it on, even if you’re just quickly running to the store. The best bike helmets should certainly feel like you’re wearing something but not to the point where you’re either constantly adjusting it or counting down the seconds until you can take it off. 
  • Fit: Similar in the way an uncomfortable helmet isn’t ideal, an ill-fitting one is just as miserable. A poor fit can also jeopardize how well it keeps you safe in the event of a crash or direct impact. Many modern helmets feature adjustable sizing, too, allowing you to customize a perfectly dialed fit.
  • Safety features: How a bike helmet protects your head in a crash is, hands down, it’s most important feature (and the entire reason why you’re wearing a helmet in the first place). Look for safety features such as MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) or those with WaveCel technology, as these are advanced systems designed to reduce the force of impact on your head. 
  • Value: A helmet’s value is the combination of the categories that come before it (plus, of course, its price). If you’re paying a premium sticker price, you should expect a premium product in terms of safety, fit, and comfort. Going the budget route isn’t taboo but do make sure that if you’re looking to save a few bucks, that the helmet you purchase is still effective at keeping you protected (we’ve included a reliable budget pick below, as well).

Of course, the most important element of a helmet is its protection against brain injury, though this isn’t something we could reasonably test. However, the safest helmet is the one you always wear, so we tested the fit, ventilation, weight, and practicality of dozens of helmets to determine which are worth the investment.

Here are the best bike helmets:

Updated on 9/3/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the section on how to shop for a bike helmet, included a rundown on how we test, added the Thousand Chapter as the best bike helmet with an included taillight, checked the availability of each helmet, and updated the prices and links where necessary. 

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