10 Best Helmets For Road & MTB

Often overlooked, the helmet is quite possibly the most important piece of equipment in a cyclist’s arsenal.


Aaron Borrill |

Often overlooked in favour of carbon handlebars, deep-dish wheels or even another bike, the helmet is the only thing that stands between you and cracking open your melon should things go awry.

Here’s a tip: don’t skimp – it’s without doubt one of the most important investments you can make as a cyclist; and even if you damage your helmet in the event of a crash, most manufacturers provide some sort warranty, while others will replace it altogether.

There are also enough designs out there to fit with most styles, tastes and head sizes; so don’t be the plonker who rocks up to the next ride with a Makro special from the late eighties – or worse still, no helmet at all. Don’t be that guy…

BEST FOR MTB & ROAD: POC Octal X

POC helmets have a reputation for high safety standards. While the unique aesthetic may not be to everybody’s taste, few can dispute its presence. Compared to the regular Octal, POC has made some structural refinements here, the most important of which is an aramid bridge integrated into the structure – for strength, and to hold the shell together in the event of a crash or impact.

The X also employs a similar ventilation design to the airy Octal road helmet, and adds extra coverage for more aggressive riding.

Weight: 210g
Price: R3 900

The clincher:
Recco technology: it’s a chip embedded in the helmet that helps search and rescue teams locate lost people from the air. (Not yet operational in SA, though).

BEST FOR KIT MATCHING: Bell Zephyr MIPS

What a beauty! The MIPS liner is built straight into the retention system, promoting a snug, tight fit – it feels like the helmet is hugging your cranium, rather than crushing it. Besides, you do have the option of loosening the mechanism to suit your specific needs.

The tailored fit system ensures the helmet stays snugly in place – even on bumpy and corrugated MTB trails. Unlike other helmet straps that twist and fold, the Zephyr’s stay flush with your cheeks, thanks to the specially designed ‘no twist’ fasteners – which, according to Bell, save up to nine watts!

Weight: 285g
Price: R4 495

The clincher:
A deliberately positioned pad under the Bell logo channels sweat off your brow.

BEST FOR AERO: Giro Vanquish MIPS

The design objectives for the Giro Vanquish were simple: create a helmet with good ventilation, improved aerodynamics, and a comfy fit. Giro also wanted the helmet to incorporate a MIPS unit without altering the fit. And it works very, very well.

The progressive design has also positioned it more as an everyday choice than just an event-specific helmet – it can be used for all types of riding. Giro worked with pro athletes such as Alexander Kristoff to get the real-world data to validate its aerodynamic claims.

Weight: 305g (355g with lens)
Price: R4 500

The clincher:
The removable Zeiss-developed lens that filters blue light to give greater depth and contrast to your vision.

BEST FOR TRAIL RIDING: Uvex Quatro

Uvex are world leaders when it comes to safety equipment, so it’s no surprise the German company dabbles in the cycling realm too. After all, there’s a reason five-time Absa Cape Epic winner Karl Platt has a Uvex as his go-to lid of choice.

The Quatro is an MTB-specific helmet that focuses heavily on rider safety, and comes laden with double in-mould construction for added impact protection as a consequence. Seventeen integrated ventilation channels ensure excellent cooling. The helmet straps are easily configurable, and pretty simple to open, close and adjust on the fly – gloved or not.

Weight: 280g
Price: R1 999

The clincher:
The company’s pledge to safety makes it one of the most trusted lids out there.

BEST FOR MARGINAL GAINS: Kask Valegro

How could we leave Kask off the list? This particular model, the Valegro, weighs just 189g and was debuted by Team Sky at last year’s Tour de France. Featuring 36 air vents, it combines aerodynamic efficiency with next-level cooling. Kask says the helmet padding contact points are 70 per cent smaller than other helmet designs, which ups the cooling effect of the Valegro even further. The pads are made from 5mm-thick fast-wicking material, which will ultimately help absorb sweat, and keep your face moisture-free as a result.

Weight: 189g
Price: R3 999

BEST FOR BEING SUBTLY AERO: Bontrager Ballista

Got a super-fast aero road bike, and want to look the part? Then check out the Bontrager Ballista aero helmet – the same one worn by the Trek-Segafredo Pro Cycling Team. Its aerodynamic design and matte-black aesthetics are sure to add even more drama and stealth-like presence to your ride, and throw a bunch of style kudos your way too. Furthermore, not only does it boast a comprehensive ventilation system, it also has MIPS technology, for added head protection in the event of a crash. What’s not to like?

Weight: 280g
Price: R2 799

The clincher:

Darth Vader would approve. Fact.

BEST FOR LOOKING FAST: Bontrager Velocis

The Velocis is Bontrager’s top-end lightweight helmet for road riding. The composite skeleton is solidly constructed and allows for larger-than-usual cooling vents. While there are fewer ventilation holes than its forebear had, the ones that remain are finely tuned to deliver better airflow. Perhaps its biggest drawcard is the replacement guarantee, which provides owners with a new helmet in the event of a crash – if it takes place within the first year of ownership. And while other manufacturers offer similar policies, Bontrager’s replacement comes at no cost whatsoever.

Weight: 280g
Price: R3 299

The clincher:
Bontrager’s Headmaster II fit system is easy to operate, even with one hand.

BEST FOR THE TECHIES: Lazer Z1

When it comes to high-tech doohickeys and the like, Lazer’s Z1 helmet is in a class of its own. With pricey options that include a Z1 LED light and Lazer LifeBEAM heart-rate monitor, the Z1 has everything imaginable to keep gearheads happy, including magnet-mounted Magneto sunglasses.

Lazer also offers an aero or rain shell, as well as a small cable that locks the helmet to your bike – pretty nifty! With 31 vents and internal channelling, you get amazing ventilation for hot days, and Lazer’s Rollsys retention system makes it easy to find fit heads of all shapes.

Weight: 197g
Price: R4 200

The Clincher:
Its ability to accommodate a host of add-ons to make your riding safer and more refined.

BEST FOR RACY LOOKS: Specialized Prevail II

Specialized’s all-new S-Works Prevail is a far smaller, more compact unit, compared to its predecessor. The reduction in bulk doesn’t mean much in the way of weight savings, but it is marginally lighter than before. It’s also pretty aero in terms of performance, and it looks the part, too.

Speaking of which, the design hasn’t evolved much – but why change a winning recipe? What Specialized have done is refine the shape and positioning of the 35 vents, with recessed channels across the top and the trademark ‘Mega Mouthport’ at the front. Still one of our favourites.

Weight: 190g
Price: R3 500

The clincher:
Tri-Fix web splitter spreads the front and rear straps perfectly around your ears.

BEST FOR BUDGET MTB: Specialized Tactic 3

At this price point, nothing comes close to the all-new Specialized Tactic. An in-moulded shell improves strength and ensures your pip is covered when things get gnarly and messy. It also looks trendier than some of its rivals, with an extensive colour palette to choose from.

And what about ventilation? Well, that’s sorted by a slew of cooling vents – a boon for those toasty and appreciably humid days at Jonkershoek. At 340g, the Tactic isn’t the lightest helmet around (the POC Tectal and Uvex Quatro are both lighter options), but it’s one of the cheapest decent helmets around, meaning unparalleled value and style to boot.

Weight: 340g
Price: R1 200

The clincher:
Remove the peak and unlock an aerodynamic edge.

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