The helmet is an integral part of any mountain biker’s armour as it protects the head from impacts caused by falls, collisions and accidents. Owing to the nature of mountain biking, the technical and demanding courses and the variability of the trail surface, there’s little doubt as to why it's become a mandatory item.
Scroll down to see Bike Perfect’s roundup of the best mountain bike helmets available to buy for 2020.
The best mountain bike helmets
POC Octal X Spin
The lightest, airiest and safest lid on the market
Weight: 210g (small) | Rotational safety: SPIN | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 4
While POC’s unique aesthetic may not appeal to everybody, few can dispute its presence — particularly in the professional cycling arena.
Compared to the regular Octal on which it is based, POC has made some structural refinements to strengthen the X’s shell, using aramid bridge technology (using strong synthetic fibres) to hold everything together in the event of a crash or impact.
Like the airy Octal road helmet, the X also employs a similar ventilation design but differs by way of an extended shell covering for extra protection.
A beautifully designed, quality half-shell helmet with some great novel features
Weight: 455g (medium) | Rotational safety: MIPS | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 5
In a segment dominated by rather generic-looking half-shell helmets, Oakley has really stepped things up with the DRT5 lid. Not only is it a real looker, it’s also available in five different colours, including a special Greg Minnaar Signature Series edition.
And then there’s an ‘Eyewear Landing Zone' which can accommodate all makes of sunglasses but was designed specifically for Oakley eyewear.
In terms of comfort and fit, the DRT5 employs a Boa retention system for enhanced comfort, complete with three levels of height adjustability. An integrated MIPS brain protection system is also part of the package.
Scott Centric Plus
An out-and-out performance lid for cross-country-inclined mountain bikers
Weight: 250g (medium) | Rotational safety: No | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 6
The Scott Centric Plus doubles up as both a road and mountain bike helmet but, unlike most of the trail-bent models featured here, the Centric is geared more towards the speed of cross-country and marathon racing.
As such, it ditches the traditional half-shell design approach of the trail helmet for a more aerodynamically optimised road-like design.
Nino Schurter and Lars Forster of Scott-SRAM MTB proved its hardiness and performance credentials by winning 2019’s Absa Cape Epic using Scott Centric lids.
Giro Chronicle MIPS
Hard to trump considering the protection benefits and low price point
Weight: 340g (medium) | Rotational safety: MIPS | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Colours: 7
Based on Giro’s range-topping Montana, the Chronicle MIPS naturally features a ton of trickle down technology — most notably the MIPS rotational protection system.
Structurally the Chronicle offers impressive protection but the trade-off is a genuine lack of ventilation. The prominent peak, while adjustable, can sometimes make repositioning your sunglasses a bit of a tricky exercise.
In terms of fit, the Roc-Loc 5 system has comfort sorted thanks to an adjustable dial that can tailor the fit to meet your exact requirements.
Leatt DBX 3.0 All-Mountain
A comprehensively specced helmet with a huge emphasis on brain protection
Weight: 360g (medium) | Rotational protection: Turbine Technology | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 5
South African company Leatt is world-renowned for its protective neck braces, body armour and full-face helmets — the company knows a thing or two about safety.
The DBX 3.0 All-Mountain is Leatt’s first non-gravity helmet and naturally focuses heavily around the notion of safety. It features 10 'turbines' positioned within the EPS foam liner which are strategically placed in impact-prone areas.
A big drawcard of this particular lid is the proprietary brain protection system called 360° Turbine Technology. Developed in-house by Leatt, it is said to reduce concussion and rotational acceleration head injuries by 30 and 40 per cent respectively.
POC Tectal Race Spin
If safety is your number one priority look no further than the POC Tectal Race SPIN
Weight: 340g (medium) | Rotational protection: SPIN | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 6
The POC Tectal is the follow-up to the impressive Trabec helmet, POC’s first half-shell mountain bike helmet. Building on the qualities that made its predecessor so popular among riders, the Tectal gets better ventilation, a more comfortable fit while still adhering to the company’s ethos of safety first, performance second.
Like most of its current range, the Tectal uses SPIN technology to protect your grey matter against the effects of oblique or rotational impacts. As the flagship model in the Tectal line-up, the Race SPIN gets aramid reinforcement that spans the entire EPS liner for added protection
Specialized Tactic 3
Armed with advanced levels of safety and comfort, the Specialized Tactic has rewritten the script for entry-level helmets
Weight: 340g (medium) | Rotational protection: MIPS | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 6
For the price, there isn’t much that can match the Specialized Tactic. The in-moulded shell provides strength and ensures you're protected when things get gnarly. It also looks better than some of its rivals, with an extensive colour palette to choose from.
And what about ventilation? Well, that comes compliments of a slew of cooling vents – a boon for those toasty and appreciably humid days on the trail.
At 340g, the Tactic isn’t the lightest helmet around (the POC Tectal and Uvex Quatro are both lighter options) but it represents one of the cheapest offerings in its class.
Unique honeycomb construction absorbs more impact force and ventilates well
Weight: 640g (medium) | Rotational protection: No | Sizes: S-M, M-L, L-XL | Colours: 5
While most helmet manufacturers are making advancements using the same EPS foam derived platform there are a few that are looking at alternative methods of force absorption.
Endura has chosen to look beyond the mould and use Koroyd for their MT500 helmets. Koroyd is a company that uses a honeycomb of thermally welded polymer tubes to form protection from direct and angled impacts. This also has the advantage that the ventilation is superb as heat is able to radiate and escape.
The MT500 includes a clip-on accessory mount for easy attachment of lights or cameras as well as vent docking for sunglasses, adjustable visor and compatibility with goggles for those that want to go full enduro.
Bell Sixer MIPS
Offering advanced protection, safety and comfort Bell has hit it out the park with the Sixer MIPS
Weight: 410g (medium) | Rotational protection: MIPS | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 11
There aren’t many helmets in the world right now that offer 11 different designs/colourways but Bell has always been at the forefront when it comes to panache and innovation.
The Bell Sixer is the firm’s big hitter in the half-shell helmet segment with a big focus on protection and ventilation.
A low-friction MIPS liner is standard fitment and ensures a snug fit in combination with the Float Fit system and a Sweat Guide padding arrangement, the latter of which directs sweat away from the eyes and sunglasses.
At 410g it’s a bit heavier compared to some of the segment staples but the 26-port ventilation system and hardy shell make up for the added grams.
Bell Super DH MIPS
Bell Super DH is a convertible full face helmet that offers the best of both worlds
Weight: 850g (medium) | Rotational protection: MIPS | Sizes: S, M, L | Colours: 13
Convertible full-face helmets with removable chin guards aren't a new thing but in the past, they always struck an awkward middle ground. Never strong enough to give enough protection for proper downhill racing or yet not light or comfortable enough for long days in the backcountry.
The Bell Super DH meets ASTM F1952-00 downhill safety compliance and features MIPS for added safety. This adaptable helmet will happily take on a breezy trail ride one day whilst shredding the bike park or racing downhill the next. For enduro racers wanting maximum protection whilst unrestricted by a chin guard on long connecting segments, the Bell Super DH is certainly going to appeal.
The Super DH is not lightweight, the extra reinforcements required to beef up the chin guard for DH certification adds a bit of weight. However, those looking for a lighter package, and don't need DH protection, can opt for the Bell Super Air R MIPS which weighs in at 640g and has enhanced ventilation
Troy Lee Designs Stage MIPS
A full face helmet designed to stay cool on the climbs and collected on the descents
Weight: 690g (M/L) | Rotational protection: MIPS | Sizes: XS/SM, MD/LG, XL/2X | Colours: 12
Full face helmets were previously the reserve for riders who only rode down hills but with enduro stages becoming increasingly popular, demanding racers are looking for options for better protection. Troy Lee Designs Stage's is a very lightweight and breathable full-face helmet designed to go up as well as down.
This isn't a pared-down DH helmet either, the Stage meets all required downhill certifications and is more than up to the job of protecting your head during a day of uplifts. Construction is made up of a dual-density EPS and EPP foam core and features a MIPS system as well. Included with the helmet is 2-liners, 3-sets of cheek pads and 2-neck rolls for custom tuning fit and closure is managed using a fid-lock system.
The helmet comes in 12 different colourways ranging from subtle two-tone designs to in your face classic Troy Lee Designs moto-inspired livery.
Best mountain bike helmets: what you need to know
While there are many factors that need to be considered when choosing the right helmet, how well it fits trumps all. MIPS and other protective features will improve the safety of a helmet but poor fit will massively reduce the ability of even the safest helmet to protect you in the event of a crash.
All manufacturers will provide a size guide based on head measurements but these can only go so far as there is no way to account for skull shape. When shopping for a new helmet nothing is more effective than simply trying on as many helmets as possible to find the one that fits best.
The best mountain bike helmets offer extra protection around the sides and back of the head and, in many cases, also include a visor to shield your eyes from the sun, rain and debris. You’ll also notice they are chunkier and less aerodynamic than the road bike equivalent.
Of course, there are some exceptions — cross-country and marathon-style helmets tend to possess slimmer facades as well as some aerodynamic trickery but the general consensus is that a mountain bike helmet should provide good all-round protection and ventilation.
Helmet ventilation is more problematic in mountain biking compared to road as average speeds are slower which reduces airflow over the head. The other issue is that simply adding more vents to allow heat to radiate comes at the sacrifice of protection.
This is why cross country and marathon helmets can use larger vents as crashing is often less consequential whereas helmets aimed at gravity riders will limit the number of holes in favour of increased protection from impacts and protruding objects.
Advanced head protection safety measures such as MIPS, SPIN and WaveCel technology should also be considered as they can significantly reduce rotational-motion brain injuries such as concussions.