The cycling world has become infatuated with aerodynamics. One particular brand even goes as far as to state that aero is everything. While that might not technically be 100 per cent accurate, the best aero helmets certainly provide benefits, a notion reiterated by the fact that the majority of the WorldTour peloton utilise aero helmets for all but the hilliest of days.
The benefits provided by aero helmets have long been explored by time triallists, a discipline where innovation is rife and every possible time-saving measure crucial. However, over the past decade, the marginal-gains mentality has seen it filter onto the road, in turn leading to the creation of the aero road cycling helmet.
In that time, road cyclists of all abilities have been drawn to the best aero helmets as riders are sold on the prospect of higher speeds for fewer watts – cycling’s holy grail if you will.
The aero road helmet is easily distinguishable by its profile, often featuring a smooth frontal area with a decreased quantity of air vents. Occasionally the rear will extend to guide the passing air beyond the rear of the head with minimal turbulence.
With the reasonably large frontal area of a cycling helmet, it makes sense that the easier it can slice through the air, the higher the speed and less power output required. This is where a breakaway specialist might see the attraction and, of course, a time trialist, for whom that extra half a kilometre per hour could mean the difference between winning and losing.
This is also particularly attractive to cyclists who want to save as much energy as possible, such as sportive riders who have long distances to cover, sprinters who need the energy for that final huge effort, and even commuters who just want to get to work feeling fresher.
Skip to read our guide on how to choose the best aero helmet
Specialized’s focus with the Evade II was to take their original aero helmet, and make it faster, lighter, and more ventilated. Specialized says the new Evade is as cool as a bare head while saving six seconds over the previous Evade. Developed in their own wind tunnel, dubbed the Win Tunnel, Specialized claim this is the fastest helmet they’ve ever tested.
One of the unique features of the Evade II is Specialized’s crash detection device, ANGi (angular and ground force interface). When paired with the Specialized app, if it detects an impact, a message will be sent to your pre-chosen contacts to notify them. Strava’s Beacon feature offers a similar outcome but is triggered by a speed decrease, which from experience, can lead to unwanted panic at a simple traffic light stop. The ANGi technology does come at a premium, with a non-ANGi equipped model is available at £30 less.
The Evade II comes with a ‘gutter action’ brow pad, which is designed to direct sweat away from the eyes and, in a nod to their female customer base, it uses their Mindset HairPort II micro-dial fit system, which aids ponytail management.
At the time of writing, the Evade II MIPS ANGi is available in six colourways.
The main talking point about the Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet is the technology that Bontrager claimed to be ‘cycling’s most important change for 30 years’. This WaveCel technology is a honeycomb-like collapsible cellular structure that lines the inside of the helmet. It is claimed to be 48 times more effective than traditional helmets in protecting against head injuries during an accident. That said, although independent tests are yet to replicate these lofty claims; American testing facility Virginia Tech has WaveCel helmets occupying two of the top five slots in their independent tests.
While comfort and looks are completely subjective, the XXX WaveCel uses a Boa dial for adjustment, which in itself is rather large for a helmet dial. The mere fact that we found this an uncomfortable helmet wouldn’t be worth a mention but similar feedback isn’t hard to find online. It does have the option for vertical adjustment, but it can be difficult to find a comfortable spot. As for the looks, the green honeycomb-styled liner is somewhat polarising.
In terms of aerodynamics, there are no specific claims made by Bontrager. However, if it’s anything to go by, their original Ballista helmet did top our aero helmets wind tunnel test back in 2015, so it’s safe to say Bontrager knows a thing or two about making fast helmets.
The final worthy mention is Bontrager’s Crash Replacement Guarantee. If you have an accident in the first 12 months of ownership, Bontrager will replace your helmet free of charge.
The Kask Protone is a well-revered helmet that strikes a perfect balance between aerodynamics and ventilation. The 12 large frontal vents offer a great amount of airflow across the head, while the smooth rounded profile at the back helps guide air beyond the head with minimal turbulence.
Kask’s ‘Octo Fit’ system serves to offer a range of adjustability to fit all head sizes. This offers a secure all-around fit, that holds the head in a secure, but comfortable fit. There is also an eco-leather chin strap, along with 3D dry padding, which both serve to offer additional comfort.
While the omission of a slip liner might be off-putting to some, the Kask Protone still surpasses the level of protection required by industry standards, including ‘EN 1078’, ‘CPSC 1203’ and ‘AS/NZS 2063’.
The POC Ventral Spin helmet is not necessarily the first you’d look to when seeking an aero helmet, however, it’s a contender worth considering for those who include ventilation as part of the equation.
Unlike POC’s previous aero helmet, which consisted of little more than their Octal being fitted with a solid outer shell, the POC Ventral Spin underwent considerable aerodynamic and CFD testing throughout its development. POC adopted a ‘whole-helmet approach’, which they claim has helped to enhance aerodynamic performance and decrease air turbulence. Additionally, the air-flow design has been optimised in order to increase ventilation and thus accelerate cooling.
Like most of the helmets in POC’s line-up, the Ventral uses SPIN technology (Shearing Pad INside) to protect your brain against the effects of oblique or rotational impacts.
The Giro Vanquish MIPS is the one helmet in this list that would look equally at home in a time trial as it will on the road. Designed using CFD and wind tunnel testing, Giro makes some rather tough-to-compare aerodynamic claims about the Vanquish. When compared to a Bontrager Ballista, the Vanquish MIPS (with visor) will supposedly save 12 seconds in a 40km TT at 400 watts, and removing the visor will cost you two watts. They also claim a saving of 62 seconds in a 180km TT at 250 watts.
A stand-out feature is undoubtedly the removable Vivid Shield visor. It easily snaps into place thanks to three strong magnets and can also be flipped and affixed upside down. It’s worth mentioning that finding the exact position one-handed can often take a bit of adjustment, although removing and reattaching the shield mid-ride isn’t a common occurrence. It uses optics by Zeiss, and is suitable for all but the most overcast of conditions. The helmet also plays well with standard sunglasses, even utilising the outer two of the four frontal vents as an eyewear dock.
During the development of the Vanquish, Giro has greatly considered the science of aerodynamics. The helmet takes advantage of the Venturi effect to channel air across the head and exhaust warm stale air, and the four-piece polycarbonate hardbody shell interlocks in such a way that it creates a step-down. Giro claim this tricks the air into behaving as it would with a traditional teardrop TT-shaped helmet.
The Lazer Buller 2.0 is a helmet that will capture tech-lovers’ imaginations with the array of features that are available, some of which are standard but others will come at a cost.
However, before we get into these features, it’s worth stating the Lazer Bullet 2.0 is, as a standalone helmet, a worthy inclusion in this list. It features a MIPS slip liner for added impact protection, an ‘Airslide’ closeable vent, a magnetic clip-on panoramic Zeiss lens, and internal channeling that uses the Venturi effect to help you keep a cool head. It also comes with a rear LED light and reflective stickers to increase visibility in low-light conditions.
If your helmet has been involved in an accident it can be replaced at a reduced price of approximately 50 per cent for up to three years after the purchase date, however, the dealer’s discretion will dictate the exact discount you receive. This is limited to select countries, however; the UK and Australia are not currently included.
The Bullet 2.0 is compatible with Lazer’s integrated helmet tech, meaning for an added fee, you can add the Inclination Sensor and the LifeBeam heart-rate monitor.
Endura offers a helmet that combines aero tech and aesthetics with a Koroyd honeycomb design for safety purposes.
According to Endura, the Koroyd material crushes in a more linear fashion. This means that when the helmet hits the ground or an object in a crash, the forces will be more evenly spread out throughout the helmet. This, Endura says, lowers the chance of injury.
Our testers found that the Pro SL is a lightweight, feature-packed helmet, but that the airflow on this helmet is not particularly great, so it’s not suited for the hottest summer rides. On the other hand, it does offer some insulation for cold winter base miles.
The Kask Utopia is the Italian brand’s aero-specific helmet. At the expense of a few grams and the frontal vents, the Utopia is claimed to save ‘up to six watts than the most efficient rival helmet at 50km/h’ which is 31mph. Bear in mind, the majority of other manufacturers make claims at 40km/h (25mph).
Kask hasn’t ignored ventilation though; the Utopia is said to be equally at home on climbs and in time trials. Using the Venturi effect, the way air is channeled through the internals of the helmet is claimed to improve both ventilation and aerodynamics.
The helmet is also designed to reduce wind noise around the ears, for a ‘quiet ride experience’, and features 5mm of moisture-wicking material called Resistex, which claims to take moisture away from the rider’s head, moving it to the helmet’s outer shell in order to improve comfort.
One of the major attractions of Abus GameChanger is the fact that Abus have optimised the helmet’s aerodynamics across a range of head tilt angles. So no matter what your position on the bike, you can be confident the helmet is cutting through the wind with ease.
The GameChanger is a highly adjustable helmet, meaning there should be a comfortable configuration for all head shapes and sizes. The ‘FlowStraps’ are aerodynamically positioned, skin-friendly chin straps that offer a close, yet comfortable, chafe-free fit. The one downside is that these straps don’t feature adjustable dividers, however, my race team and I have used this helmet for 18 months now and nobody has raised this as problematic.
Finally, the Gamechanger’s aesthetics are somewhat divisive. However, you can at least be confident that you won’t be wearing the same as everyone else on the Sunday club run.
The MET Manta was first launched at the 2015 Tour de France, ridden by the likes of Steve Cummings for the then MTN-Qhubeka team. The Manta claims a 10 watt saving at 50kph over ‘other aero road helmets’. This is quite a dated claim, however, so while we have no data to prove the exact helmets tested by MET, the comparison will exclude a number of the helmets in this list, such as the S-Works Evade II and Kask Utopia which were launched in 2018.
One of the biggest positives of the Manta is the balance that MET have struck between a closed aerodynamic shape and good levels of ventilation. Users of the Manta are quick to remark at how well the helmet cools the head, rather than causing overheating.
The helmet’s adjustment is facilitated by MET’s Safe-T Advanced micrometrical system: a fancy way to say it has a small dial and vertical adjustment. Where it differs from some of its competition is that it tightens via a 360-degree ring around the head. The rear dial can also be replaced for one with a built-in light.
The Bontrager Ballista MIPS is, on paper, one of the best value aero helmets available. There are a number of features that make the Ballista stand out even in this category, and at £129.99, it’s also one of the cheapest in this bunch. The construction feels solid, there is reflective detailing across the helmet, the inclusion of a MIPS liner increases rider safety, and with Bontrager’s crash replacement guarantee, your helmet will be replaced free-of-charge if you have an accident in the first year of ownership.
While there are no specific aerodynamic claims from Bontrager, the original Ballista came out on top when we wind-tunnel tested helmets back in 2015. Given the shape hasn’t been greatly altered, we’re assuming the Ballista MIPS can still give its rivals a run.
There are a couple of negatives we’ve found with the Ballista MIPS. Frustratingly, the adjustable straps don’t seem to sit flat on your face, they twist to a slightly uncomfortable position and catch the wind. Secondly, the overall profile is somewhat large for a given head size. This is purely aesthetic, though, and the weight and comfort of the helmet aren’t affected.
The Pursuit MIPS is touted by Giant as the ultimate in all-around aerodynamic performance. While no specific aerodynamic claims are made by the Taiwanese brand, they do claim that it minimises drag, producing maximum speed in real-world rider positions and that the eight vents up front are ‘drag neutral’, which, when combined with internal channeling and vents at the back, allow for good airflow through the helmet without compromising aerodynamic performance.
Speaking of fit, the Pursuit MIPS is notable in its offering of two fit styles, Western (with a more oval shape) and Asian (with a more round shape). The Pursuit also uses Giant’s Element Strap System which combines with the MIPS Cinch Pro retention configuration to provide a secure fit with plenty of adjustment.
How to choose an aero road cycling helmet
This ought to be the first consideration for anyone buying a new helmet. After all, the whole purpose of the cycle helmet is to protect your head in the event of an accident. All helmets in this test will have passed the relevant regional industry-required standards, however, others go beyond the call of duty by utilising technological innovations such as MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), which is a ‘slip-liner’ that enables the helmet to rotate independently of the head during impact. This means that during angular impacts, more energy is absorbed by the helmet, rather than being transferred to the rider’s head.
More accurately, aerodynamics. The majority of helmet manufacturers will make aerodynamic claims about their helmets, usually a saving of power or an increase in speed, based on their own in-house testing. Sadly, we don’t have a wind tunnel at our disposal, so we’re at the mercy of these claims and personal feel. We’re aware feel is subjective, so where possible, we will try to standardise these claims to make them easily comparable.
A helmet may make you ride faster but if you’re stopping mid-ride to adjust the fit, then all of those precious seconds you’ve saved will be wasted. Of course, fit is very personal and, as such, we shan’t focus too greatly on this.
The gradient at which weight has a greater effect on speed than aerodynamics is approximately six per cent. Based on this, for the majority of the time, weight should be a secondary consideration but one worth noting nonetheless.
While ventilation might not be the primary focus when searching for an aero road helmet, it’s a worthy consideration – especially for those riding in hot climates. Aerodynamics and ventilation in cycling helmets tend to have a degree of mutual exclusivity, however, some manufacturers claim to take advantage of the Venturi effect, which in short, states that air will accelerate when pushed through a small hole. This means that air can be guided into small air vents and out of the back dragging the warm air out to aid cooling. Our reviews below will outline whether the manufacturer has considered this, along with the number of frontal vents, however, vent size is also worth noting.
Looks may be completely irrelevant to the performance of an aero helmet but it’s still likely to be considered when it comes to making a purchase. Of course, it’s completely subjective, so while this won’t be a major consideration in our reviews, we may make the occasional reference to our opinion, and we will include as much detailed imagery as possible to ensure you can make an informed judgment.
Take me back to the best aero helmets