2017 Helmet Roundup

Reviewing helmets is tricky. You can test fit and comfort, but very few of us are willing to take one for the team and actually crash test them in the name of journalistic integrity. While I’m happy to report that I didn’t need to test the efficacy of these helmets, I’m no stranger to cycling-related head injuries. Two and a half years ago I fell while riding my bicycle. I hit my head and sustained a concussion.

As you might imagine, that incident sparked an increased interest in bicycle helmet construction and design. At last year’s Interbike trade show, I spent a good portion of my time talking with manufacturers about helmet technology and mild traumatic brain injuries. And while each company touted the superiority of their respective technologies and features, practically every bicycle helmet shares the same basic design–namely, a layer of crushable foam encased in a protective shell that’s secured with a simple chin strap.

These five helmets cover a wide range of disciplines including commuting, off-road, and urban riding. Prices range from just under $70 to $230, but as the BHSI.org points out, less expensive helmets don’t provide reduced protection compared to their pricier counterparts. Each of these helmets complies with the necessary certification standards, so you can choose a helmet that fits your budget without compromising safety.

Model Weight (grams) Vents Sizes (Tested) Price (USD)
ABUS Urban-I 2.0 305 17 S M (L) XL $99.99
Bell Super 3R MIPS 784 (436/328) 23 S M (L) $230.00
Louis Garneau Raid MIPS 382 14 S M (L) $99.95
Nutcase Street 518 11 S M (L) $69.99
Shred Short Stack 390 20 XS/M- (M+/XL) $159.99

ABUS Urban-I 2.0

ABUS may be known more for their bike locks, but the German company offers no less than thirteen helmets, including models for kids and e-bike riders. Living up to its namesake, it comes as no surprise that the Urban-I 2.0 is designed for urban and city use. With its sleek profile and matte black colorway, the Urban-I delivers a neutral aesthetic that doesn’t scream bike helmet. The ABUS has more going for it than just good looks, though. With its integrated LED light, Fidlock® magnetic buckle, and ZOOMLite retention system, the Urban-I 2.0 packs a lot of functionality into a sub-$100 package.

At 308 grams (size large), ABUS’ Urban-I 2.0 is the lightest helmet that I tested. The combination of the helmet’s light weight and compact profile make it a joy to wear, provided it fits your head. I was surprised to find that the large Urban-I 2.0 felt noticeably smaller than other companies’ large helmets. Thanks to the ZOOMLite system’s wide range of adjustment, however, I was still able to get a comfortable, secure fit (which underscores the importance of trying on a helmet before purchasing). With seventeen vents and a slightly higher rear profile, the Urban-I 2.0 is an excellent choice for warm weather use. And that integrated LED light? I swear that cars gave me a wider berth when I wore the ABUS helmet.

Certifications: CPSC

Bell Super 3R MIPS

If there’s such a thing as a do-it-all MTB helmet, Bell’s Super 3R MIPS is that helmet. Designed for maximum versatility, the Super 3R features a removable chin bar that offers additional protection that can be stowed in a pack when not needed. Other safety features include MIPS slip-plane technology, and breakaway visor screws and integrated camera mount, Bell didn’t skimp on creature comforts; the Super 3R includes the company’s lightweight Float Fit™ adjustment and Overbrow Ventilation™ technology for increased airflow.

I spent most of my time testing Bell’s Super 3R without the chin bar. The 3R’s attachment system proved hassle-free, but most of the trails I ride aren’t technical enough to warrant the added protection. Fit for the Super is classic Bell–great for those with round-shaped heads. And like the company’s Stoker MIPS that I tested in 2016, the Super 3R has plenty of room for a doo rag or balaclava. Even without its chin bar, though, the Super 3R is heavier than helmets that offer similar coverage. This is something that I only noticed on very long rides, but it’s worth considering if you’re sensitive to helmet weight. To be completely fair, the Super 3Rs total combined weight is still 200-300 grams less than many dedicated full-face helmets.

Certifications: CE EN1078, CPSC

Louis Garneau Raid MIPS

Louis Garneau’s Raid MIPS was one of the first sub-$100 helmets to feature MIPS slip-plane technology. With its extended rear coverage, Spiderlock® Pro stabilizing system, and three-position visor, the Raid is tailor-made for off-road use. Don’t think that the Raid is a one-trick pony, though. Weighing a respectable 382 grams and boasting 14 vents, Garneau’s Raid is equally suited to commuting and urban use. If neon isn’t your thing, the Raid is available in an all-black colorway. Louis Garneau also offers a women’s version of this helmet, the Sally MIPS, which is available in S/M and M/L sizes.

With finish and construction on par with Garneau’s costlier models, the Raid MIPS is anything but basic. Though slightly roomier than the company’s Course road model that I reviewed in 2014, the Raid’s fit is far from sloppy. A few clicks of the Spiderlock Pro stabilizer were all that was needed to keep the helmet snug. This is a good thing, too, because the Raid’s extended rear coverage makes it a bit difficult to access the Spiderlock’s dial (especially if you’re wearing full-finger gloves). That minor nit aside, Garneau scores major points with the Raid’s V-Plus visor. It adjusts easily while riding, yet stays put without the need for screws or snaps.

Certifications: ASTM, CE EN1078, CPSC

Nutcase Street

Cool bike helmets for everyday riding. That’s how Portland-based Nutcase describes their helmets. Whether you want to express your inner artist or just blend in, Nutcase has a color or graphic for you. In a nod to simplicity, Nutcase offers only two styles of bike helmets: the Metro, and the Street model that I tested. The latter’s simple, skate-inspired aesthetic may not look high-tech, but Nutcase manages to deliver plenty of features into the sub-$70 Street model. From its no-pinch Fidlock magnetic buckle, to the removable visor, Nutcase successfully blends creature comforts with protection (the Street was one of only three helmets to receive a good rating by German testing foundation Stiftung Warentest).

The Street’s extended coverage and generous sizing make it ideal for winter riding. Most of my helmets won’t accommodate much more than a skull cap or lightweight balaclava, but I configured the Street’s Gen3 pads to easily handle three layers while still maintaining a proper fit. And if you’re feeling really chilly, Nutcase’s optional ear pads ($15) weigh only 32 grams but extend the Street’s comfort range by at least ten degrees. Most riders will appreciate the Street’s extended rear coverage, but cyclists who favor a more aggressive riding position may find that back of the helmet crowds the adjustable spin dial when riding in the drops (the dial is easily removed, however).

Certifications: ASTM, CPSC

Shred Short Stack

If you haven’t heard of Shred, don’t feel too bad–I didn’t learn about the decade-old company until last year’s Interbike trade show. Rooted in snow sports, Shred offers seven bike helmets, including the versatile Short Stack. With its compact profile, the all-mountain Short Stack bucks the trend of taller, bulkier all-mountain helmets. Like Shred’s other bicycle helmets, the Short Stack does not utilize a MIPS liner. Instead, Shred relies on sister-company Slytech’s patented honeycomb inserts to dissipate impact energy in multiple directions.  And for additional peace of mind, Shred equips the Short Stack with an ICEdot emergency identification sticker.

Despite weighing almost 400 grams, the Short Stack feels–and fits–like a much lighter helmet. Shred may only offer the Short Stack in two sizes, but the M+/XL size is easily the best-fitting helmet I’ve worn to date. Ventilation is also excellent, and on par with many lighter, road-style helmets with X-Static‘s silver fiber pads keeping you free of the dreaded helmet funk. Adjusting the Short Stack’s retention system is easy thanks to the large, easy-to-reach dial, but I found it required frequent readjustments to maintain my preferred setting. And while the helmet’s well-ventilated visor didn’t block airflow, I’d prefer an attachment system that enabled more than two positions.

Certifications: CE EN1078, CPSC

Disclosure: ABUS, Bell Helmets, Louis Garneau, Nutcase, and Shred provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

3 thoughts on “2017 Helmet Roundup

  1. I think the most challenging part of helmets is finding a location to try all the different brands. Some aren’t sold in local stores, which makes finding the right fit a challenge. No one likes to buy online and have to constantly exchange for the right size, brand, etc. It is both a time-challenge and a waste of financial resources (if free exchanges aren’t offered) to order and send back. To that end, it’s always good to read reviews of various brands and prices to help alleviate that issue somewhat (so this post is much appreciated). However, I still find that even minor head shape differences seem to have a seemingly huge impact on fit for the rider.

    I recall buying one helmet several years ago that many raved about and every time I wore it I was in absolute pain across my forehead. With all of our modern day technology, one would think that companies would have created non-functional sample helmets that would fold or compress for shipment to allow a buyer to order and try multiple styles for fit prior to placing an order. It’s likely not such a challenge for those in large cities, but for those in the ‘burbs or in rural areas who don’t have access to multiple bike shops, I can see how this would be very useful. I suppose it’s not necessarily practical financially for a company, but I would think these costs could be factored into the cost of the helmet. So many people are paying multiple hundreds of dollars for helmets today that I wouldn’t think many would flinch at a small increase?

    Nice to see some different brands reviewed here (I don’t often see Abus or Shred, specifically).

  2. Failing G.E.’s idea for test samples, out wood be nice to have a good way to convey which helmets fit what head shapes. For example, I have a high forehead, and many helmets don’t fit.

    1. Helmet sizing is tricky. I usually recommend that folks visit their local bike shop and try on as many different models as they can. Purchase the one that fits best (and is within budget) and feel confident that you bought the right helmet.

      You can find some interesting reading on alternative helmet sizing here.

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