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Best budget cycling helmets: safe on a budget

Cyclist magazine
10 Aug 2021

The nine best helmets to keep your head protected without breaking the bank

If you've got the bike you’ll most likely also be wanting a bike helmet. But just because a bike helmet can save you from breaking something serious, doesn't mean you need to break the bank to buy one.

It isn't law to wear a cycling helmet while riding in the UK, but it is the law that every helmet sold here conforms to certain safety standards. Happily, this means that affordable budget helmets offer just as much protection as their more pricy counterparts.

What's more, as technology from models costing several hundred pounds has trickled down, the latest entry-level helmets aren't just safe, they're also increasingly form-fitting, well-specced, and stylish.

One of the various things it's now routine to see appearing well under £100 are potentially concussion averting Mips (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) liners. Other features to look out for include inbuilt lighting, slimline straps, or extra ventilation.

Here we've picked out a few favourites to keep you riding cool, comfortably and, most importantly, safely – all on a budget.

The nine best budget cycling helmets

DHB R2.0 Road Helmet

Buy now from Wiggle for £50

To find a Dhb product in this middle price point surely means you can expect it to be feature-packed, and so it goes with this offering from Wiggle’s in-house brand.

The R2.0 weighs a claimed 280g meaning it’s competitive if not class-leading in the weight stakes, and with 21 vents it offers ample breathability.

Dhb says it has kept the R2.0's profile low, such that 'the helmet sits around the head, not on top of it', while the click-dial operated retention system, Coolmax liner pads and removable microfibre chin strap help ensure a comfortable fit.

Like others, two sizes cover the majority of the bell curve with 54-58cm and 58-62cm options, and four colourways which should cater for most tastes. Great value and packed with features. We especially liked the padded chin strap and svelte silhouette. You can find our full review here.

Buy now from Wiggle for £50

Specialized Echelon II Mips

Getting a helmet for under £100 with Mips safety technology is impressive. If you're wondering what Mips is, it's an inner section of the helmet that rotates independently of the outer section on impact, with Mips' crash test research showing this can decrease trauma to the skull. Basically, Mips promises to keep your head extra safe.

But that's not the end of it, as Specialized has kitted out the Echelon II with its ANGi crash sensor, which pairs to your smartphone in order to send an alert, along with your last-known GPS coordinates, to an emergency contact in the event of a crash. Double safe.

The presence of Mips technology and Specialized's ANGi crash sensor is mighty impressive at this price. All told, it's a safety-packed design with few compromises on performance

Met Strale 

However lovely they may otherwise be, it’s rare to find a budget helmet that’s also aerodynamic. This is a shame for price-conscious racers, as an aerodynamic helmet will probably make you at least a few seconds quicker in your next event than a conventional one.

Met’s Strale road helmet goes against this trend. With a low-profile in-mould construction, the Strale is light and sits close to your head.

With a slippery, semi-enclosed form, it also claims to be very aerodynamic. Ensuring this extra slipperiness doesn’t come at the cost of a sweaty brainpan, its air channelling system aims to create a continuous throughflow of air.

In nicking both priorities and features more often associated with race-level models, the Met Strale also looks like a much more expensive helmet than it is; all things that make it perfect for aspiring racers, or just those that want to look like them might be. 

Smith Signal Mips

An American brand just as well-versed in snowsports helmets and goggles as it is cycling helmets and sunglasses, safety always seems paramount with Smith Optics. It's why despite costing just £64.99, the Smith Signal packs Mips under its EPS shell for even better head protection.

A total of 21 air vents across the top of the helmet will ensure you stay cool and comfortable throughout the summer months, and the adjustable VaporFit dial system allows for a customisable fit when securing the lid on your head.

Being a sunglasses company too, Smith Optics has thought hard about when you want to slide your sunnies into your lid, designing two specific slots at the front of the helmet to stow away your glasses.

Generally, the inclusion of Mips at this price is laudable, as too the styling. Plus, a claimed 256g (small) weight makes this a decent lightweight option for the money as well.

Giro Foray

The Giro Foray is a helmet that punches above its weight, taking plenty of design cues from the Giro Synthe, the brand's former range-topping model.

The Foray's sculpting combines excellent ventilation with aerodynamic styling (created in the wind tunnel, no less), helping to create a helmet as at home over a 200km race as it is on the morning commute. Specifically, Giro says the Foray has been made to help channel cooling airflow through the helmet without creating excessive drag.

The Foray is available in a wide range of colours and five comprehensive sizing options that Giro claims suits '98% of the world's population', and certainly we've never had any complaints as Giro's fit – irrespective of helmet model – has always been its strong suit.

Trickle-down technology from more expensive Giro helmets also gives the Foray plenty of bang for its buck. That said, there's no Mips, and 270g is a good, if average, weight. Read our full review here

Abus Aduro 2.1 Race


German brand Abus knows all about safety, having been making locks since 1924. In the last few years it's turned its attention to helmets, and with great success, adorning the heads of pro-racers and winning stages of the Tour de France.

The Aduro 2.1 brings some clever little tricks to the party, specifically a fit system noteworthy for its 360-degree retention band and a good level of reflective detailing at the rear to help keep you seen as well as protected.

Also incorporated into the front three vents is a mesh to stop any bugs that might otherwise spoil your ride, while the remaining 10 vents are mesh-less for maximum breathability. Abus also says this unisex helmet is designed to work specifically well for riders with ponytails.

At 275g (medium) the Aduro feels light enough on, albeit the fit is slightly on the narrow side, while a removable peak rounds off the package nicely.

Bontrager Solstice Mips

Bontrager’s Solstice is another helmet in our round up to feature Mips, but gets special mention for including it for under fifty quid – no mean feat when the technology itself not only has been manufactured into the helmet but also licensed from Mips too.

Just to reiterate, Mips (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) allows a helmet to rotate slightly in respect of the skull during impact, lessening the trauma from a crash, says Mips' research. It would appear most agree, as Mips is fast becoming standard in the upper tiers of bike helmets.

Two sizes, S/M (50-57cm) and M/L (55-61cm) mean the Solstice is weighted toward the middle section of the market, something happily reflected in the price but coming at a cost in overall bulk, with the helmet weighing a claimed 345g in a size medium.

But 17 vents combine with five air tracks to give plenty of airflow, and Bontrager offers a crash replacement where it will replace the Solstice free of charge if it's crashed in the first year. Another Mips helmet at a pleasingly accessible price, it also scores highly for fit and the crash replacement policy too.

Giro Agilis Mips

Giro gets a second entry to sit alongside the Foray. The brand’s slightly more expensive Agilis not only gets Mips, but, thanks to being a newer release, also has slightly slicker styling and noticeably better venting.

Like the Foray, it’s very light considering its diminutive price tag while also benefitting from the same Roc Loc 5 retention system used on the firm’s higher-end helmets. Fans of the American helmet maker, of which there are many, will also be happy to find a familiar fit, one that somehow manages to be as neutral and universal as possible. Basically, if your head is round, it’s likely to be a good fit.

Perhaps at the higher end of the budget spectrum, pleasingly the Agilis is pretty much indistinguishable from helmets costing twice the price. Light, good looking and with potential concussion-mitigating Mips, we think it’s top value.

You can read our full review here.

Kask Rapido

Atop the heads of Team Ineos for as long as we can remember, Kask has made a name for itself at the eye-wateringly expensive end of the market. Yet, as we've seen with many big brands, trickle-down technology means the Rapido can be considered truly entry-level while boasting a range of premium features.

Across its top, 24 vents keep your head cool on blistering days, while inside, plush padding and Kask's tried and tested retention system ensures a comfortable and secure fit.

The helmet comes in a wide range of colours to suit all tastes, and at 220g (claimed, medium) this is a class leader for the price. Also sporting plentiful comfort, lots of ventilation and an array of colour options, the biggest draw here is still likely to be the pro-styling and feathery weight.

What to look for when buying a new cycling helmet

Is it safer to wear a helmet?

Fit

As a helmet is first and foremost a safety item, a good fit is of paramount importance.

Make sure your preference is snug on your noggin and sits square and straight. There should be approximately two fingers' distance between the helmet and your eyebrow line.

Straps should sit snug but not too tight in a V under your temples; fully opening your jaw should elicit a not-uncomfortable tightness in the chinstrap (being able to insert a finger under the chin strap is another good measure).

There will be gaps between the EPS foam (polystyrene) and parts of your skull, but with the retention system done up and straps properly fitted, the helmet should not wobble about too much when you shake your head.

Placing a hand gently on the top of the helmet and moving it side-side and fore-aft should make your skin move with it. If these things don't happen, the helmet is either too big or not correctly fitted.

You’ll probably be wearing a helmet for a few hours at a time, so also avoid anything that has any kind of pressure point.

Safety

More on the point of safety, some budget helmets now offer additional protection measures that could potentially keep you safer in the result of a collision. The most common is Mips, a system that uses rotational technology to lessen the trauma from certain types of impacts.

Other systems include crash sensors – where a helmet-mounted sensor sends a signal to your phone to alert an emergency contact in the event of a crash, and stickers such as Datatags – scannable codes that the emergency services are trained to look for and which contain your emergency contact details, information about allergies, medication etc.

Comfort

Comfort is more than just fitting correctly. Even in cooler climates, good ventilation is incredibly important for keeping your temperature regulated and your cycling comfortable and enjoyable.

If at all possible, take a short ride or sit on a bike (or just mime sitting on a bike) when trying on a helmet, as the position of the neck changes dramatically, and you can suddenly find a helmet that's comfortable when you're stood up will have an awkwardly positioned retention strap or dial when your back is bent and your head is looking up.

Lastly, get a helmet that you like the look of – that you don't mind seeing yourself in – because if you like how you look, you'll be happy wearing that helmet. And a helmet is only safe if you're wearing it.

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