Back in the ‘90s, helmets fell into two categories: super-ventilated things that were lightweight but gave you sunburn if you even had the slightest bit of pattern baldness going on or long-tailed aero shells that had no ventilation but tons of aerodynamic cred. In the last 20 years, we’ve learned a lot more about aerodynamics and the importance of finding a middle ground between wind-tunnel fast and real-world use. The best aero road helmet is something that won’t cause the rider to overheat, give him or her neck pain, or lose precious seconds, and fortunately with the advances in computer modeling and materials we’re getting closer to that perfect mix.
In the last 10 years, the best aero road helmets have made a huge impact on both triathletes and road cyclists. Aero road helmets generally have far fewer vents than a standard road helmet, but no long tail like a time-trial helmet. The big draw for triathletes is that users will reap many of the aerodynamic benefits of a full-blown aero helmet but will no longer be forced to keep their heads in that static position—if you glance down between your bars, no giant tail shoots up in the air, negating all of that time you tried to save with the aero helmet in the first place. As a weird side note, the best aero road helmets are “socially acceptable” to wear all the time—even in group rides that would probably cast a triathlete asunder if he or she showed up in full aero regalia.
So which aero road helmet is the best for you and what should you look for in your next purchase? Let’s take a look:
The best aero road helmet will have at least a few vents, which is incredibly important for hot rides—particularly ones with lots of climbs where little air is moving over your body. A vent in the front is a start, but look for something that also has a vent in the rear to allow air to flow over your head. Closeable vents are another good option if you’ll be training in chillier climates or with long descents.
The best aero helmets will have removable padding so you can clean the sweat-soaked fabric before things get stinky. Look closely for helmets that might include a second set of pads with different density or more coverage for colder days.
Just like a bike, the best aero helmet for you is the one that fits best. The best situation is to find a retailer that has a range of brands in stock because different brands fit different types of head—some have an oblong shape, some are rounder, some have more depth, some less.
The best aero helmets will have a retention device in the rear (or sometimes sides) to help dial in the fit. It’s important that the helmet fits tight enough that it won’t move around or fall off in case of an accident, but not so tight that it causes a headache—this is easier to do than most people think.
Aside from the benefit of keeping your general setup as light as possible to save time on climbs, the best aero helmet will also be light enough to avoid neck pain while holding the aero position. A heavy helmet can cause not only neck strain, but also pain in the scapula and upper back. All of the aero gains in the world don’t mean much if you’re forced to sit up and stretch constantly during your iron-distance bike leg!
The old saying used to be that a more expensive helmet won’t protect you any more than a cheap one—certifications mean that all CPSC helmets are roughly as safe as the next. But with the introduction of technology like MIPS that allows a small amount of movement in the helmet upon impact is meant to reduce the likelihood and severity of concussions in case of an accident. A few different brands have their own proprietary technology that works similarly to MIPS, so if safety (and concussions in particular) are a concern, the best aero helmet for you might cost a few more bucks.
The best aero helmets in terms of speed generally have built-in eye protection in the form of an integrated—and ideally removable—visor. A visor is not only super convenient for transition (no glasses to fumble), but it also enhances the aero shape. With that said, if you have a certain style of sunglasses you prefer, a visor might not be for you.
Now that you’re armed with basic aero helmet knowledge, let’s look at a collection of different brands’ offerings:
Best Aero Road Helmet For Bells and Whistles
Giro Vanquish MIPS
$300, 305g (w/out visor)
Giro was one of the first brands to embrace the aero helmet trend, so they’ve had a lot of time to work on their models. This version of the Vanquish has MIPS protection built in, plenty of vents in the front, and vents in the rear. The Vanquish also uses a fit adjustment system that lets the helmet “float” off the top of the head to give more ventilation and allow for a greater range of fit. Throw in an integrated magnetically attached visor, and this one does it all.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Managing Sweat
Bell Z20 Aero MIPS
Boasting an impressive 10 vents and a very cool “sweat guide” that helps channel those annoying little drips, Bell’s helmet definitely lands more on the road side of the aero-road border. Though it does not have an integrated visor, Bell’s focus is more on sweat management, so this is a good choice for those who live in hotter climates. An added bonus to the MIPS-equipped Z20 is a silver-fiber liner that helps resist stinky helmet odors.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Weight Weenies
Abus GameChanger Road Aero
Abus’ helmet has been in Europe for a few years, but it recently made landfall in the U.S. for the first time. Offering an alternative option to more mainstream brands, the GameChanger has a moderate amount of vents (5) that actually do a very good job of moving air over the rider’s head. The Abus is very spartan on features, in order to save weight, and sits fairly high on heads—actually a huge boon for those with ponytails. However, limited padding and a lack of MIPS (again, to save weight) is definitely something to note.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Tech
Specialized S-Works Evade With ANGi
The new S-Works Evade has built-in MIPS SL—a version of MIPS that Specialized helped work on to save weight. It also has a device called ANGi that automatically alerts a predetermined contact your GPS coordinates if you’ve been in an accident (note: it must be paired with a phone running the Specialized app). The latest version of the Evade also has a magnetically attached strap to reduce time spent fumbling around with that old-fashioned buckle.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Your Neck
Rudy Project Boost 01 with Visor
Created in conjunction with John Cobb of Cobb saddles fame, the Boost 01 was developed with hours of wind tunnel testing in Italy. Alongside 10 vents for air flow, Rudy claims a 65 percent reduction in neck torque due to “a forward placed aerodynamic pressure zone.” The included replaceable visor helps with aerodynamics (and transitions!) and is available in clear, smoke black, and orange.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Coverage
POC Octal Aero
While POC’s aero version of its popular (and well-vented) Octal helmet may rest on the lighter side of the scale, it doesn’t skimp on safety. Using extended coverage around the temples and back of the head, this helmet looks more like something for mountain use than the other aero options in this category. With only one vent in the front and a few in the back, expect the Octal to be one of the warmest on this list.
Best Aero Road Helmet For Someone On A Budget
Bontrager Ballista MIPS
Last but not least is Bontrager’s very popular Ballista model—a helmet that somehow gets in MIPS coverage for right at $200. Finding the middle ground between ventilation, weight, price, and coverage, this wind-tunnel tested helmet is a safe bet for a triathlete looking to spend a little less money. Not only is this an excellent helmet in terms of features, but Bontrager takes it a step further with a one-year free crash replacement policy.