Video courtesy of The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety & The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab
To determine the safety of some of the top selling helmets on the market, the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab created the first ever helmet safety rating system. This system would help to discover the best bike helmets of 2021 and beyond for their safety and impact ratings.
This study was performed in conjunction with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non profit that is financed by the insurance industry.
During the testing a rating system was developed consisting of a 5 star rating. A helmet given the 5 star rating was determined to be the safest while a 2 star rating would show a lower level of safety.
This testing and rating system was done to help cyclists determine what helmets are going to best protect them and keep them safe in the event of a crash.
When should you replace your bike helmet?
Bike helmets should be replaced every 3-5 years due to their loss of ability to absorb impact. Materials break down with time due to sweat, UV rays and heat. To see when your helmet was made, look inside the shell for a manufactured date. More on helmet safety can be found on the ASTM website.
The four top rated helmets for safety by the VT Helmet Lab.
85 popular helmets in adult sizes were tested to determine their overall safety and given a rating using the new helmet safety rating system.
Of the 85 helmets tested, only 29 helmets were given the 5 star rating. 53 helmets were given ratings in the 3-4 star range and only 4 received a 2 star rating.
The numbers of stars given determine the overall safety of the helmet and it's ability to protect the rider in the event of an impact.
Price did not guarantee a safer helmet, several more affordable models rated higher than some more expensive options.
We've added a list of the safest helmets below, ranked from most safe to least by the VT Helmet Lab.
Video courtesy of Trek Bikes
It is important to point out that the majority of helmets that received the 5 star safety rating were equipped with the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System or MIPS system. WaveCel helmets also ranked very highly in testing.
In an impact the MIPS system allows for the outer shell of the helmet to move independently of the inner shell. This action causes the twisting forces on the neck and skull to be minimized, lessening the impact to the brain.
This results in the lessening of the forces that cause concussion and whiplash symptoms. In the end you are given a safer bike helmet.
The short video we've added shows how MIPS works and it's safety effects in the event of a crash or impact.
The Overall List Of The Best Bike Helmets Of 2020 + 2021 By Safety Ratings
And The 2020 Winner Is?
The Bontrager Rally MIPS scored the highest for safety among all the helmets tested in 2020.
This makes the Rally not only the best mountain bike helmet in test but the over winner for the best helmet you can put on your head.
With great looks, multiple colors and top notch safety ratings you simply cannot go wrong.
For 2021 the Rally has been upgraded to the new WaveCel technology!
Other 5-star helmets
MIPS is not the only technology that was given a 5-star rating by the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab test.
The Wavecel helmets recently developed by Bontrager also received the highest level of safety honors and have been proven to provide extraordinary levels of protection against angled impacts and rotational force.
All Wavecel helmets have received a 5 star safety rating from the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.
Watch the Wavecel Helmet Video
Want to see more about this amazing new technology?
Helmet Safety Rankings
Below you will find helmets ranked by their safety ratings based on the findings of the VT helmet lab.
This list is subject to change based on new offerings from different brands.
All helmets sold in the US must be CPSC-certified. This standard requires protection against catastrophic injuries in extremely severe impacts, which are rare. Several helmets are certified by additional US standards. The ratings indicate helmets that pass standards for snow sports (ASTM F2040) or skate sports (ASTM F1492).
Best Available : 5 Stars
- Lazer Cyclone MIPS
- Bontrager Specter Wavecel
- Lazer Z1 MIPS
- Bontrager XXX Wavecel
- Troy Lee Designs A1 Classic MIPS
- Bontrager Blaze Wavecel
- Garneau Raid MIPS
- Bontrager Charge Wavecel
- Bell Stratus MIPS
- Lazer Chiru MIPS
- Giro Aether MIPS SP
- Specialized Chamonix MIPS
- Bontrager Rally MIPS MTB - Overall Highest Safety Rating For 2020
- Bell Z20 MIPS
- Lazer Century MIPS
- Fox Speedframe Pro MIPS
- Giro Tyrant MIPS SP
- Troy Lee Designs A2 MIPS Decoy
- Bontrager Rally Wavecel
- POC Tectal Race Spin
- Specialized Echelon MIPS
- POC Octal X Spin
- Rudy Project Racemaster MIPS
- Lazer Blade+ MIPS
- Bern Union MIPS
- Specialized S-Works Prevail 2 MIPS
- Bontrager Starvos Wavecel
- Giro Synthe MIPS
- Giro Syntax MIPS
- Lazer Impala MIPS
- Bontrager Solstice MIPS
- Giro Chronicle MIPS
- Specialized Ambush MIPS
- Smith Route MIPS
Very Good : 4 Stars
- Scott ARX Plus MIPS
- Bontrager Quantum MIPS
- Specialized Prevail II
- Bontrager Circuit MIPS
- Smith Optics Overtake
- Cannondale Ryker AM MIPS
- Giro Savant
- Kali Therapy
- Bell Draft MIPS
- POC Octal
- Giro Foray MIPS
- Giro Synthe
- Giro Sutton MIPS
- Specialized Evade II MIPS
- Garneau Le Tour II
- Bell Annex MIPS
- Lazer Coyote MIPS
- Specialzized Centro MIPS
- Scott Vivo Plus MIPS
- Catlike Whisper
- Bell Sixer MIPS
- Cannondale Ryker AM MIPS
- Specialized Ambush
- POC Tectal
- Garneau Course
- Schwinn Intercept
- Giro Register
- Scott Cadence Plus MIPS
- 6D ATB -1T EVO
- Leatt DBX 3.0 All-MountainV19.2
- Specialzed S-Works Evade II
- Smith Optics Forefront
- Bell Adrenaline
Good : 3 Stars
- Triple 8 Dual Certified MIPS
- Kali Interceptor
- Bell Reflex
- Bontrager Solstice
- Bern Brentwood
- Bell Division
- Schwinn Thrasher
- Nutcase Street
- Schwinn Flash
- Kali City
- Giro Revel
- Specialized Centro
- Electra Helmet
- Garneau Eagle
- Lazer Blade
- Troy Lee Designs A1 Drone
- Schwinn Excursion
- Bern Allston
- Kask Valegro
- Kali Tava
- Schwinn Chic
Adequate : 2 Stars
- Lazer Genesis
- Bern Watts
- Cannondale Quick
- Specialized Echelon II (non MIPS)
Common Helmet Questions
What is a MIPS helmet?
A MIPS helmet is a helmet that is fitted with the MIPS safety system, making for a safer helmet in the event of an impact.
What is MIPS?
MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. MIPS BPS (Brain Protection System) is a safety technology for helmets. In the event of an angled impact MIPS can reduce harmful rotational forces, which may be transmitted to the brain, by allowing the helmet to slide relative to the head. These rotational forces can cause concussions or even worse brain damage. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. (from Wikepedia)
How to choose a bike helmet?
We like to think that there are several factors that go into picking the right helmet for yourself.
- First would be fit, you must have a good fit for your helmet to function properly.
- Second would be impact safety, your new helmet needs to protect your noggin in a crash or fall.
- Third would be styling and looks. Feel like going with a crazy bright color? Go for it!
In terms of sizing, you'll want to get a proper head circumference measurement by wrapping a tape measure or string around the head above the ears and around the forehead.
Fit is paramount, a bad fit means much less protection when you need it most.
In the end, you'll want to choose a helmet that is safe, fits properly and matches your style.
How should my bicycle helmet fit?
- Once you've taken a proper head circumference measurement and you have picked the size helmet needed for your size head you'll want to put the helmet on your noggin.
- The helmet should settle onto your head and end up level, roughly one to two fingers width above your eyebrows.
- If the helmet feels loose on your head tighten up the retention system that is included. On many models this will be some type of a dial or click system on the rear of the helmet. If the helmet is able to jiggle around on your head after doing this it may be too big.
- If you feel uncomfortable pressure over the ears or anywhere else you may want to go to the next size up, if it's uncomfortable at first it will only get worse as you ride. You don't want your head to feel like it's in a vise, very light pressure is ok.
- The chin strap should be tightened up so as to be snug but still allow for proper breathing and neck movement. If you can get two fingers in under the strap while tightened without discomfort you are good to go.
- Be sure to dip your dip your chin to your chest with the buckle tightened as well, if you get a choking sensation here back off on the chin strap a bit.