The worst things about the best road helmets 

What I learned from wearing the best road helmets.

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Ever had another cyclist ask why your head is shaped like an alien? You correct them and say “Xenomorph,” but that doesn’t make it any better. Well, that’s happened to me, and the likelihood of such occurrence increased after aero helmets became the norm. I don’t mind looking like I have an elongated skull, but I do mind an uncomfortable or difficult to adjust helmet. 

At a glance, I will give a helmet a chance based on the shell profile and vent placement, straps and rear adjustment mech. Whichever helmet has features I like, I try on. I accepted that I don’t need an aero helmet based on the type of riding I do – which is often not 100 miles averaging 25 mph. 

I focused on the Abus Gamechanger, Kask Valegro, the Giro Cinder, Aether, and Eclipse, since they’re some of the top sellers and I’ve ridden in them all for quite a while, but I also have a Bell, Bontrager Stravos, an old Giro Synthe and POC, and have gone through two Kask Protones over the years. Assuming they are all similarly protective, that variety taught me to consider these specific features when helmet shopping:

1: Adjustable Ear Straps

This is the biggest issue I’ve had with aero helmets I’ve owned (the Protone and the Gamechanger), as well as a POC helmet I was just gifted: the straps are not adjustable at the ear. Those of us with hair can’t change the way the Protone straps fit to make them sit neatly around our ears. The reasoning is that removing the adjustment clasps at the ears lowers helmet weight and ensures the straps won’t flap or turn against the wind, creating drag and reducing the aero-effectiveness of the helmet. Personally, I prefer a neat Y around my ear, and that’s easiest to achieve around a greater variety of headgear and hairstyles when the straps are adjustable at the ears. Even if I only wear a ponytail, I will need to wear a cap or ear warmers at some point when it gets cold. 

That said, lay-flat straps may be ideal for the rider without multiple hairstyles or headgear to accommodate. It’s easier not to have adjustable straps if that’s the case: parallel adjustment systems need to be checked every time the helmet goes on to ensure the straps are even on both sides.

2: Fixed or Sealed Chin Strap Ends

On a helmet over $200, I expect the ends of the straps to be sealed together in some way. The  Protone’s leather-covered straps use a rubber tip, for example, and the Gamechanger simply folds and stitches its strap. Some helmets come with raw nylon straps that are not connected to each other at the ends, which allows them to become annoyingly uneven. I use a lighter to burn them together, but that is not ideal for a top-of-the-line piece of kit.

3: Ponytail Port

Many riders with long hair find a way to keep it off their necks when riding, usually by pulling it between the helmet shell and the adjustable bracket around the head. Some helmets have a single vertical extender in the back that won’t admit a ponytail easily. It is a consideration for a good segment of the population, so worth mentioning. 

It is important for me to reiterate here that helmets and shoes are two pieces of kit that need to fit without discomfort — try before you buy. Now to verbally shred the aforementioned nice helmets. 

Giro Cinder Mips — $160

Pros: Breathable, comparatively inexpensive

Cons: Chunky shell

Size/Weight: M/334g

Initially pitched as a women’s-specific less expensive version of the Synthe, the Cinder predates the Aether. The ear adjustments seem better than all the other Giro helmets on this list. Its 26 vents breathe very well, and since I’ve had this for more than three years, I’m surprised the removable padding has held up this long. It doesn’t have the little touches like rear reflective strips like the Protone, or rubber padding in one of the vents to hold sunglasses, like the Aether, but it will take a ponytail, and the price tag is significantly lower. 

Kask Valegro — $249.95

Pros: Most breathable helmet I’ve tried, sealed straps

Cons: Flat front somehow not as attractive as the Protone

Size/Weight: M/215g

This is Kask’s climbing offering, and it has the same issues as the Protone but was actively uncomfortable for me, with the helmet pressing into the center of my forehead. And worse, the flat front of the helmet shell means that whenever it shifts a bit, it looks immediately crooked and terrible. These are personal complaints, however; not universal issues, but it did encourage me to try on helmets whenever possible. The Valegro does have 37 vents, so I didn’t feel sweaty, just pinched. Perhaps the well-vented shell is what keeps the weight down: it’s the lightest size medium on this list. It has a ponytail port and sealed straps as well.

Abus GameChanger — $250

Pros: Very low forward facing outline looks good, a true aero helmet

Cons: Long profile looks like a Xenomorph

Size/Weight: M/299g

This helmet has a decidedly xenomorphic profile to it — long and alien-like. From the front, it’s the lowest profile on the list, however. It is definitely aero, and the lack of large vents makes that clear. It’s also less breathable than some of the offerings here as a result. It does have ports to hold sunglasses at the front, but it doesn’t have any sort of strips to keep the glasses in place. Nor are the straps adjustable. But it was a little more forgiving for my personal head shape, and I didn’t find it uncomfortable or have too much trouble getting it to fit.

Giro Eclipse Spherical — $250

Pro: Low profile, low weight, aerodynamics, adjustable chin strap

Con: Unsealed strap ends

Size/Weight: M/271g

To reiterate: for top-of-the-line helmets I can’t help but be annoyed by straps that aren’t connected at the end to keep everything as even as possible. I burned mine together, but that’s not as attractive as a neat, Giro branded rubber or leather tip. It also doesn’t have the Aether’s sunglasses-holding contact strips on the inside of any of the vents, so I added my own non-slip padding in a vent. It also didn’t come with reflective detailing on the back. The decals are reflective, but not the back, so I added those reflective stickers. 

What the Eclipse does have is a low weight and profile; the photos don’t do the unobtrusiveness of the helmet justice. Giro claims it as their best aero helmet yet, beating out the Vanquish by about a minute at 25mph over 100 miles. It also breathes better than the Vanquish, with 14 deep vents. And of course with the floating spherical technology it will do the primary job of protecting your skull. It’s an aero helmet one can comfortably wear without looking like a sweaty alien.  

I sealed these straps on the Giro Eclipse.

Giro Aether Spherical — $300

Pros: Breathable, proper sunglass storage slots

Cons: Unsealed straps ends

Size/Weight: M/303g

Again, the issue with the loose straps remains, and the Aether shell looks thicker to boot. But it is still a clean profile — the vents sweep to the rear funneling air without elongating the head. And like all Giro helmets, the straps are adjustable at the ears. It features Giro’s spherical safety technology that allows the exterior shell to float, reducing impacts. It also breathes incredibly well with 21 large vents. The rubber sunglass holder strips on the inside of a pair of the vents are almost required at this point, but these are especially well-done.

Kask Protone — $300

Pros: Attractive low profile, rear reflective strip, sealed straps

Cons: Straps aren’t adjustable

Size/Weight: M/268g

I have cracked Protones, and I had no concussion symptoms. It’s a very popular road helmet in NYC, and I loved the look. but while it wasn’t uncomfortable, I didn’t love the fit because of the straps. I hate that the straps were not adjustable at the ears — my hair and cap had to be adjusted with the particularity of a ’90s rave bro to make sure it fit comfortably. 

Kask has moved on to the Protone Icon, but the helmet looks the same at a glance — with the same welcome reflective strip on the rear of the helmet shell. It also has an open rear “octofit” system that will fit a ponytail. 

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