This latest round of mountain bike helmet testing included six mountain bike helmets that were paired with a testing team of two women and four men. The women both have size small heads while the men were more varied in head sizes from medium to large to increase input on comfort, fit, ventilation, features and weight.
While no helmet hit scores of 9 or 10 across the board, the Smith Session MIPS combined the best balance between outstanding head coverage, superior comfort and fit and its safety features—for a reasonable price point of $180.
Our latest round of testing brings together six mountain bike helmets that were tested head to head with a team of independent testers with varying skull shapes and sizes. Helmet prices range from $80 (newcomer LEM Flow) to $268 (new-and-improved Sweet Bushwhacker II with a women’s-specific fit). Some helmets included Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), such as the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker, Giro Montaro, and Smith Session. Others did not, but had their own unique safety features, such as the POC Tectal RACE SPIN and the Kask Rex. Some were lightweight, others were not. But all were evaluated based on their comfort, ventilation, features, fit and weight.
Testers agreed that the Kask Rex delivered the most comfort for any length of ride but its list of features was not awe-inspiring. The helmet that did have awe-inspiring features was the POC Tectal Race SPIN, with its RECCO Reflector and SPIN technology that helps protect against rotational force impacts. The Smith Session MIPS was clearly the best scoring among the size small testers because of its fit and safety features. It is equipped with both Koroyd technology and MIPS. A double scoop of impact protection, if you will. One tester said if she had to intentionally crash, the Smith Session MIPS is the helmet she would choose to wear. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS showed much improvement in fit and comfort over its predecessor, the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker I MIPS. All in all, our Sweet Protection tester was impressed with the improvements. A newcomer to the mountain bike scene is the LEM Flow, which consistently impressed testers with its comfort and fit and lightweight feel.
After the team concluded their tests the Smith Session MIPS emerged as the Best in Class because two testers collaborated and agreed that it had outstanding head coverage, superior comfort and fit and its safety features of MIPS and Koroyd combined. It didn’t hurt that all these accolades were to be had for a reasonable price point of $180.
The Kask Rex was the high-scorer in this category, thanks to its padding which is plentiful, thick and made of Coolmax and are also antibacterial and anti-mircobial. They proved to do a better-than-average job of soaking up sweat to mitigate it running down the cyclist’s face and/or into their eyes.
The POC Tectal Race SPIN and the Smith Session MIPS tied with the second highest score in this category. The POC Tectal Race SPIN was rated by two testers as not only the most comfortable helmet in the test on any length of ride but the most comfortable they have ever worn. The soft padding at the front of the helmet runs approximately ¾ the length of the helmet towards the rear to cradle a head comfortably and did a good job of absorbing moisture on high-temperature days. Although the padding of the Smith Session consisted of two thin and narrow perforated anti-bacterial performance strips that run front to back, they still provided enough of a barrier between the scalp and the abrasive edges of the Koroyd tubes. Testers of the Smith Session found that what they saw was not what they got. The thinner padding had a high saturation point and mitigated sweat drip on their faces. The lightweight strap webbing laid comfortably flat and avoided all contact with ears.
Sharing third place was the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II and the LEM Flow. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II comes standard with a second set of thicker pads which, one tester agreed, enhanced comfort and eliminated pressure points, especially in the forehead. This was a big improvement over the Bushwhacker I. The LEM Flow’s key to comfort feature is the straps, which laid flat on one tester’s cheeks and stayed secure on rough trail. Its medium-weight padding is moderately plush and perforated for good moisture management.
The Giro Montaro MIPS, which came up slightly short in this category, had the least amount of padding of all the helmets in the test. Still, its comfort came from a more unlikely source: very comfortable mid-weight strap webbing which laid comfortably flat against one tester’s face, somewhat compensating for its minimalist padding.
The obvious winner in this category was the Kask Rex, thanks to its 20 large air vents and internal channeling that did an excellent job of promoting air flow. Its enhanced ventilation is augmented with beefy antibacterial, antimicrobial sanitized Coolmax padding that maximizes sweat evaporation and dry-time.
With 19 large air vents, the LEM Flow, a new-comer on the mountain bike helmet scene, scored the next highest. With large front vents, a generous air channel and generously-sized rear vents to push out warm air for optimal comfort. One tester noted that while riding on warm, humid days, his head wasn’t entirely soaked.
The Smith Session MIPS, POC Tectal Race SPIN, Giro Montaro MIPS and the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II all shared third place. The Smith Session has 15 large air vents that cycle air in through the front and out the back. With 16 moderate-sized air vents spaced fairly far apart, the POC Tectal Race SPIN provided good ventilation as well thanks to nine large vents in the front, a generous air channel and three vents at the rear push out warm air. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS has 13 air vents via a system that Sweet Protection dubs “STACC” (Superficial Temporal Artery Cooling Channel). The front vents move air through an internal channel to cool the temporal artery without exposing a rider’s vulnerable temples. The Giro Montaro MIPS has 16 sizeable air vents that range in size from small to medium that provided good ventilation on high-speed, high-exertion rides that was most noticeable on hot and humid days.
Features included a thorough review of head coverage and safety features that contribute to safety during impact and adjustable/removable visors that accommodate both sunglasses and goggles.
The POC Tectal Race SPIN is full of safety features which made it the clear high-scorer. With a surface space (size medium) measures 18 inches from front to back and 16 inches from ear to ear to provide the most generous head coverage of all the helmets in the test. Additional head protection comes from SPIN, POC’s technology to reduce the forces applied to the head during a rotational impact. POC has also added a RECCO reflectorthat returns a directional signal to rescue teams that carry a RECCO detector which directs the rescuer straight to the reflector. Topping off the Tectal Race SPIN’s impressive feature list is an ample, goggle-friendly visor.
The Smith Session MIPS and the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II followed with the second highest ratings. The Smith Session MIPS offers a dual form of impact protection with its pairing of MIPS and Aerocore/Koroyd to protect the cyclist’s head upon impact. Surface space is also impressive with the size small measuring 17 inches in length from front to back and 15 inches wide from ear to ear. Pockets between the Koroyd and EPS liner on either side of the helmet securely hold sunglasses. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS size small measures 14 inches from ear to ear and 17 ½ inches from front to back for generous head coverage. Additional head protection comes from MIPS and Sweet Protection’s five-piece shell construction that provides varying degrees of thickness throughout the helmet to make it stiffer or more flexible in key areas to increase protection where it’s most needed.
The Kask Rex and LEM Flow followed with nice safety features and protective surface spaces. The Kask Rex’s size medium measures 15 inches from ear to ear and 17 inches from front to back for outstanding head coverage. Its impressively sized, fully-adjustable ratcheting visor is removable, making it ideal for wearing goggles and is a stand-out feature. Comfortable Coolmax padding that is antibacterial, antimicrobial and sanitized are also excellent features, especially for cyclists who live and ride in humid climates. The LEM Flow size large measures 14 ¼ inches from ear to ear and 16 ¾ inches from front to back for generous head coverage. It also has a “bug-mesh” liner molded into two of the front vents mitigate entry from flying insects that sting. It also has a visor is adjustable and easy to remove without using tools or a great deal effort.
The Giro Montaro MIPS also provides very good coverage on the sides and back of the head, with the size medium measuring 17 inches in length from front to back and 15 inches wide from ear to ear. Additional head protection comes from MIPS. A great feature that Giro is known for is their Roc Loc Air fit system, which is designed to suspend the internal foam structure of the helmet slightly above the head to increase airflow. A larger visor easily accommodates goggles and all sunglasses comfortably and has a wide range of adjustability.
Fit is subjective because cyclists have varying skull shapes and sizes, hence the reason a group test was conducted this year. As a result, the Smith Session MIPS and the Giro Montaro MIPS were the best fitting small and medium-sized helmets respectively.
The Smith Session MIPS is equipped with a dial-operated adjustable fit system. With 40 incremental clicks it provides a wide range of snug fit with very minimal wobble for a variety of skull shapes. Additionally, it offers three different vertical position settings to fully customize the depth of the helmet atop the rider’s head. Likewise, the Giro Montaro MIPS has multiple points of adjustability that allow for a dialed and customized fit and is arguably the best fitting size medium helmet in the test. The source of its exceptional fit is the Roc Loc Air fit system. It is designed to allow the cyclist to adjust the helmet both vertically and laterally via a glove-friendly clicker wheel that can be easily adjusted on-the-fly, even with sweaty fingers.
The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II, LEM Flow and POC Tectal Race SPIN shared second place for Fit. The POC Tectal Race SPIN offers a size adjustment dial at the back of the helmet is large, glove-friendly, and easy to use on the fly. It cinches down comfortably and securely and allows for a fast adjustment to either tighten or loosen. Side straps are adjustable with a Y-shaped splitter to ensure they avoid contact with ears and lay flat against the cyclist’s face. The Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS, which is now available in a women’s design, offered a significantly improved fit over its predecessor, the Bushwhacker I. It still has the same glove-friendly four-way Adjustable Turn-Dial Occigrip fit system that is simple and fast to adjust but the standard padding included with the helmet was plenty sufficient for a secure fit. The new-comer LEM Flow’s glove-friendly LEM FS2 fit system brings a secure, easy, on-the-fly customizable fit with micro-adjust dial fit system is simple and fast to adjust and can be done one-handed while riding. One tester commented that the LEM Flow fit perfect right out of the box.
The Kask Rex’s Octo Fit system allows an impressive degree of adjustment with a glove-friendly rubberized micro-dial to adjust both the height and the width up to 180 degrees via an internal ratcheting strap. This allows it to accommodate a wide range of skull shapes and vary the helmet’s pitch on the head.
Weight varied in this test due to the differing helmet sizing. There was one large helmet (LEM Flow), three mediums (Kask Rex, Giro Montaro, POC Tectal Race SPIN) and two small (Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS, Smith Session MIPS). Obviously surface space, features and strap weight are a contributing factor.
The LEM Flow, despite being the largest size of all the helmets in the test was the lightest, weighing in at 12 ounces (317g). The heaviest helmet in the test was the size medium Giro Montaro MIPS at 13.6 ounces (385g). What was most surprising was the POC Tectal Race MIPS, size medium. With the most surface space and features of all the helmets in the test, it weighed in at 13.5 ounces (382g). The Smith Session MIPS size small with its combo of Koroyd and MIPS and generous surface space tipped the scales at 12.4 ounces (351g). The other size small contender, the Sweet Protection Bushwhacker II MIPS came in slightly under at 12.1 ounces (343g). The Kask Rex, with a good amount of surface space weighted in at 12 ounces (341g)—most likely offset by its ample number of 20 air vents.
Our testing team focused entirely on the helmets day-to-day ease of use, logistics and all the elements that contribute to comfort and fit, such as ventilation and weight. Features were also considered, such as the helmet’s capacity to protect the cyclist’s head upon impact. Our testing team did not test a helmet’s impact protection. The helmets were tested while riding on gravel and singletrack in and around Minnesota on days with temperatures ranging from the low 60s to the high-70s and on distances that ranged from six to 60 miles.
The Smith Session provides an impressive amount of protection with outstanding extended rear and side coverage at an affordable price point. Adjustability is quick and easy and the straps are very lightweight. However, ventilation comes up short on hot and humid days due the combination of the MIPS and Koroyd technology.
The POC Tectal Race SPIN is an aesthetically-pleasing helmet that provides the most generous rear and side coverage of all the helmets in the test. The addition of SPIN, POC’s own technology, reduces the force applied to the head during an rotational impact without adding weight. However, its adjustable visor is labor-intensive to adjust.
The Kask Rex provides excellent extended rear and side coverage without being overly heavy. With 20 large air vents, it provided the most thumbs-up from the testing team for ventilation. Although it delivers a secure fit with its factory settings, the side straps offer no adjustability.
The Giro Montaro MIPS provides good rear and side coverage. Fit is outstanding with the Roc Loc Air Fit System that fine tunes a customized fit. However, its minimalistic padding saturates quickly with sweat on hot and humid days and may not be conducive to comfortable all-day rides.