What’s the most important piece of equipment in a cyclist’s repertoire? Besides a bike, the answer is a helmet. Simply put, you need to wear one—we’re talking about your head, so keep it safe! And if you’ve been rocking the same lid for a few years—even if it hasn’t been involved in a crash—it’s time to start thinking about a replacement. And because everyone’s head is shaped differently, the most important thing to consider when helmet shopping is fit. Try before you buy, and make sure it can be easily adjusted to comfortably encase your melon. We’ve rounded up four unique options, all priced within $30 of each other. Each has an easy-to-use retention system and passes both the CPSC and CE standards for use in the United States and Europe, respectively. But the similarities stop there. So, which one is best for you?
Belgian outfit Lazer has been producing helmets for 93 years, and their catalog consists of protective lids for cycling, motorcycling and snow sports. The Genesis is one of five road models offered, and it sports 19 vents and comes in two sizes. The vast majority of helmets on the market (and, indeed, each of the three other helmets in our comparison) use a retention device mounted at the back of the head and underneath the helmet shell. Lazer’s signature Rollsys closure positions the dial on top of the shell. More importantly, unlike the others, the Rollsys design tightens and loosens a metal microfilament strap that completely encircles your head (versus just pressing against the back) and is covered with X-Static antimicrobial padding. Luckily (for anyone who finds the “Lion of Flanders” motif a bit too loud) Lazer offers the Genesis in no fewer than 11 color choices.
Without a doubt, the Rollsys retention design makes the Genesis the most unique helmet in our comparison and also provides the most secure fit. The straps are easily adjustable and secure as well, with locking web splitters and a straightforward buckle. At speed, the Genesis vents adequately, if not superbly so. It’s also the second heaviest helmet we tested, but offers a comfortable fit regardless, thanks largely to well-placed padding and smooth contours. There’s no height adjustability for the retention device, something more and more helmet makers are offering in newer models, but the Genesis features some plastic loops at the back that sit reasonably low on your head. So, again, top marks are scored for fit.
Weight: 309 grams
Sizes: XXS–M (tested), L–XL
LOUIS GARNEAU X-LITE
Founded by the professional Canadian racer of the same name, Louis Garneau offers an extensive line of road and time-trial helmets, with their lightest option being the X-Lite. No fewer than 37 vents provide airflow while keeping the weight down. Padding at the front of the helmet is removable for washing, as is a swath of padding on the rear retention device. This Spiderlock dial system is one-hand operational and features a small amount of height adjustment for personalizing your fit. The side straps feature the brand’s Steplock SL Dividers, which sport a small cam design to quickly allow for strap adjustment. Three sizes and five colors are available.
With a name like “X-Lite,” it better be lightweight. And, sure enough, Louis Garneau’s option is the lightest in our helmet comparison. While most designers would be forced to leave out some bells and whistles to achieve such a low weight, the engineers at LG managed to sneak in all of the elements that we’ve come to expect from a top-end helmet—fully adjustable side straps, a hearty and secure buckle, comfortable padding and an easy-to-use retention dial. Unfortunately, the X-Lite’s fit is the roundest in our comparison, and testers preferred the more form-fitting, ovalized shape of the other models. Despite having the greatest number of vents, many of them are quite small, particularly in the frontal area. Testers felt that the X-Lite had the least effective venting.
LOUIS GARNEAU STATS
Weight: 204 grams
Sizes: Small, medium (tested), large
With over 100 years of wheelmaking to their name, Mavic has now jumped head first into the soft-goods market with some impressively technical designs. As with the brand’s clothing and footwear, the name of Mavic’s game is “Ergo.” In its quest to bring some new headgear to the market, the French brand surveyed no fewer than 25,000 heads to come up with “Ergo Shape,” the overall fit that Mavic claims will comfortably suit the greatest number of heads on the road. “Ergo Fit” refers to the Plasma’s padding, which is a removable, onepiece design that features moisture wicking properties and multiple foam densities. Finally, the retention system is called “Ergo Hold,” which has its own swath of padding and a large dial that provides up to 6cm of adjustability.
While the other three helmets in our comparison each sport a particularly impressive feature (low weight, venting, secure fit), the Mavic Plasma does not; instead, it does everything well, even if no one aspect is absolutely stellar. It does have the most ample padding, its retention dial feels particularly sturdy, and the side straps are easily adjustable. Although the heaviest model in our comparison, the Plasma ranked second in the venting category. But, what’s particularly appealing about the Plasma are the details, such as the recesses in the padding, which allow the straps to sit more comfortably on the sides of your head, and the reflective details in the graphics. Our only real complaints with the Plasma are the limited (three-position) height adjustment for the rear retention device, and its distinction as the heaviest helmet in this comparison.
Weight: 315 grams
Sizes: Small, medium (tested), large
In this age of product and market diversification, it’s become commonplace for many legacy companies to branch out into new product categories. Of all the bike brands pushing helmets, none have as much history of also being a successful helmet maker as Specialized—they’ve been in the business since the mid-’80s. Like their high-end Prevail model found scattered throughout the ProTour, Specialized’s second-priciest S3 model features the brand’s signature “Mega Mouthport” front vent, in addition to 27 additional vents. Its Mindset micro-dial fit system includes height adjustability for a personalized fit, while minimalist, nonadjustable straps help keep the weight down. Available in three sizes and four colors, the S3 also sports a Kevlar-reinforced skeleton for added strength, as well as padding that can be removed for easy cleaning.
The best thing about the S3 is its simplicity, including a straightforward oval shape that fits most heads. We’re big fans of its retention system, which features a small, single-hand-operated dial and the most height adjustability of our four test helmets. Simply pulling the retention device downward will get it to sit very low on your head, which some testers greatly appreciate. Tester opinions were divided, however, on the simplicity of the side straps, specifically the Tri-Fix webbing splitter that leaves zero adjustability around the ears because the straps are fixed in place. It’s a one-size-fits-all concept that yields a lower weight, and is ideal for some, but merely works for most. To accommodate the fit needs of those with large heads, this strap junction sits quite low on the average rider’s head and leaves one wanting a bit more personalization. Out on the road, the S3 provided the best ventilation out of all the helmets in our comparison, and it’s also the second lightest of the four lids surveyed.
Weight: 232 grams
Sizes: Small, medium (tested), large
Like saddles and shoes, helmets are a very personal item, and what fits one rider perfectly may provide unbearable discomfort to another. That said, each of the four helmets in our test offers a great list of features, making them all a smart choice for the discerning cyclist. The Specialized S3 offers the best ventilation, but is lacking in adjustability. Lazer’s Genesis provides the most secure fit and with a unique design to boot, but it could stand to lose a few grams and vent a bit better. If you’re looking for a lightweight helmet, consider the X-Lite from Louis Garneau, but note that its fit is rounder than most and its retention device is a tad flimsy. Mavic’s Plasma is a helmet that should please most, with its combination of comfortable padding, solid closure dial and sharp aesthetics.
• Best venting? The Specialized S3
• The Lazer Genesis offers the most secure fit
• Weight weenies should choose the Louis Garneau X-Lite
• The Mavic Plasma does it all