The $100 Bucket List

Specialized Airnet vs. Giro Syntax vs. Bontrager Starvos

What we have here are three similarly priced helmets that for us represent the place we would start at when in the market for a new lid. Unlike the old of days when only the most expensive models would feature MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), we are happy to report that the added safety feature has come down line to the entry-level modes.

Just as it is true with shoes and saddles, the most important thing to remember about choosing a new helmet is fit. Sure, colors and venting count, but there are two basic helmet shapes used by the plethora of helmet makers—round and oval. Not sure which one you are? That’s why visiting your local bike shop to purchase (not just try on) a helmet to make sure you get the right fit is important. 


The Bontrager was the only helmet here to use a branded Boa retention adjust dial. The problem was that it was also the most oversized, which can also describe the size of the Bonti’s entire rear retention system. We did like the ease of the FlatLock strap dividers (also on the Airnet).

Although everyone voted the Starvos as the most outdated looking, to its credit, it was also the only helmet to use any reflective graphics on its backside (really, Specialized and Giro?!).

The Starvos has 22 vents and is available in three sizes and a whopping six colors. Of note is Bonti’s Crash Replacement Guarantee, which provides a free replacement if involved in a crash within the first year of ownership. The non-MIPS version sells for $69.


• Stodgy appearance

• Overbuilt retention

• Rear reflective


Price: $99

Weight: 300 grams


Giro was, of course, the first name in modern cycling helmet design, and the Syntax was unique among the three helmets tested owing to its distinctive “deep” coverage design. Like the Airnet, Giro’s own Rok Lok retention system uses a diminutive-sized adjust dial.

What would the cost-benefit ratio be if you want something lighter? The Giro Aether is just shy of 50 grams lighter, but it costs more than $200 more; the decision is yours. Old-time Giro users were surprised to find
the lack of any easy-to-use eyewear ports.

Everyone took note of how Giro integrated the MIPS into their Rok Lok system for the cleanest interior look of all three. The Syntax has a mid-round/oval shape and is available in three sizes and six colors.


• “Deep” coverage

• No eyewear ports

• Modern styling


Price: $125

Weight: 314 grams


When it comes to coming up with a name for a helmet, you gotta give it to those craft marketing types at Specialized. “Airnet”—get it? It’s a take on the primitive “hairnet” helmet of old. It’s not a new design, but now featuring MIPS (the non-MIPS version sells for $75).

The Airnet has 22 big vents (aka “4th Dimension Cooling System”), with the two over-the-brow vents being especially effective. The rear retention dial offered the most efficient micro-adjust.  

The Airnet is available in three sizes and colors. Key features include the front and rear eyewear grippers (yes, having handy storage for your glasses really is a thing). In addition to the fit, testers appreciated the simple, straight-forward venting and overall design.


Price: $150

Weight: 315 grams


• Oh, that fit

• Dual eyewear grippers

• Few color choices


First things first; any helmet is better than no helmet; however, it’s actual science and not just marketing hype that tells us that EPS foam deteriorates with age, so helmets older than three years old offer diminished protective qualities. 

The most distinguishing feature between helmets that cost $100 and those that cost upwards of three times more is weight. Though grams heavier than their more expensive brethren, none of these three helmets were affected by their weight. In short, the 300-gram mark is a good, sweet spot to consider for an entry-level helmet.

How did we rate them? Owing to its fit, appearance, efficient micro-adjust dial and dual-eyewear ports, the Airnet was voted the all-around favorite. The Giro came in second, with the Bontrager taking the final step on the podium.


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