For many of us the open face (half face?) mountain bike helmet is our first choice, go to, bread and butter helmet for the trails, right?
Here’s a round up of the helmets we’ve ridden over the last few months that we think you should trust with your brain… and our favourite of the bunch.
Our favourite open face helmets right now are…
If you have something inside your head worth protecting you should obviously wear a helmet.
It should be light, it should be comfortable, it should be safe, it should have plenty of adjustability and it should also look great. Added bonuses include mounts for cameras and lights, adjustable visors, goggle retention and other fancy gizmos.
We’ve picked out our favourites from the multitude of options for ‘normal’ riding or for those who want to take two helmets to an enduro race.
Some of the options here do have the ability to have chinguards added as an aftermarket item, increasing protection to the user and making them more versatile.
In this test we have the Specialized Ambush, Bell Super, Leatt DBX 3.0, 661 EVO AM MIPS, Smith Forefront, the Troy Lee Designs A2 and the Endura MT500.
The Lazer Revolution is a solid half-face helmet with the option of adding the chin bar later, or buying it with, set aside for a rainy day. Arguably a more comfortable helmet than the Super 3 or the Giro Switchblade but maybe only perhaps due to the fit. Square heads will love the Revolution more than the Bell.
Adjusting the rear ratchet system is a breeze, giving you positive clicks when turning the dial, with a good level of adjustment. Ventilation is excellent, better than that of the others I (Pete), have tested.
The breakaway POV mount is the best thought out we’ve seen. Where many helmets impact test without the POV mount fitted, Lazer have designed a helmet that passes testing with the mount in place. In a sport where race organisers are getting fussier about how you mount your camera, that’s important.
Adding the chinguard is where the Lazer falls back, as the chin is attached by three bolts, opposed to the Bell’s retention clips, making it slower and more involved. If that’s not a concern for you then the Revolution is a quality head protector.
Let’s be honest, the Troy Lee Designs A2 MIPS is an absolutely beauty aint it?
The A2 combines beautiful styling with massive, airy vents, MIPS protection and a combo of EPS and EPP protection making it one of the most appealing complete packages of the bunch.
The EPS and EPP thing is a bit technical but basically means that the inside of the shell of the helmet contains variable density material to better absorb impacts. These have been carefully placed in the front of the helmet to offer maximum protection if you’re unlucky to bang your head hard. Few other helmets provide that and whilst there’s less published info to geek out on that Koroyd (see the Smith and Endura helmets) it does give piece of mind.
Our notoriously picky test-pilot Rich T has spent the year in the A2 and has proved how good it is by his lack of grumbles. Rich’s biggest test of the A2 was The Ex Enduro, a big and tough three day enduro race that really showed up crappy kit. He completed the race in fine form (fourth place if we remember right?) with not one issue from the A2 – proving it’s light and airy enough to pedal day after day back-to-back.
The lightest helmet in the test by some 60 grams, the Specialized Ambush only just breaks the 300g mark, making it barely noticeable atop your head. Coverage is very good despite the light weight, although not as comprehensive as the Bell. Ventilation is excellent and the brow port does a very good job of keeping the sweat away from your eyes.
There’s no POV mount or an option for the addition of a chinguard, the Ambush is definitely focusing on protecting your head with limited fuss, rather than having all the bells and whistles.
Sizing seems slightly on the large side, with Pete’s 60+cm head struggling to fit inside the XL which is sized 59-63cm. I’d certainly try before you buy with the Ambush, as I’d likely go down a size from the given measurements.
For the big days in the hills, the low weight makes this one a winner.
This Bell Super 3 MIPS is based around the same helmet that won our enduro full face grouptest a few months back. Sporting a good combination of low weight, sensible price, good ventilation and coverage, all with the option of buying it with the chin guard or without, means all the bases are covered.
As with any helmet, fit is fairly crucial. While the sizing itself is spot on in terms of the measurements being accurate, as with most Bell helmets, this one fits a more rounded head better than my breeze block of a skull. Longer rides had the closure system giving me a minor headache.
Coverage is good both down the back of the head and over the temples, making you feel quite secure. The ratchet system for tightening is easy to locate and adjust even with cold hands and thick gloves.
The ‘breakaway’ POV mount seems slightly less well thought out than the Lazer, being just a Velcro’d mount with an indent for a retainer but it does the job.
The Leatt DBX 3.0 is Leatt’s “All Mountain” offering. The helmet uses 360° Turbine Technology which is essentially Leatt’s version of MIPS, designed to keep your noggin and neck protected. The helmet has great ventilation allowing air to flow nicely through the helmet but also provides really good coverage.
The sizing was about spot on; the medium fitting my medium head very nicely. The layout of the pads within the shell is such that the ventilation is maintained around your forehead, a feature I really appreciated on sweaty climbs. The cradle adjusts with a wheel at the back which is easy to use with gloved hands and there’s good adjustability of the visor, ideal for recent low winter sun.
The magnetic strap closure was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, I’ve never really found the speed of doing up my helmet straps to be of particular concern. However I’ve come to appreciate it now the colder weather calls for thicker gloves.
The helmet also looks pretty good, something you can live without, but is always a bonus!
The 661 Evo AM Mips helmet lacks the space age looks of the Smith Forefront, the fancy protection of the Endura or the bells and whistles of the Bell.
At the same time though, it’s one of the lightest on test, packs in MIPS protection, an easy to use magnetic buckle and some deep, comfy pads and decently sized vents.
Like many of the helmets in this test, the Evo AM MIPS offers plenty of coverage round the back and sides of your head giving a safe and secure feeling – particularly useful when test pilot Jamie rang his bell on Sheffield’s trails whilst wearing it.
The fit of the 661 is slightly unique and feels a little more like it’s ‘on’ your head rather than your head being deep inside it. That’s probably partly due to the MIPS design but isn’t something we’ve experienced on the other helmets with that feature. It doesn’t take comfort away from the helmet but does feel a little less ‘just right’ than the others.
You may also find the lack of an adjustable peak a slight drag, but that’s personal preference right?
The Endura MT500 helmet is one of our favourite helmets of 2017.
The MT500, like the Smith Forefront, uses Koroyd protection which claims to offer a hefty reduction in your chances of skull fracture and brain injury when you whack your head.
The research (which you can read for yourself here) says that current helmet standards allow helmets to be certified as ‘safe’ whilst presenting anything up to a 77% chance of fatal injury when being bashed within what the tests say are acceptable. Koroyd claim that their technology brings that risk right down from 77% to less than 5%.
The fit of the MT500 feels deep and secure with lots of coverage round the back and sides of your head. The adjustability is good and with one hand and on the trail you can add 20 clicks of adjustment to crank it up for a secure fit.
Other nice features include a clip-on GoPro mount, loads of peak adjustment and and a wee clip to hold your goggle strap in place.
Our only slight ‘would be nice’ on the Endura is the lack of MIPS protection compared to the Smith Forefront which has both MIPS and Koroyd and is, depending where you shop, about the same price.
You can read our first ride review of the Endura MT500 helmet here.
The helmet that has created more conversation in our group than any other this year. Some people rate it, some people think it looks a bit Lego. We love it.
Like the Endura, the Forefront uses Koroyd protection which is said to bring a hefty reduction in your likeliness of brain injuries and skull fractures under crashing. The research on their site is convincing and aside from a very, very slight reduction in airflow and slower drying times between rides we can’t see any downsides.
The Forefront is comfortable to wear, feels very well made, light and airy and comes with a removable Gopro and light mount.
There’s loads of vents and it has been designed for a perfect fit with goggles and glasses, which works really well. You can also slot your glasses nicely into the channel around the back which holds them safely in place whilst you ride.
The fit is comfortable. There’s no pressure points and even cranked up tight the Smith doesn’t cause any unpleasantness.
The best of the bunch.
It certainly wasn’t a straightforward task picking our winner, with many of the helmets being very similar when push came to shove.
Every helmet in this lot will, in our experience, do a great job. They’re all to a greater or lesser extent excellent bits of kit and will keep you comfortable and safe on proper mountain bike trails.
In the end though, there was one helmet that managed to poke it’s head clear of the rest.
Whilst certainly not the cheapest or the lightest, Endura’s MT500 combines a sensible price with sensible weight.
What we really like is the safety research that has gone into the Koroyd element of the MT500.
Koroyd haven’t just tried to reinvent helmet protection from the ground up, they’ve published all of their research and findings online for you to read, digest and make up your own mind upon.
Helmet safety can be a murky topic and safety standards are often near-impossible to digest, bogged down in techy jargon and invariably out of date. Koroyd have squashed that flat and Endura have put it in a comfortable, stylish package. You can read our full review of the Endura MT500 helmet here.
It was a tough call between the Troy Lee Designs A2 and the Endura MT500. Both are excellent helmets, the TLD is cheaper, they’re both about the same weight.
Honourable mention goes to the 661 EVO AM MIPS for being a no frills helmet that keeps you right, and the Leatt DBX 3.0 for quietly going about it’s business and doing a great job of it.