7 helmets

7 of my favorite MTB helmets tested!

While in 2021 some of us are likely wearing a custom helmet made entirely of aluminum foil, secured via a sanitary facial mask, all of us are going to want some real protection while sending it.

I’ve been wearing 7 different enduro mountain bike helmets thus far in 2021: from the Fox DropFrame Pro, Giro Tyrant, Giro Switchblade, Giro Manifest, Troy Lee A2, and the Bell Sixer.  All these helmets have been tested by Virginia Tech, with one exception.  And you know what?  I’ve learned a lot from wearing all these different helmets! 

Before we jump in, I want to thank Jenson USA for sponsoring this video. Not only is Jenson a great supporter of mine, making videos like this possible, but they are also a leading online retailer with a great selection of helmets in stock. I have a link here to the helmet department at Jenson, and anything you purchase from my link will help support the channel. However, my goal here is not to sell you any of these helmets, rather, it’s to simply promote Jenson as a leading online retailer. I am not sponsored by any of the brands presented here, and with two and a half exceptions, I purchased all of these helmets myself through Jenson. As a partner of Jenson, I’m not paying full retail price, and I can assure you that cost is not something I’m considering in this video. Beyond Jenson I’m also supported by PNW Components, Industry Nine, and Shimano.

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I’ve been juggling seven different helmets over the past few months, and I’ve learned quite a lot. Heck, I can even paint a picture of the features my dream helmet would include- and spoiler alert, none of these helmets here include all of those features.

In this article, I’ll share some of my findings with all of you, and keep you safely protected against those darn, tackling trees.

VT
Virginia Tech is a public land-grant research university. I’ll be referencing their research on MTB helmets throughout this article.

It’s summer, and it’s likely getting HOT wherever you’re riding. At the same time, dry and dusty summer conditions mean high speeds, so you need some good protection. After a big head injury a year ago, I decided to follow the Virginia Tech research a little more closely. VT has been testing and publicly sharing their own safety rankings of many top helmets. That’s awesome- it’s the first time, to my knowledge, we have a somewhat neutral third party doing this. While they do accept donations, and they charge around $5000 to run non-published tests on prototype helmets, the testing of what’s publicly listed is done at no charge.

As much as I love the VT website, I don’t want to say that’s the end all, be all measurement. Helmet fit is critical. Virginia Tech is generally using size medium helmets, and they are using the NOCSAE size medium headform for their tests. That headform has a circumference of 57.6cm. Myself being a very average sized human, have a 58cm head circumference.

VT
There is likely some possibility that your own head shape might be very different from the dummy head used in these rankings, and that different sizes of these helmets might offer differing protection. While that’s a little unsettling, let’s stay positive and be glad that neither you nor I are a dummy head.

Also, many of you insist on using a full face. That’s fantastic- they are definitely a safe option. I had a little correspondence with the Virginia Tech lab director of outreach, and he explained that in most big crashes, a rider will intuitively turn their head sideways. A full face will likely be somewhat safer than the half-shell helmets, but they have not yet developed a test to determine how much safer. However, a full face means challenges with my regular, XC type riding- it’s hard to get to drinking water, and heck, it’s just overkill for 85% of the stuff I ride. However, as a great compromise,I really like the new school open-face helmets, as they drop down significantly over the cheeks.

I feel much safer in a helmet that might not rank super highly, but does have a very good fit. Furthermore, I feel safer when a helmet feels solid. I get nervous in these 300 gram helmets, and definitely feel more protected in the heavier units.

somraro hat helmet
There’s only about six weeks out of the year here in Bellingham that I’ll notice a helmet being too hot. Down in Arizona, thats a bit different, as I will then spend more time putting on sunscreen than peeing, and I’ll be wishing I had a sombrero brim for a visor the whole time.

Now let me paint you a quick picture. As I’m no Van Gogh, you’ll have to imagine more of a Picasso with these various elements mixed into perfection. As a mountain biker, I often end up needing to deflect branches, sunlight, and yes, even rain- a big ‘ol visor is VERY helpful. As an aging youth, I like to get a little wild on my bike, so a deeper coverage in the back as well as on the sides of the helmet make sense to me. I often listen to podcasts or audiobooks on long climbs, and when riding backcountry trails populated with hikers, I like to be able to hear really well, so open ear holes are great. I’ve had a few concussions, so Mips technology and two stage EPS foam co-molded gives me the equivalent two wheeled confidence of a residential real estate agent.

For a buckle, I do like the ease of the new magnetic types. If I’ve shaved recently, and if a strap is irritating my neck on a long, sweaty climb, sometimes I’ll disconnect it. With the Fidlock it’s a one handed affair to re-clip it, though still similarly awkward as other one handed affairs in life. Plus, the Fidlock buckles can also attach on the wrong side, resulting in an unsecure helmet.

Notice that, despite posting lots of GoPro videos, I almost never use a helmet mount for a GoPro. For many of us, our concern of safety is only topped by our narcissism and need to film every second of that sweet descent, but that top of helmet position is a terrible angle for filming. Go for the chinbar of a full face, or just use a chesty mount. However, for night riding, helmet light mounts are key if you’re going to hit any jumps or do wheelies. With 18 hours of daily sunlight in the northwest, I rarely night ride, so I did not try mounting lights to any of these.

Let’s run through these helmets, in order as per their Virginia Tech results from most safe to most optimistic:

Fox Dropframe Pro

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The Fox Dropframe Pro is a great one, to start! The low weight, the inclusion of the Fidlock buckle, deeper coverage, and somewhat practical visor at 110mm, really checks a lot of items off my wishlist. ALTHOUGH, as much as I wanted to really love this helmet, it just doesn’t fit. My head measures 58cm in circumference, and I bought a medium, as for the other 6 helmets here, including the other Fox helmet, the mediums all fit me perfectly. The Dropframe doesn’t sit flat on my head- there’s over a half inch of space between the top of my skull and the helmet itself. It appears I need either a large, or even an extra large for this model. The Dropframe uses a traditional MIPS plastic liner and Fox claims the helmet has a dual density EPS foam as well.

dog in bikini
I was perhaps most excited for the Fox Dropframe helmet. Ranked as the safest at Virginia Tech, it piqued my interest faster than a gal walking her dog in a bikini. Unfortunately, I reached a dead end, as the Fox Dropframe sizing is very unusual.

Let me know in the comments below if the Dropframe works for you. And there are two things I’d love to see included though- some sort of adjustable retention system in back, and an even bigger visor.

Troy Lee Designs A2 Mips

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Next up, we have the Troy Lee Designs A2 Mips Helmet (score of 10.0). A2 is known as the supercross race after the race that Justin Barcia always wins. This is my first ever Troy Lee helmet, and I was quite impressed. The fit is killer, and the venting works really well- making sense that it comes from a company from Southern California. The safety ranking is very good, too. You can even see the two types of foam in there- an EPP mixed with an EPS. The biggest disappointment of this helmet for me was the tiny visor at only 100mm. I do prefer the bigger ones. I’d also like to see a Troy Lee open face helmet with more coverage, like the Dropframe, Tyrant or Switchblade. Troy lee still doesn’t have an open face style helmet in the MTB lineup, and hopefully thats something that changes one day.

Fox Speedframe Pro

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The Fox Speedframe Pro Helmet (10.8) really impressed me, and I keep finding myself using this helmet. It’s comfortable, it’s got an adjustable fit, it’s got the Fidlock buckle, and it weighs nothing. You can see that there are two EPS foams mixed together. The MIPS liner is comfortable. It’s plenty light and it ranked well on the safety scale. I’d still like to see a bigger visor, as this again measures only 100mm, and I wish I had one that wasn’t white, but this is a really good helmet. It’s also the cheapest option here, possibly due to it only being offered in three sizes, but I still feel safe in this between the dual density foams and the MIPS system.

Giro Tyrant

helmets

Now one of my absolute favorite helmets is the Giro Tyrant (11.2).

The Tyrant is my favorite compromise of coverage and protection, and the fit is, for me, the best out of all these helmets. Quick disclosure, I know a guy at Giro and he saw that I had bought myself a Tyrant. He offered to send some gear, and I agreed, as I wanted to try more Giro stuff. I requested a second Tyrant, as I accidentally drove over my original Tyrant with my van, and when that new helmet arrived, it turns out it was a size small. Womp womp womp. I’ll run a contest over on my Instagram to give that size small Tyrant away. Both of my size medium Tyrants I did, however, purchase myself.

Yes, at 718 grams reported weight it weighs nearly twice that of the A2 or Manifest, but that’s never once bothered me. The visor is a little short, but still measures 110mm, longer than several other helmets. The EPS foam is two layers, and the lower layer slips within the larger layer as a part of the MIPS system. This is almost a “helmet within a helmet” system, and it’s pretty cool. The first one I got was a little squeaky at first, but that’s not something I notice when I’m pinned, and was never an issue with the second one. The venting is plenty for me during the majority of the year, though in the hottest few weeks of summer, it can be nice to get something smaller with more vents. On the flip side, it’s nice and warm for the 8 months of winter riding we have here. The rear fit adjust works great, and I don’t need to mess with it often. I’d love to see a Fidlock buckle, and an even bigger visor, but the Tyrant is a killer helmet, and I’m so glad I found this thing.

Giro Manifest Mips

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The Giro Manifest Spherical (12.2) has been a great helmet on warmer days. Now this is a helmet that Giro sent me free of charge. The Manifest essentially double bags your head, as it’s a cool shell-in-a-shell MIPS design, kind of like the Tyrant, only the inner portion has a co-molded shell offering even more protection. The visor is again only 100mm. The Fidlock buckle, however, is a great upgrade. The Manifest feels light and XC, and probably ties with the Fox Speedframe as my favorite all around small helmet. As I was preparing for this video, I reviewed the cost, and WOW, the Manifest is a full $100 more than the Speedframe and $90 more than the Tyrant. I was also surprised that it ranked a full point below the Tyrant in safety- perhaps that’s due to the size? I do feel safer in a Tyrant, and safest in a Switchblade, but I am still confident in this little guy.

Bell Sixer Mips

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Bell Sixer Mips Helmet (15.6) has a distinctly different fit than the Giro parent company fit. The visor is small at only 90mm, and the buckle is traditional rather than Fidlock. Word on the street is that the Bell helmets fit a more round headshape, while the Giro is better for a more oval. For me, the fit of the Bell is not as good as the Giro, and overall comfort isn’t as good as the Giro options.

Bells word for it
While Bell claims that there are different density EPS foams utilized, I couldn’t see it with my own eyes, and don’t quite feel like cutting my new helmet in half to verify. We’ll have to take Bell’s word for it. There’s a great quote about “taking their word for it” in Tommy Boy with the late Chris Farley.

I also don’t understand the “poly carbonate roll cage” that’s briefly mentioned in the marketing literature. Seeing as how this was rated as the least “safe” helmet here, maybe I should cut it open? Overall, it appears to be a quality helmet, and for a subset of the population, it’ll be a great fit. The MIPS system is just a standard plastic liner.

Giro Switchblade

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The Giro Switchblade was also a freebie for me. I actually suggested to the guys at Virginia Tech that this would be a good helmet to include in the rankings, as its not currently in there. I liked this helmet more than I ever expected. It’s a little clunky to put on, but it’s got a lot going for it. The venting is a little cooler than the Tyrant, so I liked this for Arizona riding. The visor is a great size at 130mm, and it’s adjustable, too. Between the visor and the venting, it was a great option for that southern sun. The fit is really good for me. The fact that it’s so burly, and that it can integrate with a chinbar, means I got options. There is still no data on how much more or less likely a neck injury is for using a full face without a neck brace, so that’s something to consider. The chin strap system is old school d-rings, which are a hassle. The rear rock loc fit system always seems to pop when I’m putting it on with the chinbar, so this is a bit of a process to take on and off. The MIPS technology is a simple plastic liner, but with the overall heft of the helmet, I feel quite safe with it. However, I’d like to see a multiple density foam used in this helmet. This helmet feels like the one I’d prefer for a big bike park style crash.

All these helmets are available now over at Jenson, and Jenson has plenty of others that I haven’t personally tried. Be sure to keep yourself in a fresh helmet, as the EPS foam is only protective once, and after a couple years of rattling a helmet all around in the back of your truck bed, it’s likely lost a bit of its safety. You only have one brain, and concussions do indeed mess with you longterm. At around $200, figure a new helmet every two years will be around $8 a month- that’s worth your safety.

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