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Road vs Mountain Bike Helmets: What Type to Choose?

road vs mountain bike helmet
Written by James Jordan
Last Update: August 16, 2023

Road bike helmets are designed for high-speed riding, with lighter weight, aerodynamic shapes, and more ventilation compared to mountain bike helmets.

On the other hand, since MTB helmets are for off-road use, they have more protection for the back of the head with a more secure fit.

However, your choice mainly depends on what you ride. The only difference between cross-country and road helmets is a visor, while the more challenging enduro-or trail-style helmets have much better protection; but at the cost of reduced ventilation and added weight.

Let’s dig deeper and see how exactly they differ.

Road vs Mountain Bike Helmets

Categories Road bike helmet Mountain bike helmet
Outer materials Polycarbonate, blend materials (fiber + kevlar +fiberglass) Polycarbonate, blend materials (fiber + kevlar + fiberglass)
Inner materials Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) ESP + added layer of (polyurethane/viscoelastic )
Types Lightweight racing helmets, aero road helmets, and time trial helmets Cross-country, trail, full-face, and combat style
Accessories Visor, peak Visor, peak, chin pad, ear pad, GoPro mount, and buckles
Weight balance 170 – 280 g 350 – 500 g
Aerodynamic More Less
Ventilation More Less
Fit Roc Loc 5 BOA
Safety technology MIPS MIPS
Certifications CPSC 1203 ASTM F1447, F2032 and F1952
Price range $50 – $300 $150 – $400

1. Outer materials

The outer materials of both road and mountain bike helmets are usually the same – either polycarbonate or a blend of materials such as carbon fiber, kevlar, or fiberglass.

But the difference lies in the design perspective. Road bike helmets are designed with speed in mind with a focus on comfort and minimal wind resistance.

On the other hand, MTB helmets have safety as their top priority because you are more likely to bump your head in unpredictable ways.

2. Inner materials

The inner material of both road and MTB helmets is usually made of Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS), which is designed to absorb energy from impacts, reducing the risk of injury as a result.

However, some high-end MTB helmets take protection to the next level with an additional layer of a different type of foam, such as polyurethane or a viscoelastic material.

The foam is covered by a liner that’s made of a breathable material such as mesh or soft fabric, which helps wick away sweat and keep your head cool on a long ride.

3. Types

Let’s have a look at these three different types of road bike helmets – a) lightweight racing helmets, b) aero road helmets, and c) time trial helmets.

a) Lightweight racing helmets

If your priority is speed, then a lightweight racing helmet might be the way to go.

b) Aero road helmets

When your focus is to gain maximum speed with more pedaling efficiency, an aero helmet will be a good choice. Their performance-enhancing features and improved ventilation make them popular among the racers.

c) Time trial helmets

As the name suggests, time trial helmets are specially designed for time trial races. Their long tail shape and aerodynamic design helps reduce air drag, which gives a significant advantage over standard or aero helmets.

On the other hand, MTB helmets are generally divided into four different categories: a) cross-country, b) trail, c) full-face, and d) combat style.

a) Cross-country helmets

Cross-country (XC) bike helmets are a hybrid between road bike and mountain bike helmets that offer a balance of aerodynamics, ventilation, and protection.

Without the visor, cross country helmets look almost the same as road bike helmets but they are comparatively more comfortable than trail helmets.

b) Trail helmets

Trail helmets offer a little more protection than cross-country helmets by covering a larger area of your skull.

c) Full-face helmets

If you’re into downhill mountain biking or simply want optimum protection, a full-face helmet might be the best fit for you. They offer complete coverage for your chin and face, giving you peace of mind while you tackle those gnarly trails.

d) Combat style helmets

A hybrid design for those who want the same helmet for road and MTBing because you can convert it from half-face to full-face in no time.

4. Accessories

Road bike helmets often allow you to add a visor or a peak that helps protect you from the sun and the wind.

On the other hand, MTB helmets have more options for accessories. Aside from visors or peaks, you can also add chin pads, ear pads, GoPro mounts, and buckles.

To save your eyes from the sun or mud, you can wear sunglasses or goggles with your road or MTB helmet as there will be enough space for that.

5. Weight balance

Now you already know that road bike helmets are known for their lightweight design (170-280g on average). But if you need a larger size helmet (such as XL/XXL), you may have to deal with added weight.

MTB helmets are a bit heavier, weighing 350-500g because they have additional safety features, such as more padding and a wider coverage area to the back of the head.

6. Aerodynamics

As said before, while road bike helmets are designed to be more aerodynamic, mountain bike helmets prioritize protection over aerodynamics.

7. Ventilation

When thinking about road vs mountain bike helmet, did you ever wonder why road bike helmets have so many ventilation channels while MTB helmets have fewer?

This is because it’s all about the focus on keeping you safe as you make your way through those daring trails. But that doesn’t mean your MTB helmets will heat up your head with fewer ventilation channels since their deep ventilation mechanism will keep you cool.

8. Fit

If you’re a roadie, you might be familiar with the Roc Loc 5 fit system that allows you to adjust your helmet perfectly with just one hand.

Mountain bikers also have their popular one-hand BOA fit system that serves the same purpose.

9. Safety technology

The Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a safety technology used in both road bike and MTB helmets. This provides additional protection against impacts by absorbing and redirecting shocks away from the rider’s head.

So, whether you’re cruising on the road or tackling tough terrain, you can feel confident that your helmet has got your back.

10. Certifications

It’s important to know what certifications to look for so you can be sure that your helmet is safe and meets the safety standards.

If you’re a road cyclist, you’ll want to make sure your helmet has a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) 1203 certification. This certification indicates that the helmet has passed the CPSC helmet standard.

On the other hand, mountain bikers should look for a helmet with ASTM F1447, F2032, and F1952 certifications; which verify the quality and safety standards offered by the helmet manufacturers.

11. Price range

The price of a bike helmet is usually based on the quality of the materials and the technologies used.

For example, a road bike helmet can range from $50 to $300, while a mountain bike helmet from $150 to $400. Of course, if you’re looking to add some fancy accessories, be prepared to spend more.

Why Do Different Types of Bike Helmets Exist?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different types of bike helmets? Well, the answer is simple: different riding scenarios require different design features

Think about it, road cycling requires a helmet that is lightweight and aerodynamic, while mountain biking calls for more coverage and ventilation to handle the tougher terrain. That’s why we have specialized helmets for different types of biking, such as road cycling, mountain biking, BMX, and different competitions.

The helmet designers have your safety as their top priority, but they also want to make sure that the helmet is comfortable to wear and keeps your head cool. So, no matter what type of biker you are, there’s a helmet perfect for you.


Q. Can I use an MTB helmet as a road bike helmet?

Ans: It all comes down to your specific needs as a biker. If you’re planning on hitting the road for a long ride, a road bike helmet will give you an edge with aerodynamics and ventilation to keep you cool. However, if you’re prioritizing safety, a mountain bike helmet might be the way to go.

While you technically can use an MTB helmet for road cycling, it’s not recommended to use a road bike helmet for MTBing.

Q. Can I get a road bike helmet with a visor?

Ans: Yes, there are road bike helmets that come with a built-in visor. They are specifically designed with a visor in mind and won’t affect your performance.

However, if you’re thinking about adding a visor to an existing road bike helmet, that’s not a good idea since this can disrupt the aerodynamic design.

About the author

James Jordan

As a kid I inherited the love for mountain bikes from my father who used to ride for weeks through the Colorado trail in the city of Denver. He had his gang, and I followed pretty much the same track.

Later on, my interest in biking grew more after joining the Enduro race back in 2013. My buddies and I also participated in the Downhill racing for the third consecutive year, and it’s been an amazing experience.

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