Picking what you want in a cycling helmet will often come down to where you want to go. Are you a trail fiend? A road warrior? Mountain bike helmets VS road bike helmets: they both have their particularities. 

The truth is, it’s mainly the look that’s different – although some helmets will have specific features catered to that style of riding. It’s not the end of the world if you wear a road helmet for mountain biking, and vice-versa. It’s more about your path, and the enjoyment you get from the sport, all while staying safe. 

Mountain Bike HelmetsRoad Biking Helmets
  • adjustable visor
  • lower cut in the back
  • increased ventilation
  • more aerodynamic shape
  • sometimes more lightweight

Mountain Bike Helmets

The biggest feature that sets the mountain bike helmets VS road bike helmets debate apart is the visor. Pretty much every mountain bike helmet will have one, whether you are wearing a shell or a full face shield. The importance of the visor? It provides additional protection for your face.

A visor blocks sun rays that may impede your vision while riding single track. On wet rides, the visor works as a shield, preventing rogue specks of mud from getting into your eyes (not all of it but some). Cyclists will often wear protective glasses or goggles on muddier days, or even for every ride.

Because mountain bike trails are in forests or wooded areas with obstacles everywhere, the visor can provide protection from low-hanging branches. Even though taking a branch off your visor will most likely break it, depending how fast you are riding, it still beats making a kebab of your eyeball.

The look of mountain bike helmets is visibly different from road helmets because of their lower cut in the back. Some say it’s for appearance, others say it adds protection: both are true. Because mountain bikers are exposed to a lot more obstacles on trails, every bit of coverage the helmet can provide is crucial.

The below helmets are known as all-mountain or enduro helmets. These are worn when you’re riding trails that include both ascents and descents. For those riding mainly downhill, you’ll wear a full face helmet. These protect as far down as your mouth and chin. Downhill means higher speeds – and higher consequences when crashing.

mountain bike helmets

Why are there different helmets for all-mountain and downhill? Full face helmets provide more coverage but retain more heat, so ascending in a full face is not ideal. This is why half-shell helmets were created.

If you’re a cross-country mountain biker you’ll either wear a mountain bike helmet or a road helmet. Cross-country involves a lot more climbing, which can get your heart going and increase body temperature, so road helmets with the additional ventilation are perfect.

Road Biking Helmets

Next up in the mountain bike helmets VS road bike helmets is the road. While you’re road biking, you’re working hard and working up a sweat, so adequate ventilation is important. You’ll notice most road helmets have many more holes for ventilation, compared to mountain bike helmets. The shape and location of these vents are important: aerodynamics are key for road cycling. Most road helmets have quite a round or ovular shape for a more enhanced aerodynamic design.

Road cycling is obviously done on roads, and most road cyclist will wear glasses. Because of this, visors aren’t necessary as they narrow the cyclists’ vision  – necessary for gearing and preparing for hills, descents and corners, not so critical on the road.  Mountain bike trails are more tight and twisty, so your depth of vision is only about 10 feet ahead. In road cycling, you can see for kilometres, depending on the route.

Last but not least is weight. The lighter the helmet, the less fatigue on your neck. While both types of cyclists will benefit from lighter helmets, lightweight helmets are especially popular in road cycling.

road bike helmets

The ultimate factor when choosing the right biking helmet is the comfort so opt for a helmet that you want to wear. There are no helmet-style police, so if your favourite is more of a roadie helmet, flaunt it on the trails; and if you’re a roadie but like the mountain bike helmets, you do you! While looks are important for many, safety and comfort should always be your first priorities.

If you’re a serious cyclist looking for a new helmet on either side of the mountain bike helmets VS road bike helmets spectrum, investing in a model with MIPS is a wise choice. MIPS technology is found in both styles as well.