While many will think, “they are both cycling helmets, what difference does it make?” others are the first to notice when someone is wearing the “wrong” type of helmet.

The truth is, it’s mainly the look that is different although some helmets will have specific features catered to that style of riding. At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world to wear a road helmet for mountain biking and vice versa, so if you aren’t worried about your appearance while riding because of course, it’s not the looks that matter, it’s the trail and enjoyment you get from the sport, all the power to you!

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 road helmets and mountain bike helmets apart is the visor. Pretty much every mountain bike helmet will have one whether you are wearing a shell or a full face. The importance of the visor? It provides additional protection for your face.

A visor can provide shade and block aggressive sunrays that may impede your vision while riding single track. On wet rides, the visor also can work as a shield and prevent rogue specks of mud from getting into your eyes. It won’t be 100% effective at preventing this although will shield from some. Often times, cycling will wear protective glasses or goggles on muddier days or for every ride.

Because mountain biking trails are often in forests or wooded areas with obstacles littering the side of the trail, the visor can also provide protection from low-hanging branches. Even though taking a branch off your visor will most likely break it or give you a little bit of a shock depending how fast you are riding, it still beats making a kebab of your eyeball.

The look of mountain bike helmets are also visibly different compared to road helmets because of their lower cut in the back. Some say it’s for appearance, others say it adds protection which are both 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 are riding trails that include both ascents and descents. For those riding mainly downhill, you will wear a full face helmet. These provide even more protection covering as far down as your mouth and chin. Downhill means higher speeds and higher consequences when crashing so all the extra coverage is necessary. Why are there different helmets for all mountain or enduro and downhill? Full face helmets provide more coverage and retain more heat so ascending in a full face is not ideal. This is why half shell helmets were created.

If you are a cross-country mountain biker you will 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

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 will have many more holes for ventilation when compared to mountain bike helmets. The shape and location of these vents are also important as being aerodynamic is important for road cycling. It’s also noticeable that most road helmets have quite a round or ovular shape for a more enhanced aerodynamic design.

Road cycling is obviously done on roads with not much coverage so most road cyclist will wear glasses. Because of this, visors aren’t necessary but they also narrow the cyclists’ vision which is necessary for gearing and preparing for hills, descents and corners. In both road and mountain biking, looking ahead is crucial so you can see what’s coming up and prepare for it. Mountian bike trails are more tight and twisty so your depth of vision is only about 10 feet ahead whereas, in road cycling, you can see for kilometres ahead 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.

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 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, comfort should always be your first priority.

If you’re a serious cyclist looking for a new helmet, investing in a model with MIPS may be a wise and safe choice. MIPS technology is found in both styles as well.