Words: JC Canfield
When it comes to riding gear, no one piece of equipment is more important than a quality helmet. But until recently, buying an affordable one meant real compromise. Inexpensive options were simpler, heavier, offered less ventilation and lacked new features like MIPS. Serious riders had no choice but to spend close to $200 for a proper lid. Today, there are great-looking, feature-rich options that won't break the bank. We compared three reasonably priced helmets to put this theory to the test: the Leatt DBX 2.0, the Bell 4Forty and the Giant Roost.
LEATT DBX 2.0 (343 g) | $100
Leatt is the big name in neck braces, which emerged onto the motocross and downhill scenes in 2006. The South African company then continued to grow its reputation for protective equipment and expanded into helmets in 2015. Its line of full-face motocross and downhill lids recently expanded to include both a convertible and a standard half-shell helmet.
The GPX 2.0 is the pared-down version of the 3.0. It's missing the larger, adjustable visor, has decreased coverage around the back of the head and uses a standard buckle in lieu of the magnetic ‘Fidlock.’ Both helmets have 10 ‘360 Turbine Technology’ discs, which are, in essence, shock-absorbing pads designed to both soften smaller hits and deflect the helmet around impacts in a way that's not unlike the commonplace MIPS technology.
The helmet sports 20 vents to keep the air flowing. It's also the lowest-profile helmet of the bunch, sitting higher on the head and with less rear coverage. That all made it my first choice for mellower, warm-weather rides. When the going got spicier, the additional security of the more substantial 4Forty and Roost helmets were the more obvious options. The Leatt helmet had more of a perched feel, sitting high on my head rather than offering a more form-fitting feel like the Bell and the Giant helmets. The modern, wide strap-splitter on the Leatt was the only one to be found in the test, and it was a welcome sight indeed. On top of that, the DBX 2.0 was the best-ventilated and lightest-weight of the three, making it the most comfortable choice for all-day rides.
BELL 4FORTY (434 g, as tested) | $95 (MIPS, tested) $75 (Non MIPS)
Bell is a fixture in the world of mountain biking, having been a leader and an innovator in cycling helmet technology since the mid '70s. Bell has laid down the gauntlet with its 4Forty, a well-featured and only modestly scaled-back version of the brand's more tricked-out offering: the Sixer.
Fifteen vents (compared to the Sixer's 26) do their best to encourage air moving around the head, but I found myself pulling it off at stopping points and in all but the mildest of temperatures. This helmet made me feel out of shape for how much sweat it accumulated compared to its competition. The ‘Sweat Guide,’ which is a small tab of material that extends beyond the front edge of the helmet’s padding, is designed to keep perspiration from dripping directly into your eyes. This worked wonders but, at a certain point, sweat would just drip onto my glasses, causing a different type of problem altogether.
The adjustable visor was a welcome addition to a helmet at this pricepoint, as was its DH-style, dial-based adjustable fit system. The two threaded plastic knobs worked well and were secure despite their simplicity. They're quick, they're secure, they never slipped either in use or when packed away, but I found myself wanting for some kind of indexing to position the visor deliberately. Overall, the fit of the helmet was snug and secure-feeling even on long, rough sections of fast, rocky trail.
By all appearances, this helmet could easily compete among its pricier competitors, notably the Troy Lee Designs A1. Like the A1, some additional ventilation would be a welcomed upgrade, particularly given the 4Forty's additional rear head coverage, but Bell was smart about what it offered with the budget-minded 4Forty. Features present in the Bell's own higher-end Sixer model, such as an anti-microbial liner and indexed visor, are the ones you'd be least likely to miss in the 4Forty. In our book, this sort of decision-making is a win.
The Bell 4Forty is a well-featured, lightweight helmet that fits well, offers full coverage and keeps you looking great on the trail, even if that means not actually being quite as cool while you ride. For the price and features, the Bell came out on top for me in this test.
GIANT ROOST (375g) | $75 (Tested) $100 (MIPS)
Giant may not be the first name in helmets, but when you're the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, you do what you want. The Roost, Giant's budget trail offering, saw a price drop for 2018, but maintains its complement of qualities. Compared to the more fully featured, $150 Rail, the Roost is a simple affair, with a pared-down retention system, a non-adjustable visor and a lack of anti-microbial padding. The fixed visor doesn't leave room to tuck away goggles or glasses for a climb, but it eliminated the potential to accidentally leave the visor all the way up on a ride, rightly branding you a goon in the process.
The small, size-tuning dial provides an adequate and reliable fit adjustment, but one that doesn't feel particularly supportive. Those who want especially snug-fitting helmets may find themselves wishing the Roost offered a more supportive retention system.
The extra protection by way of extra coverage doesn't seem to result in restricted airflow on the Roost, and despite having just 15 vents--the same as the Bell--its interior channels keep air circulating in any temperature.
The helmet's straps, while designed to be lightweight and unobtrusive, felt a bit cheap. On the rear of the helmet, there is a magnetic plate that can hold a light for riding at night, but perhaps the helmet would be better served by adding small features that the majority of riders could use. On the trail, the Roost was comfortable and secure while also running relatively cool given its ample coverage and low price.
My father always said, "If you have a two-dollar head, you wear a two-dollar helmet.” This may have been the case back then but these days, helmets offer so much more for less than ever before. All three of these helmets exceeded expectations in the fit, function, safety and looks department, signaling a big push toward more affordable lids across the industry.
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