sidebar

OutdoorGearLab Home

search
Review | Ratings | Buying Tips | Testing

The Best Full Face Downhill Mountain Bike Helmets

We tested six of the best and most popular full face downhill helmets.
By Luke Lydiard ⋅ Review Editor
Saturday November 1, 2014
What is the best full-face helmet for downhill mountain biking? We tested 6 of the best and most popular downhill helmets on the market and found some awesome helmets, as well as a few we don't think are up to the task of protecting your noggin while you shred the gnar. We evaluated each full-face for protection, comfort, durability, ventilation, and weight; the size, shape, and attachment of its visor; as well as the extras included with the helmet. We found the absolute best helmet for downhill riding as well as a few helmets which are nearly as awesome at a fraction of the price. We also have a few suggestions for aggressive Enduro rides which require a lighter duty full-face.

Best Overall Full-Face Downhill Bike Helmet


Troy Lee D3


Troy Lee Designs D3 in Pinstripe II
Editors' Choice Award

$375.00
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

Impressive comfort
Reliable protection yet well-ventilated
Good looks with a great visor
High price
Specific fitting
Our Editors' Choice Award for the best full-face downhill bike helmet goes to the Troy Lee D3 which took the highest overall score in our test. This top tier helmet is comfortable, well-ventilated, and constructed of premium materials. It has a very moto-style look and comes with an extra color matched visor in case you smash one off in a minor crash. Unfortunately, this helmet does not come cheap. It retails for nearly twice the price of the next most expensive option in our review, and it falls in a price range that is barely cheaper than most carbon-shelled lids. This helmet fits a little different than most helmets, so we recommend trying it on or buying from a retailer with an easy return policy. If this helmet fits and you have the coin, this is the lid to have.

Read review: Troy Lee D3

Best Bang for the Buck


Fox Rampage


Fox Rampage in Grey Yellow.
Best Buy Award

$129.95
at Amazon
See It

Affordable yet meets ASTM-F1952 standard
Lightweight
Below average durability
Spongy liner material
Doesn't equal more expensive models in comfort
We feel that the Fox Rampage represents the most helmet for your money. While it is not the absolute least expensive helmet in our test, it is the least expensive helmet to meet the ASTM-F1952 standard. In fact, at just $130 it is $70 cheaper than the next two least expensive ASTM certified helmets, the Giro Cipher and Bell Transfer, which cost $200. This helmet does suffer in the durability department, the gasket which lines the chin guard came loose in our test. We feel that this failure is due to the paint used on the helmet rather than the adhesive, and we found that it scratched easily and looked worn quicker than other helmets. If you need to save every penny, we think this is the lid to have since the other less expensive options are a step down in safety.

Read review: Fox Rampage

Top Pick for Comfort


Bell Transfer-9


Bell Transfer-9 in Black White Red Element
Top Pick Award

$119.95
at Amazon
See It

Robust and protective
Our favorite camera mount
Supreme comfort
Eject Helmet Removal System
Hefty
The Bell Transfer-9 wins our Top Pick award for being the most comfortable helmet in our test and earned a rare perfect ten in our comfort metric. Despite the differences in head shape, all of our testers agreed that this plush lid was the king of comfort with its dense interior padding and velvety smooth lining. This lid also scored highly in our protection, ventilation, and durability tests. It comes with adhesive breakaway camera mounts for both GoPro and Contour cameras, which is a nice extra if you need it. Our size Large test helmet weighed 45.1 ounces, making it the heaviest helmet in our test and feels noticeably heavy on the head. If you don't mind the weight, the Transfer is an excellent helmet which scored just behind our Editors' Choice while costing just $200.

Read review: Bell Transfer-9

Our three award winning downhill full face helmets: the Best Buy Award winning Fox Rampage (left)  Editor's Choice Troy Lee D3 (center) and our Top Pick the Bell Transfer-9 (right).
Our three award winning downhill full face helmets: the Best Buy Award winning Fox Rampage (left), Editor's Choice Troy Lee D3 (center) and our Top Pick the Bell Transfer-9 (right).

Best of the Best, If You Can Afford It


Troy Lee D3 Carbon


Troy Lee Designs D3 Carbon in Pinestripe II.

$450 List
List Price
See It

It is worth noting that Troy Lee makes a carbon-fiber version of the D3, which won our Editors' Choice award. The Carbon D3 is the flagship of the Troy Lee line, and the helmet that every Troy Lee rider wears in competition. It has everything we love about the D3, but lighter, which makes it just that much more comfortable and more awesome to ride with. The price is unsurprisingly high, and for many, it's too much to bear. But, if you are already looking at helmets in the $300+ list price range, then spending an extra 20% to step up to the Carbon D3 is not too daunting, and it is a helmet that will not leave you disappointed.

Read review: Troy Lee D3 Carbon

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
78
Troy Lee D3 $375
Editors' Choice Award
If you can afford the price tag, this model is the best.
76
Bell Transfer-9 $200
Top Pick Award
This model inspires confidence to try tricky lines, and has a great camera mount so you can relive your downhill feats.
70
Giro Cipher $200
Protection is top notch in this model, yet the irritating face shield kept it from winning any awards.
64
POC Cortex Flow $230
With super ventilation and a low weight, this is a good choice for enduro but not full-fledged downhill action.
52
Fox Rampage $130
Best Buy Award
For folks saving cash for a new bike or other accessories, this model does the job at an affordable price.
49
Bell Sanction $75
Better than nothing at all, but lacks robust protection of other models.

Analysis and Test Results


No matter what style of biking you are doing, wearing a helmet while riding a bike is a no brainer. The hard part is deciding what type of helmet to wear. For mountain biking, we often ask ourselves "Do we need the added protection of a full-face or can we get away with a lighter, more ventilated half-shell helmet?" When making this decision, we factor in what type of terrain we are riding, what type of bike we are riding, and how gnarly we think we are going to get. If you aren't quite sure what type of helmet you need, check out both our How to Choose a Mountain Bike Helmet and How to Choose a Full-Face Downhill Helmet articles for more details.

We tested six of the best and most popular full-face downhill helmets.
We tested six of the best and most popular full-face downhill helmets.

Our expert testers spent months riding and rating each top-rated model we bought for this review. Experiences on the trails coupled with tests and inspection in our lab to thoroughly compare each product. Every helmet was scored across seven performance metrics essential to quality products in this gear category. The combination of these scores, weighted according to their importance, resulted in the overall scores. Below, we highlight the star performers in each category, aiming to help you identify the right model for your specific needs. We also describe why each metric is relevant to these products.

The six full face downhill helmets in our test from left to right: Bell Sanction  Bell Transfer-9  Giro Cipher  Fox Rampage  Troy Lee Design's D3 and POC Cortex Flow.
The six full face downhill helmets in our test from left to right: Bell Sanction, Bell Transfer-9, Giro Cipher, Fox Rampage, Troy Lee Design's D3 and POC Cortex Flow.

Comfort


We think that comfort is a top priority in a helmet because comfortable helmets are less distracting and allow you to concentrate on your line. While you never forget you are wearing a full-face helmet as you might with a half-shell, we look for helmets which feel like an extension of the body rather than a hinderance. The most comfortable helmets have interior padding constructed of dense open-cell foam covered in a soft to the touch and wicking material. This padding tends to pack out over time, especially in the cheek pad area where it is the thickest. Once a downhill helmet's padding packs out, it is not only less comfortable but also tends to bounce around on the head a bit more.


The Bell Transfer-9 is the most comfortable helmet in our test and we awarded it a rare perfect ten in this test. This model uses dense interior padding which is covered with a smooth, velvety material to hold the helmet in place while preventing pressure points between the head and the polystyrene.

Luke Lydiard takes a lap through Mammoth Mountain's "Deep End" in the POC Cortex Flow.
Luke Lydiard takes a lap through Mammoth Mountain's "Deep End" in the POC Cortex Flow.

Visor


Visors serve to shield the eyes from sun, rain, or mud, depending on conditions. All of the helmets in our test, along with all of the half-shell helmets in our other review have visors. In fact, a visor is the primary feature that we feel sets a half-shell mountain helmet apart from a half-shell road helmet. Most road helmets do not have a plastic visor because it interferes with your line of sight when looking forward while riding in a tuck position on a road bike. Road bike helmets can be paired with a short brimmed cycling cap when the sun is low on the horizon or when riding in the rain. Cyclocross riders also often go with a cap rather than a visor, though cyclocross bikes are rarely ridden in the drops and a plastic visor probably suffices.


The visors in our test varied in both length and width. Another important difference is how the visor is attached and secured. All of the visors are attached with two removable screws on either side of the helmet that allow the visor to pivot up and down a few degrees to adjust for conditions. These screws are typically thumbscrews which can be manipulated without a tool, though a coin worked in cranking many of them tight. Four of the six helmets in our test had an additional attachment point beneath the center of the visor which served to stabilize and tighten it in place. All four of these helmets used a simple slotted slider and an additional thumbscrew which passes through the slider into an insert in the helmet. We came to prefer helmets with three rather than just two attachments as it allows for the side screws to be left less than cranked and adjust the angle of the visor by just manipulating the center screw. The Giro Cipher and Bell Transfer-9 only use the two screw method and require both screws to be loosened to move the visor, and we found that the visor sometimes ended up a bit crooked.

Visors are much more flimsy than the rest of any full-face, and most are designed to break away in a crash. Unfortunately, visors are typically designed for a certain helmet and are not likely to be compatible with other helmets. For this reason, if you damage one in a minor crash that doesn't total the helmet, you have to track down a replacement specifically for that helmet. The Troy Lee D3, which came with an extra color matched visor, is the only helmet to include a spare.

The D3's visor is locked in place by a plastic thumbscrew that passes through a slider beneath the center of the helmet.
The D3's visor is locked in place by a plastic thumbscrew that passes through a slider beneath the center of the helmet.

The D3's visor is our favorite and took the top score in this test. This had nothing to do with the spare but is because of its width, length, and solid attachment method. The D3 uses two titanium screws at either side of the visor and a third plastic slider/screw beneath the visor to attach and adjust its visor. This massive visor gives the D3 a very moto look, which we expect from a company with roots in motocross.

Weight


The average weight of the six downhill helmets in our test is 39.1 ounces. For comparison, the average weight of the seven half-shell helmets in our mountain bike helmet test was around 12.7 ounces. This means that full-face helmets are around three times heavier than half-shell helmets. It's hard to quantify how much more protective a full-face is compared to a half-shell, but we think they cover between two and three times more of the head. The gram counting crowd might skip the protection of the full-face altogether and save twenty or more ounces by rocking a half-shell. It's pretty easy to justify the extra ounces to keep your gold grill intact for downhill riding, though.


As with half-shell mountain bike helmets, helmets that fit securely felt lighter than the scale may reflect. One such helmet was the Giro Cipher, which at 40 ounces is one of the heavier helmets we tested, though its snug fit makes it feel lighter on the head.

The most cumbersome helmet in our test is the Bell Transfer-9, which despite its super secure fit, feels much heavier on the head than any other helmet we tested. We think the Transfer is an excellent helmet, especially for $200, but if the weight is a deal breaker for you consider its carbon shelled big brother, which weighs less though it is twice the price at $400.

The lightest helmet in our test was the Bell Sanction (left) while the Bell Transfer-9 (right) was the heaviest.
The lightest helmet in our test was the Bell Sanction (left) while the Bell Transfer-9 (right) was the heaviest.

The lightest helmet in our test is the Bell Sanction at just 34 ounces in size Large, though we don't consider this helmet fit for full-blown downhill shredding. Sure, low weight is important in a helmet, but we don't believe in sacrificing protection to lose a few ounces. If light weight is your top priority in a full-face, then we recommend that you check out the Fox Rampage which weighs just 2.8 ounces more than the Sanction while being a more protective lid.

Ventilation


Our ventilation test measured two types of ventilation. We first considered how well each helmet allows cool air to flow into the helmet and transport built-up heat away from the head. The second thing, which is unique to full-face helmets, is how well each helmet's chin guard allowed the wearer to breathe. This type of ventilation is influenced by the size and shape of the chin guard as well as the size of the vents in the guard. The biggest factor in how well a helmet allows the wearer to breath is the proximity of the chin guard to the mouth. Keep in mind that full-face helmets are always going to feel suffocating compared to half-shells no matter how well-vented or well-placed the chin guard is.


The highest score in this test went to the POC Cortex Flow, which allowed for excellent airflow through its shell as well as easy (for a full-face) breathing because of its long chin guard with a massive vent. The lowest score in this test went to the Giro Cipher, which is suffocating because of its much too close for comfort chin guard.

The Giro Cipher (left) scored the lowest in our ventilation test due to its suffocating chin guard. The POC Cortex Flow (right) took the top score in this test with its airy design and large direct vents.
The Giro Cipher (left) scored the lowest in our ventilation test due to its suffocating chin guard. The POC Cortex Flow (right) took the top score in this test with its airy design and large direct vents.

Protection


We awarded each helmet a relative protection score based on the certification standards that it meets as well as a close inspection of its construction. We did not perform any scientific crash testing on the helmets, but leave that to the certifying agencies. We did do some unscientific crash testing when things didn't go as planned, and we were forced to devour a couple of dirt sandwiches.


Full-face bike helmets can be combined with neck braces like a Leatt or Atlas. We tested all of the helmets with a Leatt DBX. (Read more about neck braces and certifications in our Buying Advice article.) Of the helmets we tested, the ones that work best with a Leatt are the Troy Lee D3, Bell Transfer-9, and Giro Cipher. These helmets allow for excellent range of motion but also have strong bottom edges that handle the load if you happen to lawn dart on your head.

All of the helmets in our test were tested with Leatt DBX neck braces. We found that the Bell Transfer-9 (pictured) to be very compatible with this brace.
All of the helmets in our test were tested with Leatt DBX neck braces. We found that the Bell Transfer-9 (pictured) to be very compatible with this brace.

Extras


The downhill helmets we tested came with a variety of extras ranging from spare visors, helmet camera mounts, and speaker pockets. All came with a storage bag. Most of these bags are simple fabric sacks, except for the one included with the Troy Lee D3, which came with a substantial storage bag that can also accommodate goggles, gloves, and a few other small items.


One of the more interesting extras was found on the Bell Transfer-9, which is compatible with the Eject system. The Eject system, sold separately, is a small air bladder placed in a recess molded into the inside of the Transfer's polystyrene liner. The bladder can be inflated by a small tube that extends out of the back of the helmet. This system is designed to allow trained rescuers to carefully remove the helmet and minimize secondary injuries by inflating the bladder with a syringe of air. We've noticed that the availability of the Eject System is pretty limited online, so if you are sold on the Transfer-9 because of it, you may want to first try to hunt down a retailer which has the bladders before you buy the helmet. Bell.com does not currently have the system, but we've seen a few for sale on moto oriented web stores.

The highest score in this test went to the Troy Lee D3, which not only includes that substantial storage bag but also includes an extra color matched visor should you damage the first one. We think that these two extras are likely to get used along the course of the helmet's lifespan.

Durability


Full-face helmets are typically more durable by design than other types of helmets. One area of weakness we identified in our half-shell helmet test is the bottom edge of the helmet. Helmets which have exposed polystyrene foam along the bottom edge do not hold up to day-to-day use as well as helmets which keep the polystyrene protected. Full-face helmets do not suffer from this weakness since all of the impact absorbing foam is encased within the shell.


We did not do any scientific crash or durability testing of these helmets. Instead, we just wore them day-in and day-out while riding, and examined how well they held up. The most impressive helmets in this test were the Bell Transfer-9 and Troy Lee D3, which came though our test with almost no signs of wear. Other helmets we tested did not fair as well.

The Fox Rampage scored low in our durability test because the gasket separated from the chin guard where most riders grip the helmet to put it on and take it off.
The Fox Rampage scored low in our durability test because the gasket separated from the chin guard where most riders grip the helmet to put it on and take it off.

Conclusion


We tested six of the best and most popular full face downhill helmets.
We tested six of the best and most popular full face downhill helmets.

Consider the type of mountain biking you plan to be doing, the terrain, and your bike when picking the best helmet for you. This review is designed to help you select the most appropriate helmet for your mountain biking needs. See our full Buying Advice article for a more detailed description of the differences of full-face, half-shell, and road bike helmets.

Luke Lydiard
  • Share this article:
You Might Also Like