Lots of mountain bikers start out riding road bikes, you collect the gear and life changes and your road bike gets put away and mountain biking becomes your “new“ thing.

A good helmet isn’t cheap, testing and development doesn’t come free.  However, a road helmet and a mountain bike helmet have different characteristics.

With that in mind, can you use a road bike helmet for mountain biking?

Bikers should know that expert mountain bikers do not recommend using a road helmet for mountain biking. The main reason is that crashing on a trail is worse than a collision on the road. So, a road helmet will not provide the correct protection. (source)

Mountain biking, especially on trails is filled with obstacles – heck those obstacles are part of the challenge. Challenging, Scenic, Fun and Frightening are words that come to mind on one of my favorite trails.  BUT being safe allows us to ride more.  For this reason, you need to know what components a mountain bike helmet should have so it can protect you while you ride.

Should You Use a Road Helmet on Mountain Bike?

No one can deny how essential a helmet is for cyclists. But regardless of the safety that a helmet can provide, some bikers still do not pay attention to the type of helmet they use. For instance, some mountain bikers assume that road helmets will protect them when they are mountain biking.

You can use a road bike helmet for mountain biking since both of them are made to protect your head from accidents. However, it is essential to note that these bike helmets have different features that suit a biker’s environment. Each helmet design adds up to your comfort, safety, and performance.

In addition, a trail is a lot different from a road. Trails have many obstacles, such as uphill and downhill climbs. Meanwhile, obstacles on roads are more straightforward and not as dangerous as the ones on trails.

A road bike helmet also prioritizes airflow optimization and aerodynamics, which appears more minimalist than a mountain bike helmet. Meaning it has a less overall structure that has huge ventilation ducts. This kind of construction is not adequate to protect mountain bikers since an MTB helmet needs to provide riders with more excellent protection towards the neck area and the skull.

DIY Mountain Bike Tip: Looking for more ways ways a MTB help is different? Read this article: Are MTB Helmets Different?

For that reason, repurposing a road bike helmet for mountain biking will not give you adequate protection. (source)

4 Road and Mountain Bike Differences That You Need to Know

A road biker prioritizes speed, so their helmet is designed with ventilation and aerodynamics in mind. It is also lightweight while still providing the biker with enough protection against a crash.

On the other hand, a mountain bike helmet prioritizes safety. Mountain bikers do not need too much ventilation. Instead, they need a helmet that will cover most of their head, especially the areas that are prone to get hurt.

That said, you need to know the reasons why you should not use a road helmet on a mountain bike:

1. Road and mountain bike helmets have different construction

The two bike helmets have differences in terms of construction. Manufacturers use in-mold technology to construct a regular road bike helmet. This technology is a lighter way to bind the foam layer to the helmet’s outer shell.

That means a road bike helmet has soft inner foam. For this reason, using a road helmet on a mountain bike will not be enough to keep you safe.

On the other hand, a mountain bike helmet has a hard shell attached to its EPS liner. Manufacturers either use the in-mold technology or strong glue to mount the hard shell. This way, they can ensure that the hard shell will adequately protect the mountain biker’s head.

Additionally, the shape of a road and mountain bike helmet is also different. An MTB helmet protects more of the rear and sides of the head, with fewer vents than a road helmet.

2. There is a difference in the number of vents and airflow

One of the most noticeable differences between a mountain bike helmet and a road bike helmet is the number of vents.

Mountain bikers do not focus much on speed, so they do not have to worry about the gust of wind affecting them. Instead, one of the main obstacles mountain biking has is the possibility of tree branches getting through the vents of a helmet and sticking into the rider’s head. For this reason, companies created mountain bike helmets with fewer vents and restricted airflow.

On the other hand, road bike helmets have more and larger vents than mountain bike helmets. The reason is that road bikers often bike under the sun. So, they need as much ventilation as possible to minimize sweating.

Moreover, using a road helmet on a mountain bike will increase the chance of a mountain biker acquiring wounds from hanging branches.

3. Mountain bike helmets have visors

MTB helmet with visor
MTB helmet with visor

The importance of a visor is that it provides additional protection to your face. The visor provides some shade and blocks the sun.  I real benefit when riding in the afternoon. In addition, a visor works as a shield for your glasses preventing mud, dust, rain and other debris from impairing your vision.

A visor will also help shield your face from low hanging vines and branches that seem to plague the best forest single track trails.

If you use a road helmet on a mountain bike, be sure to wear glasses that are impact resistant. 

DIY Mountain Bike Tip: Road bike helmets might be a good option if you ride a bunch of hilly gravel roads.  Without a visor you can hunker down low for aerodynamic performance on downhills.

4. Mountain bike helmets have a lower cut in the back

While some people say that this feature is merely for appearance, others believe that it adds to the helmet’s protection. As mentioned, mountain bikers encounter lots of obstacles along a trail. For this reason, they need every bit of protection and coverage that a helmet can provide.  

DIY MTB: I remember when I was teaching my kids how to do wheelies and went over the back of my bike.  I smacked my head on the road, that lower cut helmet saved my noodle.

If a mountain biker falls off of their bike, the lower cut in the back of the helmet can lessen the chances of them hurting their head.

On the other hand, a road helmet on a mountain bike does not cover enough head surface area. (source)

How to Keep a Mountain Bike Helmet in Good Condition?

There is no doubt that a mountain bike helmet can protect you against accidents; that’s why it’s recommended that you use a specific MTB helmet vs a road helmet if riding trails. Since your bike helmet serves as your first degree of protection, it only makes sense to keep it in good condition.

Carefully wash your mountain bike helmet.

One thing worth noting when washing your bike helmet is never to use harsh cleaners. Instead, use warm water and mild soap. Most helmets have a protective UV coating in the plastics and paints.  Aggressive detergents can damage this material causing premature degradation.

I’ve often just sprayed my helmet with a hose after a ride.  If the liner or fitting bands can be removed, taking those out and washing with soap is a good practice.  Sweat and dirt can grow in those areas. 

Remember to thoroughly air dry your helmet after use.

DIY Mountain Bike Tip: Avoid exposing your helmet to sunlight for extended periods of time. I’ve seen folks keep their helmet in the back window of the car…Not good

Extreme heat can cause helmet adhesives and finish to deteriorate, once your helmet is dry store in a shadowed area. long.

Avoid attaching objects to your helmet.

Using a road helmet on a mountain bike is one thing. However, attaching protruding objects to your helmet is something that can attract danger more. The objects you mount on your helmet might hook up to branches and distract you from biking.

It may seem fun to glue tiny objects to the surface of your helmet. However, the adhesive can ruin the shell and foam liner of the helmet. If such happens, the helmet will have a stress point in an impact, thus affecting how it protects you.

Don’t repair your helmet after a crash.

A lot of the mountain bike helmets in the market can withstand one large-scale impact. So, in case you have an accident and your helmet had damage more than just some scratches, avoid trying to fix it. The impact may not show any damage at first. However, there may be some damages to the inside of the helmet.

For that reason, get a new helmet instead of repairing the damaged one. A road helmet on a mountain bike will not protect you enough. But reusing a damaged helmet is worse, so it is something that you need to avoid.

Inspect your helmet frequently.

It is essential to check your helmet as frequently as possible. Inspect for:

  • cracks
  • strap damage
  • fading and scratches on the visor

These minor damages are indications that it is time to replace your helmet.

Don’t expose your helmet to high heat.

A mountain bike helmet is often held together with glue. So, if you expose your helmet to extreme heat, there is a chance that the glue will melt and ruin the helmet’s structure. Meaning you should never leave your helmet on the dashboard of your car during the hottest summer days.

In addition, it is not ideal for running your mountain bike helmet through a dishwasher. (source)

Make Sure Your Helmet Fits

A great article about fitting a bike helmet can be found HERE. I’ve also included a download PDF the the NHTSA provides. A great reference get it HERE.

I’m what people call a “fat head”. I like to think my head is overflowing with brains. My wife would say it’s overflowing with my “ego”. Either way It’s tough for me to find MTB helmets that fit. To help folks reading this check out a video I did.

Final Thoughts

Every type of biking needs you to wear a helmet that suits the environment where you are cycling. So, while you can use a road helmet on a mountain bike, it is something that you need to avoid. The construction of a road bike helmet is not enough to cover your head, so it does not provide enough protection.

With all that has been said and done, a mountain bike helmet is the only type of bike helmet that will protect you from obstacles in trails.


Helmets, Sunglasses and Mountain Biking are a Perfect Mix – Read More


David DIY MTB

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.

Sources

  1. World Health Organization, A Road Safety Manual For Decision-Makers And Practitioners, https://www.who.int/roadsafety/projects/manuals/helmet_manual/1-Why.pdf, accessed September 27, 2021.
  2. Christa C. Hogan, Mountain Biking, https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=_y7DDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA36&dq=differences+between+road+bike+helmet+and+mountain+bike+helmet&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjwm6SX3J7zAhXJC94KHagsAhYQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=differences%20between%20road%20bike%20helmet%20and%20mountain%20bike%20helmet&f=false, accessed September 27, 2021.
  3. Eben Weiss, The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual, https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=G-8sCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT80&dq=bike+helmet+cleaning&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwimkIXt3p7zAhVxNKYKHZe7AEYQ6AF6BAgEEAI#v=onepage&q=bike%20helmet%20cleaning&f=false, accessed September 27, 2021.