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  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Best Helmets

    The safest, lightest, and smartest on- and off-road protection.

    —Aaron Gulley

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    POC Octal

    BEST FOR: Speed

    POC backs up the Octal’s ($270) radical looks with outrageous ventilation and a best-in-class sub-200-gram weight. A pair of rubberized pads let you securely stow your sunglasses when you’re not wearing them, and it’s compatible with the ICEdot emergency sensor (sold separately). 6.6 oz

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Giro Aspect

    BEST FOR: Stealth Performance

    Don’t be fooled by the Aspect’s ($175) street smarts: it’s a full-featured race helmet. In spite of their diminutive appearance, the 19 vents were plenty airy in sweltering desert heat. Nice touch: the low-profile fabric visor is removable and washable. 9.4 oz

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Specialized Propero II

    BEST FOR: Getting a Good Deal

    The Propero II ($110) has most of the features of Specialized’s top-of-the-line S-Works helmet at less than half the cost. The gaping front intake vent channels plenty of air, and the reflective paint, which looks silver by day but bounces approaching headlights after dark, is just plain smart. 8.3 oz

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Uvex Quatro

    BEST FOR: All-Terrain Riding

    Like many new mountain helmets, the Quatro ($160) increases coverage around the ears and the back of the head for added protection in side and rear impacts. The push-button chin strap takes some getting used to; otherwise, it’s luxury-auto precision at econobox pricing. 11.2 oz

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Bell Stoker

    BEST FOR: Affordable Stoke

    The pared-down Stoker ($70) is a bit lighter and just as ventilated as Bell’s more expensive lids. The speed dial is sturdy and easy to use, and the adjustable visor accommodates sunglasses (or goggles), on or off. 11.2 oz

  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Next Up:The Best Cycling Shoes of 2014

    Smith Forefront

    BEST FOR: Lightweight Protection

    This cross-country helmet ($220) is lined with a honey-comb polymer called Koroyd, which Smith claims absorbs 30 percent more impact than EPS foam. The lightweight material also adds airflow, and we felt the difference on scorching days, when sweat literally evaporated out the top. 11.2 oz

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