No Stupid Questions: What’s The Best Winter Bike Helmet For Cycle Touring?

A reader writes:

No current manufacturer seems to make a purpose built winter season bicycle helmet. I am looking for one without all the air vents typical of warm weather helmets and with fuller coverage of the head and ears, more like a motorcycle helmet but lighter as bicycle get-offs are typically at lower speeds. Also I’d like it to have a sun visor for the low on the horizon glowing orb and also a windscreen to keep the cold air from making my eyes water so badly I can’t see. Have you seen anything to fit the need here?

I didn’t have a quick answer to this question. So I did a bit of research. 

And it seems there are a handful of winter-specific cold weather bike helmets around, including the Specialized Centro Winter and the Giro Timberwolf… or, at least, there were.

I found blog posts like this listing more winter bike helmets, but the models mentioned were always a few seasons old. They were universally hard or impossible to find in stock at online retailers (though some had a few left), and my guess is that they’re all now discontinued. I suspect you’ll have reached a similar point in your own winter bicycle helmet research before writing to me. This is annoying. 

Luckily, search engines aren’t the only way to find things…

In general, when looking for outdoor or cycling gear for unusual seasons, climates or environments, I find it helps to imagine for who those conditions would be normal, think about where they would go to find or buy their gear, and start your search from there.

For cold-weather cycling, for example, I’d be looking at what people use in places like Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia – regions with long, cold, snowy winters. Cyclists in these places will surely want to continue riding their bikes, and so it’s likely they’ll have found their own solutions to problems such as finding winter-specific bike helmets. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a small local industry serving them too. 

Sure enough, there’s a 20,000-strong ice-biking (read: winter cycling) community over on Reddit, with – as predicted – lots of North American and Scandinavian members. I suspect at least one will already have tackled the same problem you have, so perhaps that’s a starting point for deeper research. 

I also paraphrased your question on my Instagram feed, where my kindly followership responded with many and varied suggestions:

Incidentally, while looking through the various current or discontinued winter helmets I did find, I couldn’t help noticing a few common winter bike helmet design features, which I thought worth pointing out.

The first is that they all have insulated ear pads, in much the same way as skiing or snowboarding helmets do – but these ear pads are also removable, again like ski and snowboard helmets. 

The second is that they do all retain a certain amount of ventilation, in spite of your request for a bike helmet ‘without all the air vents’.

Having both toured in extreme cold weather conditions and spent a couple of winters working in the ski industry, I can understand why. The reality of winter cycling (and skiing/snowboarding) is that a lot of variables tend to be involved in how warm or cold you feel. Sometimes you’ll be exerting yourself highly, sometimes not so much. Air temperature and sun exposure will vary throughout a typical day, as will your metabolism. 

In other words, when cycle touring in winter, it’s important to be able to manage body heat so you neither freeze nor overheat (then sweat, then freeze).

Don’t assume the goal is to retain maximum heat at all times, especially for your head, which acts as a powerful radiator. I suspect you’ll be glad to unclip the ear pads, open up the vents, remove your helmet liner, and blast off some unnecessary heat from time to time. A good winter bicycle helmet, in my opinion, should be designed to allow you to do that, as well as hunker down in a whiteout. 

What you don’t want is to have to remove your helmet completely (because your head’s too hot) and lose the protection it offers.

All the helmets I researched had detachable visors, which help not just with shading the low winter sun but with keeping falling snow out of your eyes! And several (but not all) of those helmets were designed to be used in conjunction with goggles of the type sold for winter mountain sports (as opposed to those for downhill mountain-biking). 

Whatever helmet you end up using, I do think it’s useful to carry a pair of snow goggles (look for anti-fog models) for eye protection both in falling snow and to help stop your eyes watering if/when temperatures dip too low for protective glasses alone. 

(Since you mentioned it specifically, I think you’ll struggle to find a bicycle helmet with a motorcycle helmet-style windscreen or clear visor that’s appropriate for cycle touring, winter-specific or otherwise.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve never personally owned a winter-specific bicycle helmet. Instead, I’ve improvised other ways of achieving the same end result.

On my winter tour to Arctic Scandinavia, for example, I carried a regular all-purpose bicycle helmet which was deliberately on the large side. This allowed me to regulate heat via any combination of fleece helmet liners, beanies, balaclavas, neck gaiters, etc, and then strap the helmet on top for safety. 

I was working with what I had, of course. It was not necessarily the optimal approach, but it seemed pretty effective in practice – I could even strap the helmet over my snow jacket hood during really heavy snowfall.

Hope this helps!

[UPDATE: After more research and a few tryouts, this reader eventually decided on the Smith Survey snowsports helmet for their winter cycle tour. So now you know.]

Comments (skip to respond)

3 responses to “No Stupid Questions: What’s The Best Winter Bike Helmet For Cycle Touring?”

  1. Btw, love this “no stupid questions” series Tom. Thanks!

  2. What would be the issue with using a skiing or snowboarding helmet? They’d offer protection against accidents and the elements, as well as allow you to use goggles. 

    I don’t live anywhere with snow or such harsh winters, and have barely tried to ski a couple of times in my life so the answer may be a very obvious one.

    1. The short answer is that these helmets would not necessarily have been tested for compliance with bike helmet safety regulations. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do the job, just that they’re unlikely to have been certified as such. To be honest, it would be useful if the manufacturers of snowsports helmets would do this testing, given the lack of winter cycling helmets, but that currently doesn’t seem to be happening. 

      I’d guess it probably boils down to liability concerns.

Something to add?