Why Mountain Bike Helmets Have Visors: And why road bike helmets don’t?


Many road cyclists and mountain bikers wonder why there is a difference in the design of mountain bike and road bike helmets. Certainly I myself found it very interesting, after all, we’re all just cycling at the end of the day. I decided to take a look into the role of visors on mountain bike helmets, and work out exactly why road bike helmets don’t come with a visor?

Mountain bike helmets come with a visor that offers protection from the sun, wind, and rain. Visors also offer extra protection during a crash, adding another layer between your skull and the ground. Finally, mountain bike helmets can also act as a fashionable accessory, which is a key factor for some riders.

So we’ve established that there are some key uses for a visor on a mountain bike helmet, but if they are so beneficial, why don’t all bike helmets have them? I take a look at this, as well as whether or not you should be wearing a visor on your helmet in the rest of the article.

Who do mountain bike helmets have visors?

As a mountain bike rider, there are many benefits to a visor on a helmet.

Protection from the sun

First of all, and perhaps most obvious to riders, is the visor’s role as a sun protector. The visor can act to block the sun from hitting you in the eyes and can help to provide a little extra shade that can stop you from overheating.

Protection from the elements

Not only this, but the visor can also help to limit the effect of other elements such as rain, snow, or hail from hitting you in the eyes. This works well in certain countries where the weather is less good, for example in Norway where mountain biking can be quite common.

Protection during a fall

The visor itself can also add another element of protection to the helmet. The visor sits in front of your forehead and so can act as a crumple zone in case you crash, absorbing some of the impacts and adding another layer between your head and the ground.

On top of this, the visor can also add protection from branches and other sharp objects, both during a crash or as you are cycling. A mountain bike helmet visor is positioned in such a way that it should knock sharp pointy objects such as sticks or other objects out of the way as you fall past them.

An attachment point for cycling gear

The other main advantage of a mountain bike helmet visor is that it can be used to attach cycling accessories such as a GoPro or portable camera. This allows you to free up areas on your bike for lights of other pieces of bike tech.

Aesthetics

Finally, the last benefit of a mountain bike visor is a subjective one, but some people really do prefer the look of a helmet with a visor. A lot of our biking gear is designed to allow up to express ourselves and some riders will see the choice of a visor or no visor as being no different.

Why do road bike helmets not have visors?

So if there are so many uses for a visor on a mountain bike helmet, why do we not have visors on road bike helmets as well?

Road bikes travel tend to go faster than mountain bikes

First of all, road bikes travel at much faster speeds than mountain bikes. This means that during a potential crash, the visor itself can become more of a risk than a benefit. For example, a crash while cycling at 20 or 30 miles per hour has the potential to crack the visor, creating a sharp edge that you might cut yourself on during your fall. In some cases, the plastic shards may even snap off and hurt you.

This is not the case with mountain bikes, which are typically not being ridden on the same long straight areas of tarmac that a road bike is, and so do not achieve these same high speeds.

Aerodynamic disadvantages

Road cyclists tend to be much more concerned with speed, weight, and aerodynamics than mountain bikers. A visor on a helmet will reduce all three of these. Adding extra weight to your helmet, causing extra drag as the visor catches the wind, and finally as the result of both of these, slowing you down.

Road bike saddle position

A visor does not work as well on a road bike as it does on a mountain bike due to the more low down position you sit in on a road bike. Road bikes and gravel bikes often have “drop-down” handlebars that put you in more of a “low” or “lying down” position.

A bike helmet visor in this position impedes your vision a lot more when you are sitting in the upright position of a mountain bike.

Does my helmet need a visor?

So, with all that being said, do you need a visor on your helmet? Well, the answer is obviously different based on which type of bike riding you are doing.

Do you need a visor on a road bike helmet?

I think this first one is the easiest to cover. You definitely don’t need a visor on a bike helmet that you will be using on a road bike.

Most road cyclists do not use a visor on their helmets (for all the reasons we covered above). Many cyclists use a cycling cap in the place of a visor, offering many of the same advantages with less of the downsides (in terms of road cycling).

If you want to take a more detailed look into cycling caps, take a look at my article here.

Do you need a visor on a mountain bike helmet?

This one is a little more of a personal choice. We’ve obviously established there are a lot of benefits to a visor on a mountain biking helmet, but none of these would make a visor a necessity. In fact, many major mountain bike brands make helmets that come both with or without visors, in some cases even making helmets with removable ones.

To try and put the answer into some perspective, I took a look at the 25 most successful mountain bikers over the last 10 years, reviewing if they more often wore a helmet with or without a visor. As you can see from the chart below, the choice of visor or no visor appears to be very subjective, however overall, more riders wore a visor than did not.

In reality, the choice of using a visor on a bike helmet is likely going to depend on multiple different factors, including the environment you ride in, how important speed and aerodynamics are to you, as well as your risk of falling off your bike.

Overview

As you can see, there are many different reasons that mountain bike helmets have a visor. However, none of these are essential, and as such many professional mountain bike riders still choose to go without a visor completely.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.