Skip to Main Content

Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings - What to Know

Written by: Cassidy Lavender, Digital Content Writer  |  August  29th, 2023

Quickly gaining traction across the sports industry, Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings are becoming an extremely valuable way for all consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing helmets. Since 2011, researchers at Virginia Tech have been diving into concussions in sports and creating rigorous testing parameters to identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk. All of this work is done as part of Virginia Tech’s service mission so  they aren't taking funding from any big manufacturers, therefore the information is 100% unbiased.  

Virginia Tech Helmet Safety Testing

Shortcomings of Current Helmet Certifications

Since many of the standards outlined below operate on a pass-or-fail model that can neglect to factor in sport specific impact scenarios, Virginia Tech’s main objective for conducting impact testing is to dive a little deeper into what factors contribute to reducing head injuries or concussions depending on the sport.

Virginia Tech researchers have discovered there are still gaps to fill when it comes to manufacturing effective helmets.  Although it seems simple and straightforward  to throw on any kind of  helmet that’s in relatively good condition, hit the trail, and cruise on knowing you’re protected from head injuries, helmets are now specifically designed to have an intended use. It’s not only accessible information, but it’s pretty crucial you look into the specifics to get something that suits you. 

You are likely familiar with helmets that are equipped with MIPS (Multi Directional Impact System), or POC Spin. Both of these systems have been developed to facilitate rotational impact protection. While they have greatly improved the overall protection capabilities of helmets across many sports, it is not the only thing to look for when safety is your top priority. Currently, there are a few different safety standards that manufacturers must abide by when assembling helmets for biking: 

  • CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) -  Required by U.S. Law

  • The European Cycling Standard -  EN-1078, The General Product Safety Regulations (GPSR) standard for bike helmets in Europe

  • The Downhill Mountain Biking Standard - ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials)  F1952 

  • Snell B-95 / B-90 - Has been a standard longer than any other listed above, but few helmets meet the requirements for certification. They are bulkier, less attractive, and heavier. 

Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings

The evolution of helmets is most commonly reminced through the timeline of the National Football League. It was only in 1949 that the NFL required all players to wear a helmet made of plastic (no more leather helmets allowed). Since then, helmets have evolved and become more specific to each sport. Now, we have hundreds of options across every impact sport that fills some kind of niche requirement. Information overload is an understatement, so Virginia Tech started this program by studying the impacts that their football team was experiencing on the field. By analyzing thousands of different hits and cross referencing hit types with injury types, scientists have been able to narrow down which types of hits most commonly result in a traumatic brain injury, thus leading into parameters for successful impact testing that could then be altered and refined based on the sport type.  

By developing sport-specific, real-world testing protocols, consumers can learn more about what they need to get so their helmet performs best for its intended use. By using the STAR evaluation system, Virginia Tech’s tests evaluate a helmet's ability to reduce linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head, which are directly correlated to concussion risk. They test a range of impact types a cyclist could experience and assign 1-5 stars as an overall rating. What do the ratings mean? Virginia Tech explains that: 
A helmet's rating is comprised of two components: the STAR score and the number of stars.
STAR stands for the Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk, and the STAR score is calculated based on a helmet's performance in a series of impact tests. The impact conditions are sports-specific and inclusive of the broad range of head impacts that athletes are likely to experience. STAR is based on 2 fundamental concepts:
1) tests are weighted based on how often people experience similar impacts and 2) helmets that lower linear and rotational head acceleration reduce injury risk.
"A helmet with a lower score offers better protection. STAR scores are assigned a number of stars to categorize impact performance. The number of stars varies between 1-5, with 5 stars being the best.”
Virginia Tech
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics

Bike Helmet Testing

To rate bike helmets, Virginia Tech tests 6 locations within the helmet  against 24 impact tests that reflect common cycling head injuries. Each test factors in how often a biker might experience the same impact to the same location to see how well the helmet can withstand multiple impacts. The better the helmet withstands multiple impacts to the same area, the better the overall score is. Take a look at the top 3 bike helmets currently rated on Virginia Tech's Bicycle Helmet Ratings page shown below. Here, you can navigate through hundreds of rated helmets or sort the page by a specific type of biking. 


Snowsports Helmet Testing

For snowsports, the testing parameters differ to test 3 impact locations, the front, side, and rear of the helmet at two different angles against 12 different impact tests. The high impact angle testing is designed to represent falls on steeper slopes where forces would be distributed across the snow while the low angle impact testing represents less steep terrain where forces of a fall would go into the snow. As previously mentioned, all of these testing parameters have been created and refined based on extensive research into real- world head injuries in snowsports. 

Impacts on Manufacturers

The rigorous R&D that Virginia Tech has taken on is not only providing clearer information for consumers to make informed purchases, but it has also started to transform the manufacturing industry. Previous safety ratings and certifications are becoming less valuable and we expect to see the grading system re-scaled to reflect these more precise safety metrics.

Key Takeaways 

After reviewing the lists of snowsport and  bike helmets that Virginia Tech has rated using the STAR evaluation system, it is worth mentioning that price does not directly correlate to safety standards. It’s cool to see that #8 on the list of bike helmets is given a 5 star rating and comes in at $65 with a couple others in the top ten that fall at or under $200. Many more in this list are still ranked very well with 4 stars and are under $100, while the 180th bike helmet is ranked with 3 stars and goes for $240. To check the rating of a helmet you may be interested in, head to Virginia Tech's Website and navigate to the related sport to search their list of tested helmets. Conveniently, Virginia Tech has created sub groups for mountain road, urban, and multi-sport biking so it is easier for consumers to set a search criteria that closely aligns with the type of riding they are doing most often. 

 It’s also imperative to note that sporting a helmet with the highest safety ratings can never fully prevent a head injury from occurring even in the best equipment, so always carry on with caution.  Wearing a helmet is cool, and now you have some pretty awesome scientists and engineers helping you decide which one is going to let you push the limits while staying as safe as possible. 

Learn More With Our Other Bike Guides:

Learn About our Favorite Bike Gear:

This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp, and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, Whistler, Snoqualmie Pass, and Hood River. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and upkeep easy.

evo also likes to travel to remote places across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, or legendary mountain biking locations through evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips. Or, if you prefer to travel on your own, check out our ski & snowboard resort travel guides and mountain bike trail guides.


Still have questions? Please call our customer care team at 1.866.386.1590 during Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right setup to fit your needs.