Arguably the most important purchase you make after your mountain bike, is your helmet. Wearing a helmet is a must when it comes to any type of cycling, for any age, any terrain, any experience level.
If you don’t have a helmet, don’t ride. It’s that simple.
When it comes to safety, the Specialized Tactic 4 is one of the best out there. Its 5-star rating and 3rd place ranking in concussion prevention (in the Virginia Tech helmet ratings) makes it a strong competitor against any helmet.
It comes with MIPS and has full rear-head protection.
Beyond safety, it’s well vented and boasts several popular nice-to-haves, all at a very reasonable price point. While not the full face helmet needed for enduro or downhill, this half shell is perfect for any dedicated cross country and trail rider out there.
Afterall, protecting your brain is the most important step you can take when you’re on your bike!
Review in a Nutshell
- Full rear-head protection
- Sleek appearance
- MIPS equipped
- ANGi technology ready
- Adjustable chin strap
- Multiple styles and size options for a variety of head shapes
- Rear dial for adjustable fit settings
- Visor for sun protection
- Eye-wear storage channels
- E-bike certified
- Variety of colour options
- Great ventilation to keep rider cool
- Very reasonable price
- Community-minded company
- Visor does not adjust
- No camera mount
- No space for a ponytail due to full rear coverage
Price & Where to Buy:
Like any protective gear that mountain bikers wear, a helmet is not going to stop you from falling, or even prevent any and all injuries to your head if you do. Reducing the risk and chance of serious injury as much as possible is the name of the game.
Unfortunately, the most important feature in a helmet is the most difficult for any reviewer to test first hand – without actually crashing that is. As riders, what we can take responsibility for is reading the research and ensuring we invest in a helmet that is equipped to do the best job possible in the event you hit your head in a fall.
So what makes the Specialized Tactic 4 a better safety bet than other mountain bike helmets?
For starters, it’s CPSC certified and comes with MIPS.
All helmets sold in Canada and the U.S. must have Consumer Product Safety Certification (CPSC). These are the safety guidelines for all products that are made in or imported into the country. While this gives some peace-of-mind to consumers, it’s definitely not unique to helmets bought in North America. So let’s dig deeper.
What exactly is MIPS anyway?
This particular Specialized helmet comes with MIPS technology. MIPS stands for Multidimensional Impact Protection System. Developed in Sweden, this added technology is used for helmets in high impact activities such as motorcycle and equestrian riding, construction work, and cycling.
Seen immediately as you flip over the helmet, a hard plastic casing (usually black with yellow “MIPS” dots) “floats” inside the helmet shell.
Helmets containing MIPS are intended to protect a rider’s head in the event of a crash by allowing the outer shell to move at impact, and reducing the rotational movement of their head. The floating inner MIPS case allows the helmet’s outer shell to absorb the movement of the fall. In theory, when there’s a crash, what moves is the helmet, not your skull.
While the research supports this theory of protective technology, Specialized doesn’t just rely on MIPS alone to protect riders who wear their helmets.
Bear with me as I get a bit technical here.
When it comes to research on crash protection, many helmet manufacturers rely on a 5-star rating system. Virginia Polytechnic Institute provides comprehensive and trusted helmet safety evaluations for many sports.
Cycling helmets are tested at different velocities and impact locations. Each helmet goes through 24 impact tests, on 6 different locations of the helmet at different velocities. Each is given a score and an overall rating of 0-5 stars. The lower the score, the higher the star rating for the helmet.
Simply put, the more stars earned, the lower the risk of concussion to the rider who wears it.
The Tactic 4 Wins the Safety Race!
In 2023, 206 cycling helmets were evaluated and the results were reported in the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings Report. Specialized’s Tactic 4 ranked 1st among 63 mountain bike specific helmets and 3rd out of all 206 bike helmets tested. It was given the highest possible rating of 5 stars.
Not a bad finish in the race for safety and head protection.
The Specialized Tactic 4 is also certified for e-bike riders. Helmets used for e-powered and e-assist bikes must meet a higher standard for protection than those for regular mountain biking.
This is due to their obviously higher potential for hard and fast ground impacts if there’s a crash. It’s nice to know the helmet works under a variety of conditions and riding types.
Not Done Yet!
Two other important features put the Tactic 4 ahead of its competition when it comes to rider safety.
Full Rear-Head Protection
The Tactic 4 helmet is designed with full rear-head coverage. The back of your head contains the occipital base of the skull, which protects the back of your brain and helps support the neck muscles. Some helmets leave the occipital bone exposed. With this helmet, more protection is given to the rider’s rear skull.
While this rear coverage eliminates the ponytail space that I enjoy with my other helmet, I can live without it knowing the trade off is increased head protection.
Rider safety has come a long way in recent years. There are several emergency gadgets and GPS apps that ensure you can be reached in the event you hit your head and can’t advocate for yourself. Phone features and tracking devices are only two examples of ways to make sure you come out of the forest safely at the end of your ride.
The Tactic 4 won’t be left out of these developments. This Specialized helmet comes ANGi ready.
ANGi, Angular and G-Force Indicator, is a live tracking device that will detect an impact to the rider’s head in the event of a crash. This live tracking device serves as a location beacon for the rider if they’ve had a head injury during a ride.
While the actual device doesn’t come included with your purchase, you can buy the crash sensor ($65 US) and be able to attach it to your Tactic 4 helmet. The sensor works when it’s paired with the Specialized Ride app on a cell phone.
Whether you use the ANGi system or another tracker, the evidence is clear that rider safety is at the forefront of industry innovation and Specialized is helping lead the way.
Sure It’s Safe, But Is it Comfortable?
Even if my helmet has great head protection, I’m probably not going to wear it if it hurts my head or doesn’t fit right. Luckily the Tactic 4 has a couple of design features in its favour.
Ventilation to Keep a Cool Head
Air flow has a huge impact on rider comfort. A helmet with reduced ventilation will trap the rider’s body heat and make for an extremely uncomfortable ride.
From front to back, Specialized’s Tactic 4 has 17 ventilation holes (4 more than my current lid). Not only are there more spots for hot air to escape, but the holes are large, allowing for maximum cooling and head ventilation as the rider puts on the miles. The holes in the visor align with those of the helmet so no air flow is restricted unnecessarily.
Not stopping there, Specialized has ensured that the inner fit system, which adjusts the tightness of the helmet, allows for a space between the helmet and rider’s forehead. This creates even more air flow, keeping the rider cool and comfortable on the singletrack.
No Added Weight
When it comes to weight, at 380 grams for the medium, this lid is right on par with other mountain bike helmets. It didn’t weigh me down or feel heavy on my neck as I rode.
Make it Fit
One rider’s head is different from the next. Some of us have round heads, some narrow, some large and some small. Getting the right fit in your helmet is not only important for comfort but also for safety. An ill-fitting helmet won’t give you the protection that you need.
Size Does Matter
The Specialized Tactic 4 comes in two shape options: Round, for riders with a rounder head shape, and Classic. While other Specialized helmets offer XS to XL sizing, the Tactic 4 only comes in S, M, and L in each of the styles.
It’s important to use the sizing chart and measure your head accurately around the temple and just above the eyebrows. Even a mm can make a difference when it comes to getting the right helmet fit for you.
Get Dialed In
Inside the helmet is an integrated fit system. The rear dial adjusts the helmet’s fit for the rider, front to back and on the sides.
Part of the rear dial is housed inside the helmet (because of the full rear-head cover design). The dial was stiff and difficult to tighten for the first use. After a few rides, however, it moved just fine. The helmet fit was snug and comfortable.
I rode with and without my headscarf and the Tactic 4 fit nicely for both. I prefer to ride wearing a light head bandana to prevent my hair from catching in the plastic casing as I remove my helmet at the end of an outing.
The medium size allowed me to wear the bandana and not feel like my helmet was too tight or hot. It’s nice to know I’ll be able to adjust it for a head warmer during the winter fat bike season as well.
Each helmet has an adjustable chin strap. The attachment uses a clip system, rather than magnetic, which may be a small deterrent for some riders.
Colors, Eyewear Channels and Visor – The Nice-To-Have’s Add Up
I was impressed with the 9 colour options for the Tactic 4. There were 6 one-colour and 3 two-tone options to choose from. Whether you’re a mountain biker who likes to stand out or blend in, there is likely a helmet colour for you.
The Tactic 4 doesn’t come with a Go-Pro or camera mount, but with chest or handlebar mount options these days, this wasn’t much of a negative for me.
The fixed visor, while it isn’t adjustable or removable, adds style and some protection at times when the sun is higher in the sky.
Leaving your glasses behind after a break on the trail won’t happen with the Tactic 4 if you use the eye-wear channels. This feature was a nice surprise, particularly since I wear prescription glasses for eye-protection when I’m riding.
The eye-wear channels at the helmet’s front served as a great place to rest my glasses when I wasn’t wearing them, without the worry of leaving them behind on a stump or tree branch.
Affordable Compared To Other 5-Star Helmets
Compared to many of the other five-star winners in the Virginia Tech safety ratings, the Specialized Tactic is surprisingly affordable. At $120, it’s siginficantly cheaper than any of the closest competitors.
Of the 9 highest rated mountain bike helmets, the Tactic is the only one under $150. Several, including the Fox Dropframe Pro MIPS and the Sweet Protection Bushwalker are in excess of $200.
Bringing the Benefits of Cycling to Children
It’s not enough that the gear I wear works for me. I want to know that the companies I buy from are doing more good than harm. Specialized does just that.
Outride is Specialized’s division trying to bring to life their belief that children’s mental, social and cognitive health can be improved through cycling. Understanding that not all families or schools can afford bikes for everyone, they have created a grant program supporting schools.
Riding for Focus is their middle school program which not only provides bikes but also the skills for students to ride safely and regularly. R4F is a Phys. Ed curriculum designed to support students’ emotional and cognitive health through cycling.
Through purchase or grant application schools can receive everything needed for students to participate in and benefit from this program, including bikes, helmets, curriculum and teacher training.
As adults, we all know the benefits of riding. Specialized is doing its part to make sure kids experience that benefit too.
Bottom-Line: Specialized Tactic Provides Superior Protection At A Killer Price
The full rear-head protection, superior ventilation design and safety rating with MIPS were the main features that won me over to the Specialized Tactic 4 helmet. Without the full face option, it’s not meant for downhill riding; however, it’s perfect for the huge amount of cross country singletrack I ride throughout the year.
The colour selection, eye-wear channels and fixed visor make this a sleek looking, yet functional helmet. At a great price relative to other lids, it offers safety certified protection, and some nice-to-have features as well.
Specialized’s Tactic 4 is a solid choice if you’re looking for an effective, research-backed mountain bike helmet. Its 5-star rating and adjustable size settings make it a strong contender for your safety and comfort.
Hopefully you’ll never need to test the crash protection of your helmet. But if you do, you’ll want to be certain it rises to the challenge. Afterall, you and your brain are worth it!
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About The Reviewer
Jane Gerritsen bought her first mountain bike at age 52 as “retirement prep” and since that time, the mountain bike community has opened up her world to new goals, new adventures and best of all, new friends. She is most grateful for her time at home, where she is learning to renovate her garage, try new recipes, write, and of course, plan her next mountain bike adventure.