Biking is one of the most enjoyable pastimes ever invented. But rolling around on anything with wheels exposes you to all kinds of risks. You need to gear up using the right protective cycling equipment. You can ignore every other piece of tired cycling advice, but you can’t ignore this: always wear a decent bike helmet. All bike helmets protect to some extent, but some are better than others. Here, you’ll learn how to choose a bike helmet. You’ll end up with a lid that looks nice while doing a great head protection job.
Super Important: Choose the Right Bike Helmet Size
You could have the most protective bike helmet on the planet, but if it won’t fit your dome properly, it’s useless. Many head injuries in cycling happen because the helmet slid off the head of the cyclist when they needed protection the most. Maybe the retention system didn’t step up to the plate. Or the helmet was too big that it came off the head when crash energy nudged it.
A study that analyzed 900 motorcycle accidents in Europe found that 82 riders out of 900 hit their noggin because their brain bucket rolled off their head during a crash.
Of those 82 riders, 58 percent sustained head injuries because they’d either chucked out the straps, or they’d not securely fastened the chinstraps.
A more recent study on the same subject showed that a staggering 71 percent of motorcycle riders used poorly sized helmets. That means that roughly 2 in 3 riders are wearing their lids all wrong.
Conclusion: Wearing a cycling helmet isn’t enough. Helmets should be the right size. And they must be worn properly.
Wearing a Poorly Fitting Cycling Helmet is Like Riding Unhelmeted
Wearing the right size helmet can save your life, quite literally. In most cases, it’s better to wear a not-so-good helmet that fits your melon nice and snug than to put on a superior helmet that’s either too big or too small.
A cycling helmet that’s too small feels extremely uncomfortable and usually causes pressure points. And a biking helmet that’s too big floats on your noggin and takes off when danger shows up!
How to Properly Size a Bike Helmet
The best way to correctly size a bike helmet is to measure your head properly and use the figure you get to calculate the right helmet size using the specific model’s size chart. I recently wrote a detailed post on the right way to measure your head for a helmet.
Using a dressmaker’s tape, measure your head around its widest portion. For pretty much everyone, the largest head circumference exists around one inch above the eyebrows.
You can do the head measuring yourself, but asking another person to help might be a better idea.
Another way to measure the circumference is to run a string around the widest latitude of your head and then using a yardstick to get your measurement.
Sizes May Vary Across Helmet Brands and Models
Different bike helmet manufacturers may use slightly different size labels. In some cases, a manufacturer’s size chart can be way off as to be grossly erroneous. I’ve had to return bike helmets because the lid that shipped was too big or too small than my expectation even though I’d measured my melon correctly and used the manufacturer’s size chart.
Buying protective gear online has always been challenging, and the same goes for buying a cycling helmet online. In most cases, reading user reviews helps you get an idea of how a specific helmet or other protective equipment fits. It’s usually the best way to know if a helmet runs big or small.
Below is a general size chart. Don’t treat this helmet size chart as a definitive guide for all helmet sizing situations. Be sure to look at each manufacturer’s size chart of the specific helmet model.
|Your Hat Size
|Smallest bike helmets available
|Largest Helmets you can find
|No models in this size are available
Here’s another simple helmet size guide you can use:
|20″ – 21.75″
|Bigger than 24.75″
|Larger than 63cm
|One size fits all
|fits all, uses a size adjusting system
|fits all, uses a size adjusting system
The second size chart isn’t as specific as the size chart shown above. If for some reason you can’t find a size chart for the helmet model you want, you can use the more detailed size chart above. Even better, you can buy a different brand because anyone who cares for their customers nearly enough provides a useful size chart for their benefit.
How to Size a Bike Helmet for a Kid
The best way to determine how large or small a helmet your child needs is to measure their head circumference. Once you take their measurement, use an appropriate kid’s size chart, or even better, a chart for the specific model to determine the right size. For most kids, you’re looking at sizes Small and Extra-small.
One problem that parents encounter when fitting a helmet on a kid’s head is that kids usually don’t know how a well-fitting helmet feels like. Is the helmet too snug? Maybe it is too loose? Most small children won’t know whether the fit is too tight or too loose. They need a little help.
You can always ask your baby if their lid hurts their head in any way. If they can ride a kid’s mountain bike or road bike, they certainly can know if a helmet is killing their little head or not.
How Should a Bike Helmet Fit?
A bike helmet should fit snug, not too snug or too loose. Your cycling helmet should sit level on your noggin, and its front part should adequately protect your forehead. The front edge shouldn’t sit lower than 1″ below your eyebrows. Also, you shouldn’t experience any pressure points, nor should it move from side to side or up-down when shoved.
How to Wear a Bike Helmet Correctly
Put your helmet on your head. It shouldn’t be too easy to slide it over your head. Nor should it be too hard. Once the helmet’s ridden all the way down, it should feel nice and comfortable. It shouldn’t feel like there’s too much room between the top of your head and the helmet.
Next, buckle up the chinstraps. Tighten the straps until they’re pretty snug, but not too tight that they dig into your chin. If someone looks at your head from the side, each of the straps should sit on either side of the ear, making the letter V. Take a look at the picture below and see the letter V I’m talking about.
5 Simple Helmet Fitment “Tests”
1. Try slipping a finger between your chin and the chinstrap. If it doesn’t feel taut enough (if you can put in two fingers in there), the fit still needs a little more tweaking.
2. Give the helmet a sideways shove. If it moves without much resistance, it’s not the right fit.
3. Hold the helmet at the chin bar (if it’s a full-face helmet) and give it some upward force. If it moves up and almost slides off the face, it’s not a good fit. Moving up or sideways over 1″ even after adjusting the fit via the chinstraps or retention system at the back is a sign that the fit is off.
4. Try to lift up the back edge of your helmet. If the lid rides up with little struggle, that fit needs a bit more work, or you got the sizing all wrong. Try adjusting the retention system at the back and/or the chinstraps. If the helmet still moves too much, more than 1″ up, get a different helmet.
5. With the chinstraps buckled up and tightened nice and snug, try opening your mouth…wide. Does it feel like the top of your head/the crown is pressing against the helmet? If not, the fit isn’t right, yet.
Before mounting your road bike, gravel bike, mountain bike, or whatever bike type you ride, make sure your helmet fits as it should. And if you need to adjust the chinstraps mid-ride because they got loose, do it.
What If You Are In Between Bike Helmet Sizes?
What if your head circumference places you at the cusp between two sizes? If you’re in between two sizes, don’t size up. Instead, go with the smaller size even if that means wearing a kid’s cycling helmet. If the smaller helmet fits your head like a glove, go with that no matter what.
Some cyclists go with the larger size and find ways of filling up the extra space. Such a person might wear a beanie or a cycling cap to make the fit snugger. But that’s not what helmet fit experts recommend. Just go with the smaller helmet size, and you’ll be good.
Fit Systems for Biking Helmets
There are two bike helmet fit systems namely:
- Ratcheting bike helmet fit systems
- Pad-based fit systems
Ratcheting Bike Fit Systems
This system relies on a fit adjustment feature normally found at the back of the helmet. The feature at the rear could be a fit dial/knob, a crank, or a ring, but all of them work pretty much the same way.
One advantage of a ratchet-based bike system is that you can operate it on the go using one hand. This fit system enables you to adjust the fit through thin pads inside the helmet. But while these systems work, it’s not unusual for some to act up.
Nothing annoys like a fit adjustment dial that keeps misbehaving and loosening the fit as you pedal hard to get KOM or QOM. Read Mountain Bike Lingo to know what KOM and QOM are if you’re a beginner.
Pad-based Bike Fit Systems
Ratcheting bike fit systems typically bump up the cost of the item. It’s not always easy to find cheap cycling helmets that use this fit adjustment system. And it’s not like fit systems that use fit pads of varying thicknesses are less effective.
Quite the contrary, most fit systems that have you put in or remove cheek pads and other fit pads to dial in a perfect fit work really well.
Using this kind of fit system requires more work and keenness than using a sophisticated ratcheting fit system. And it certainly takes a little longer to set up. You have to wear different padding over your head and use your judgment to decide if the fit needs any further tweaking.
Typically, cycling helmets that come with this fit system come with two sets of fit pads. One fit pad set is thin while the other set is thicker. If you’re on the smaller side of things, use the thicker pads to customize the fit. And if you have a somewhat bigger head, definitely use the thinner pads.
Different Types of Cycling Helmets
Here are 12 kinds of bikes you should know:
- Recreational cycling helmets
- Trail bike helmets
- Road bike helmets
- Commuter bike helmets
- Enduro bike helmets
- BMX bike helmet
- Downhill cycling helmet
- Chrono bike helmet
- Toddler bike helmets
- Kids’ cycling helmets
- Youth bike helmets
- Women’s bike helmets
Let’s look at each category.
1. Recreational Bike Helmets
A recreational bicycle rider usually doesn’t consider himself/herself to be a serious cyclist. For that reason, this guy or girl doesn’t want to spend their life’s savings on bikes and associated equipment and accessories. They just want to sink as little money as they can get away with and still be able to get out there and have some fun.
If you’re a casual bike rider, you probably don’t own a $1,000 road bike or MTB. You probably own a $500 bike (I hope it’s not a BSO). And why should you buy a $300 or $500 helmet when a sub-$100 bike helmet would do just fine?
Recreational bike helmets are typically basic helmets built to do the head protection job without needing too much fancy technology. They offer pretty much no bells and whistles. But they work.
2. Trail Bike Helmets
Trail helmets are lightweight lids that offer great ventilation so that your head can stay reasonably cool even when you’ve spent the whole day doing steep hill climbs on your trail bike.
This is the quintessential mountain bike helmet. When someone says they saw a cyclist in a mountain bike helmet, the trail bike helmet is usually what they’re talking about.
Most trail bike helmets are designed to offer more coverage for the rear of the head. That’s because trail mountain bikers are more likely than roadies and other cyclists to fall backward.
Depending on the shape of your head, this extra rear coverage may be or may not be actually there. In some cases, you might wear a helmet that looks like it has ample rear protection. But once you adjust the helmet to get adequate forehead protection, you might find that the extra coverage disappears.
That said, this extended-rear helmet design offers one great advantage. Such a helmet is less likely to ride up at the front. That means that your forehead will enjoy protection throughout your adventure.
But some riders have argued that the protrusion at the back of a MTB helmet can catch on roots and other things and worsen the crash.
3. Road Bike Helmets
Road bike helmets are compact, super-light, and provide extremely good ventilation for cooling your noggin when pedaling up the toughest ball tearers.
Or when doing really long distances such as the Tour de France. Most road bike helmets look nice, because who wants to waddle into a restaurant wearing ugly headgear?
One distinguishing feature of a road bike lid is its aerodynamic design. This streamlined helmet design focuses on reducing wind resistance as does any good road bike and most road cycling-related equipment and accessories.
Road cycling is about pedaling fast and winning races. So, every bike part and piece of equipment concentrates on giving you aerodynamic advantages.
Aero Road Bike Helmet (For Serious Road Racers)
Aero road helmets are a kind of road helmet that offers tons of aerodynamic efficiency. But that extra streamlined efficiency might cost you a little comfort. These helmets have little ventilation, but they’re better ventilated than Chrono helmets. Some aero road helmets offer adjustable vents, though.
Pro cyclists sometimes use the aero helmet in the hopes of accumulating marginal gains during racing competitions. They reason that these multiple time savings albeit small would eventually snowball into a winning difference. Notice that they use this product for race stages that don’t need much ventilation.
But do they win? I don’t do road races, but I know roadies aren’t dumb and wouldn’t sink good money into a worthless piece of cycling gear.
If you’re a beginner, you definitely don’t need an aero road helmet. Spend your hard-earned money on a regular road cycling helmet.
Road Bike Helmets vs. Trail Bike Helmets
While a trail bike helmet is light, a road bike lid is even lighter. And while both helmet types are designed to lower wind resistance, road bikes have a more streamlined design. Also, both kinds of helmets feature big air vents, but road helmets have even larger ventilation holes.
Road helmets typically lack a visor while trail bike helmets usually have a visor for protection against UV rays. And while it’s not common to find full-face road bike helmets, they’re available. Also, some mountain biking styles such as downhill, enduro (not always), and freeride necessitate using a full-face helmet.
On the whole, a road bike helmet features a sleeker, more compact, more streamlined design compared to a trail helmet that’s rounder, heavier, and more rugged for off-road use.
4. Commuter Bike Helmet (Most Are Soft-shell Options)
Bell, a popular helmet brand, first used the term commuter bike helmet in 2004 when they presented their Metro model to the cycling community. This is like a regular road bike helmet, but it has a more round/less elongated shape and it features a soft-shell construction.
Increasingly, commuter bike helmets are coming with blinking signals at the rear that increase your safety on the road during a commute. Others options may even feature mirrors for even safer commuting.
Some commuter cycling helmets may also offer winter ear flaps so that your ears will stay warm and comfortable when the weather gets nasty in the winter.
5. Enduro Bike Helmet
You need an enduro bike helmet for enduro stage racing. You need a lightweight, well-ventilated lid that doesn’t feel too heavy on your head when you’re climbing up to get to the next stage/segment in the race. Many enduro racers are willing to sacrifice a little protection for a better ventilated, lighter helmet.
Typically, an enduro bike helmet looks similar to a downhill racing helmet complete with a protective chinbar. Some of these helmets fully meet the ASTM F1952 Downhill Mountain Bike Racing Standard, but some don’t.
If you end up choosing a chinbar-equipped enduro helmet, ensure its chinbar has the right safety certification.
Some enduro models come in an open-face style and look like the regular trail helmet. A good enduro-specific helmet offers more rear protection and better trail visibility than a regular trail lid, though. But when navigating the gnarliest descents at ultra-high speed, do you really want to feel that vulnerable?
6. BMX Bike Helmet
Normally used for Bicycle Moto-Cross, this helmet is often quite heavy and pretty protective. But some lighter options are available.
This helmet is usually constructed using EPS foam while the outer shell is crafted out of hard fiberglass. Other materials include plastic, composite, and carbon fiber. If you use this lid for regular biking, you’ll hate it because it’s heavy, hot, and sweaty.
A BMX helmet features some air vents, but these circulation channels are smaller compared to a trail helmet’s or road bike’s vents. That’s because BMX races are pretty short — you likely won’t sweat loads.
Choose a BMX helmet that’s certified to the ASTM F2032 BMX Bicycle Helmet Standard. And if you want something even more protective, go for one certified to the U.S. DOT Motorcycle Standard.
And if you find a BMX helmet that complies with the Snell M-2005 Motorcycle Standard, grab it. Because it allows for better impact energy management thanks to its crushable chinbar. Most BMX helmets don’t have a crushable chinbar, though.
While some BMX lids are full-face helmets, most look like open-face/half-shell skate helmets. Full-face models are like DH helmets, offering a chinbar for extra facial protection. If you’ll be racing or pump-tracking, consider using a full-face helmet even when the rules of the game don’t require that.
7. Downhill Cycling Helmet (Looks Like a Motorcycle Helmet)
The typical downhill bike helmet is a lightweight brain bucket that provides full-face protection. It comes with a chinbar, and it vents quite well.
A DH bike helmet is constructed using EPS foam that’s often combined with a thick plastic, composite, fiberglass, or carbon fiber shell. Also, there are few full-face models for roadies who want more facial protection.
When shopping for a downhill bike helmet, check whether the lid meets the safety requirements of the ASTM F1952 Downhill Racing helmet Standard.
The TSG Pass DH helmet is worth a look because it offers the ASTM F1952 certification. But most full-face mountain bike helmets look like the picture below.
8. Chrono Bike Helmets (Look like a Teardrop)
When you want to win cycling time trials and shine on the track, a Chrono bike helmet is your best bet. Most Chrono bike helmets feature an elongated shape that looks like a teardrop.
The teardrop shape gives these lids tons of aerodynamic efficiency. Some models have an extremely long rear that works with your streamlined sitting profile to help you win races.
Every time you look down or sit up, the elongated rear gets out of position. And no, you don’t want to eat crap with this thing on your head. Because its pointed rear becomes pretty much a lever that jerks heads extremely well!
So, this isn’t the safest bet for beginners and intermediate riders. It’s best left for time trial and track pro racers.
This helmet offers very little if any ventilation. All it wants to do is have the airstream flow super smoothly over its outer shell.
9. Toddler Bike helmets
These are U.S. CPSC-certified helmets for children aged 5 years or younger. Like trail bike helmets, these small lids offer extra rear coverage.
The typical toddler’s helmet is smooth and comes in a round shape. Be sure to measure your child’s head so you won’t order the wrong size.
10.Kids’ Cycling Helmets
If your child is in the 5-10 years age range, they probably need a kids’ size bike helmet. Some kids’ brain protectors may look like regular road bike helmets while others may have a more rounded appearance like toddler helmets. Like the smaller toddler lid, the kids’ brain saver should be certified to the U.S. CPSC Standard.
Note: If your child is bigger for their age and vice versa, you can ignore the age-based direction and instead go with what fits their head.
Some toddlers’ and kids’ helmets may come with kiddo graphics that kids like. Others may let them paint stuff on the exterior to personalize the lid. And they end up loving and wanting to wear their helmet more.
11.Youth Bike helmets
A youth bike helmet is typically a small or medium-sized mountain bike or road bike helmet. This helmet is designed for youngsters in the 10-15 age range.
These lids tend to have graphics, and the graphics usually represent youth-focused themes. Just like a regular MTB or road helmet,a youth helmet vents reasonably well. And its outer shell is often a thin plastic shell (soft-shell) paired up with EPS foam.
12.Women’s Bike Helmets
If you’re a woman or are shopping for your daughter, size your helmet how you would if you were buying for an adult male or boy.
But women and women have certain anatomical differences that one should put into consideration, right? Well, not when choosing a bike helmet, according to Giro.
Commenting about helmet fit for women in 2013, Giro said that women’s and men’s skulls are shaped more or less the same. Also, the position of facial or skull features such as the ears, nose, eyes/eyebrows is similar.
But wait, don’t women have long hair? Yes, women like wearing their hair long, just like men did back in the day. Then, many men’s helmets were designed to work with a ponytail. But manufacturers stopped making helmets that way when men stopped wearing long hair.
Women’s cycling helmets are a reincarnated form of that early men’s helmet. And they feature a ponytail port. For the most part, women’s bike helmets are available in medium, because women generally have smaller heads than men.
Throw in a girlie color or some really nice pastel graphics, and you have a helmet every guy thinks is a women’s lid. Marketers rule the world.
But there’s no reason a guy can’t wear a helmet he likes just because marketers keep saying it is a woman’s helmet. My hubby sometimes rides in my one-size-fits-all helmets. And no one’s ever noticed.
Bike Helmet Technologies
Bike helmets rely on various tested technologies that give them their protective capabilities. No matter how sophisticated a helmet might be, it has two essential components:
- The outer shell
- The protective liner ( typically EPS)
The Outer Shell
The first part is the exterior which is made from different materials such as plastic, carbon, fiberglass, and composite. The outer shell’s main role is to slide off the ground during a crash so that your head and neck won’t break.
The second job of the exterior is to give your helmet a certain level of puncture resistance, to make it harder for pointy objects to puncture it.
Protective Liner (EPS or EPP)
This is the most important technology for any helmet. This protective layer lives inside a helmet underneath the outer shell. EPS stands for Expanded Polystyrene, a foam-y component that looks like good-quality styrofoam.
The EPS foam works by re-distributing crash energies away from the impact point. Also, this technology slows down your head, protecting it against the massive forces from the crash.
Then there’s EPP (Expanded Polypropylene), a head-protection technology that’s similar to EPS. The difference between EPS foam vs. EPP foam is that EPS foam is single-use compared to EPP foam which recovers after a crash.
Usually, a helmet with EPP foam is thicker and bulkier than an EPS foam one, plus it’s usually pricier. You can still use an EPP-based lid after a mild crash in most cases. Many trail bike and BMX helmets are created using EPP foam.
But while these protective technologies work, they may not protect adequately against angled impacts/rotational impacts. That’s where MIPS, SPIN, and WaveCel helmet technologies come into play.
MIPS (Multi-Directional Protection System)
Nearly all companies today offer a MIPS version of their helmet lines. MIPS is a recent helmet technology, and it’s marketed as an additional layer of protection against angular crash impacts.
By the way, MIPS looks like a thin low-friction layer that’s supposed to perform miracles. But does MIPS work? In the absence of definitive data as to the efficacy of this helmet technology, all you have is riders’ personal opinions.
I keep e-bumping into folks who claim they’d paid more just so they could get a MIPS-equipped bike helmet. And that their lid literally saved them in a way their non-MIPS helmet couldn’t have.
Now, that’s anecdotal evidence. And it’s worth what it’s worth.
You probably don’t need this MIPS tech. But if having this modern bike tech everyone keeps praising provides you with extra peace of mind, why not?
WaveCel Head Protection Technology
This helmet tech is usually found on certain Bontrager bike helmets. The WaveCel helmet technology is a collapsible cellular structure that promises to protect against both the usual crash energies as well as rotational impacts. It does that by creating the so-called crumple-zone that supposedly absorbs impact forces very well.
WaveCel Helmets vs. MIPS Helmets, What’s Better?
Theoretically, WaveCel is like EPS foam and MIPS combined. One study conducted by Oregon-based Legacy Research Institute claimed that WaveCel is significantly better than MIPS in terms of protection against linear and rotational crash energies. But WaveCel also adds about 50 grams to a helmet’s overall weight compared to MIPS 24-45 grams.
However, a 2017 study found something interesting. While most modern cycling helmets have become much better at protecting against skull fractures, they’re not great at curbing rotationally induced injuries to the brain.
SPIN Helmet Technology
SPIN stands for Shear Pads Inside. This technology works pretty much like MIPS. But instead of an extra thin, low-friction layer, SPIN relies on special silicon-packed pads that make multi-directional movements to absorb oblique crash impacts. Also, this system looks less complicated than MIPS.
If you want this piece of tech, you’ll want to invest in a decent POC bike helmet.
Cycling Helmet Safety Standards
Choose a bike helmet that’s in full compliance with the appropriate safety standards. All helmets made for sale in the U.S. must comply with all the requirements of the Consumer Protection and Safety Commission.
The CPSC 1203 standard subjects helmets to various tests including the impact attenuation test, retention strength test, positional stability test, and peripheral vision test.
For kids, toddlers, and youth, the U.S. CPSC standard is adequate. For adult helmets and those meant for specific cycling styles, be sure they have all the requisite safety certifications.
For example, if it’s a downhill bike helmet, be sure it meets the ASTM F1952 standard for downhill racing bike helmets. And for a BMX helmet, keep an eye out for the ASTM F2032 BMX Bicycle Helmet Standard.
And if you’re from a country within the European Union, be sure to check for the EN 1078:2012+A1:2012 Standard. For cyclists from Great Britain, the equivalent of the European standard is the BS EN 1078:2012+A1:2012.
What About the Famous Snell Certifications?
Some people claim that Snell-certified bike helmets are kind of special as far as head protection. But that’s not the whole story.
Take the Snell B-95 Standard that was established in 1995, for example. This helmet standard has existed for years, but bike helmet makers aren’t legally required to adhere to this Snell standard.
While Snell may buy and test various helmets from different retailers at any time, requesting them to test a company’s helmets is voluntary. That’s why you don’t see many Snell B-95-certified helmets of any kind.
Another reason you don’t see many helmets with the Snell B-95 certification is that every helmet that passes this standard is typically heavier/bulkier and often doesn’t look nice.
All these tests and standards make sure that helmets excel at their elementary role of protecting your head against impacts.
Cycling Helmet Features
What features do you look for when buying a bike helmet? Keep an eye on the features below:
6.Compatibility with eyewear
Chin straps should be strong, durable, and shouldn’t keep slipping around. Also, they should have the ability to keep your lid on your dome during a bike accident. They shouldn’t chafe or pinch, too. And if they have padding around the chin for more comfort, that’s even better.
Air Vents/Ventilation Channels
If you’ll be doing lots of long-distance bike rides, choose a helmet with large air vents. And if you can close the ventilation channels through some feature, that’s even better. Adjustable vents are a great feature for keeping your head and ears warm especially when cycling in the winter.
Having more airflow vents is desirable because your head stays cool and comfortable even when you sweat a bit. Speaking of sweat, you want a helmet with pads that absorb sweat. Triple Eight bike helmets are known for their famous SweatSaver pads.
Chin Bar (A Removable Chin Bar is a Great Feature)
If you prefer a full-face cycling helmet, it’s advisable to choose a full-face option with a removable chin bar/chin guard. A chin bar (when in use) translates into more warmth, a quieter helmet, and increased protection.
Removable chin bars are quite useful if you’ll mostly ride through varied terrain. When going uphill or when it gets too hot, you can detach the chin bar.
But when cycling downhill and the descent is full of tight turns and other technical features, you can put the chin guard back on. Also, when it’s cold outside, get the chin bar back on.
Riders of all ability levels can use removable chin bars, but racers probably need them more. That’s because racers may need to modify their lid to fulfill race requirements for different competitions.
Visor (Should Fog Up Less While Retaining Visibility)
Most road bikes don’t use a visor, but if you’re a mountain trail rider, you know a visor is a useful feature. It can keep dust, debris, and even tiny insects out of your eyes so that you won’t lose sight of your line.
In addition, a visor protects your eyes from the glare of ultra-violet rays/UV rays from the sun. You want a visor that fogs up less, one that won’t impair visibility. Also, choose a lid whose visor isn’t known to shatter. Go for an adjustable and replaceable visor where possible.
Compatibility with Eyewear
Pick up a bicycle-riding helmet that’s designed to work with bike goggles or regular glasses. If the helmet-glass fit is off, you’ll likely get pressure points and even headaches. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how a helmet will fit when you introduce your eyewear.
Your best bet is to go to a LBS with your cycling eyewear and try different models for fit. Alternatively, read online reviews of the helmet-glass compatibility of the specific model you’re eyeing.
Mount Compatibility Matters as Well
Get a bike-riding helmet that offers good mount compatibility. Most good lids these days come with a feature that allows you to mount a light or a camera.
Most riders prefer the now ubiquitous GoPro mount because many of them also love the GoPro action camera. Because wouldn’t you want to record your adrenalin-packed jumps, drops, berm rides, rides on wood or rock skinnies, log hops, and everything in between?
Bike Helmet Construction Techniques
There are two broad categories of cycling lids construction methods:
- Soft-shell helmet construction
- Hard-shell helmet construction
Soft-shell Helmets (Lightweight, Single-use)
A soft-shell bike helmet is a lightweight and strong lid that typically features a thin exterior shell (usually polycarbonate) and often a single-use protective EPS.
To build these soft-shelled head armors, manufacturers usually use the in-mold helmet construction method. In this process, pressure and steam help bring the outer shell and the inner EPS layer into one protective unit with tons of integrity.
Most road bike helmets are soft-shell helmets. If and when you crash, the foam inside collapses, absorbing the impacts from the blow. Soft-shell helmets MUST be replaced after every crash regardless of the severity of the crash.
How do you know if a soft-shell bike helmet needs replacement? Press any point on the surface of your brain bucket with your finger. If the finger sinks into the shell with little resistance, that’s a sign the EPS liner is likely deformed and therefore useless.
Hard-shell Helmets (Thicker Outer Shell Resists Penetration)
The second helmet construction method keeps the outer hard shell (usually fiberglass) and the inner foam separate. And the foam doesn’t deform as easily.
The advantage of this construction method is that the tough, thicker outer shell makes it difficult for objects to penetrate and cause head injuries. The foam recovers in most cases, and you can use the helmet again.
Most BMX and trail bike helmets boast the hard-shell construction. Also, skate-style helmets have this construction.
Soft-shell vs. Hard-shell Cycling Helmets
Both helmet categories are good as long as they’re properly certified. But in-mold/soft-shell helmets are lighter and less bulky than hard-shell lids. On the other hand, hard-shell helmets may take several hits without the foam deforming. What’s more, they’re generally more durable.
What Materials Are Cycling Helmets Made of?
The outer shell of many bike helmets is made out of polycarbonate plastic or tough ABS plastic. These materials are usually used to make hard-shell helmets. Polycarbonate is used in constructing lots of super-strong in-mold lids.
The lightest (and typically the most expensive) bike helmets are typically produced using carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is very light and strong and is often used for making full-face cycling helmets. Full-coverage lids are naturally heavier than half-shell helmets, and carbon fiber helps make them lighter.
Finally, there’s kevlar or aramid. Did you know that kevlar is the exact same material they use for making bulletproof vests? As for aramid, it’s a ballistic-rated body-armor material. Helmet factories normally use these two materials in areas where they need more strength and durability.
All these materials are good, but some are better and costlier than others. Usually, the lighter and less bulky a lid is, the pricier. But as long as a biking brain bucket is properly certified, you should be fine.
Looks Matter, Too, Don’t They?
Well, a helmet’s primary job is to offer impact protection. But what if you could look rad while enjoying great protection?
For the most part, hard-shell cycling helmets provide good protection, but they’re not always the coolest looking. Fortunately, you can always choose a lightweight, in-mold helmet that offers certified protection while also looking nice. And no, not all hard-shell lids are ugly or too heavy.
I’d rather be spotted wearing an ugly lid that protects extremely well than a really wicked one that sucks at noggin protection.
How to Take Care of Your Cycling Helmet
Clean your helmet and deodorize it regularly. Preferably after every long, sweaty bike ride. If parts such as chinstraps, fit dial, and pads wear down or break down, replace them where possible.
Always carry or store your helmet safely and avoid dropping it onto the ground. And if it’s been years since you last replaced your lid, it’s time you invested in a brand-spanking-new upgrade. Here’s how to give your helmet a deep clean.
And, stay away from harsh chemical solvents. Instead, use mild soap and water.
Store your helmets away from hot environments such as the kitchen or attic. Heat often damages helmets, often causing visible bubble-like swellings on the exterior. You shouldn’t wear a lid that’s been damaged by exposure to heat.
When Should I Replace My Bike Helmet
The Snell Memorial Foundation and most helmet manufacturers suggest replacing a cycling helmet every 5 years. The reason for the 5-year period is that’s how long it takes for the materials used to make helmets such as glue, resins, and whatnot to deteriorate and potentially diminish the lid’s performance.
You certainly should replace your bike helmet every time you crash even if the lid doesn’t seem like it’s badly damaged. The protective foam in many cycling lids usually loses its capabilities after a crash. Also, if the shell or protection liner seems cracked, replace it. And if the thing has all but lost its original color, discard it.
Generally, road bike helmets are single-use protective headgear. You should replace them immediately after a fall. Or after you accidentally dropped them onto the ground. Some options such as trail and BMX helmets can take several moderate hits without needing replacement.
Different kinds of cycling helmets serve different purposes. Also, different models are made using different materials and helmet construction technologies.
So, choose a helmet that works for your style, offers proper safety certifications, looks nice, and lasts. And once you choose a good lid, take care good of it to increase its longevity.
But don’t just put your helmet on. Instead, make sure it’s the right size and fits your head perfectly. And, if you crash, replace your lid soonest possible. Unless it was a light-ish fall and the thing uses re-usable EPP foam and has a hard shell.
The cycling market is a sea of affordable options, mid-range choices, and premium-quality helmets. There should be something within your budget, huh?