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How to Choose a Bike Helmet

Watch footage from an 80s-era Tour de France, and you'll notice that no one was wearing a helmet. Yet today it's rare to see a cyclist without one. Thankfully, there's been quite a shift in mindset, and most people agree that helmets are necessary.

But which one to choose? This article offers fit and style tips for novice and intermediate cyclists.

Safety

The helmet's primary function, of course, is to protect your head from impact. To do this, helmets feature a thick polystyrene or polypropylene foam liner underneath a hard plastic shell, which absorbs the shock of a collision. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about which bike helmets will keep you safe. All BIKE helmets sold in America meet the same CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) standards.

Note that “BIKE” helmets are emphasized here. Helmets specifically designed for skiing, skateboarding, kayaking, or climbing should not be worn when cycling. The severity and types of impacts these helmets are rated for differ greatly depending on their intended sport. There are all-around helmets (like some models made by Bern) that may be used for BMX in addition to other sports, but these activities should be listed plainly in the product description or warranty.

Replace the helmet after a significant impact. Regardless of how it looks, there may be hidden damage that compromises the helmet's integrity. You should also replace your helmet every five years due to UV degradation and normal wear and tear.

Helmet Sizing

Higher-end helmets are usually available in multiple sizes that offer a more secure and comfortable fit. Less expensive helmets typically feature a universal sizing ring that fits a wide range of head sizes.

All helmets list the head circumference it's designed for. To determine yours, wrap a flexible measuring tape around the widest part of your head, about 1 inch above your eyebrows.

Most children's helmets fit circumferences between 18 and 22.5 inches.

Get The Right Fit

The helmet should be worn horizontally on your head, not tipped forward or back. Usually the front rim rides an inch or so above the eyebrows, though this can differ a little depending on design. The inner band should wrap comfortably around your head—not too tight, yet not so loose that the helmet easily shifts about.

The chin-strap assembly will form a "V" in front of and behind each ear. Make sure there's no binding or chafing. The strap should also not be worn tightly; you should be able to slide two fingers side by side between your chin and the strap.

Helmet Shape

Helmet shape depends on the manufacturer. If your head is oblong, for example, you might want to try a Giro helmet, whereas Bell helmets are often great for rounder heads. Try several styles to see which brand and specific model is right for you.

Road Bike Helmets vs. Mountain Bike Helmets

A bike helmet is a bike helmet, right? Well, not exactly. There are a number of design differences, depending on the type of cycling you're doing.

Road bike helmets tend to be very lightweight and aerodynamic. The texture is always glossy, so in case of a high-speed accident, the helmet will slide over the pavement instead of catching. To cut down on weight and air drag, these helmets also don't typically include visors.

Mountain bike helmets are a little bulkier, especially in back, where they're designed to protect your head from a backward fall. Shell textures vary, from smooth like a road bike helmet to a rougher, flatter surface. Lastly, mountain bike helmets often include visors, which offer some protection from sunlight and rain.

Helmet Prices

Gaze at a big selection of bike stores, and you'll see a range of prices from $30 to $200 and more. Why the difference? Usually the variance is due to weight and complexity of design. More expensive helmets are lightweight, with the lightest being made of carbon fiber. Pricier helmets also feature an intricate mold for improved ventilation and aerodynamic performance.

If you're just getting into the sport, stick with a basic model. But for those who are serious about shaving off every possible ounce, an ultralight road bike helmet might be for you.

Ventilation

All road bike helmets and most mountain bike helmets feature multiple large vents that create airflow to keep you cool.

Color

Your helmet is the first thing a motorist sees. Black helmets are cool and stylish, but if you're mostly road biking, you might want to opt for a white or brightly colored helmet that's visible to oncoming traffic.

A Few Other Things

  • - Make sure the helmet doesn't restrict your field of vision.
  • - Some helmets provide ponytail ports in back.
  • - An internal sweatband will help control perspiration.

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