How to Choose a Bike Helmet
A bike helmet is a must-have for any cyclist. While they may not always be the first consideration when it comes to cycling gear, wearing one can be the difference between surviving a crash or not, should the worst happen.
When searching for a bike helmet, choosing one that fits your head correctly and meets safety standards is critical.
Today, we'll cover what to look for in a bike helmet, the importance of wearing one, the features to pay attention to, and what you can expect from different helmet types.
Why You Should Never Ride Without a Helmet
Choosing the right helmet is just as critical as your choice of bike.
Nearly 800 cyclists are killed yearly, and half a million more are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Of these tragic accidents, injuries to the head led to almost two-thirds of fatalities and one-third of injuries.
According to research funded by the National Institute of Health, wearing a bicycle helmet can significantly reduce the risk of injury in the event of a collision. Researchers at the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews even found that cyclists of all ages who used helmets had a 63-88% lower risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
Additionally, bicycle helmets are required by law in most states. Some jurisdictions mandate helmet use for all riders, while others limit exemptions to minors under a certain age.
A staggering 70% of all fatal accidents happen in city environments, so if you’re riding in a high-traffic area, it's crucial to take extra precautions to stay safe and visible to other motorists. Wearing a helmet is an excellent first step in reducing the likelihood of head injuries occurring during your ride.
How to Choose a Bike Helmet: Four Things to Consider
There is a wide range of bike helmet styles on the market. While you might think choosing a bike helmet is relatively straightforward, it can be challenging when you don’t know what to look for. You might also be overlooking certain features that you should consider.
First, finding a helmet that stands out on the road is critical. To do this, consider choosing a bright-colored helmet that will increase visibility to motorists. You can make your helmet even more visible by wearing one with a headlamp or reflective tape.
Additionally, if you're spending your weekends tearing up downhill tracks, the type of helmet you need will be significantly different than the one you pick to ride to work. Since you're going to wear a helmet anyway, you should get the best one possible for your riding situation.
One thing we can't stress enough is this: never base how to choose a bike helmet solely on aesthetics. Safety should always be the top priority.
Here are four additional considerations regarding how to buy a bike helmet:
1. Types of Bike Helmets
You can quickly narrow your helmet selection down by browsing three primary categories. These bike helmet types include:
Recreational Bike Helmets
When it comes to basic impact protection, recreational bike helmets are the most cost-effective option.
Those who ride bikes for commuting or recreationally often prefer this type of helmet. Some standard commuter and recreational helmets feature a visor similar to those used on mountain bikes. Others have built-in front and rear LED light mounts for increased nighttime visibility.
A BMX or skate-style helmet, a full hardshell helmet with more head covering than a regular helmet, is another option if you're in the market for a commuting or recreational helmet. Compared to other helmets, the strap and retention system are relatively easy to use and provide a more streamlined look for casual rides.
Road Bike Helmets
Road bike helmets are the most aerodynamic option available. While these are fantastic for professional riders, recreational helmets may be more user-friendly for beginners.
The top options are lightweight and ventilated to keep your head cool. The helmet is secured to the rider with an adjustable retention chin strap. The Y-shape of the straps should be adjustable so that they don't rub against your ears. The width of the retention system should be changeable, and the system itself should be simple enough to alter while riding.
Retention systems might be either parallel sliders (seen on cheaper helmets) or an adjustable dial.
A tough outer shell always protects a helmet's EPS foam interior. Try to find a helmet where the shell is molded into it (making it part of the EPS.)
Over time, a glued-on shell will flake off. When shopping for a helmet, look for one with a thick outer shell that completely encases the helmet's inner shell.
Padding is another essential feature of a road bike helmet. The pads help secure the helmet to your head, making it more secure and comfortable. In addition to being treated with anti-bacterial agents to prevent the growth of bacteria, high-quality pads are removable, allowing for easy washing and drying. While helmet pads might vary widely, it's always preferable to have a second set on hand in case one set is damaged.
Some helmets have been tested in wind tunnels to be as drag resistant as possible and provide aerodynamic benefits at high speeds. The vents on some helmets can be closed off, making the helmet more aerodynamic with a clip-on aero shell.
Mountain Bike Helmets
A mountain bike helmet may be your most critical trail gear. Lightweight, well-ventilated helmets are the norm in modern helmet design.
Because of the ventilation in these helmets, you are less likely to overheat as you ride through tough terrain on a hot summer day.
While similar to recreational helmets in visor design, mountain bike helmets are tougher and better suited to protecting riders on rougher surfaces or when traversing obstacles like rocks.
One popular option for mountain bike riders is a helmet with full-face protection. A mountain biker's head protection options are centered on three main varieties.
- The standard helmet for cross-country is small, light, and airy.
- A cross-country helmet is a good option if you prefer rides where ease of ascent is as crucial as protection.
- A trail helmet's coverage of your head is typically more than that of a road helmet. It is handy if you want even more protection than a cross-country helmet provides. When riding downhill, it's vital to have maximum protection, and a full-face helmet does just that.
2. Sizing and Fit
Here are a few tips on how to choose a bike helmet and achieve a snug, comfortable fit.
Measure the circumference of your head
Learning how to measure your head for a bike helmet is pretty simple. All you need to do is wrap flexible measuring tape snugly around your head above your forehead.
If you don't have a cloth measuring tape, you can always use a piece of string for bike helmet measurements. After taking your head circumference, pick between the bike helmet sizes closest to your measurements.
Put on the helmet
The helmet's front should rest no higher than an inch over your eyebrows to protect your forehead. Tweak the retention straps until the helmet fits snugly without any give or wiggle room. Any awkward spots could mean the helmet is too small for your head. Only one finger should fit under the strap at the base of your chin. The helmet should make light but noticeable contact with your head.
Only one finger should fit under the strap at the base of your chin. The helmet should make light but noticeable contact with your head.
Shake your head
Once everything is buckled in place, give your head a gentle shake. If you notice some give, twist the retention mechanism a few times to prevent noticeable movement. When you've found the optimal fit for your helmet, there shouldn't be more than an inch of movement in any direction during the shake test.
Ready, Set, Go!
Now you're prepared to hit the open road! One important thing to note is that helmet straps often come loose while riding or transporting a bike. Before every trip, give your helmet a brief shaking test.
3. Budget and Features
If you’re in the market for a helmet, you’re probably wondering if you should opt for an expensive option or cheaper one. Are you really getting more protection if you choose a helmet with a heftier price tag?
The key differentiating factors between expensive and more budget-friendly helmets are typically construction, weight, air circulation, aerodynamics, and comfort.
A bike helmet is made up of multiple individual parts. The shell is the outer covering of the helmet. Most helmets are protected from damage in a collision by plastic sheathing.
Typically, the outer shell of cheaper helmets is glued or taped on, but the inner shell of more expensive choices is molded along with the outer shell to provide greater coverage and lighter weight.
More expensive helmets have removable padding and are available in different densities to better conform to the head. Chin retention mechanisms on more costly helmet options are softer and more pliable. Additionally, several high-end helmet manufacturers sell extra pads for easy replacement.
Ultimately, your helmet choice comes down to preference. When you pay more for a helmet, you may get more comfort, vents, and stylish graphics, but studies have found that the basic impact protection of more costly helmets is the same as cheaper options. Just be sure to find a helmet that fits you properly.
Are You Ready to Ride?
Now that you know how to choose a bike helmet, it's time to learn how to choose a bike!
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