Bicycle helmets are now widely accepted as standard safety equipment for cyclists, and are often required by local laws. They cost from $20 to $200. Brands include Giro, Bell, Specialized, Ionos, Trek, Bontrager, Bern, Pro-Tec and Lazer.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has information on motorcycle and bicycle helmet use laws in different American states.
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Helmet Safety Standards
It is a good idea to check for safety certification when buying a helmet. While many bicycle helmets are certified to a safety standard, not all are. Common standards are:
- CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) bicycle helmet safety standard
- EN1078 (European standard for bicyclists, skateboards, roller skates)
If you’re into extreme sports, you’ll want to get a helmet that is certified for your specific sport. For example:
- ASTM F1492 (skateboarding)
- ASTM F1952 (downhill mountain bicycle racing)
- ASTM F2032 (BMX cycling)
- ASTM F2040 (recreational snow sports)
“Multi-sport” helmets should comply with the safety standard of more than one sport. However it’s still necessary to check which standards are complied with. It’s possible for a manufacturer to claim “multi-sport” based on the manufacturer’s own standards.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has more information on standards.
As does the CPSC
Bike Helmet Styles
There are two main bicycle helmet styles: the modern swirly style; and the old fashioned smooth, military helmet style.
The modern style may or may not look better, depending on your personal preference. The old fashioned style usually has a larger back area, giving more protection to the back of the head. Being smoother, they are also less likely to catch on rough surfaces in a fall, which is probably a good thing.
However the differences are minor. As long as the helmet meets safety standards, it should be good enough.
It’s important that the helmet looks good, especially when buying for a teenager. A stylish helmet will more likely be used. An ugly helmet, no matter how well it protects, is useless if it is not worn.
Bike Helmet Comfort
A good helmet will be so comfortable that after a few minutes, it will feel like you’re not wearing one.
Helmet comfort depends on:
- Weight. The lighter the better. Today’s helmets can be as light as 10 ounces (270 grams).
- Ventilation. Most modern designs are well-ventilated, so this shouldn’t be a worry. The helmet should have ventilation holes in the front as well as on the top.
- Fit. This partly depends on the shape and size of your head, so there’s no best fit for everyone. If you have a ponytail you’ll want to check that it fits the helmet. The same goes for sunglasses. It’s a good idea to get a helmet that is slightly larger, so that you can wear a cap underneath the helmet in the winter. Some helmets have removable pads to adjust the fit, or adjustable straps to adjust the width, or both. More expensive helmets allow you adjust both the width and height of the internal straps. An adjustment dial for the straps is quick and convenient but some people find that the dial presses against the back of their head and is uncomfortable.
- Straps. Straps should be soft and lie flat against your face. This might sound obvious, but some helmets fail this simple requirement.
Bike Helmet Features
Useful features are:
- A removable visor to protect your eyes from the sun. Alternatively, wear sunglasses.
- Removable straps for easy washing.
- Reflector strips for night riding. You can also glue some on yourself.
- Attachment support for goggles. Some helmets have a dent or clip in the back to hold the goggles’ strap.
Bike Helmets for Men, Women and Children
Most helmets are sold as unisex, but some are designed for women. These have more feminine designs and are slightly smaller, but are otherwise the same.
Some helmets are sold as one-size-fits-all, with adjustable straps. However if you have an above-average sized head, you’ll want to look for a large helmet.
Helmets for kids are obviously smaller, but they also have removable pads to change the inner size of the helmet, to accommodate the child’s growing head. Choose a cute one. After all, you’re paying for it, so you’d might as well enjoy your kid in it.
How to Choose the Best Bike Helmet
Bicycle helmets aren’t complicated. They have a hard plastic shell and a thick styrofoam lining to absorb impact. The differences are in the shape, ventilation, straps and color. The main thing is to choose a helmet that is certified to a safety standard, fits well, is comfortable, and looks good (so you will want to wear it).
Some of the information in this article is based on user reviews of bicycle helmetson the Amazon.com website.