What to Consider when Choosing
a Bicycle Helmet
Everyone — adult and child — should wear a bicycle helmet every time they ride. Helmets are the single most effecve piece of safety equipment for riders of all ages, if you crash. Wearing a helmet each ride can encourage the same smart behavior in others. Here are some tips for choosing a helmet.
First, decide what kind of riding you do the most: road, mountain, commuting. (For this artcle, we will address road riding). Then consider what features are the most important to you: Style (color, appearance), Safety, Best Price, Best Air Flow, Lightest Weight, Best Fit, Best Extras (adjustable, # of vents, visor).
Detailed Discussion of Features
Pricing: A more expensive helmet does not mean it is safer. Usually a higher priced helmet will mean it is lighter weight, has more ventilation, is aerodynamic and /or is better looking.
Safety: Bicycle helmets sold in the U.S. must meet rigorous standards issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Look for the certification label inside the helmet. A cheaper helmet doesn’t mean it is less safe, nor does a more expensive one guarantee better safety. See the informa6on below on MIPS and Wave Cell’s additional safety features on helmets.
Comfort and Fit: If a helmet doesn’t fit snug on your head, it is not safe. You can measure your head to get an idea of what size you might use, but it doesn’t guarantee that a helmet will fit well and be comfortable. It is good to go to a bike store and try on different helmets to see how they fit and how comfortable they are. See below for tips on how to fit a helmet.
Retention Straps: These are controls at the back of the helmet to adjust the fit. They go beyond just tightening the straps. Put the helmet on, then adjust the control in the back (often a circular dial). You should be able to put your head down without the helmet falling off. Also check the pressure points around the head for a snug, but comfortable fit.
Type of Riding and Conditioning: We will address road riding only. Is it cold and wet out? Then you might want a helmet with adjustable vents that will close up when it is wet on the road. Will it be hot? Then you might want one with more vents. Are you a commuter, night rider or ride in busy traffic, then choose one that is more visible, a brighter color, perhaps with reflective tape or a light on it. Do you want to go fast? Then an aerodynamic helmet would be good.
Ventilation and Weight: Road helmets are the light weights of the helmet world. They are the lightest and most-ventilated helmets out there, and in some cases not only vent well but actually enhance cooling over wearing no helmet at all by directing airflow through the helmet and over your head. Other helmets that prioritize impact protection, like downhill and some mountain bike helmets, often have fewer vents (more holes = less protection against rocks and sticks). Don’t be fooled by the “more vents are better” mantra. You can’t judge a helmet’s cooling ability simply by how many vents it has. The size and design of the vents is often more important than the quantity.
For anyone wanting more information on the safety factor of different helmets, The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has some research based specific information.
Impact Absorbing Technology
One feature to look for in a helmet is the MIPS yellow dot. MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. In a nutshell, the majority of head injuries are not linear, they are angled or rotational blows, which cause more damage to brain tissue. MIPS provides a small 10-15mm leeway layer that takes most of the rotational impact of a fall. The price of MIPS helmets has come down in recent years and can be purchased for a reasonable price.
Bontrager debuted WaveCel in 2019, making the claim that the new technology is 48x more effec6ve than standard EPS foam helmets at preventing concussions. WaveCel, a honeycomb of plastic cells that lines the helmet, is designed to reduce the impact of rotational forces in the event of a crash. In that sense, it has similar design goals to MIPS, a company whose technology has become a common feature on many helmets since its introduction to the market in the 2000s.
Most road helmets are designed to be used once. By "used" we mean, to be involved in one collision. You don't have to buy a new helmet every time you ride; that would be silly. But if it protects you from a crash, it has in effect given its life to save yours, and must be thrown away. You might not be able to see the cracks, but they compromise the helmet. It is often recommended that you buy a new helmet at least every five years. Sun, heat, and sweat can break down the materials. Even dropping the helmet out the back of your car could weaken its protective capabilities.
Road helmets have also become increasingly “smarter” with features such as Bluetooth connectivity and LED lights for safe cycling at night, but you can always just attach a light to a non-smart helmet. Some helmets also include a pull-down, usually removable visor to protect your eyes. Developed by Specialized for helmets and sold separately, ANGi is a sensor paired with your phone that can monitor your rides, track speed, location, and crashes, and notify emergency contacts in the event of a crash or accident when the speed or rotational forces exceed a certain limit.
How to fit a bicycle helmet
Position: The helmet should sit level on your head and low on your forehead—one or two finger-widths above your eyebrow.
Side Straps: Adjust the slider on both straps to form a “V” shape under, and slightly in front of, the ears. Lock the slider if possible.
Buckles or Fasteners: Center the left buckle under the chin. On most helmets, the straps can be pulled from the back of the helmet to lengthen or shorten the chin straps. This task is easier if you take the helmet off to make these adjustments.
Chin Strap: Buckle your chin strap. Tighten the strap un6l it is snug, so that no more than one or two fingers fit under the strap.
We hope you stay safe and enjoy your riding experience!