Choosing a cycling helmet is important since wearing a bike helmet makes sense in all riding conditions. Modern helmets are light, comfortable and able to handle significant impacts.
Here are some tips for choosing a bike helmet model that is well-suited to your needs.
Types of Bike Helmets
Bike helmets come in three basic types: recreational (also called multi-use and casual), road and mountain. All of these helmets are designed to protect your head from impact while being lightweight and comfortable. The key differences are:
Recreational helmets are an economical choice for recreational, commuter, road and mountain bikers. They can often include a visor to shield your eyes from the sun.
Road bike helmets are the preferred choice by road cycling enthusiasts for their low weight, ventilation and aerodynamic design. These helmets typically don’t have a visor, keeping the weight low and providing an unobstructed view when you’re crouched in an aggressive riding position.
Mountain bike helmets, which are also often used by cyclocross riders, are designed to ventilate well at low speeds. They’re distinguished by their visors, enhanced rear-head coverage and a firm, secure fit for bouncing around on rough terrain. Some feature full-face protection that’s preferred by downhill mountain bikers and park riders.
Bike Helmet Construction
Most helmets use in-mold construction, a process that fuses an outer shell and inner liner without the use of glue. This results in light-yet-strong designs. While weight is often not a main concern for recreational cyclists, racers and frequent use riders will appreciate the weight savings of a lighter helmet.
Shell: Most cycling helmets are covered with a plastic shell to hold the helmet together in a crash, provide puncture-resistance and allow the helmet to slide on impact thus protecting your head and neck.
Liner: Most helmet liners are made of expanded polystyrene foam. On impact, the liner dissipates the force to protect your head. The liner should fit your head comfortably.
Some helmets feature Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology, a way of constructing the helmet that is aimed at providing more protection from rotational forces during a bike crash. MIPS-equipped helmets feature a low friction layer that allows the helmet’s impact absorbing foam liner to rotate slightly around your head during an impact. It moves only a few millimeters overall, but it can reduce the amount of rotational force that may be transferred to your brain in certain impacts.
Ventilation: Helmet vents improve wind-flow over your head, keeping you cooler and more comfortable as you ride. In addition, the more vents you have, the lighter the helmet.
Visor: Some riders prefer having a sun shielding visor attached to the helmet, and these are very common on mountain bike helmets. A visor does, however, add a fractional bit of weight and slight wind resistance.
Full-face protection: Some mountain bike helmets have a wraparound chin bar to provide face protection for downhill mountain biking and park riding. Some enduro racers also like the added protection.
Straps: The strap system should be comfortable and easy to buckle and unbuckle.
Choosing The Correct Size Cycling Helmet
When choosing a bike helmet, a good fit is vital. Most helmets come in small, medium, large or extended sizes.
To find your size, wrap a flexible measuring tape around the largest portion of your head—about 1 inch above your eyebrows, or wrap a piece of string or ribbon around your head, then measure the length of the string with a straight-edge ruler or measuring tape. Look for a helmet size that matches your measurement.
Between sizes? Either opt for the smaller size or wear a cycling cap or beanie to improve the fit of the larger helmet. Some adults with smaller heads can wear a kids’ size comfortably.
Adjusting a Bike Helmet
A good-fitting helmet should be snug but not annoyingly tight. It should sit level on your head (not tilted back) with the front edge 1 inch or less above your eyebrows so that your forehead is protected. Push the helmet from side to side and back to front. If it shifts noticeably you need to adjust the fit.
To adjust the fit, first expand the sizing wheel before you place a helmet on your head. Almost all helmets have a sizing wheel on the back of the helmet’s internal sizing ring. Once the helmet is in place, reach behind your head and tighten the ring until you get a good fit. Next, buckle and tighten the chinstrap. The straps should form a “V” as they rest under each ear. Adjust the straps around both ears until you have a comfortable fit.
Finally, with the chinstrap buckled, open your mouth wide. The helmet should press against the top of your head as you do so. If not, tighten further and repeat.
Bike Helmet Care
Avoid using chemical solvents to clean a helmet. Manufacturers recommend only the use of a soft cloth or sponge, plus mild soap and water. Removal pads may be washed.
Do not store a helmet in an attic, garage, car trunk or other area where heat can accumulate. Excessive heat may cause bubbles to form on helmet parts. Do not wear a heat-damaged helmet.
Avoid loaning your helmet to others. You want to know exactly what kind of use your helmet has experienced during its lifespan.
When to Replace a Cycling Helmet
Any helmet involved in an accident is likely to get damaged. Replace the helmet after any significant impact, even if everything looks OK. If you’ve been crash-free, it is generally recommended to replace your helmet after 5 years. Pollution, UV light and weathering can weaken a helmet’s components over time.