Bike helmets are essential gear for any biker as they protect the rider’s head in case of an impact upon a fall or a trip. It does so by minimizing the optimum force of the impact and also helps in slowing down the head deceleration.
Let us look at some of the tips on choosing a bicycle helmet.
How To Choose A Bike Helmet?
When choosing a bike helmet the most important aspects are: good fit, riding style, proper size and ventilation, guards, visors, and specialized features. Always seek the maximal protection with good comfort. Check your budget and choose wisely!
What Should I Look For When Buying A Bike Helmet?
There are certain key aspects that you need to think about when purchasing a bike helmet.
Fit – A helmet, regardless of the type of biking that you are considering, must be an appropriate fit for you. Any compromise on the fit will in turn compromise the protection it can afford. You will not even feel like wearing it if it doesn’t fit nicely and is a nuisance whilst riding. So fit and adjustment is key.
Riding Style – Your biking helmet should suit the style of riding you are contemplating. Nowadays, these helmets are categorized specifically following the needs of the rider. This helps immensely with the selection of the right product and the chances are rare that you will opt for a wrong one. However, if ever in doubt, always double-check with the sales assistant or online representative regarding the usage of the helmet. Moreover, certain helmets can appropriately and safely be used in more than terrains. For example, a mountain bike helmet to be used for rough and rigid terrains can also be used on the roads or a road helmet for roads can also be used on a dirt trail. Broadly speaking, bike helmets can be divided into three segments:
- Recreational bike helmets that are relatively inexpensive and afford basic impact protection for routine riding purposes.
- Road bike helmets are manufactured to be lightweight, better aerodynamics, and good ventilation.
- Mountain bike helmets are designed with great vents, and a lot of their models provide extended rear head coverage, as a mountain rider is more susceptible to fall on their back, as compared to a road biker.
Sizing Adjustment Wheel – found on the back end of the helmet can be tightened or loosened to fit your head’s circumference. This is a key feature as it helps you achieve a perfect fit.
Ventilation – is achieved by introducing holes in the helmet whilst ensuring that the structure of the helmet stays tough and sturdy. You may also find helmets without vents which are easier to manufacture and less expensive but not an ideal choice if you expect to ride for longer outside or on those hot summer days.
Vent Mesh Guards – that are usually fitted with vents are meant to protect the rider from bugs and any debris from getting into the helmet and eventually the hair. They serve the dual purpose of circulating the airflow and blocking the debris.
Visors – can come in handy during sunny or rainy periods. They are meant to provide the rider with added protection against the sun and also helps keep your face dry during rainy days.
Reflective Detailing – can be added to your helmet that aids with the visibility of the rider during low light conditions early in the morning or late at night.
Specialized Features – You may be a rider who prefers new protection functionalities and advanced designing features such as lightweight, optimum ventilation, and higher aerodynamics.
Built-In Mounds/Camera – These are also a great option for riders looking for brighter lighting or even a rider view camera to catch all the action or for general safety purposes.
All of the above will add on to the pricing of the helmet as you are expecting over and above the standard features that you generally find in a biking helmet. Having said that, these features may also enhance the comfort and fit of the rider, depending on their budget and personal preferences.
Things To Consider
Let us look into some of the practical features and functionalities of a biking helmet that every rider should factor in, before choosing one.
Sizing & Fit Systems
One of the basics for any helmet purchaser is to look at the size of the helmet. It is no different than purchasing a clothing item or shoes. It should be a perfect fit. If you are purchasing it online (and haven’t had the opportunity to try it in a store), then always seek the measurements of the helmet and then measure it against the circumference of your head. You may also use the adjuster wheel to check the fitting around your head.
For measuring your head circumference, use a flexible tape to measure around the largest part of your head— around 1 inch over your eyebrows. Alternatively, use a string by wrapping it around your head, and then measure its length with the help of a yardstick.
Look out for the following when fitting the helmet:
- No wobbling from side to side, or tilting back and forth
- No movement of the helmet when your head shakes in any direction
- The helmet stays in place when leveled across the forehead and right above your eyebrows.
- Straps are tightened and the chin strap feels snuggly when you try opening your mouth
Bike helmets come in a variety of sizes to suit different riders and they are as follows:
Extra small: below 20" (51cm)
Small: 20"–21.75" (51cm–55cm)
Medium: 21.75"–23.25" (55cm–59cm)
Large: 23.25"–24.75" (59cm–63cm)
Extra large: above 24.75" (63cm)
Universal size: meant to fit everyone with the help of a highly adjustable fitting system
When you place the helmet on your head and adjust the backside crank for a snuggly fit, it shouldn’t be wobbly or sliding. Try to test it by nodding and shaking your head.
When you wear it, only 2 fingers should sneak in between your eyebrows and bottom part of the helmet (this is famously known as the 2V1 rule). The straps will take the shape of an even ‘V’ beneath your earlobes and only 1 finger should be able to glide under the chinstrap.
Also, consider any added headgear (such as cycling caps or winter gear) that you may want to wear under the helmet. A lot of helmets will provide added space for adjustment purposes.
Helmet Styles & Shape
Bike helmets primarily come in 2 major styles: half shell or full face. A half shell bike helmet protects the upper and backside of the head, whereas a full face affords protection to the whole head with the help of a chin protector.
Helmets have evolved a great deal from those salad bowl styled ones we saw back in the 1980s. Helmets these days adapt and get revised following the current trends and technology.
Once you have considered the fitting, safety, and cost-related aspects of the helmet, you can then consider the style too. There are multiple online platforms selling biking helmets that allow the consumers to change the avatar and styling instantly until they find their personal preference.
Helmets are now considered part of the attire that riders wear. It is a fashion statement for many riders allowing them to flaunt and express their style, brand, functionality, and features.
Advancement in technology and change in safety standards have also impacted their styling and designing. The manufacturers need to achieve a balance between the styling demands of the riders and more pragmatic aspects such as weight, ventilation, and aerodynamics. None of these should be at the expense of safety which should be paramount.
Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS) has been a great innovation (from Sweden) that came to the fore in 2009. The effectiveness of this technology still requires more validation but one thing is for certain; many manufacturers are now considering and incorporating MIPS into the designing and styling of their helmets.
Helmet Construction & Materials
Biking helmets come in several types (such as recreational & commuter helmets, road bike helmets, and mountain bike helmets) and all are meant to suit a specific riding style, and hence, have unique features and functionalities.
A helmet’s construction and materials used in making it will define the pricing, styling, and safety of the helmet in question.
Some of the key materials used in construction a biking helmet are discussed below:
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
Used frequently for hardshell helmets given its tough and impact resistant qualities. This is the same stuff that Legos are made of!
These are also used in bulletproof vests and case of biking helmets, it is added to enhance the strength in specific locations for added durability and protection.
This is used to make helmets sturdy and durable. The material is super strong and lightweight. It is commonly used in manufacturing full-face mountain bike helmets.
EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) Foam
If you remember the old-school picnic coolers, those used to be made out of material that is quite similar to EPS foam. This is the foam that gets crushed upon impact. The only downside is this foam is not re-usable and post-crash, cannot be reinstated to its original shape or position. It is for this reason that a helmet should always be replaced after a crash.
EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) Foam
This foam is more widely used for manufacturing ski helmets and looks similar to EPS. This foam can withstand multiple impacts and rebounds after impact. It is more expensive than EPS and gives the helmet a thicker feel as compared to EPS.
Honeycomb / Koroyd Straws
Honeycomb provides an alternative to the standard foam that helmet liners generally have. They’re formed by applying pressure as a result of which it squeezes and creates an energy absorbent structure that takes the shape of a honeycomb, and hence its name. This material gets crushed in a controlled fashion and allows for an efficient energy deceleration post an impact.
This material is used to construct current in-mold and hard shell bike helmets. The molding process of polycarbonate involves the bonding of the shell to the liner that produces a sturdy helmet. This material is of strong quality but lightweight at the same time.
A biking helmet is usually composed of three important components: a shell, a liner, and straps.
This is the helmet’s outer layer and is visible to you or others when riding. It is made out of impact-resistant plastic or composite and aims to spread the force of an impact to a wider area, and hence, protecting your head region in case of an accident.
The liner (which is composed of crushable foam) is placed immediately under the outer shell of the helmet and is meant to perform the most important job, i.e. absorb the shock during a crash. The liner works by consuming the maximum amount of impact energy so that there is a lesser impact on your head.
Straps are made out of nylon or polypropylene, and their purpose is to ensure that the helmet stays put on to your head whilst riding. If you notice these straps fraying, you need to consider purchasing a new helmet as this compromises the security and protection it was meant to provide.
Biking helmets have two main types of construction: in-mold and hard shell.
In-Mold Bike Helmets
In-mold helmets are constructed by applying steam and pressure to bind the helmet’s outer shell strongly with the lining of the foam liner – all in a mold. This is meant to achieve a sturdy and lightweight helmet.
These types of helmets have a thinner outer shell, which means that the lining of the foam has a higher chance of deforming when impacted with even less force. By doing so, the foam is absorbing the impact of the force after the crash, and in that process, providing the required protection to your head.
Hard Shell Bike Helmets
Hard shells are super durable and provide great resistance against penetration. They have a stronger outer shell with foam protection inside.
This type of construction is often used on mountain bikes, hybrids, and even skating helmet models. Since they have a thicker outer layer, they are less susceptible to deform upon an accident. This feature is good but there needs to be a balance where there should be a certain level of deformity after a certain force is exerted, for the impact absorption to be effective.
No matter what is your riding style, staying cool and composed is vital for any cyclist. These days, all the biking helmets will afford some sort of venting mechanism that enhances the flow of cool air over the head and through the front opening and circulate warm and sweaty air out of the head.
Helmets that have more vents are generally lightweight but compromise a fair deal on impact protection in case of an accident. For such reason, mountain enthusiasts would not benefit from this feature and would rather invest in something that affords better and fuller protection.
Striking a balance between impact protection and ventilation is difficult but an important one to achieve. If the helmet is not breathable or less efficient in doing so, then you are less likely to use it regularly.
Safety Standards & MIPS
Some of the safety standards commonly adopted in the manufacturing of biking helmets are discussed as follows:
EN1078 - Field of Vision Test, Shock Absorption Test, Retention Systems Test.
CPSC1203 - Peripheral Vision Test, Positional Stability Test, Retention Strength Test, Impact Attenuation Test.
SnellB-95 - Impact Management, Helmet Positional Ability, Retention System Strength, Extent of Protection.
ASTMF192 (for Downhill MTB Helmets) – Affords greater impact protection and sets performance criteria for chin bars for full-faced helmets.
There has been a lot of focus latterly in protecting brain injuries caused due to rotational forces after a crash by providing a slip-place between the helmet and head. This will allow a little head movement that should slow down the impact of these forces getting transferred to the brain. One such slip-plane technology is MIPS. Some other alternatives that manufacturers consider include SPIN (POC), LDL (Kali Protectives), 360 Turbine (Leatt), and Omni Directional Suspension (ODS) technology (6D Helmets).
MIPS (a renowned global name in head and neck protection) is essentially a built-in plastic roll covering that activates upon an impact by sliding in the direction of the head. This gives the rider added protection against brain concussions that may happen due to impacts at a certain angle. These angles are a frequent occurrence in action sports as opposed to traditional helmets that get exposed to blunt force impacts.
Whether you are a commuter, a casual rider who likes to travel through town, or even an athlete who likes to participate in triathlons or off-road adventures, a biking helmet is a necessity, and a gear you shouldn’t do without when riding a bike.
These helmets are much lighter, comfortable, and most importantly, safer than they ever were – thanks to the technological advancements.
You need to make it a habit of wearing it – no helmet simply means no protection! As a general rule, always replace it with a new one after 6 years or any major hit, whichever occurs first.