It is commonsensical to always ensure that you wear a suitable helmet, before getting on your bicycle. Some cities and counties have strict regulations regarding the wearing of bike helmets.
This guide aims to educate you about the different kinds of bike helmets available so that you can make an informed decision when purchasing.
What are the Most Popular Bike Helmet Types?
Among the most popular bike helmet types are Generic Biking Helmets, Commuter Cycling Helmets, Mountain Bike Helmets, Downhill MTB (Full-Face Helmets), Road & Racing Helmets, Aero Road, BMX Helmets, Triathlon Helmets, Children’s Helmets, Enduro, Chrono and Skate helmets.
Generic Biking Helmets
These are also known as multi-use helmets and are meant to check multiple boxes so a lot of riders can choose them. They are generally inexpensive and do provide adequate impact protection for those looking to engage in normal bike riding.
They are designed to be heavier than and not as aerodynamic as its other road helmet counterparts. They are well-suited for casual off-road bikers and general commuters, but may not be an appropriate fit for all types of biking styles.
Some of the recreational and traveling activities that may be apt for this kind of helmet include bicycling, in-line skating or roller skating, a kick scooter, etc. Always ensure that your intended purpose suits the generic helmet that you are interested in, and never compromise on safety and quality.
Commuter Cycling Helmets
Commuting helmets will come in a few varieties, depending on your personal preference as well as the position that you adopt on a bike. Some of the common options would include a road helmet, a mountain bike helmet, or those that are specifically designed for city commutes.
These commuting helmets may have fewer vents that are meant to protect your head from the effects of wind or from getting wet if there is a downpour. Alternatively, you can also use a helmet cover for appropriate or added protection to a vented road biking helmet.
An important consideration, when choosing a road bike is visibility. When you venture out on to the road, you may be met by any type of weather and lighting conditions or you may even be cycling at night time. For such purposes, your helmet should have bright and reflective colors or visors on them so you can be easily spotted by surroundings commuters or traffic. You can also consider helmets that have 3M reflective tapes that are specifically designed to improve visibility in night conditions.
The latest technology is relying on millions of minute mirrored glass beads that are embedded into the helmet micro-shell that allow for full surface reflection or even integrated LED lights on the head ring region.
Mountain Bike Helmets
Mountain bike helmets (also known as MTB helmets) are quite akin to the road helmets when it comes to designing, There are, however, certain distinguishing features such as the head coverage of MTB helmets are meant to have lesser vents and provide more coverage (an hence protection) to the rider’s back and sides of the head.
There is a lot of thought in constructing the MTB helmets the way they are. The idea is if you meet with an accident and fall off on an uneven surface or terrain with objects and stones around, then that may lead to a serious injury that you may never have foreseen.
MTB helmets also have an incorporated visor for enhanced visibility in darker conditions - both for the rider being visible to the surrounding riders as well as for the rider to see in the dark. This is super helpful as not everyone prefers to wear eye protection as that is not very helpful when riding through dark woods.
These visors assist the rider by avoiding the sunlight into their eyes. As the rider’s position is meant to be upright whilst riding, the visors do not act as an obstruction to their vision, as is possible in the case of a road bike.
Downhill MTB (Full-Face Helmets)
The downhill mountain bikes, as the name suggests, provides its riders with full-face protection for those thrill-seeking and adventurous bikers who like to go off-road, for example, downhill riding. Downhill MTB helmets look a lot like motorbike helmets; however, the biking ones are much lighter in weight.
The full-face coverage makes absolute sense as you are riding on an unusual and bumpy terrain which is fraught with dangerous objects, stones, and branches.
These downhill helmets also come standard with added chin guards as well as full over visors so you keep away from mud, any kind of droppings, rain, or even debris that may be flying around you.
Road & Racing Helmets
We have generally noticed that road helmets do not come with a standard visor whilst in comparison, mountain bike helmets do have one.
More often than not, we see road cyclists opting to wear sunglasses or a cycling cap for protection from sunlight. This is also because a visor can obstruct a rider’s vision during cycling on uneven or aggressive terrains.
A good option is to have a detachable visor (which is now very common in most bikes) that you can use (or take out), depending on the road conditions and rider’s preference.
Traditional road cycling helmets are manufactured with more air vents that enhance the airflow during cycling. A road or racing helmet with more ventilation is more expensive than those with fewer vents, as there is more designing required to make it efficient, lightweight, and at the same time, in compliance with the required safety and protection certification, in case of an accident.
Generally, road helmets have better looks as they are neatly designed, racier, and compact in shape. Three important factors will define the price of a road or racing helmet: weight, ventilation, and brand.
Aero road helmets are meant to provide ‘free speed’ as they have lesser drag design. These helmets can get slightly warm though when you are tackling those long and slow climbs.
These helmets are meant to be a great alternative to standard and TT cycling helmets, as they provide aero gain as well as effective ventilation.
You do not want an aero road helmet that is heavy, not as aerodynamic as the TT helmet, and that tends to get hotter with climbing up. They should help you train in hilly terrain as well as be usable on hot conditions.
A good aero road cycling helmet is meant to provide you with an ideal balance between ventilation and speed. This is what you should aim to achieve, and if you cannot then opt for a light climber’s lid or a TT helmet instead.
We usually spot standard BMX helmets in the skate or general parks. These are meant to afford protection for various sporting activities such as skateboarding, roller-blading, and BMX riding. These became fashionable as well during the 70s and 80s and still have a market today.
They have a hard shell, rounded design, and generally smaller vents. They are also heavier and bulkier as compared to other biking helmets. They are generally quite effective in protecting the rider during fall on the ramps, bars, or even when attempting tricky maneuvers.
These are available in customized logo rivets as well as a variety of bright colors so you can stand out or be recognized in a crowd. They also come with polystyrene lining for added comfort and snuggly fit for the rider.
The helmet has classic as well as contemporary versions available for children who are 5+ to adults and can provide great and secure fits for heads of all shapes and sizes.
Triathlon helmets have an important purpose – to provide the rider with as much aerodynamics as practically possible. These helmets are designed to be smooth and rounded when fitted which provides for an effective airflow mechanism over the helmet when the bike is going at speed.
These helmets are usually opted by time trial bikers or those cyclists who adopt a more aerodynamic posture when using the TT bars.
TT helmets are uniquely designed with a pointed back for speed efficiency purposes and are also meant to have shorter tails with more pronounced and rounded backs.
Triathlon sportsperson may also be interested in helmets that offer easier transitions, i.e. when switching from swimming to getting on a bike, or getting off the bike and moving to start their run. It is for maneuvers and scenarios like these that a magnetic buckle on the helmet strap comes in very handy that can be easily operated by using a single hand and when your hands are numb with rigorous use.
Children and toddlers’ helmets are meant to be smaller in size and lighter in weight for obvious reasons. They are specially designed to give a snuggly fit to those smaller head sizes and to also be attractive to them, by introducing varying bright colors, patterns, and designs. These can be bought either as lids or in road cycling styles, given the child’s preference and safety.
We all know that juniors are more likely to have an accident with their bikes than adults. Moreover, their heads are more susceptible to injury than adults.
It is of prime importance to ensure that the helmet is a perfect fit for the child, keeping his head stable and secure during the riding. Never buy a slightly larger helmet so that your kid can ‘grow into it’. This is not a piece of cloth or shoes that you are purchasing. You are effectively purchasing your child’s safety.
If the helmet is on the loose side, it will keep moving back and forth during the ride and, more importantly, in the event of a crash – taking away all the protection it was meant to provide!
Kids biking helmets are reasonably priced as compared to adult helmets, and you can always buy them a fitting one when they start to grow out of their smaller ones.
Other Types of Helmets?
If you are still not satisfied with the variety discussed above and have something else or specific in mind, then you may also consider the following three additional options of bike helmets:
The idea of lightweight and full-faced helmets is nothing new and has been in existence since 1998 at least. Since then, the biking helmet technology has developed manifold with much more focus and efficiency in impact protection against high and low-speed impacts for riders.
Enduro has been at the forefront in developing and designing trail-oriented full-faced helmets. People used to carry two helmets – one to climb and other for the descent, which wasn’t ideal, convenient or inexpensive. Those days are gone now! There are multiple options for Enduro racers now or for those looking to practice rowdy trail riding.
These helmets generally use a material that is lighter in construction that the DH-oriented option, and has improved ventilation. They also afford greater protection against multiple reckless or aggressive impacts.
These convertible mountain bike helmets are versatile when used on trails as they provide full-face protection by covering the entire head as well as a great breathability option – thanks to its ventilation mechanism due to the open-face lid. That is great value for your money if these are the features that you are after.
The full-face option affords the best protection for the downhill. And when you are paddling uphill, then you would be better off with an open-face design that can be achieved by removing the chin bar by a simple press of a clip. This ensures better protection given the gravity factor.
As with all the products that are meant to have multiple features, you are bound to make a compromise somewhere. For Enduro convertible helmets, that translates into a helmet that is slightly heavier in open-face design as compared to a regular trail lid. This is due to the additional structural elements that can safely be converted into a full-face helmet.
Chrono helmets are a special category and are particularly engineered to provide optimum aerodynamics for time trial use. These are useful at time trial speeds of over 20 mph and hence are not appropriate for your casual or routine street biking.
They have come a long way from the startup models in earlier 2000s that had shell only and no certification for impact protection. All over the world, they now comply with set standards with time trials in mind, and with sufficient impact foam stuffed into the shells, either in newer models or retrofitted in existing ones that must comply with the standards.
Generally, the European CEN standards are less severe (and hence afford lesser protection) as compared to the US’s CPSC bike helmet standards. The testing is different too – where CPSC helmets must withstand a 2 meters drop on the flat anvil, CEN is tested with a 1.5 meters drop. CEN helmets are generally lighter and thinner in design.
There is a strict specification of Chrono bike helmets in the US and anyone intending to manufacture or export them into the US must uphold those standards, leading to the overall improvement of impact protection for consumers of Chrono bike helmets.
Chrono helmets tails are crafted for an aero shape. It is elongated and affords ample space to catch your head during a fall and avoids the injury concerns resulting from twisting your head and neck. These helmets, however, are not recommended for use in streets or trails.
Skate helmets are traditionally designed to be round and smooth and provide cover to the back of the rider’s head. These are meant to protect against falls and trips that skateboarders are exposed to (as opposed to the bikers). They may also land on their back that endangers their head too.
They come in different varieties but they should all meet certain safety standards. That reflects in how softer the foam is, and in certain instances, may provide over and above what the standards prescribe and hence will be pricier. It then boils down to your preference, as to how much protection you are comfortable with.
Skate helmets have a thicker outer shell that is specifically designed to put up with multiple impacts.
These helmets are not apt for high impact collisions and are meant to cater to multiple low impacts – which is what we commonly observe during skateboarding.
No matter which brand you opt for, always make certain that it is a proper fit, given your face and head size. The frontal needs to cover a major part of your forehead, not tilt back with your head movements, and the chin strap should remain tightly fastened at all times.
A bike helmet should also be commensurate with your style of riding, and you also need to consider the varying functionalities and options that the helmet can have, and lastly your budget.
Always ensure that it meets the specific and minimum standards prescribed by the relevant bodies for impact protection. For such purpose, MIPS technology is key when buying helmets along with a lining inside that is meant to protect you from any brain injury if you trip or fall. After all, it may be a life and death scenario that we may be contemplating.
Lastly, if it looks good on you, then chances are, you will wear it more often and willingly. So do consider aesthetics as well. Stay safe, enjoy the ride, and wear a helmet!