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Your guide to helmets

If you choose to wear a helmet, getting one that works for you and the type of riding you're interested in is important. But, finding the right headgear can be more challenging and confusing than you might think, especially because there are so many different styles and options available. Luckily for you, Bikester know a thing or two about helmets and this guide should help you make sense of the vast selection on offer.

Helmets have come a long way. Thankfully, the days of uncomfortable, poorly-ventilated and heavy helmets are mostly over; for a modest sum, you can buy a well-fitting, light and attractive helmet. Helmets are available in every conceivable style and for every niche of cycling. However, there are a few things to consider before buying.

Helmet Fit

A well-fitting helmet should fit snugly without being too tight. Measure the circumference of your head, wrapping a tape measure slightly above the ears and around the middle of the forehead, completely encircling the head. When buying a helmet, you’ll usually be able to find a sizing chart on the product page. Try to find a helmet that comfortably accommodates your head circumference.

Most modern helmets incorporate a plastic size-adjustment system under the shell that enables you to fine-tune the fit. This is as easy as turning a thumbwheel at the back. While this gives you some leeway with sizing, care should be taken to buy the right size in the first place.

Many cheaper helmets are only available in one size. In our experience, these helmets can fit well if you’re somewhere in the middle, but if your head is on the bigger or smaller side, they can be uncomfortable.

bike helmet size
bike helmet right
bike helmet belt

Impact-absorption technologies

Start researching helmets and you’ll quickly come across MIPS: Multi-directional Impact Protection System – a system designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain from impacts with angled objects. Models with MIPS have a layer between head and helmet that’s designed to stop the head rotating as much inside the helmet. Many very popular brands use MIPS, and helmets equipped with the technology are slightly more expensive.

MIPS isn’t the only technology that’s designed to lessen rotational forces on the head: POC has its “SPIN” technology, Bontrager has “WaveCel”, a system designed to soak up impact before it reaches the head, and Endura offers a similar system called “Koroyd.”

Types of helmets

From slick models for road cyclists to skate-style helmets for BMXers, there’s something available for every discipline of riding. For the sake of classification, we generally divide helmets into three main categories: road, mountain bike and urban/commuter.

URBAN/COMMUTER

Urban/commuter helmets usually have a plain, utilitarian design, allowing them to easily blend in with the urban jungle. The modern trend is for a rounded, ‘bucket-style’ helmet. Many incorporate size-adjustment systems, generous ventilation holes and even built-in ear protection. Some even have lighting at the back to make you more visible to other road users.

Of course, there’s no rule that you have to wear a commuting-specific helmet while riding through town – many cyclists are perfectly happy with a mountain bike or road helmet.

city bike helmet

ROAD CYCLING

For road riding, top priorities are aerodynamics, weight, and ventilation – quite possibly in that order. A more expensive helmet will be lighter, should offer improved aerodynamics and be well ventilated. Pricier helmets also tend to look more flash – and let’s be honest, in the competitive world of road cycling, looks matter!

road bike helmet

MOUNTAIN BIKING

There are several different types of mountain biking helmets:

For aggressive downhill riding, many riders opt for a full-face helmet that offers maximum protection in the event of a fall. For enduro or rougher trail use, robust ‘open-face’ helmets with increased rear head protection and the option to attach a chin guard are popular.

For cross-country mountain biking, helmets look more like road helmets, but usually have a removeable peak and slightly enhanced protection at the back of the head. They should be light and well ventilated.

For BMX and dirt jump, helmets are plainer ‘bucket’ style helmets. Nowadays, many of these also come with internal size adjustment systems. Ventilation isn’t so good with these helmets, but they reflect the gritty street style of these disciplines.

mountain bike helmet

HELMET ALTERNATIVES

You may have asked yourself what that chunky black collar is you’ve seen people wear while cycling. That would be the Hövding airbag helmet, worn around the neck, that inflates in the event of a fall. Great if you have a cool hairdo and don’t want something on your head while cycling, but pricy and not for everyone.

Many people don’t wear a helmet at all. In many countries, particularly those with advanced cycling infrastructure and a strong bike culture, you’re more likely to see commuters not wearing a helmet: read Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands. On the other hand, certain nations have made helmet use compulsory.

One thing is certain: we can all benefit by practising safer cycling and being more vigilant around motorists.

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I'm thinking about starting
I haven't ridden in ages
I've just got my first bike
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I PLEDGE TO FIND A BIKE AND RIDE IT

Pledging your support for #BikeIsBest adds another voice to our campaign, helping the needs of cyclists get heard nationally and in your local community. We will provide you with regular updates on our campaign work and further ways to get involved, plus hints, tips, and advice from our cycling community.

I'm thinking about starting
I haven't ridden in ages
I've just got my first bike
I only really ride (or plan to) for my commute
I'd like to turn it into a regular activity
I'd like to get my young family into it
I want to encourage others & champion cycling causes

I'm happy to receive advice, tips and other great stuff from #BikeIsBest via email.

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+ A CUSTOM PLEDGE OPTION

Pledging your support for #BikeIsBest adds another voice to our campaign, helping the needs of cyclists get heard nationally and in your local community. We will provide you with regular updates on our campaign work and further ways to get involved, plus hints, tips, and advice from our cycling community.

I'm thinking about starting
I haven't ridden in ages
I've just got my first bike
I only really ride (or plan to) for my commute
I'd like to turn it into a regular activity
I'd like to get my young family into it
I want to encourage others & champion cycling causes

I'm happy to receive advice, tips and other great stuff from #BikeIsBest via email.