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Best Bike Helmets & How To Choose

Jeff Balton

How to choose bike helmets

 

There is a lot to know when it comes to choosing the best bike helmet for yourself. You need to understand what type of helmet you need, how the helmet should fit, different safety standards, and much more!

This article is here to guide you through every step of choosing a mountain bicycle helmet, as well as give you some additional information that is good to know. We hope that after reading this, you will be able to treat yourself to the perfect bike helmet!


Buying Guide & Info

What is a bike helmet made of?

To start off, we think it is important to provide some description of the different elements of a helmet. This knowledge will help you avoid looking at a helmet as a whole and dig deeper into the positives and negatives of a bike helmet.

Here are the main components of any helmet:

1. Shell

Bicycle Helmet Shell

The shell of a bike helmet is the outside layer. It works hand in hand with the liner to provide cyclists with as much protection as possible from concussions and other head injuries. Not all shells are the same! There are those that you typically find in department stores that are made from cheap plastics such as stamped PET, and then there are high-quality ones made from materials such as polycarbonates or carbon fiber that are both lightweight and sturdy. Remember that the shell is the first thing to make contact with the road in a crash, so avoid helmets made with a cheap shell!

2. Liner:

Bicycle Helmet Liner

I like to think of the helmet liner as the most important part of a helmet.

Why? Because the liner is what absorbs the majority of the energy produced in a crash. Historically, most helmets have been fitted with EPS foam as the main liner. EPS foam can be made in different densities which makes using it for helmets pretty ideal. However, new designs are emerging and pushing the levels of helmet protection to new heights.

Technologies such as MIPS and 6D’s or ODS (Omni-Directional Suspension) are protecting your brain more than we would have thought possible 10 years ago. Be sure to look into a helmet’s liner before buying. Make sure it is high quality and will provide you with all of the protection you need. If there was ever a place to not be frugal, this would be it.

3. Internals:

Bicycle Helmet Internals

Consider the internals of a helmet as the finer details that help with getting the right fit. Some helmets have foam padding, whereas others feature fastening systems such as a BOA type mechanism (or other fit-adjustment systems). The internals of a helmet are important because they ultimately decide how your head will sit inside a helmet. A fancy shell and liner will not save you if the helmet is not held in the right place with the help of the internals. Choose what you find most comfortable and reliable as far as internals go.

4. Straps:

Bike Helmet Straps

The straps of a helmet are the most overlooked part when buying a helmet. Remember though that there are important things to think about even when it comes to straps. You will want straps that adjust comfortably to fit your physique. You will also want a secure buckle that is easy to take on and off. Some cheap buckles are a pain to use and can come undone too easily for my liking. A good strap combined with proper internals will ensure the helmet does not fly off in the event of a crash. If you shake your head around and the helmet wiggles, it does not fit well enough!

 

Now you know what to look for in the components of a helmet, let’s cover different types!

 

Types Of Bike Helmets

Not all bike helmets are the same. In fact, helmets vary not only regarding cycling disciplines but also regarding different styles of riding within a discipline. Here you can learn about what makes each different type of helmet unique.

 

Road bike helmets

gravel bikes vs road bikesRoad bike helmets are designed to be lightweight and aerodynamic. They typically do not feature a visor. This is for a few reasons; road cyclists often wear glasses, visors can limit vision in the road bike riding position, and helmets can be made more aerodynamic without a visor. Here are a few types of road helmets:

  • Regular Aero helmet (overview)

These helmets are designed to be worn by cyclists who care a lot about their aerodynamics. The shape is typically smooth with only a few vents. As a result, these can be warmer to wear than other road helmets so keep this in mind when purchasing. This may seem like a negative but it also makes aero helmets great for cold weather days.

  • Ventilated helmet

A well-ventilated helmet will keep your head as cool as possible. These helmets are typically extremely lightweight as well since there are so many holes. I would highly recommend these for cyclists who aren’t looking to break record times. They are a little less aerodynamic, but unless it is cold out, you’ll be thankful for the ventilation. There is nothing worse than feeling like your head is overheating!

  • Time Trial helmet (overview)

A time trial helmet is designed to flow with the shape of the rider’s body while on a time trial bike. This allows for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. You will notice that most have a long rounded shape that narrows towards the rear end. This reduces drag as much as possible. They usually also have a built-in visor which follows the rounded shape of the helmet. Typically, if you are wearing a time trial helmet, you mean to set a fast time. These are not often worn as an everyday helmet.

Mountain bike helmets

MountainsMountain bike helmets typically offer more coverage than a road bike helmet. The rear end tends to extend farther down which provides more protection. This is because you are much more likely to fall off a mountain bike compared to a road bike. Mountain bike helmets usually also feature a visor to help keep your eyes safe from the sun.

  • Trail helmet

Trail helmets are the standard mountain bike helmet now. They come in many different variations. Some are extremely lightweight and well ventilated whereas others are more heavy-duty, but offer more protection. You will find a variety of protective liners as well that feature advanced technologies to keep you safe.

  • Enduro/Crossover helmets

Enduro or crossover helmets bridge the gap between a trail helmet and a full-face helmet. This is because they can be used as both! Crossover helmets feature a removable chin bar.  So you can have a regular looking trail helmet for traversing or climbing, and then attach the chin bar for when you get to some downhills or more dangerous terrain. I highly recommend these for riders who like to do it all!

  • Downhill/Full-face mountain bike helmets

A full-face downhill helmet is designed for extreme riding. These offer the most protection out of any mountain bike helmet. The downside, however, is that they are quite hot to ride in. If you spend most of your time in bike parks or on downhill courses, then you need one of these. If you only find the need for that kind of protection occasionally, get a cross-over helmet. Even a cross-over helmet with the chin bar installed will not offer the same protection as a full out Downhill helmet, though, so keep this in mind.

 

Kids/baby bike helmets

These helmets are probably the best investment you can make. Thankfully, they are also not too expensive. A child’s helmet should be a scaled-down version of an adult’s helmet. Do not cheap out just because it is small. Protecting the brain during developmental years is one of the most important things a parent or guardian can do.

You will want lots of ventilation so the child does not get too hot. A helmet with lots of adjustment will allow for a bit of growing room while still fitting securely. I have seen too many children wearing helmets that are much too loose for them. Making them wear a loose helmet is not much better than them not wearing one altogether. Finally, be on the lookout for finer details such as reflective elements that can make them more visible to others.

 

Commuter bike helmets

A true commuter bike helmet is almost as much about style as it is about function. Sure, you can use a road bike helmet or even a trail helmet for commuting, but many don’t want their helmet to scream “serious cyclist”. Instead, many commuters go for a more restrained cycling look.

There are many different options here. Look for the same fit and safety features that you would look for in a road or mountain bike helmet. At the end of the day, the fact is you are choosing a helmet for safety, don’t let style come first.

Skate helmets

Skateboard helmets, or skate helmets for short, are typically used while riding BMX or dirt jump bikes. This is because they are designed around freestyle riding which consists of tricks performed both in the air and on the ground. These helmets do not feature the best ventilation but offer a lot of coverage which is important during high-risk trick riding. Skate helmets used to be very popular but the demand is slowly fading away.

 

Women’s Bike Helmets?

Men vs Women bicycle Helmets

There is a little confusion out there about how a women’s bike helmet differs from a man’s. I will quickly clear this up for you! A woman’s helmet is identical as far as safety features are concerned, so do not worry about that. There are only two real differences between these types of helmets. They are: women’s helmets are sized to be smaller and the art design is usually a bit different. Not all are flowery and pink though! Some men fit the smaller helmets better, this is perfectly okay and safe!

Bicycle Helmet Law

Talking about bicycle helmet law is relatively difficult because different parts of the world have different rules. One thing is certain though, and that is that as an adult in the United States of America, it is not mandatory for you to wear a helmet. As long as you are above 18, there is no state law that demands you wear a helmet. However, for anyone under 18, it is best to look the age up and see if you are required to wear one or not in your state.

We always recommend wearing a helmet as it can save your life. Hopefully, you are on this page because you want to find a good one!

Helmet Size chart 

Most manufacturers will have a size chart to help you get the right fit when buying their helmets. However, the one below will be helpful if you can’t find the specific chart that you need! There is some variance in helmet sizes so keep this in mind.

Bicycle Helmet Size Chart – ADULTS

XSSMLXLMEN (One Size)WOMEN (One Size)
Inches<20″20″ – 21.75″21.75″ – 23.25″23.25″ – 24.75″24.75″+21.25″ – 24″19.75″ – 22.5″
Centimeters51 cm51 – 55 cm55 – 59 cm59 – 63 cm63cm+54cm – 61cm50 – 57cm

 

Bicycle Helmet Size Chart – Kids

ToddlerS/MM/LOne Size
Inches18.5″ – 20.5″20.5″ – 22.5″22.5″ – 23.75″18″ – 22.5″
Centimeters47 -52 cm52 – 57 cm57 – 60 cm46 – 57 cm

FIT (How to get the proper fit)

A lot of people want to know how to get a properly fitting helmet. This is actually much easier than you probably would have thought.

First off, use a helmet chart like the one above. Nothing is more accurate than using the actual measurements of your head to find the right fit based on manufacturers’ recommendations.

Once the basic size has been determined, it is time to dial the helmet in. If the helmet has a tightening type mechanism, be sure to adjust until it is tight enough that the helmet does not move around on your head.

If the helmet comes with different pads, try different ones until you find the most comfortable and secure setup.

The next thing is the chin straps. Make sure that the buckle is resting just below your chin. If you open your mouth fully, you should feel the helmet be pulled down slightly. Make sure that your ears sit in the Y shape of the strap. The two sides of the Y should join just below your ear.

Finally, tighten it using the rotation wheel behind.

When it is all adjusted properly, there should be virtually no movement of the helmet on your head while shaking your head around. If the helmet is wiggling still, you probably need a smaller size.

Safety Standards in the USA

Bicycle Helmets safety standards

The hardest part about purchasing a bike helmet is understanding which is the safest, and usually, knowing the standards doesn’t seem to help too much. Here is why. Standards are set to show minimum qualifications. So two helmets in the same store might have the same safety standard symbol because they both passed. However, we do not know which is actually safer because we can’t see which did better in the tests. This is why it is important to do your research! This being said, any helmet that has passed the standards test is suitable for sale in America and deemed as safe.

To keep it simple, here are the basic standards that are good to understand:

CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is the American standard that must be met for a bicycle helmet to be sold in the USA. If a helmet doesn’t have this, it isn’t legally deemed a bicycle helmet.

Snell Foundation tests helmets more rigorously than other standards associations. Watch out for the Snell B-90 standard as this is equivalent to the CPSC, and you likely want more. The better standards are the B95 series. Here you will find advanced toddler, time trial, and regular adult standards for helmets.

 

When to change a bike helmet?

Almost all bicycle helmets should be swapped out after one crash where you hit your head. This is because the inner EPS liner will likely get damaged. The foam is designed to compress under impact. Once it is compressed, the foam can no longer work like it is supposed to and the helmet should be thrown away.

There is one expectation, and that is multi-impact helmets. Yes, there are helmets out there that are designed so that they are not permanently damaged after one impact. These are great purchases but there are not too many available and they do tend to be more expensive.

How Much To Pay?

Telling you the price range of helmets is not very helpful, and well, that’s because the range is so huge! A low-end helmet might cost $20 whereas a full out downhill helmet can cost upwards of $500.

Here is the thing, how much you are willing to spend on a helmet should be decided by how much head protection matters to you. A downhill rider knows they need a helmet because the likelihood of crashing is high. A road rider may never crash, but still knows it is worth wearing one anyway, so they pay about a quarter of the price. It is all a matter of opinion.

Just remember that as the price goes up, often safety and comfort does as well.

Where To Shop For Bike Helmets?

The easiest place to shop for bike helmets is, of course, online. Since manufacturers offer sizing charts, you don’t have to worry too much about fit. There are, of course, other places where you can buy as well, such as bike shops. I do not recommend department store helmets as they are usually made quite cheaply.

One thing you should never do is buy a used bike helmet! Used helmets carry a huge risk as you never know what impacts they have been subjected to.

See the selection on REI, EVO, JensonUSA, Amazon


Best Bicycle Helmets


Bell Sixer MIPS

Best enduro-style cycling helmet

Bell - Sixer MIPS Bike Helmet

If you’re riding trails and like kicking your ride up a notch, then this Bell Sixer helmet is the model you should be considering. It features the well-known MIPS technology, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. That means that your head and brain will be better protected in case of rotational impacts.

The Bell Sixer MIPS helmet provides a snug enduro-style fit, goggle-compatible design, and a strap gripper at the rear end of the helmet. This model also offers three-way adjustability (height, pad width, and tension), so you will easily find the right fit. It comes with as many as 26 vents, so it’s ideal for warm and humid days.

Get From evo

 

Bell Nomad Junior

Best bicycle helmet for 4-10-year-olds

Bell - Nomad Jr MIPS Bike Helmet - Kids'

Kids deserve as much head protection as adults, if not even more. We write more about it below. That’s why a kids’ helmet should have all the technology and functionality of a helmet intended for adults.

The Bell Nomad Junior MIPS kids’ bike helmet is outfitted with the MIPS technology and placed in an In-Mold Polycarbonate shell. Therefore, it offers plenty of protection from the severest of crashes, such as rotational impacts.

This bike helmet features the universal youth size (52-56 cm) which makes it suitable for kids roughly from the age of 4 to the age of 10. It comes in three colors — black, blue, and white.

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Kali Maraka XC

Best bicycle helmet for XC

The Kali Maraka XC Logo helmet is the perfect choice for long and tiring XC rides. It is made with the Composite Fusion Plus technology in mind, which is intended to lower the weight and increase the strength of a helmet by combining carbon fiber, fibreglass and polycarbonate materials.

Other features worth mentioning that make this our top XC pick include anti-microbial pads, a break-away visor, bug liner locking, buckle and sliders, and a Lifetime Crash Replacement program.

This helmet will keep your head cool with a large number of vents and prevent your neck from getting tired and sore during long cross-country rides.

Get From JensonUSA

Bern FL-1 XC

Best XC helmet for women

Bern - FL-1 XC Mountain Bike Helmet - Women's - Matte Earth Topo

If you ask us, the Bern FL-1 is one of the best women’s XC bike helmets out there for a number of good reasons. First of all, its structure is made from a combination of in-mold polycarbonate and EPS foam which absorb and dissipate the majority of impact directed at your head in a crash.

Secondly, you can use the tried and true Boa retention system to get the perfect fit and thus get the most protection. The system is called Boa because it wraps around your head and does not let go, just like a Boa snake.

Finally, the Bern FL-1 has as many as 18 vents that suck cold air from all sides, pass it through the helmet, and expel warm air through the rear end.

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Thousand Heritage

Best helmet for urban commuting

Thousand Helmet

One of the main reasons a lot of urban cyclists and commuters refuse to wear helmets is because they think it makes them look lame. Well, if that’s the case with you, here’s a helmet that will actually make you look cool!

The Thousand Heritage bike helmet has a minimalist design and comes in 8 modern and attractive colors. It also features 7 vents that will prevent you from sweating too much and make you look good even when you take the helmet off.

Most importantly, the Thousand Heritage bike helmet will keep you safe thanks to injection-molded construction and a dual-fastening system that will tighten the helmet snuggly on your head.

Full Thousand Helmet review

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Bontrager Starvos MIPS Road Bike Helmet

Best unisex road bike helmet 

Best unisex bike helmet

Here’s something exciting for road cyclists as well. The Bontrager Starvos is an affordable road bike helmet that offers plenty of protection and style for that money. It’s available in four colors (black, white, yellow, and red) and comes with the powerful MIPS technology.

Bontrager Starvos fits comfortably on your head thanks to soft helmet pads that also wick moisture away from your eyes and face. To get the best fit, you can use the Boa fastening system, which can be operated with just one hand.

In case you sustain a fall during the first year of the ownership (let’s hope not), you can count on Bontrager’s Crash Replacement Guarantee system.

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Garneau Sprint

Light road bicycle helmet

Close up of White

If you’re concerned about maximum aerodynamics or you want some added protection from cold fall and winter winds, the Garneau Sprint bike helmet will easily meet those requirements.

It has just 5 vents with interior circulation which will control your head temperature but not cause you a brain freeze during winter months. It’s ideal for road cyclists who are concerned about weight, style, and speed.

The Garneau Sprint bike helmet features in-mold construction and MSB technology, which reinforces the edges and thus enhances protection during a fall.

You can get this helmet in two simple, yet attractive colors — black and white. It’s suitable for road riders of all skill levels.

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Giro Saga

Best women’s road bike helmet

Giro - Saga MIPS Helmet - Women's - Midnight Heatwave

Giro Saga is one of the most popular women’s road bike helmets out there. This helmet features a beautiful and feminine art design that perfectly matches popular designs of women’s road bikes. It offers more than enough in terms of impact protection as well thanks to being jam-packed with tried and true technologies.

It’s a lightweight and sturdy helmet made with in-mold design and with the MIPS technology that reduces the risk of injuries caused by multi-directional forces.

To get a precise fit, Giro outfitted the Saga with a Roc Loc adjustment system which is simple to operate and keeps the helmet firmly on your head even during high-speed crashes. This helmet is ideal for summer months thanks to 22 air-thirsty vents!

Get From Backcountry

Giro Aerohead

Best Aero/TT helmet

Who doesn’t like speed? We sure do! If you’re on the same page with us and you’re looking for a helmet that will make you faster and save you some precious watts, we recommend the Giro Aerohead helmet.

This Aero/TT helmet is made from an In-mold polycarbonate shell with an EPS liner that absorbs impact forces from all sides and keeps your melon safe and snug underneath.

It has 4 wind tunnel vents that facilitate aerodynamics while still preventing your brain from boiling. This helmet also comes with a visor that can be attached and detached in seconds thanks to a magnetic lens anchor attachment system.

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Q&A Section

frequently asked bike questionsIs wearing a helmet mandatory?

Wearing a helmet is not mandatory in the US if you are 18 or over. Each state has its own laws for helmet use regarding people under the age of 18. Look into your own state laws for more specific answers.

Should I pay more for my helmet?

I always suggest not to cheap out on a helmet. This is not just from a safety standpoint, but also from a comfort standpoint. Higher-end helmets are just nicer to wear. This does not mean you should buy the most expensive helmet you see, just don’t buy the cheapest one either.

What is the correct way to wear a bicycle helmet?

The correct way to wear a helmet is to have the visor or front piece facing forwards. The helmet should sit low on your head and the buckle securely fastened. For more information, reference our “Fit” section above.

Mountain bike helmets vs. road bike helmets

Mountain bike helmets and road bike helmets have a few differences. The main ones being that a road bike helmet will not feature a visor, or offer as much coverage as a mountain bike helmet. Both are considered to be safe.

How do you measure your head for a bike helmet?

To measure your head for a bike helmet you will need a flexible tape measure. Wrap the measure around the largest part of your head (about an inch above your eyebrows) and take note of the size. Now compare the measurement to a bicycle helmet sizing chart and you are done. It is that easy! If you don’t have a flexible tape measure, use a piece of string and take note on how long it is around your head. Now measure that against a straight tape measure to get the length to compare to the chart.

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