As goofy as you may think you look, wearing a helmet when you go cycling is absolutely essential, even if it’s just a quick ride around the block. According to bicyclehabitat.com, 900 people die each year in bicycle accidents, 75% of them from brain injuries. Of those brain injuries, 88% of them could have been avoided if the cyclists had been wearing helmets. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that helmet use reduces the chance of head injury by 50% and the chance of head, face, or neck injury by 33%.
Safety should be your first consideration when choosing a helmet, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice appearance. Helmets, in general, are not the most fashionable accessories. They’re big and bulky, and they can make you look like you have a bubble on you head. They can get sweaty and itchy, and they give you helmet hair. I get it. But that’s no excuse for not wearing a helmet, and there actually are some pretty stylish, sleek-looking helmets on the market these days. Here are your main considerations to take into account when purchasing a bike helmet:
What kind of riding will you be doing? All bicycle helmets are designed to protect your head from impact and injury, while being lightweight and comfortable. By law, all helmets sold in the United States must meet safety standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and will have a sticker indicating they meet requirements. Some helmets are also endorsed by other organizations, such as the nonprofit Snell Foundation. However, there are different types of helmets based on what kind of riding you’ll be doing that fall into three basic categories: recreational, road bike, and mountain bike. Recreational helmets are generally affordable and are designed to be comfortable for casual riding. Road bike helmets are lightweight, with plenty of ventilation and an aerodynamic design. Mountain bike helmets are designed to ventilate well at low speeds, fit snugly, and provide enhanced rear-head coverage. They typically have prominent visors and some even offer full-face protection for rough terrain.
The most important thing you need to check before purchasing a bike helmet is the fit. If the helmet doesn’t fit securely against your head, then it will not be as effective in protecting you from injury in the event of impact, even if it’s certified by the CPSC. Before looking for a helmet, take a quick measurement of your head to find a helmet size that matches your measurement. Then, take the time in the store to make sure the helmet fits right: try it on and adjust the straps and pads and make sure it stays in place when you move your head around. Most bike shops will offer to help you with the fitting.
The helmet should also fit comfortably on your head; you don’t want to be in pain or even mildly uncomfortable on a long bike ride. The fit and shapes of helmets have improved over the years, with many offering cradles that gently wrap around the whole head in place of itchy foam pads, as well as dial adjusters to adjust the fit of the helmet. Also consider weight and ventilation. The helmet should not feel too heavy on your head and should be properly ventilated to allow for ample air flow.
Although you shouldn’t put a price limit on safety, there are plenty of affordable helmet options and the most expensive ones are not necessarily the most well-made. According to Consumer Reports, “Bike helmets don’t have to be expensive.” There are plenty of great models available for under $20. Your main considerations should be the fit and comfort. Also, realize that helmets don’t last forever. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every five years if you use it regularly, and definitely replace your helmet after a crash.