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What Should I Consider When Buying a Bicycle Helmet?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bicycle helmet is a crucial piece of safety equipment for bicyclists whether they are riding cross country or across town, and in many areas, riding without a helmet is illegal. There is simply no excuse for riding without a bicycle helmet: not only could it save your life in a crash, but you are also setting a good example for children and members of your community. Modern developments in helmet design have yielded lightweight, strong helmets are not nearly as cumbersome as older styles.

There are several types of bicycle helmet, some of which are designed for specific purposes like racing or mountain bike riding. However, a basic helmet is sufficient for most riders: for specialized advice about helmets, contact the staff at your local bicycling shop. Most staff will have had experience with multiple types of helmet, and can recommend the best helmet for your needs. In either instance, purchase a helmet that has been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has safety standards for helmets that ensure they will stand up in most crashes.

A bicycle helmet is designed to protect the head in the instance of a crash, usually with polystyrene foam. A plastic outer shell helps to keep the protective foam together in the event of a collision, while softer foam pads are mounted inside for comfort. If you are thrown from a bicycle or hit by a car, the bicycle helmet can help to prevent brain damage. If you are involved in a collision, you should replace your helmet immediately, as the protective foam will be weakened and less effective in a crash. Look for an evenly textured helmet with no protrusions to get caught in a crash, as you could suffer from whiplash. In addition, try to find a helmet which is well ventilated, but not excessively so: ventilations are weak points in the helmet, which translate to weak points on your delicate skull.

When purchasing a standard bicycle helmet, the most important consideration is fit. You want the helmet to fit snugly and evenly, but not to be tight. Try on the helmet in the bicycle shop, and be prepared to adjust the straps so that they fit flush and snug along your head and chin, and use the provided padded inserts to further adjust the fit of the helmet for safety. A bicycle helmet should sit approximately two inches (five centimeters) above your eyebrows, and should be level on your head. There should be no areas of tightness or pressure, and if you open your jaw wide, you should pull the bicycle helmet downwards: adjust the straps if this is not the case.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon88693 — On Jun 06, 2010

All helmets sold at retail in the United States and Europe must undergo significant safety testing. Rejecting a helmet because it has "too many vents" is absurd because the helmet has been subjected and passed standardized testing.

Lightweight, ventilated bicycle helmets are designed to essentially explode in a crash, thereby absorbing all of the impact energy that would have otherwise gone to your skull.

While hard shell skateboard-style helmets with few vents (which the author erroneously refers to as "weak points") can be used while cycling, they will not function in the energy-absorbing manner of a traditional bike helmet.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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