A Guide to
Any helmet you buy has to conform to safety standards - either European (CEN), Australian (ASTM) or American (CSPC). They ensure the safety of the helmet in the event of a crash. The US and Australian standards are considered to be the most stringent.
As well as being tough, a helmet also needs to be secure and comfortable. More expensive helmets tend to be available in a wider range of sizes, while lower priced ones tend to have one shell size, relying on adjustable straps and retention systems to achieve a correct fit. Helmets are measured in the circumference of your head at your temples and it’s a good idea to try before you buy. Different manufacturers tend to use different head-forms in their designs, so a helmet from one brand may not fit you the same as a competitor’s offering.
The best road helmets will be lightweight and allow good airflow to your head through specially shaped vents. Some helmets, like the Specialized Evade, as worn by Mark Cavendish, have been designed in a wind tunnel to make them as smooth as possible, to offer aerodynamic savings at high speeds.
Chin straps are usually anchored to the helmet body in front and behind the ears. The point at which the straps meet – in a Y-shape, should be adjustable so they sit comfortably out of the way of your ears.
Retention systems should be adjustable for width, and should be easy to adjust, even when riding. A retention system can either be parallel sliders (on more budget priced helmets), or a dial adjuster like on the Louis Garneau Course.
The EPS foam core of a helmet is covered with a hard shell. Look for a helmet that has this shell in-moulded (so the shell is integral to the core EPS) and not just stuck on. A shell that’s just glued on will eventually peel. Look for a helmet where the hard shell covers plenty of the EPS core; exposed unprotected foam edges and corners can easily be damaged accidentally.
Pads vary a great deal between helmets, but it’s always good to look for a helmet that includes a second spare set of pads, like Giro and Specialized helmets often do. Good quality pads have an anti-bacterial treatment to resist odours, and remember that if they're removable, you can clean and dry them separately.
Some brands offer women’s specific designs. These are usually available in a wider range of smaller sizes and the best have specially designed rear cradle retention systems that are more open, so a ponytail can pass over it without getting caught.
Some helmets have a clip-on aero shell, which clips over the full outer shell, blocking the vents and making the helmet more aerodynamic. The Lazer Sport Helium is a good example of this style of helmet.
Time Trial Helmets
Time trial helmets still have to conform to the relevant safety standards, but unlike a road helmet, they are are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. A typical time trial helmet will have very little in the way of venting, and what they do have is strategically placed not to disrupt the airflow around the helmet.
Time trial helmets are shaped to allow air to flow over your head as smoothly as possible when riding in a very low, aggressive tucked position. Design features usually include a longer tail section to smooth the path between your head and shoulders. The Specialized TT2 has an extended tail for just this purpose, whereas a helmet like the Giro Selector offers interchangeable tail pieces, allowing you to tailor the aerodynamic fit.
Some of the latest designs like the Lazer Wasp , Catlike Chrono and the Giro Selector also include eye shields integrated into the brow of the helmet, making the front as smooth and aerodynamic as the rear.
Mountain Bike Helmets
Of all the pieces of kit you’ll have with you out on the trail, a mountain bike helmet is quite possibly the most important. Long gone are the days of mushroom-shaped monstrosities - these days, lightweight, well-ventilated, and frankly awesome looking lids are the norm.
There are basically three types of mountain bike helmet. There’s the traditional cross-country helmet, which tend to be light and well ventilated. If you’re in to rides where climbing in comfort is just as important as safety when descending, then models such as the Endura Snype might be worth a look.
If you’re looking for more protection than a cross-country lid because you live for the descents (or you don’t mind getting a bit sweatier), then a trail helmet, such as the Bell Super might be worth a look. Trail helmets tend to cover a larger area of your skull, increasing their protection, while the vents tend to be a bit smaller. Consequentially, they weigh a bit more than XC helmets.
Commuter & Leisure Helmets
You can wear any helmet to commute in, but we wouldn't recommend a time trial helmet for when you’re riding your Brompton or single speed! Some traditional commuting and leisure helmets include a mountain bike-style visor to shield your eyes. Quality commuter helmets like the Bell Muni also have integrated mounts to LED lights on the front and rear for extra visibility at night. With the Muni you can also fit Bell's flip-out rear view mirror, which stows away in a specially designed channel in the visor when not in use.
When looking for a commuting/leisure helmet, you could also opt for a BMX/skate style helmet like the Bern Watts, which is a full hardshell helmet with more head coverage than a traditional helmet, and an integrated peak. The strap and retention system are simple and helmets like this are arguably a far more stylish option for when you’re riding in your normal clothes.
Helmets are made from fairly inexpensive materials. A more expensive helmet won’t necessarily offer better protection – what it will offer is lighter weight, better ventilation and more style. Style is especially important when it comes to picking the right helmet for your child because if they don’t like theirs, they won’t want to wear it.
Ventilation is also important, especially as your son or daughter rides faster and further. If your child likes tearing round the local park, they’ll need a helmet with good venting, but for infants in child seats, it’s less of an issue.
Helmets for infants are much deeper at the rear to protect the back of the head. Mountain biking helmets have a detachable peak, which can be just as handy to keep the sun or rain out of their eyes for other types of cycling. The peak is only a problem when riding hard on drop handlebars because it can obscure vision.
You’ll sometimes see riders, especially BMXers and dirt jumpers, wearing hardshell helmets that look more like skateboarding helmets. These are tough but less well ventilated, and they are popular among teenagers.
Full face helmets offer even more protection, especially to the chin and face, and are worn almost exclusively by downhill mountain bikers. They look like motorcycle helmets, but are much lighter and more fragile. You can buy all these types of helmets in children’s sizes and designs.