A helmet’s primary purpose is to protect your head but this can be provided in many forms. Good helmets provide a balance of protection, ventilation and comfort. As well as being tough, a helmet also needs to be secure and comfortable.This buying guide is designed to provide useful information on all the different types of bike helmet and what will work best for you.
Lightweight racing helmets, aero road helmets, road racing helmets and time trial helmets on the road and wide range of off-road helmets including downhill, enduro and trail helmets are all different styles of helmets available on the market. Plus of course helmets for kids and leisure helmets for commuters.
Helmets are measured in the circumference of your head at your temples, about 2.5cm above your eyebrows, and it’s a good idea to try before you buy. Once on your head the straps should be adjusted to fit close to your face, forming a V shape under your ears and buckle under your chin.
You should be able to fit no more than two fingers between the straps and your chin and the buckle. The helmet should fit low in your forehead and be level above your eyebrows with the retention system at the back snug around the back of your head.
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.
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. 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.
Women’s helmets are offered across the board offering smaller internal circumference but any helmet can be considered unisex as long as it fits. Some brands have specially designed rear cradle retention systems that are more open, so a ponytail can pass over it without getting caught – ideal for those with long hair.
Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a revolutionary new helmet technology that lets the helmet slide relative to the head adding more protection against rotational force to the brain caused by angled impacts. It does this by using slip-planes, a low-friction area within the helmet. Helmets with MIPS technology are marked with a small yellow logo, many of the major brands now employ this system.
The best road helmets will be lightweight and allow good airflow to your head through specially shaped vents. Retention systems should be adjustable for width, and should be easy to adjust, even when riding. 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. 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 always 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.
Helmet padding is also something you’ll want to look for in a road bike helmet. Pads are there to keep the helmet in place; thus making the helmet safer and more comfortable to wear. 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. 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 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. Other 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 still have to conform to the relevant safety standards, but unlike a road helmet, they are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible; ideal for use with time trial bikes. 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. Some of the latest designs like the Giro Aerohead also include eye shields integrated into the brow of the helmet, making the front as smooth and aerodynamic as the rear.
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 singlespeed bike! Some traditional commuting and leisure helmets include a mountain bike-style visor to shield your eyes. Some quality commuter helmets also have integrated mounts to LED lights on the front and rear for extra visibility at night.
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.
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. Helmet design is an area of constant innovation and 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 tends to be light and well ventilated. Trail helmets tend to cover a larger area of your skull, increasing their protection, while the vents tend to be a bit smaller. Full-face helmets offer the ultimate protection, especially to the chin and face, or downhill riding.
If you’re into rides where climbing in comfort is just as important as safety when descending then a cross-country helmet might be worth a look. If you’re looking for more protection than a cross-country lid then a trail helmet could be helpful. However they do weigh a bit more than XC helmets. For full-face helmets give complete protection to the chin and the face, so are good for the more extreme rides.
You’ll sometimes see riders, especially BMXers and dirt jumpers, wearing hardshell helmets such as the Bell Faction. These are tough but less well ventilated.
When your child gets their first kids bike, it’s a good idea to get them a helmet so they are safe when learning to ride and Evans Cycles stock a wide range of helmets for children. We strongly recommend that children should wear a helmet at all times. The choice of children’s helmet is also important, for example; helmets for infants are much deeper at the rear to protect the back of the head.
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.
You can buy all styles of helmets, including road, mountain bike and even full-face, in children’s sizes and designs.
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