Take a look around your cycling friends, or pop along to a bike store, and you will see a wide variety of bike helmets. There are helmets that are designed for each different cycling sport and even a variety of helmets suited to one discipline, such as road or mountain biking. We look at the main differences…
Cycling helmets are also made to fit men, women, unisex and kids. A typical helmet has two main parts, a hard outer shell and a soft inner liner. If the helmet is impacted, the hard shell spreads the force over a broad area to protect your skull, while the softer liner absorbs the energy of the impact so less force is transmitted to your head.
It is important, when choosing any helmet, that you ensure it also conforms to European (CEN) safety standards.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of cycling helmets…
Road cycling helmets
There is a general rule, among cyclists, that road helmets do not have a visor while mountain bike helmets do. Most road cyclists wear sunglasses and/or a cycling cap to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. However, a visor may also obstruct your vision during road cycling, particularly if your road bike has a more aggressive geometry and when riding on the drops. Most (entry-level) helmets have detachable visors, in any case, so you could still use them across different disciplines.
In addition, traditional road cycling helmets tend to have more air vents, compared to MTB helmets, to improve airflow when cycling.
It might seem strange that, on average, a helmet with more venting, and therefore less actual helmet, is usually pricier. This is because it takes more design, and thus more cost, at development stage to create a lightweight and highly vented helmet that still offers certified safety and protection if you are in an accident.
Designers of road helmets with larger vents also assume that if you fall off you will land on a smoother surface, such as tarmac, so there is less chance of a stray objects coming through the vents. In comparison, mountain bike helmets usually have greater coverage and more restricted airflow.
In general, road helmets look sleeker, racier and more compact. The price range is dictated by weight, ventilation and brand.
Check out, for example, the Specialized Align Helmet for a good-looking product in a mid-range price. Meanwhile, the MET Rivale Helmet (below) offers aerodynamics and good ventilation for bit more cost.
Mountain biking helmets
Many MTB helmets look similar to road helmets in design. However, there are a few differences, including the head coverage of MTB helmets. They usually have fewer vents and they cover more of the back and sides of the head.
MTB helmets are designed like this because if you fall off you will land on uneven terrain that might be littered with stones, branches and tree roots. If you ride obstacles and fall off you might also hit your head on these.
Also, MTB helmets usually have a built-in visor. Check out the Giro Montaro MIPS Helmet. While many trail riders will wear eye protection when cycling most prefer not to wear sunglasses because it can make riding through dark woodland tricky. The visor helps to keep the sun out of a mountain bike rider’s eyes and as the rider’s position on the bike is more upright, it won’t obstruct his or her vision as can be the case on a road bike.
Commuter cycling helmets
Again, depending on your position on the bike and, of course, personal preference, you can wear a road helmet, a mountain bike helmet or one that has been designed for urban commuting specifically. A helmet with less vents will aid protection from the wind and rain, although you could add a helmet cover to a vented road cycling helmet.
If you want to be better seen on the roads, especially in gloomy weather, choose a helmet that offers better visibility. For a hi-viz helmet, the FWE LTR Helmet has 3M reflective tape details to improve visibility in dark conditions. The Proviz REFLECT360 Helmet uses K-Star technology to incorporate millions of tiny, mirrored glass beads with the helmet microshell for full surface reflection, along with 2 integrated LED lights on the headring.
Old-style – or ‘urban’ – helmets
Known as old-style, lids, urban or peanuts these helmets are generally favoured by freestyle or BMX riders and skaters.
Some commuters also choose to wear this style, which is less about venting and more about looks.
Of course, the helmet still needs to comply with safety standards and will offer good protection should you fall off your bike but if you are planning to work hard cycling many miles you will find these helmets make your head a bit sweaty!
However, if you are hanging about with you mates, doing some freestyle riding and tricks, the chances are your head won’t get so sweaty so the lid style of helmet is perfect.
Many lids come in trendy styles and designs. See the FWE Kennington Helmet.
Full-face cycling helmets
This does what it says in the title – it offers full-face protection for more extreme off-road cycling, such as when doing downhill riding. These helmets are similar to motorbike helmets, except they are a lot lighter.
The helmets have the addition of built-in chin guards, and full over visors to keep out mud, muck, rain and flying debris. The Bell Super 3R Helmet with MIPS is worth a closer look (currently available in black/gold; dark red; grey/green; black/red; matt black/white).
Children’s cycling helmets
Helmets for junior cyclists are, understandably, generally smaller and lighter. They are designed to fit smaller heads and also to appeal to children who like bright colours, designs and patterns. You can buy them in road cycling styles and also “lids”.
Triathlon and time-trial helmets
The aim of these helmets is to be as aerodynamic as possible. The helmets are usually smooth and rounded so that air flows more efficiently over the helmet when riding fast.
You would expect to see these helmets being worn by cyclists on time trial bikes and when cycling in a more aerodynamic position on TT bars.
Some TT helmets have a pointy back to them although others, which are still deemed efficient for speed, have shorter tails and more rounded backs.
Another feature to look for, especially for triathletes, is helmets that offer easier transitions. When changing from the swim to the bike or the bike to the run, a magnetic buckle on the strap which can offer a one-handed operation, which is handy when you are in a rush in T1 or T2, or when your fingers are numb.
Unless you’re racing, at the end of the day, much of your choice of helmet will come down to personal preference for looks and design and, of course, budget.