Which is the best bike helmet and how to choose? In this article I will not go into the merits of one of the most debated issues concerning bicycle wear, whether or not to wear a helmet when you go out on a bike. For us, the bicycle helmet has become a necessary accessory, without which we do not move, but it is good to know that in Italy there is no obligation! That said, we always recommend that you wear one when you go for a bike trip, when it comes to grocery shopping, when you jump into the saddle of a mountain bike for an outing in the woods… the evolution of helmets for bikes to be light and comfortable to the point that in a few days to get used to using it you forget soon having it on your head.
It is important, however, to buy the right bike helmet, and below we will try to explain how to choose the best bicycle helmets and what parameters to assess at the time of purchase.
And it is a must to include the following considerations: bike helmets have undergone significant evolution in recent decades as well as the world of cycling in general. The growing specialisation and division of cycling disciplines (Urban, Bike Racing, Endurance, Downhill …) mean that (rightly) morphology and specific geometries have been studied also in the creation of bicycle helmets. Here I will make a general point, which is valid for most disciplines, especially for those who practice cycling or using the bike every day to go to work or do simple cycling, I will avoid dwelling on more specific types of helmet such as those could for gravity disciplines, in which it is obligatory to have an integrated helmet equipped with a chin guard (similar to those for motocross).
What features to evaluate?
When you decide to buy a new bike helmet, it is essential to assess some features to make an informed and wise choice. The role of a helmet is to protect the head from impact in case of fall… do not expect that it will save your life if you’re going at 100km/h down from a mountain road or if a truck overwhelms you, but when you think you can avoid a traumatic brain injury in the most frequent case in which banging the head on the ground at a “normal speed” for a cyclist.
Capacity for Shock Absorbency
The first parameter to be evaluated, the most important, is the ability to absorb shocks. Currently there is European legislation requiring manufacturers to design and test their bike helmets so as to withstand shock and stress. The relevant legislation is the EN1078 and the first thing to do when buying a helmet is to check the label from inside: make sure there is the CE EN1078 marking as in the image. In general now most companies have adapted to this standard, but if you happen to buy helmets from non-European countries, be aware that wearing an untested bicycle helmet could be the same as not having it at all, if not worse!
The key part of a bicycle helmet, which guarantees protection, is the shell. Generally it consists of two parts: the outer polycarbonate and the inner expanded polystyrene. The helmets in which these two parts are simply glued generally cost less than those in which they are fused (for example, with the In-Mold technique), for obvious reasons of the different binding capacity of the two methods: the first is definitely the most resistant of the two. This detail, however, does not affect the actual strength of the helmet. When buying, evaluate the geometry of the shell according to your needs: those who consider it important for helmet performance to be less enclosed; those who want more security can opt for helmets that protect the neck such as BMX. Keep in mind that the ventilation is generally inversely proportional to the coverage that a helmet guarantees.
Belts and straps
Fundamental for your safety, belts and straps should be strong and comfortable at the same time. Check that the anchor to the helmet is secure, try giving it some sharp twists while carefully viewing the inside of the helmet. Ensure that there is serious padding in the vicinity of the connection buckles … the straps should be flat against the chin when worn and the padding is essential for your comfort!
Another key element for the convenience of the rider is the bike helmet ventilation, especially in summer. The head is one of the parts of the body that becomes overheated more easily during the hottest days and having an airtight helmet does not help the dispersion of heat. Unless you intend to travel by bike only in winter or in cold areas, you should buy a well-ventilated helmet… the ventilation ducts and their geometry are studied carefully by the best companies to improve ventilation of the head, aerodynamics and reduce weight. Take a comparison of multiple models, wearing them during the purchase phase, to assess what is the most suitable, although in this case the ideal would be a moving test.
Not to be missed and it is usually on the back of the helmet. It allows you to widen or tighten the helmet around the nape to optimise its fit. There are many different types and they are often one of the most fragile elements of the whole helmet: the wheel adjustment (which is to be turned to tighten or widen the plastic toothed belts that anchor the helmet to the back) is perhaps the most common but even single or double pressure systems exist. Even in this case, the best way to understand if the system is practical and at the same time solid is to wear the helmet and try it.
Aerodynamics and lightness
These are not fundamental to those who practice cycling or using the bike to get to work and take quiet hikes, but may be important for athletes. The weight in any case should not be excessive because the stress on the neck increases exponentially and can create cervical problems or fatigue in the long run.
It’s an important thing but it’s definitely not the case that a more expensive helmet is also a safer helmet… much depends on weight: when reducing it, in fact, manufacturers often using expensive materials that raise the price of the final product.
When buying a bike helmet you might also take into account the presence of some accessories that I think could make a difference of equal quality: if you practice MTB, it is a very good idea to have a visor that protects from branches and sudden solar glare inside the forest. Another accessory that is often useful is the retina for the insects within the openings of the helmet: a wasp trapped in the helmet can be a very dangerous element both in downhill and in town! Check that the internal padding of the helmet is quality… it is often the first thing that wears and the polystyrene rubbing your forehead with sweat can be very annoying (I doubt that my broadly receding hairline is due to the intensive use of helmets with poor padding :)) if you often ride at night, think of helmet reflectors to improve your visibility (these are definitely not enough: lights and other high visibility elements are an obligation).
Try the helmet before purchasing
When purchasing, it is essential to wear a helmet and try it in a correct and complete way. The bike helmets are not all the same as our heads are not equal. First of all, wearing helmets improperly is equivalent to not wearing it, then placing it correctly on the head, covering the face and wrapping your neck well without movement. Adjust the chin straps closing them and adapting them in a way that does not tighten too much but is still tight to your face. Use the rear adjuster to fit it perfectly to your head: if the size is wrong or the model is not suitable for you you’ll know right away.
Comfort is another very important element. With the passing of time, if the helmet is comfortable, you’ll forget you’re wearing it: you do not know how many times, on the go, I happened to go into a bar for a drink or started a meal without taking off the helmet .. . a little ridiculous perhaps, but you get the idea!
Try several models and make a comparison of all the elements of the list that you find above: among the thousands of models in circulation there will definitely be some suitable for you… the rest is down to the aesthetics, your budget and your taste.
When to replace a helmet
The helmets for bicycles are constituted by plastic material that degrades under the action of atmospheric agents and of time, even if they are not used it is advisable to replace the helmet in any case after a few years (5-6). In addition, a bicycle helmet must be replaced if it undergoes significant impact, even if it was apparently not damaged. The periodic washing (avoiding overly aggressive chemical agents, soap and water are fine) and good maintenance can extend the life of the helmet and above all keep it in good condition for efficiency during its use, therefore also dedicate it a few minutes of your time.
Credit Helmet Picture: LAS Victory Italian Flag Helmet