Thursday, January 08, 2009


No, I'm not going to go into whether or not you should wear a helmet. I hope you do, but most likely you are an adult so it's your call. I do... mostly--if I'm working on my bike, I'll test ride sans helmet, or I might ride to T.'s house (o.5 miles) without one, but it's a rare occurrence.

Rather, how in the world do you decide what helmet to buy? How do you know if it's any good? How do you know when to buy a new one?

That last one is pretty easy. If your helmet is falling apart, get a new one. If the straps are frayed, get a new one. If you've crashed on it--and hit your head, naturally--get a new one. If it is over three years old, consider getting a new one. If the foam is damaged, get a new one.

Here's the tricky thing about the age of the helmet. Old doesn't always mean that it's past its prime, rather, that it might be. I have a motorcycle helmet that is 7 years old. I use it regularly now. But, it sat on a shelf (out of UV light which breaks down foams and plastics) for 5 years. I've never crashed it. It's in good shape. There is no reason why that helmet needs to be replaced. Had I been using the helmet for 7 years, it'd be well past due for replacement. So, if you think your helmet is getting a little long in the tooth, you might want to consider a new one. If you ride infrequently and take good care of your stuff, then it's likely fine.

Now on to the harder question: which one to buy. There are a ton of them. Helmets come in a variety of sizes, shapes, number of vents, materials, colors--come on, don't think that color isn't important--and prices. It's a veritable sea of foam and plastic and fabric.

Here in the U. S. of A., we the CPSC standard that all bicycle helmets have to meet, regardless of price or country of manufacture. So, while I won't say that the cheapest helmets are as safe as the more costly ones--though in some cases that might definitely be the case--they all have to meet certain minimum requirements. This is good news.

(climbing onto soapbox)
Mail order retailers are fantastic. They keep the price of our habit lower than it would otherwise be. They have a tremendous selection. You can place an order from your living room at 1am. You cannot, however, try stuff on.

You must try on a helmet.
(stepping off soap box)

When you decide--or that rut you didn't see makes the decision for you--that you need a new helmet go try on a bunch of them without looking at the brand or price. Find what fits. They all fit a little differently. Then look at the brand and price. Most likely, other helmets of the same brand will fit the same way.

Also, there is a Consumers Report type site--the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute--that looks at bicycle helmets. They just posted their guide for 2009. It is rather lengthy and very thorough.

They identify who makes the helmets, they look at helmets sold in Europe and they do a nice job of putting it all together, even if it's a bit dry.

Basically, find one that fits. Find one that has adequate ventilation--for you--and is light enough--again, for you. And, should you choose to wear it, wear it correctly--not too far back, not too far forward and keep the straps adjusted.

If decide not to wear it... well, keep it out of UV light so that should the time come that you'll need it, it's there.


ark said...

what's with the twitter api username popup when I visit the site!?

anyway... I find a brand and size of helmet that fits and since I've done that I can buy my helmets at discount prices on line. Right now I'm favoring a Giro Animas but pretty soon I think I'm going for a Xen...

James said...


I have no idea about the twitter thing. I don't see it. Anyone else?

You are correct, once you know what fits, by all means find the lowest price. My concern is that many people buy online without trying it out first and end up with ill fitting helmets.

Of course, once you attach a light to the helmet any fit problems are amplified.

John and Sarah Sperry said...

Good article, direct and concise enough to keep one interested, plus a healthy sprinkling of humor.