Beyond the valid argument that cities should have infrastructure, education and social support for cycling so as to make helmets unnecessary (such as in Holland or Denmark), the fact remains that the rest of us need them.
- Helmet Hair. Sorry, there’s no science available on earth that has solved this riddle.
- Looks. You know ugly when you see it and 90% of the time it’s all your bike shop carries.
- Comfort. Who wants to be safe & miserable? Big head? Little head?
- Price. You’re supposed to replace helmets when dropped or used for their intended purpose. When that happens they’re a bargain at any price but when you start going through a new helmet every year or every other year as recommended, it’s a drain.
Mountain Bike: The best way to distinguish a mountain bike helmet are the details, like a snap on front visor, or appears to have a full-face shield with a “jawbone” bottom that resembles a motorcycle helmet. Some of the new “open face” designs are less extreme and quite attractive for city cycling. And because the skate/city cycling category has become so popular many mountain bike helmets are really general ‘all-in one.’ But in reviewing traditional mountain bike helmets, unless your backyard has single track, keep moving.
Brands: ProTec, SixSixOne, Giro, Bell, Fox Racing, POC and URGE.
Road Bike: Sure, I’m biased but the lightest, most well ventilated and sporty helmets (as well as the most expensive with yearly updates/innovations) are from professional road cycling. There are plenty of recreational options at lower price points, but for me – riding around all day means I care a lot about breath-ability (helps with the hair) and the wide variety of fit mechanisms (I also have a small female head). I think a solid color or well designed high-end road helmet is just as attractive as a city riding helmet – but more comfortable.
Brands: Giro, Lazer, Limar, LouisGarneau, Bell, Uvex, Catlike, Specialized
Skateboarding/BMX: These guys are known for falling, so it goes to reason that they’re designed to survive a smash-up. Since a lot of street sports are the basis for fashion and street athletes are known for participating in various sports or creating new ones – it’s no wonder that the basic skate helmet has developed in several new directions while retaining an undeniable hip factor. But ever wonder why the pros almost never wear helmets? Sure, it might be a bit of bravado but these things are hot as in oven temperatures. This is where checking things out in person to feel the padding and construction is definitely important.
Brands: Bern, ProTec, Triple 8, S-One, Troy Lee Designs
City Cycling: Based off a skate helmet city cycling helmets are all about being fashionable and fun while staying at a lower price point (you’ve got to be dedicated to drop $200+ on a nerdy but awesome race helmet). City cycling helmets are a new niche helping to get more people riding for recreation and transport.
Brands: Nutcase, Bern, Giro, Sawako, Yakkay
Like a prime illustration of Darwinian evolution, it should be clear that there’s a few design variations and companies that have started to fill new consumer niches from old school sport protection to fighting for the emerging fashion conscious city cyclist.
The nutcase helmets are the ones selling like there’s no tomorrow. Because they’re bright, funny and their distribution is amazing. They’re the style helmet for the everyday rider. But would I wear one? Probably not – at least not unless I find myself with some kids one of these days. Until then I like the high end performance or fashion oriented helmets that get less attention while riding, but are more comfortable and coordinate with my style.
So far in terms of straight up fashion helmets Yakkay is the #1 most popular (or at least covered in the media) brand, but as the category gets bigger so does the competition. Yakkay’s style is really derived from helmet covers, which have been around for awhile, mostly as handmade novelties. They’re pretty, but something about the “it’s a hat, not a helmet” in a cartoon-ishly large size seems… odd?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got my eye on one or two.
My friend Juliette, owner of Hub and Bespoke in Seattle, sells her English horse riding inspired velvet & mesh covers online via Brooklyn Cruiser’s accessory page.
Helmets: Just Do it.
- Helmet Hair. Helmets with great venting help, so do kerchiefs/headbands that hold hair in place and absorb sweat. Well, it helps a little anyway.
- Looks. I’ve tried to present the cream of the crop above. If you find something I’ve overlooked, please link to it in the comments.
- Comfort. You wouldn’t buy running shoes without trying them on. Heathen! Like most things that involve the human body, you’ll need to try it on to see how it fits (I can’t wear most helmets because my head is smaller than average), how the venting works (or doesn’t). Try on a range of helmets to get a feel for what you’ll be most comfortable in. Also- if your budget is low, don’t try on the $200 helmet. It will just make the reasonable $75 helmet feel like a bummer.
- Price. Get a helmet that not only matches your style but what kind of riding you plan on doing. That and you’ll just have to struggle with the “quality & style VS price” debate. Not everyone can afford Louboutin heels or a Yakkay helmet. It’s terrible but where the bargains are is online (undercutting your local bike shop – bad!). Keep in mind that last year’s versions are just as awesome and usually deeply discounted.
Ok, Ok. I admit it: I’m a fashion obsessed city cyclist with a history of road riding. And I’m in my 30’s. So what’s a young lady biker to do? Here’s Genevieve Walker, an NYU graduate student from San Francisco talking about her experience:
Buying a Helmet
I love my helmet. It’s the kind of helmet I would have lusted after as a nine-year-old just learning to skateboard. It’s also the kind of helmet I wouldn’t have been caught dead in as a teenager, when I was trying desperately to not look too cool which would underscore just how not cool I was.
But a lot has changed in helmet fashion over the years. Helmets used to come in three categories: cheap and white styrofoam ($10), not so cheap and covered in pink flowers ($45), or expensive and for the Tour de France ($250). Praise be to the industrial designers of the world helmets are now cute, functional, and reasonably priced. Somewhere along the line the helmet market blossomed.
When I decided to buy a new helmet a few months ago I was determined to find something that fit me well and was under $50. I didn’t want flowers or butterflies, and I didn’t want skulls. And, if at all possible, I didn’t want to look like a complete dork. It’s my vanity.
I started by looking at the typical brands of helmets: Giro, Bell, Specialized. I went to outdoors stores (E.M.S., R.E.I.), and local bike stores. I realized pretty quickly that I was leaning towards the skate-style helmets made by Nutcase and Bern.
Each helmet that I tried on came with padding of varying thicknesses on the inside. There were a few with little brims; some with air vents along the sides. Each was a different weight. These are important factors to keep in mind when you’re looking for a helmet, and what you get should depend on what kind of biking you intend to be doing. My boyfriend likes to tell me that cycling helmets are designed to break when you fall (as opposed to motorcycle helmets that are designed to stay intact; thus their obvious durability). When you fall from a bike and hit your head, you want all of the impact to be absorbed by the plastic coating and the styrofoam shell. And then you buy a new one. You’re not looking for a helmet to last for the rest of your life. And, to hammer in the old saw (and to abuse puns), there are two types of cyclists: those who have fallen, and those who will fall.
I decided I didn’t need something super light because I have no intention of ever winning a race. Second, I decided that I didn’t need something that would accommodate my ponytail (there are such helmets). Lastly, I didn’t want a brim. I was looking for a helmet that fit my head before I clamped down its strap. When I tried on a Giro skate style helmet (sometimes called the “urban” line, or listed under the women’s helmets), I knew I had found the one. Personally, I thought the Nutcases were too large––the styrofoam inners and padding made me feel like I was wearing a bowling ball. And even though the Nutcase has a great clasp on its chin strap, I sacrificed this nice feature for the fit of the Giro. It was light enough and I could potentially keep my hair pinned up inside of it.
One final note on wearing helmets: They don’t do their job if they are resting on the back of your head. Bike helmets need to touch your forehead. The reason is, there’s a lot of really important stuff in the frontal lobe. Like your personality. Examine the illustration to get a better idea of how to wear a helmet. And if you’re not convinced that helmets are necessary, consider that cycling fatalities in New York City are almost always caused by head injuries, and almost all of those heads were not covered by a helmet. You can see the NYC bike stats here.