If you are new to cycling then the wide range of helmets can be confusing. How do you maximise the safety and comfort a helmet can offer, and what's the best helmet for you? Read on to find out…

Bike helmets are designed to protect riders from head injuries, but there are several different types, and to the new cyclist this can be confusing. This guide will explain the features and different kinds of helmets that road cyclists use.

What are the key features you should look for in a helmet?

Safety 

Always look to see if a helmet has a European CE EN 1078 sticker. The EN 1078 standard ensures the helmet has passed a number of tests that look at the following: helmet construction, field of vision, shock absorbing properties, retention system properties, chin strap and fastening devices.  In order to cycle in certain events such as races, sportives and triathlons it is often a requirement to have a helmet that adheres to this standard or an international equivalent.

Lizzie Armitstead team GB pre scratch race 2009 Manchester world cup.jpg

Lizzie Armitstead wearing a correctly fitting helmet

Fit

If a helmet doesn’t fit properly then it will not do the job it is designed for. Helmets are often available in different sizes relating to the circumference of your head, and while you could measure your head with a tape measure and buy online, we strongly advise going to a bike shop and trying a helmet on before you buy it.

>>> Can an aero road helmet make you faster?

You are going to be wearing the helmet a lot, potentially for over five hours at a time, so it’s imperative that it is comfortable. It is also advisable to try on a variety of makes and models to see which is most comfortable and the best bike helmet for you, as they are often different shapes internally.

Some helmets are women specific and even feature a special gap to allow for a pony tail, such as Specialized’s Hair Port system. However, most helmets are unisex and will fit both men and women.

60115-050_HLMT_ASPIRE-CPSC-WMN_INDIGO_REAR3-4_l

This women’s specific Specialized Aspire helmet features a Hair Port (a gap for a pony tail)

Adjustment/retention system

This is used to adjust the fit of the helmet to your specific head size. These are commonly adjusted by a click wheel or some kind of ratchet system. The best ones can be operated with a single hand, which is useful for making slight adjustments on the move.

Cube helmet, Product News May 29 2012

The retention system on a Cube Helmet

It should be possible to loosen the retention system on a helmet to allow for a thermal skull cap or cycling cap to be worn underneath. This is done for added warmth, and the peak of a cycling cap can be useful for deflecting rain from the eyes. Because of this, caps are a common sight in the spring classics, such as Paris-Roubaix. If when you try on a helmet the retention system is on its limit, it is probably the wrong size for you.

Tom Boonen on his way to victory in Paris Roubaix in 2008; note the cap under his helmet


Which is faster? 


Comfort and Padding

Padding makes a helmet more comfortable but also helps to wick sweat away from your head. Better designs feature padding that can be removed for washing and replacement.

smith-overtake-helmet3

The padding inside a Smith Overtake helmet

Venting

These are holes in the shell of the helmet. They have two functions – to reduce the weight of the helmet, and also to add ventilation. Helmets with fewer or no vents are considerably warmer. This might not be obvious when you try one on in a shop, but once you start working up a sweat climbing a big hill at the height of summer it becomes invaluable.

Catlike Mixino Cycling Helmet

The Catlike Mixino Helmet has lots of vents/holes to keep your head cool on long rides

Weight

As is common with cycling kit, as weight decreases price tends to increase. Lighter helmets are more comfortable because they don’t place any strain on your neck, but the main advantage to a lighter helmet is increasing your power to weight ratio. 50g might not make much difference to most of us mortals, but to a top professional looking for any marginal gain, it becomes significant.

Our pick of the best cycling helmets

Giro Synthe

giro synthe helmet 2

Score: 9/10

Price: £194.99

The Giro Synthe is the helmet of choice for a few WorldTour pro teams and it’s easy to see why. The ventilation is the highlight, and even through trips abroad climbing in 30ºC+ heat, the Synthe has never let us down.

The fit is also excellent, with the rear dial offering plenty of room for manoeuvre to make sure the helmet sits securely, and just as importantly it looks good too, sitting close to the sides of your head.

Read the full Giro Synthe review here

Buy now from ProBikeKit

Specialized Airnet

specialized airnet helmet

Score: 9/10

Price: £100

It may look pretty similar to the Giro Synthe, but at half the price the Specialized Airnet helmet might seem like a much more palatable option for those not willing to blow the bank on their new lid.

Performance is still very good, with impressive breathability and ventilation and a comfortable fit that has proved popular with everyone who has tested it.

Read the full Specialized Airnet helmet review here

Buy now from Evans Cycles

B’Twin BH700 MTB

Decathlon B’Twin BH700 MTB helmet

Score: 9/10

Price: £27.99

Don’t be put off by the MTB in the name, this budget B’Twin helmet offers really good performance for the price.

Yes, it might look a bit funky, but the ventilation is good, has a good fit, and is nice and lightweight so you can barely feel it once you’ve got it on.

Read the full B’Twin BH700 MTB helmet review here

Buy now from Decathlon

Uvex Boss Race

Uvex Boss Race 1 helmet

Score: 9/10

Price: £59.99

If you’re after a super-ventilated helmet, then the Uvex Boss Race probably isn’t for you, but in every other regard it is truly exceptional, even when compared to much more expensive lids.

The level of adjustability is the among the best you will find, the fit is comfortable and secure, and there’s even some netting across the front to keep the bugs out.

Read the full Uvex Boss Race helmet review here

Buy now from Ribble Cycles

Kask Mojito

Kask Mojito helmet

Score: 9/10

Price: £100

The Kask Mojito used to be the helmet of choice for Team Sky, being ridden to victory in the Tour de France by Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, before it was superseded by the Kask Protone.

However in our opinion, unless your after an aero helmet, the Mojito is the better lid, ticking all the boxes that you’d expect from a £200 helmet, let alone a £100 one.

Read the full Kask Mojito review here

Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles

Different Types of Helmet

Kids

There are a wide range of kids helmets available and you shouldn’t have to spend the earth to protect your children. As mentioned before look for a CE sticker, but another good tip is to let the child pick the helmet, because if a helmet is deemed uncool or ugly, your child will be less inclined to wear it. Don’t be tempted to get a size bigger in the hope they will grow into it, and watch out for them growing out of their current one, as a poorly fitting helmet will offer far less protection.

Formeula kids bike

Ensuring a child’s helmet fits correctly is important

Kids often find the straps on helmets irritating, so some designs feature foam padding to make the chin strap more comfortable.

CHILDRENS-BICYCLE-HELMET---racing-car

A large number of kids’ helmets are available with designs featuring everything from racing cars and barbie to dinosaurs!

Leisure/commuting

These kinds of helmets typically range from £40-80 and are ideal for those getting into cycling, or people who are not concerned about spending lots of money with a mind to saving 50-100g. They tend to be just as comfortable in terms of padding as more expensive helmets, but with a slightly heavier weight.

Giro Savant Helmet

A Giro Savant Helmet

A good example is the Giro Savant (£59.99), pictured above. The Specialized Echelon II (£50) is another great option, although there are many more.

Performance road

These helmets are among the lightest available, often seen adorning the heads of professionals during races and particularly in mountainous terrain, owing to the low weight and abundance of venting. Helmet vents can be useful for stowing glasses, when not being worn.

Johan Van Summeren and Garmin-Sharp POC Octal helmet

Johan Van Summeren wearing the POC Octal helmet. A top-end, lightweight, performance lid

Time Trial helmets

Time trial (TT) helmets are designed to be worn during time trials and are not permitted in UCI road races. They are also a popular option for triathletes and track riders. These helmets often feature elongated or tear drop shapes to maximise aerodynamics and reduce drag. Venting is minimal, as vents create drag and visors are common. Do not turn up to a sportive or Sunday ride in a time trial helmet, unless you enjoy being ridiculed.

Bradley Wiggins in the Elite Mens TT at the 2014 World Road Championships

Bradley Wiggins during the World Championships Time Trial. He is wearing a Kask Bambino TT helmet

Aero road

A new development that has become increasingly popular the last few years. An aero road helmet is a cross between a traditional road helmet and a TT helmet. It is designed to be more aerodynamic than a standard helmet, but this means they often try to reduce drag by featuring less venting, making them slightly heavier and warmer. This is a trade off and this kind of helmet is often favoured by break away riders and sprinters. The Giro Air Attack and Smith Overtake are good examples.

Mark Cavendish sprinting to victory, wearing a Specialized Evade Aero Helmet

A cheaper alternative can be to fit a removable cover to a standard road helmet, such as  the Lazer Z1 helmet, although these can be quite sweaty.

Top tips

Some manufacturers offer a crash replacement scheme, where you can buy a cost price replacement if your helmet is damaged within the first couple of years of the original purchase.

Most helmets are made from expanded polystyrene, with an outer polymer shell, covering this. During a big impact the polystyrene is designed to absorb energy and compress. After a crash, the outer casing can hide the compromised polystyrene underneath, and look undamaged. Always replace your helmet after a crash or impact, and check it regularly for wear and tear.

  • NightCargo

    I enjoyed the paragraph on cyclehelmets.org describing how “many impacts of helmets would be near misses with bare heads”.

    More brilliant critical analysis continues in the next paragraph, which reminds us that helmets “are not designed to mitigate rotational forces and therefore offer very little protection against most life-threatening injuries”, which seems to imply that because they cannot protect the skull from one cause of injury, it is not worth wearing them at all.

    This weird logic is continued with the line; “These cyclists would still have died even if helmets had prevented the head injuries. Allowing for this would have reduced the study’s best estimate of the effectiveness of helmets to a few percent.” So helmets are to be held responsible for protecting the whole body?

    For a site that professes to use evidence-based logic to support its core argument, it is remarkably full of bull****.

  • Gronck

    Go to bhsi.or for 2016 data

  • Gronck

    Bullshit

  • http://www.depicus.com/ depicus

    Well having read through a few “articles” on cyclehelmet.org it’s clear the author has an agenda and his scientific credentials are therefore questionable, if you want to come to a conclusion you’ll use anything you can lay your hands on.

    Indeed some of the article quoted suggesting that helmets are more dangerous simply don’t say that. What one report stated was that there has been an increase of users injured wearing a helmet from 0 over the last 30 years, because there were no helmets 30 years ago. Indeed I’ll quote from the paper “…The proportion of injuries is somewhat larger amongst cyclists not using a helmet compared to those with helmets…”

    So I’ll call billy bullshit on anything on cyclehelmet.org – if you have other more credible sources I’m happy to review them.

  • Eden Walker

    Chris, i got hit by a car three years ago without a helmet and even though i smashed half my body to bit including my face I lived and i have far more mental capacity than a cabbage 🙂

    Were far more robust than the cotton wool brigade would have us believe

  • Roberto Lisker

    OMG. This site (cyclehelmets.org) made my day. Me, a German engineer, working in the field of structural engineering, and passionate cyclist, I have never read such a falsified bullsh***. Why? the how does a helmet work section is completly wrong. the helmet absorbs the energy released throughout an impact/accident by deformation. This concept can be found in every car,train, plane etc. when you hit a pole with your car at a speed of 6 km/h your car really looks like a crash with 30 km/h although you migt not have felt the impact. Because all of the energy is is absorbed by the hood and bumpers etc. If they would not absorb the energy you might get bruises and strangulation marks from the belt. Anyway. the best part was the “Durch controversity”. The netherlands do have the best cylepathway system in the world. They separate bicycles from cars and pedestrians. Therefore an accident is rather unlikely. But people living in dangerous zones where it is not possible to divide the traffic (usually where the most accidents happen) do wear helmets to protect themselves.

  • http://bikesy.co.uk TonyJames

    There’s a lot of people who would challenge that helmets are not ‘very poor at providing protection’. Thats the whole point of them.

  • burttthebike

    “The majority of people wearing lycra are doing it because it aids with sweating, wind resistance and performance.” Got any data to prove that, or is it just assumption? It might be slightly better at sweat removal than cotton, but it’s probably marginal. Wind resistance and performance? Unless they are competitive cyclists, and most people wearing lycra are anything but competitive, and again, the benefits are marginal, then no.

    Helmets are sold on “performance” which is again marginal, because they can’t be sold on the protection they offer. All helmets are sold with a disclaimer, saying that they won’t protect in foreseeable collisions, which they have to include because they are actually very poor at providing protection. The only performance they should be worried about is protection, but they never mention that. Why not?

  • http://bikesy.co.uk TonyJames

    The majority of people wearing lycra are doing it because it aids with sweating, wind resistance and performance. This generally moves you closer to the high speed & fitness realm of cycling as opposed to the vicar rolling around his parish by bike or the old boy popping down to get his morning paper. Looking at the spread of helmets sold across different UK retailers http://bikesy.co.uk/s/helmets/?&minprice=10&maxprice=9999 they are generally performance based as well.

  • burttthebike

    Tony, I’m interested in why you say “My own take – if you wear lycra for your cycling then yes, you’re already in the realms of sports equipment so get a helmet”

    I wear lycra as it is more comfortable and practical than the alternatives, but wearing a helmet is neither, so why would does wearing lycra imply that you should wear a helmet?

  • burttthebike

    Jason, this thread is still about bicycle helmets, not motorcycle helmets.

    Immunization is a proven technique, supported by whole population, reliable scientific research. Cycle helmets are exactly the opposite, with all large scale, long term, reliable research showing at best no benefit. Spot the difference?

  • burttthebike

    Then perhaps you ought to talk to your consultant and ask them two things: are they really a consultant on a head injury unit? and if the answer to that is yes, then why are they lying about never having a head injured cyclist who was wearing a helmet?

  • burttthebike

    Jason, are you aware of the difference between anecdote and data? If not, let me inform you: anecdotes are not data, they are just stories repeated so often that they become embedded in society and accepted as true. You might like to look at http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1209.html

  • burttthebike

    Jason, this thread is about bicycle helmets, not motorcycle helmets. There is considerable controversy about the results of motorcycle helmet laws.

  • burttthebike

    “There is precisely zero evidence that wearing a helmet increases risk for an individual rider – you cannot extrapolate with any confidence from population studies to individuals.”

    Why not? If all the long term, large scale, reliable evidence shows that helmets at best make no difference, and at worst increase risk, then the risks for any individual must be reflected by that. That’s how insurance companies work out your premiums, by taking population data and applying it to you, modified by age and other risk factors. While you can’t predict the outcome for an individual, if whole population studies show no benefit, then if helmets are saving some people they must be killing just as many. There is some evidence that wearing a helmet increases the risk of the most damaging injury, rotational.

    The largest ever cycle helmet study, 8 million cyclists, found an increase in risk with helmet wearing. That’s the data from 8 million individuals. The evidence shows that wearing a helmet makes you 14% more likely to be in an injury collision.

    “Therefore the most rational response to the limited data is for individuals to voluntarily wear helmets to reduce their risk of traumatic brain injury, and don’t cycle like a bloody idiot.”

    That’s a very persuasive argument, but unfortunately, people don’t behave logically. If you tell them that they will be safe if they strap on a piece of “safety equipment” they will take more risks, which you might call riding like a bloody idiot. This is risk compensation which is an entirely subconcious reaction, and there is a large body of evidence to show that it is true.

  • burttthebike

    Jason, you might not have noticed, but this thread is about bicycle helmets, not motorcycle helmets. That said, there is contradictory evidence about motorcycle helmets too, with predictions of massive reductions in deaths, which were not borne out in practice.

  • Mark Slater

    What the evidence actually says is that there is evidence of concerns that the overall health impact of mandatory helmet wearing on the population as a whole could well be negative. It also points to a decrease in traumatic brain injury as a result of helmet wearing. There is no research on the effect of helmet wearing on the outcome of an actual crash on an individual, for obvious reasons. There is precisely zero evidence that wearing a helmet increases risk for an individual rider – you cannot extrapolate with any confidence from population studies to individuals. Therefore the most rational response to the limited data is for individuals to voluntarily wear helmets to reduce their risk of traumatic brain injury, and don’t cycle like a bloody idiot.

  • Jason C.

    Same with statistics from the State of California which mandated by state law that ALL motorcycle riders wear helmets as of about 20 years ago.

    The statistics of brain injuries FELL by huge margins over those years and continue to be proving that helmets prevent brain damage and skull fractures…. in most cases.

    This clown who keeps harping about helmets is like the freaks among us who refuse to get immunizations because of the few per 100,000 that have bad reactions.

  • Jason C.

    You really hate helmets 🙂

    Try explaining the success of state laws that require motorcycle riders to wear helmets such as in California where brain injuries DECREASED by huge margins due to the helmets. 🙂 LOL

  • Jason C.

    See my post regarding the mandated helmet law for motorcycle riders in California that became law about 20 years ago and the update about 2 years ago in the media.

    The State of California reported that its costs for brain trauma for motorcycle riders had dropped somewhere around 60 per cent since helmets were mandated by law.

    You are welcome to explain that helmet success, sir.

  • Jason C.

    I recall about 20 years ago when the State of California mandated that ALL motorcycle riders wear approved helmets or get cited by the police.

    The reason was pure finances. The State was being forced to pick up the tab for head injuries when motorcycle riders crashed and their insurance limit was hit due to high medical costs of brain trauma.

    About 2 years ago, there was a media article that updated that topic. The number of motorcycle riders in California who suffered head injuries had gone down by roughly 60 per cent as I recall.

    The amusing thing was that when the law was first passed, the media would report in a good intentioned way that “so and so was hit by an 18 wheeler and died at the scene. He was wearing a helmet.” Or “so and so slammed into a concrete wall at 80 mph and died at the scene. He was wearing a helmet.” The reports were laughable but the media was attempting to inform the public… in a oddball way.

  • Jason C.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    My brother belongs to a large bicycle club and tells me:

    One fellow just crashed onto the pavement and broke his scapula in multiple places. His helmet was cracked straight through but his head was okay. Another lady also crashed at about 35 mph onto the pavement. She had multiple injuries including a fractured scapula (shoulder blade), fractured pelvis, fractured left arm, and several broken ribs. Her helmet kept her head from being injured. Those are just two cases I’m aware of in the last year. Common sense tells us all that helmets protect our skulls. Another young boy of about 10 just DIED in Oregon, who was from our town, as his head hit the pavement without a helmet. His family had just moved there.

    —————————————————

  • Jason C.

    My brother belongs to a large bicycle club and tells me:

    One fellow just crashed onto the pavement and broke his scapula in multiple places. His helmet was cracked straight through but his head was okay. Another lady also crashed at about 35 mph onto the pavement. She had multiple injuries including a fractured scapula (shoulder blade), fractured pelvis, fractured left arm, and several broken ribs. Her helmet kept her head from being injured. Those are just two cases I’m aware of in the last year. Common sense tells us all that helmets protect our skulls. Another young boy of about 10 just DIED in Oregon, who was from our town, as his head hit the pavement without a helmet. His family had just moved there.

  • Linny

    If you want evidence that supports the wearing of helmets then speak to a surgeon at a head injury unit. The consultant I spoke to tells me they have many cyclist admitted with head injuries to the unit, but NEVER have they had one admitted to the unit that was wearing a helmet.

  • burttthebike

    “I think anyone would be foolish to think they are invincible with a helmet.”

    But that is exactly what happens. People are told that cycling is dangerous but they will be safe with a helmet, so they strap on a helmet and behave as if they are invulnerable. It’s called risk compensation and it is well worth reading “Risk” by John Adams.

  • Chris Blunt

    I think most sensible people would rather take their chances with than without. Of course if your head gets ran over by a truck a helmet is pretty much useless and it doesn’t stop you breaking you neck. I think anyone would be foolish to think they are invincible with a helmet.

  • burttthebike

    The myth of a cracked helmet providing significant protection or saving a life is as widespread as it is inaccurate:

    http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1209.html

  • Chris Blunt

    I got taken out by a car three weeks ago at a junction with a cycle path. I now for sure my helmet gave me some protection when I was thrown from the bonnet my head hit the floor hard enough to crack the helmet and polystyrene. That would have been my skull! I know I’ll be sticking with wearing a helmet.

  • burttthebike

    If you mean Which? magazine, they did have an article several years ago which made misleading, unproven statements about helmets which they could neither justify or defend.

  • burttthebike

    I suggest that your granddaughter wears what children in the countries where it’s very safe for children to ride bikes, e.g. Holland and Denmark, where children don’t wear helmets. You might not be aware that children have been strangled by their helmet straps, but there is no proven case of a helmet saving a life, so on the basis of the known facts, wearing a helmet is more dangerous than not wearing one.

  • B Watson

    Please then tell me as you sound to be an expert, what does my 8 year old granddaughter wear to keep her safe on the road and especially if she has a fall?
    I would like to know as I think safety is paramount when children ride their cycles and if you do know that much about safety what brand or make would you recommend if children do have to wear safety equipment?

  • burttthebike

    “Witch magazine”? How appropriate since most of their wearers consider them to be magic hats, and have no idea of their actual effectiveness.

  • B Watson

    The UK witch magazine has up to the minute data on most kids/adult cycle helmets

  • burttthebike

    What significant advances in the past 2 years? The only “advances” I’m aware of is better ventilation, which incidentally weakens the helmet. Given that none of the evidence produced in thirty years has been able to prove that helmets actually reduce risk to cyclists, I’m not sure that it’s worth re-evaluating things on the grounds of better ventilation.

    All robust evidence shows that helmets do not improve the safety of cyclists, and all evidence that they do has been destroyed on peer review. If you could refer me to some produced in the past two years which has been critically examined and found to be robust and which shows that helmets are beneficial, I’d love it if you could post a reference.

  • burttthebike

    “Ignore this misleading comment.”

    I think what you meant to say was “Ignore all the robust data and believe all the anecdote, myth and rumour.”

  • Vertigo

    Ignore this misleading comment. Wear a helmet.

  • Jon

    You forgot the most essential features everyone wants in a helmet – numberplate, rear lights, windscreen wipers, unventilated boxy design and a £1600 price tag. These stylish, lightweight, ventilated, aerodynamic and affordable helmets are all very well but we have to move with the times.