How to choose a bicycle helmet

I value my head. It’s great for hanging hats. Therefore, most times I cycle, I wear a helmet. If you are new to the cycling scene you may be wondering how to choose a bicycle helmet to suit you and if it’s worth splashing out on the more expensive ones (hint: usually its not!)

Here’s a quick run down of what to look for and some of the models I would highly recommend.

3 things to look for when buying a bicycle helmet

When choosing a bicycle helmet you mainly want to look at three things. Price, fit and keeping cool. Okay, and a forth thing, looking cool. Starting with price. This can go up to around £150 and as low as £25. The truth helmet manufacturers don’t want you to know is you will receive most of the benefit with a cheaper helmet as you will with a more expensive one. At least when it comes to protection. However, spending more money should keep your head cooler and provide more comfort.

Fitting a bicycle helmet

You will want to fit the helmet correctly because it will provide far better protection and it will feel more comfortable. A properly fitted bicycle helmet will reach about halfway down your forehead and will cover a good part of the back of your head. The more it covers the better.

The strap should fit closely under the chin and should form a v-shape around the ears. Not all bicycle helmets are born the same and some will fit better than others. After you have tried one and tightened it make sure it does not wobble.

The best bet is to go into a bike shop and try the helmet first. One will fit more comfortably than others. Ideally ask an assistant in the shop to fit the helmet for you. Alternatively, if buying online, make sure you measure your head correctly as instructed by the manufacturer.

(View all the cycling accessory guides such as this one)

Light colours

Lighter colours can be seen by other road users so go for brighter colours (one of the ones I have recommended below even has lights behind the straps). You should aim to buy a helmet with a rounded outer shell so there is nowhere for the helmet to get caught in a fall.

Keeping cool

In terms of keeping cool as you would expect more air vents equal more cooling of the head. However, more air vents also means that there is less of the padding to protect your head. You should pick a trade-off between the two.

As for weight? This doesn’t tend to be an issue as the majority of helmets weigh less than 300 grams.

(How to choose the best bike lock and not waste money)

Popular bicycle helmet models

giro bicycle helmet

Giro Indicator Bike Helmet

Well reviewed and fairly cheap bicycle helmet. Provides good ventilation and back-of-the-head adjustment. Great for anyone who is just getting started and would rather not spend too much.

bicycle helmet abus urbanAbus Urban Helmet

At around £45 this midrange bicycle helmet is perfect for commuting and riding in the city. It’s one of the best helmets for keeping your head cool and it also comes with reflective lights at the back of the straps. An all round excellent helmet that I could not recommend more.

atmos_GIROGiro Atmos Bicycle Helmet

This top of the range helmet is good enough for Lance and its definitely more than good enough for everyday cyclists. It has received great reviews and I found it at a surprisingly good price at Wiggle.

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58 Responses to How to choose a bicycle helmet

    • Judd 13/10/2010 at 2:34 pm #

      Dan: I am curious why NO to helmets. I always wear mine voluntarily. Do you think your head is better protected without one? Or do you think a helmet really provides none anyway. Thanks for your reply.

      • Mr Colostomy 17/03/2011 at 3:56 pm #

        There is some evidence to suggest that a helmet could leave you worse off than not wearing one in some situations, whilst providing little to no protection in the rest. The effects of risk compensation, rotational brain injury and neck injury are worthy of consideration.

        Of course, if wearing a helmet keeps a person on a bike then I’m all for it. The same goes for not wearing one, of course.

    • Marius 06/11/2010 at 2:43 pm #

      Four weeks ago I was hit by a car. When hitting the ground the helmet saved my life. The helmet cracked but my head is OK. Cannot say the same about my legs – another week at home.

      • Mr Colostomy 17/03/2011 at 3:52 pm #

        A cracked helmet is a failed helmet, all of the force would’ve been transferred into your skull if the helmet cracked. You should thank your skull instead.

        • Don 15/04/2011 at 12:34 pm #

          Don’t be silly. The helmet cracked due to the force of impact, thus dissipating the force, as it is designed to do.

          I take it you don’t wear a seatbelt when driving a car as presumably it might “leave you worse off”?

        • Sean 21/04/2011 at 10:14 pm #

          Nonsense, helmets are supposed to crumple and absorb the impact. When a car crashes, does it stay intact? Why do you think steel bull bars on 4×4’s are crazy? Because they don’t allow the front of the vehicle to do it’s job and absorb the impact.

        • Jimbo 25/08/2011 at 2:10 pm #

          MrColostomy – to misquote the Cohen Brothers ‘obvioulsly you are not an engineer.’

      • Tara 27/05/2011 at 11:36 am #

        Marius I am with you on this one, how lucky were you!? I too had an accident coming down a hill (road with gravel) front break went on first I went over the handle bars landed on my head and rolled (winded big style) took a chunk out of the helmet and not my head! I took most the skin off my left arm and damaged my right leg, Imagine what would have happened if my little helmet hadn’t been worn that day! Happy cycling

        • Tara 27/05/2011 at 11:37 am #

          Oops forget to say helpful article thank you

      • Paul Jakma 01/10/2011 at 10:40 am #

        Last winter I was hit by a car. I landed on the bonnet, slid across it then fell onto my head on the ground. My skull saved my life. Thankfully I wasn’t wearing a helmet, or I might have suffered a neck injury (scientifically reviewed data says is statistically likely).

    • peter whyatt 10/08/2014 at 9:33 am #

      Simple answer, what do pro cyclists do,bearing in mind they work for teams that spend millions on research, do they wear helmets or not.

    • MARK H. HENDRICKS 27/11/2014 at 8:03 pm #

      You can’t compare the slow, congested, flat, protected, urban riding in The Netherlands with the faster, longer more open tours and commutes common in most of The U.S. A fall from a 24″ short frame, low seat 4-5mph “cruiser” just isn’t the same as even a hybrid fit for a 20 mile ride 2.5 times as fast, on failing infrastructure, crowded with much higher speed auto.’s.

  1. Dottie 14/09/2009 at 2:51 am #

    Useful guide! I love my Nutcase helmet (pink! stars! polka dots!) and got lots of compliments on it. It also fits well, although I sacrifice on the ventilation side on the hottest days. I prefer not to have a super sporty helmet, since my bikes are not particularly sporty.

  2. Andreas 15/09/2009 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks Dottie, glad you liked the guide. Got a series of these on the way.
    @dan was wondering if this post would result in a no helmets debate!

  3. myhammer 24/09/2009 at 10:55 am #

    Nice tips for choosing the right helmet.
    thanks.

  4. Elegia 03/10/2009 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you for this useful quide. I would like to ask is there’s any law or must to use helmet when cycling in London?

    I’m moving to London from another country and really would like to know the law of using cycling helmets.

  5. Andreas 03/10/2009 at 10:18 pm #

    Hi Elegia, you are very welcome. There is not a law in London that says you must wear a bicycle helmet – it is completely a personal choice.

    Which country are you moving from?

  6. Elegia 04/10/2009 at 7:32 am #

    Ok, thank you so much for your answer! I do consider to buy a helmet, but it’s good to know the rules.

    Where are you allowed to bike? I mean should you always cycle in a driveway or can you walkways too? We have quite good cycle paths here in Finland and we don’t have to bike in driveways.

    I’m from Finland and moving next week. I’m a bit worried about this cycling thing, because we have right-hand traffic. I have never cycled in left-hand traffic before!

  7. Andreas 06/10/2009 at 10:07 am #

    Elegia, glad you will be joining us from Finland. You will be absolutely fine! If you prefer start off on some of the quieter streets to get used to the cycling on the other side of the road. There is a law that says cycling on the pavement (walkway) is illegal so try to avoid doing it. Cyclists are allowed in bus lanes (Though be sure the bus driver can see you by not getting too close to it) and there are cycle lanes but they are attached to the road and drivers sometimes park in them. So it won’t be as organised as I expect it is in Finland. Cycling remains the fastest, easiest and healthiest way to get around London so your going to love it :)

  8. Griff 26/12/2009 at 6:04 pm #

    The higher the cost of the helmet (in most cases) is due to the more expensive materials and processes required to manufacture a helmet with more vents (and hence less material) that provides the same protection as a cheaper helmet. Having said that, I’d willingly pay more for a helmet that (in my opinion) makes me look cooler on the bike. (Note to self: helmets are not considered fashionable in any other facet of life!).

  9. Andreas 26/12/2009 at 6:29 pm #

    Griff – well summed up on the reasons for the price differences

  10. Paul 27/04/2010 at 9:24 pm #

    Andreas. Came on line to surf and look for advice in regard to buying a helmet. Found it right here, thanks. Just got myself a bike, a Raleigh urban 2. Not had one for twenty years and I had forgotten what fun they are and they keep you fit. Just starting out all over again. so many things have changed, but with the help of guys like you, I will get sorted. Thanks again. Take care.

    • Andreas 27/04/2010 at 10:02 pm #

      Paul, you are very welcome for the bicycle helmet advice! Raleigh urban 2 is good choice!

  11. Judd 21/05/2010 at 6:28 pm #

    Nice article. I was fitted for mine at McClain’s Bike Shop USA and have always been glad I did. It’s a Specialized and of low cost. Question: what are some suggestions for stopping the UV rays through the air slits? I did find some bandannas of SPF 50 that I think might work.

  12. Maps 03/06/2010 at 1:01 pm #

    Lidl does bike gear ever now and a gain. The helmets are very good and come in
    XXL which is great if your head is bigger than the 61/62cm at which most other manufacturers seem to finish at.

  13. Cyril 29/06/2010 at 11:52 am #

    Hi Andreas,

    thanks for the great article. I was wondering though what you thought of the Specialised Echelon and the Giro Saros and whether you’d still choose the Abus Urban over them for safety / comfort / coolness.

    Thanks!

  14. Erika 19/07/2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Hi Andreas, was wondering as a general rule are the ‘cooler’ BMX cycle helmets also suitable protection for normal rode use? Thanks

  15. Sam 08/09/2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Check these out. http://www.proviz.co.uk/products/helmets.html
    I noticed a guy wearing one of their jackets the other day and having checked their website out I see they do helmets too.

  16. Chewy 10/09/2010 at 11:24 am #

    Hi Andreas and everyone

    My brothers and I just bought some bikes yesterday at an auction and none of us have cycled in a long long time but have all wanted to get into it because we know it is the best way forward for getting to work or university.

    So ideally we would like some guidance. The bikes we bought might need a service, is this worth doing and where is good and good value to get that done?

    Thanks for your post SAM, I was thinking about why helmets are not promoted as hi-viz and I think that has to be best. Is there any reviews on them? or Cheapest place to buy them?

    Which lights do you recommend and where to buy cheaply?

    In fact what are THE best websites to get deals on cycling gear?

    Any advice on what to avoid or get all appreciated.

    thank you

    C

    Just any advice really

    • Sam 10/09/2010 at 2:42 pm #

      Hi Chewy – I haven’t spotted any reviews on them yet as I think they are a new company. They look great though – I haven’t seen any other high-viz helmet before! Think I’m going to buy one too. You can find a retailer through the website http://www.proviz.co.uk/retailers/
      Happy cycling!
      Sam

  17. Simon Jones 13/09/2010 at 5:06 pm #

    Hi Chewy and Sam – thanks for the info. PROVIZ – what a great idea integrating lights and hi vis yellow into a helmet. Definitelly going to get one – the Saturn looks the best one – you can buy through the site.
    Cheers
    Simon

  18. Gina Glazier 13/10/2010 at 9:16 am #

    I have a fluorescent mercury helmet which is comfortable and so bright people will see you coming a mile off which is great for riding around in London and it isn’t bad for the price at all. I really like how you have written this article, very helpful advice, thanks.

    • Judd 13/10/2010 at 2:46 pm #

      What is the brand? Website?

  19. Judd 13/10/2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I am looking for a tailight that will show up during daytime hours. Any suggestions?

  20. Zeds 24/10/2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Judd
    I use a Smart Lunar 1 watt rear light. Brilliant piece of kit – very bright, light and weatherproof. It’s on all the time when I’m on roads.

  21. Col 18/02/2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Nice article, very important point made that the colour of the helmet is just as important as the style. I have heard about the no helmet brigade before and it is really just anti-capitalist nonsense. I am more than happy to take onboard opinion but having read their arguments it always moves to the argument that its a con for companies to make money – they are right to some degree but to dismiss the claims that its safer to wear helmets is just utter stupidity. If that is the basis of the argument you may as well not wear shin pads playing football, remove face masks in ice hockey, and save a few quid on your car and not have airbags seatbelts or impact protection. The argument that helmets do nothing and its all a big money making scheme is quite laughable and the sort of blinkered bias argument I would expect from someone unwilling to debate.

    I have lived in both Paris and Tokyo, and yes the users of the road are certainly much less aggressive than London where i live now. On occasions I did ride helmetless in Paris, in London not a chance. People cant SEE you because they are not used to cyclists in the same way they are in Paris – brightly coloured helmets put you much more visibly in a motorists eyeline, because remember they are looking for other cars, not cyclists.

    I read the website link that Dan posted, and yes there is a valid argument that wearing a helmet doesn’t drastically save lives – if you are hit by a car at 40mph head on its unlikely you will be in any decent shape. But any fall, most commonly falls which are low speed avoidance falls, you invariabley cannot control your motion and your head will come into contact with the ground – lets put it this way, if i hit you over the head with a baseball bat would you rather have a helmet on, or off? Dan? Want to try that one out? I am happy to be the guy with the helmet on…

  22. Carly 14/03/2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Can anyone recommend a reasonably-priced place to get a cycle helmet in central London, please?

  23. Richard 05/04/2011 at 9:23 pm #

    A pal of mine in his 50’s slid on some ice on the way to work this winter and banged his head hard on the kerb. He was very badly shaken but his helmet undoubtedly saved him from serious head injuries. There are various arguments about behavior compensation and other such esoteric matters, but I don’t think they make the case for not wearing a helmet.

    When I was a teenager I cycled everywhere and fell off more times than I care to remember. I never had more than a few bruises and grazes, but as you get older you simply don’t bounce as well and one’s natural defence reactions when falling just aren’t as good. I don’t like helmets, but after many years without I have now bought one because IMO the case for not wearing one cannot be made.

  24. Phil Russell 13/05/2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Richard—-you’re quite right and very wise to wear a helmet ( I mostly wear a trackie’s “banana hat”), but if we’re ever legally FORCED to wear helmets,then I swear I will start a campaign to force car-drivers and their passengers to wear them too, as I’m quite sure a fair percentage of car-crashes cause serious HEAD injuries to the occupants…….and what about all the pedestrians (thousands of ‘em!) suffering fatal HEAD injuries when struck by motor vehicles…….helmets for bikies? Helmets for all!
    P.R.

    them

  25. tim gummer 14/05/2011 at 5:09 am #

    Helmets are a sign of a failed cycle culture. Like flouro hi-viz [nice idea guys.. give riders road worker status.. that’ll be a big sell…) they send a very clear and unambiguous message that cycling is unsafe that turns off potential new cycle riders, thereby ensuring less cycle riders on the roads, and a more dangerous environment. Successful cycle cultures are lidless, and their accident rates are far lower. UK research (bath university.. check it out) has shown that car drivers drive substantially closer to people wearing helmets than those who don’t.

    I don’t know about you, but my main safety concern is to avoid being hit. Speaking more anecdotally: in car crazy New Zealand where I live, and which is one of the few countries to adopt compulsory helmets (- an instant precursor to a massive drop in cycling of course) I now ride upright, un-lidded, comfortable and confident, just like most in the more civilized non-english speaking world, only I’m breaking the law. Drivers give me a much wider berth and I have never felt safer, and happier, on a bike in my life.

  26. David Smith 16/05/2011 at 11:28 pm #

    There are loads of cool bike helmets out there and Bell make some of the best. i hear people whinging about how uncomfortable some cycle helmets are and maybe they are right to a degree. Surely you need to take your time when selecting the best one for you. After all a cycle helmet is the single most important accessory after buying a bike.
    Frankly, I cringe whenever I see a cyclist riding without one. Well done to antone who is championing the cause!

    • Phil Russell 18/05/2011 at 5:31 pm #

      David “Cringe” Smith,
      Best not to cringe while riding——-you’ll fall off!
      P.R.

  27. Tranquility 18/05/2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Why are cycle helmets al the same design? Would a horse rider helmet not do the job? How about the head guards worn by rugby players? I could stow that in my pocket when I reach my destination. Seems to me that the design of the modern helmet is a licence to print money rather than give the varied cyclists a choice. We need different styles to suit the image crazy lycra clad speed nutter, through the middle aged chap who want to pop down to the pub to the Mary Poppins type.

  28. Judd 18/05/2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Agree re: different designs. I’m looking for one without air vents on top in order to protect my hairless head from the sun. Right now I wear a SPF 50 bandana underneath.
    I just had the “cracked helmet” conversation at local bike shop. Yes the helmet is supposed to crack under impact. On the 2nd or 3rd hit that is.
    I can’t imagine a helmetless head hitting pavement 2 or 3 times. Just like I don’t understand not trying to be as visible to motorists as possible. My thinking is that most motorists don’t want to hit a cyclist. If they can see you I think they won’t actually TRY to hit you. If they don’t see you then…

  29. tranquility 07/06/2011 at 1:25 pm #

    So has anyone got any safe alternatives to the standard cycle helmet?

  30. tim gummer 07/06/2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Seeing as you asked, tranquility, I feel bound to say that riding confidently, upright, on a nice solid bike will greatly diminish the chances of being hit by a car. Cars notice me and give me a substantially wider girth since I stopped wearing helmets. I am quite sure i’m literally safer without a helmet. European (sorry, I mean er.. Continental, er.. chaps..) societies have virtually no helmets worn, and far fewer casualties then helmet-wearing and helmet-legislated societies, like my own sad and sorry home. We in the English speaking world (what is our problem?) will never approach the richness of european cycle friendly societies if we cling to a culture of fear.

    Helmets seemed like a great idea at the time, but their pernicious effect on cycling numbers is all well known and well documented. So considering the bigger picture, I also choose to not wear a helmet or roadworker’s flouroviz, because it scares the bejezuz out of people who might otherwise consider cycling, thereby ensuring less cycle riders on roads, and a less safe environment for people on bicycles. Helmets and hi-viz are a cruelly self fullfilling prophecy of cycling doom.

    It’s extremely unlikely, but I may be flattened by a lorry tomorrow. That said, I’m more incentivised to ride and enjoy a healthier, longer lifespan, without a helmet, than with one.

  31. tranquility 08/06/2011 at 11:51 am #

    Brilliant – I would enjoy listeneing to you over a few beers and then pedalling off home free from kit foisted upon society by people who are unable to balance the risk factors. Whether you are right or wrong doesn’t matter – just a pleasure to hear. I think there is a time and place for everything. Best wishes and thanks for a refreshing response. :)

  32. Phil Russell 08/06/2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Tim G.,
    So, helmets and bright clothing terrify people and put them off the idea of cycling, do they? Then surely car-seatbelts, air-bags and so on must put people off driving because these safety factors suggest driving must be dangerous…not too convincing, given the huge increase in traffic volumes since 1970!

  33. tim gummer 08/06/2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Of course they scare people Phil. I must admit that’s a new one: I haven’t heard the seatbelt comparison before.

    There is a sharp parallel with the introduction of helmet laws in both Australia and my own New Zealand, and a massive decline in cycling, so yeah – they scare people. Be thankful your own transport and cycling minister gets this (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23945179-minister-for-cycling-refuses-to-back-pedal-in-helmet-row.do), as does your mayor.

    Need I also spell out that seatbelts are substantially less uncomfortable and intrusive than bicycle dangerwear, and like airbags, are invisible to outside observers? Also, that the dangers of driving are obfuscated by a multi-billion dollar marketing campaign to convince us of the canard of ‘freedom’ to be found, driving on an open road – when the reality is day to day vehicular congestion.

    I will come back to the key consideration here: what do the successful cycling societies do?

    All of the high cycling modal share countries (as in 10-40% of trips cycling) are almost entirely (as in 99%+) helmet-free. This is not a state they graduated to – they have been helmet-free from the earlier stages of near total car dominance such as we in the english speaking world suffer now, up until this present day; and their ascension has been assisted by the lack of the very barriers and danger culture which we, with our tragic road warrior cycling cultures, cling to.

    Crap cycling isn’t just the fault of car drivers – it’s something we have chosen to perpetuate ourselves. I have nothing against a bit of colour, I’m not stupid and I wear a white afghan hat at night to remind my vehicular neighbours that I exist, but while helmets and roadworkers’ jackets might have seemed like a good idea at the time (hell, I thought so once): in the bigger picture, they have proven to be anything but.

  34. Don 25/08/2011 at 2:58 pm #

    My brother came off his bike 4 weeks ago and was hospitalised overnight with severe concussion. Had he not been wearing his helmet, he would be dead.

    Please stop trying to put people off wearing helmets. Perhaps you should try to find the statistics relating to number of deaths while wearing a helmet and deaths when not.

  35. RJ 06/10/2011 at 7:40 am #

    An important question this article doesn’t answer is which foam type to consider (eps foam for one-impact protection, hard hat Brock foam for multiple impacts, lighter foam like Bern’s zip foam, or some water-safe foam for folks who aren’t held back by long rides in the rain, etc.). Also, how seriously should we take the warnings about dropping the helmet? Most helmets are supposedly useless after just one drop, the lighter and sportier helmet types are particularly vulnerable. Also it’s worth mentioning there are much more stylish/practical helmets available than the ones mentioned. Bern’s sink fit models are particularly nice. For men: watts, Macon and Brentwood models. I for one would love help navigating the foam question.

  36. Rick Sutton 14/10/2011 at 12:39 pm #

    What do we think of the Nutcase helmets? I was considering one of these but mainly from the “trendy” perspective. I would like some assurance that these are a good and provide protection?

  37. Goonz 08/06/2012 at 12:29 pm #

    I believe all helmets are put through the same stringent testing and must pass the safety regulations before they can be approved so in terms of differences in safety I think they all serve the same purpose.

    I assume the type of foam would also get covered here as they must all be passed as safe so it basically comes down to user preference.

    I do wonder about the knocking and dropping of a helmet and how much of that it can take before it is rendered useless.

    I have a Giro Prolight which is extremely light (160g) but thankfully have not yet had to test its impact abilities.

  38. helmet 16/06/2012 at 7:03 am #

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you actually realize what you are talking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also consult with my website =). We could have a hyperlink trade agreement among us

  39. Martin 13/08/2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I only live by the facts and not guess work !

    Cycle helmets are only designed and tested to withstand an impact equivalent to an average weight rider travelling at a speed of 12 mph falling onto a stationary kerb shaped object from a height of 1 metre. They are never tested involving a third party (a car). Surveys show cars will drive closer to cyclists if they are wearing a helmet because they believe them to be protected.

    If you decide that you should wear a helmet then for that helmet to be able to offer you any worthwhile protection it must be the correct size AND fit.

    I am still undecided !

  40. Chelucy Iddon 27/11/2012 at 9:09 am #

    Obviously, when a car hits a bicycle we already know who’s going to win in that game, the cyclist doesn’t have a chance. Now then, for the bicycle helmet this may be much easier than you think. A small coating over the plastic colored shell could be incorporated into the bicycle helmet, and therefore the bicycle helmet could change color.

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