Updated: May 29, 2015

Best Bike Helmets - Cycling Helmets

With scooters, skateboards, and bikes more popular than ever, it seems there are helmets out there everywhere you look. But it wasn't always that way. Growing up, we never wore helmets as kids when we rode bikes. More "extreme" sports like skateboarding tended to bring pads and helmets along as a package. But given the fact that cars and bikes don't mix very well, and one good trip over the handlebars is all it takes for a major concussion or worse, wearing a helmet is no longer really optional. In fact in many states, there are helmet laws that require children to wear helmets when riding bikes. A lot of kids complain about helmets being uncomfortable, but helmets can eliminate about 80% of head injuries associated with bike accidents (in fact, 3/4 of biking fatalities are from head injuries). With more than half a million bike accidents per year, there is no need to try your luck by riding helmetless. In this guide, we will cover basic helmet safety information, including how to properly fit and wear a helmet, what to look for when buying a helmet, and how much you should expect to pay for a good bike helmet.


Getting a Bike Helmet to Fit Correctly

Most bicycle helmets today are made from a material called expanded polystyrene (or EPS). When you look at a helmet, this is the white, fairly stiff foam material that makes up the bulk of the helmet. Inside, you'll often find some pads that makes the helmet fit more comfortable and snugly, and you'll find a plastic shell on the outside, but it is this EPS that gives the helmet its protective power. The strap is the last component (and often the hardest to adjust) that is used to actually hold the helmet on your head with a firm clasp below your chin. There is a wrong way and a right way to wear a helmet. First, the helmet should sit level across your head when seen from the side -- you don't want it angled back with your forehead exposed, and you don't want it pulled forward with the back of your head exposed. From the front, it should be just above your eyebrows. If you are in an accident, you want the front, side, and back of your head protected from smashing into the pavement, and wearing your helmet level gives you protection all around your head. Secondly, the helmet should fit fairly snug on your head and not wiggle more than 3/4 inch in any direction. Most helmets comes with extra pieces of sticky foam pads that you can stick inside the helmet to give it a custom fit for your head. If its loose on the sides, add a little more padding until the helmet touches your head all around. The third part of a correct fit is the strap. Most helmets have Y-shaped straps on the sides where connections from the front and rear meet before going under your chin. The valley of that Y should be just below your ear on either side. When you buckle the strap below your chin, it should be snug enough that you can feel the helmet being pulled down slightly when you open your mouth as wide as you can. All of these straps are adjustable, so move them around until you get the right fit. When you are done, the helmet should not slide or move out of position when you shake your head or pulling on the helmet with your hands. You can review some more detailed information on bike helmet fitting here.


Buying a Bike Helmet

Some of the big names in bike helmets include Bell, Schwinn, Trek, Specialized, Giro, Razor, and Airius. When it comes to safety ratings, Consumer Reports lab testing rates the Bell Citi, Bell Slant, Specialized Aurora, Giro Atmos, Giro Havoc, and Bell X-Ray as the best bike helmets. These helmets range from $50 to $150 in price. The Slant goes for $55, and it is one of our favorite designs. It has more than 20 vents to allow air to move through and keep you cool, and it has an easy to use "Ergodial" system for adjusting the fit with a button and a dial, instead of trying to slide straps back and forth. The Citi model sells for $40-$50 -- we don't think it looks as good as the Slant, but it has the same easy adjusting strap system to get a good fit, and it is safe. If you're a real racer and want a high-end bike helmet, take a peak at the Giro Atmos. This thing sells for over $150, so it is not meant as a kids plaything. The Giros are lightweight and strong, and definitely designed for a racer look. If you're looking for a multi-sport helmet (skating, biking, etc.) check out the hip, fashionable, and dare we say safe, Bell Faction Tony Hawk Multi-Sport Helmet -- even teens think these things look cool, and for $35 you can't go wrong. We'd be wary of the helmets you see out there for $10-$15. Plan on spending $25-$35 for a good helmet (though the Schwinn Intercept listed below can be found for less than $20 -- a real steal). Before buying a bike helmet online, we recommend going into a bike shop or sporting good store where you can try on a few different models. There is nothing worse than a helmet that doesn't fit right and feels uncomfortable -- the end result is you won't want to wear it. So try some on, see which ones feel the best for you before you decide to buy. Amazon keeps a list of the best-selling bike helmets here.

Children's Safety Helmets - Kids Helmets

More than 70% of bike accidents involve children, so for most parents, their childrens safety is their number one priority when it comes to biking. All bike helmets should have been approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) - they set the safety standards for helmets. Check for a CPSC sticker or logo inside your child's helmet or when you are shopping for a new helmet. A lot of kids who are into skateboarding or BMX biking will get a more solid, hard-shell helmet -- they look more like a baseball batting helmet than a traditional lightweight bike helmet. The more common soft-shell helmets are what most of us think of when we talk about bike helmets. Both work, both are safe -- the hard shell ones tend to weigh more and lock in more heat, making them hot to wear sometimes. You'll find special sized toddler helmets for younger kids -- make sure you start with the size that is appropriate for your child. As discussed above, you'll then custom fit the helmet with foam pads for a secure fit on your child's head. Some of the best bike helmets for toddlers are the Bell Boomerangs (which received Consumer Reports top pick for kids). The Boomerang costs $30 and has a detachable visor and a pinchguard that protects little guys neck and chins -- a must if you've ever tried to strap a helmet on a wriggling kid. Giro makes the popular Me2 Infant Bike Helmet which sells for around $30 on Amazon.com -- one nice feature is an external knob that lets you adjust the helmet fitting while your child is wearing it. For older kids, the Bell Trigger, Schwinn Intercept, and Specialized Air Force got the best safety ratings (again from Consumer Reports). WalMart carried the Schwinn Intercept for just $17 -- a very good deal for a very good helmet.

Bike Helmet Laws

Do I have to wear a helmet? Is there a bike helmet law in my state? Not everyone knows it, but more than 20 states have laws requiring helmets for children riding bikes, while 29 states have no requirements for bicycle helmets. So which applies to you? Here is a list of states that have bike helmet laws:
  • Alabama - 15 and under
  • California - 17 and under
  • Connecticut - 15 and under
  • Delaware - 17 and under
  • District of Columbia - 15 and under
  • Florida - 15 and under
  • Georgia - 15 and under
  • Hawaii - 15 and under
  • Louisiana - 11 and under
  • Maine - 15 and under
  • Maryland - 15 and under
  • Massachusetts - 16 and under
  • New Hampshire - 15 and under
  • New Jersey - 16 and under
  • New Mexico - 17 and under
  • New York - 13 and under
  • North Carolina - 15 and under
  • Oregon - 15 and under
  • Pennsylvania - 11 and under
  • Rhode Island - 15 and under
  • Tennessee - 15 and under
  • West Virginia - 14 and under
You can double check an up to date list posted at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: states with bike helmet laws.