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Published Aug. 14, 2021

More than just a form of exercise, biking is a lifestyle. Whether for pleasure, fitness, commuting or errands, bike riding is a great, sustainable way to get around. As more cities open up streets and widen bike lanes, biking culture has skyrocketed.  Plus, choosing to bike helps to cut down on carbon emissions and assists in saving the environment. With the increase in biking, you do need to be sure you are following local laws and taking precautions to keep yourself safe. According to a Cleveland Clinic report, wearing a bike helmet reduces the risk of head injuries by 85 percent. So it’s simply the right play, no matter who you are and especially if you have kids. We’ve rounded up some of the best bike helmets for adults and kids’ to keep you and yours riding with safety, in comfort and style.

What to consider when searching for the best bike helmet

There are a few important considerations to make before shopping for cycling helmets. The best bike helmet will be the one that works for your lifestyle. There are subtle differences between road bike helmets, mountain bike helmets, dirt bike helmets, and those used for leisurely rides. With helmets ranging in price from around $50 to $300, it’s important to understand what features you need and want. 

First and foremost, you must consider fit. In order for a helmet to perform, it needs to fit securely. Helmets should fit over the head snuggly and sit level on the head. The chin straps should be snug, allowing only enough room for one finger. You can measure the circumference of your head with a soft tape measure and then check with the bike-helmet manufacturer for guidance on the correct size helmet to order. It’s important not to assume you are the same size universally, as various brands size their helmets differently.

All the top brands offering reputable helmets will provide data on their safety standards and testing. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) provides certification for helmets that pass the federal safety standard. In addition, independent safety testing is provided through the Snell Foundation, and helmets will be listed as Snell-certified. 

Another safety feature to consider is a helmet equipped with MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System). This design incorporates a special liner that fits against the head. MIPS offers added protection from the most common type of ground crashes, which involve impact from an angle. 

Related: Thinking of ditching your car? Check out the top 10 cities for biking in the world.

Looking for the best bike helmet for your commute to work?

When you use your bike for commuting, you’re typically in more controlled surroundings, like paved roads (ideally in designated bike lanes). Road-biking offers a few unique characteristics that make sense to address with the helmet designed for these situations. The heat-island effect (urban areas that experience higher temperatures) plays a role here, so look for helmets that offer superior ventilation—no one wants to show up to the office drenched in sweat.

Another feature to look for in road helmets is a lightweight construction. A lighter helmet is going to be the most comfortable. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes high-quality, lighter-weight materials can add to the cost. But comfort is worth it, especially when you use a helmet frequently. 

Finally, all the best road helmets must pass safety standards and be fully certified. Additional features to consider for road helmets are designs that address aerodynamics (get to work faster!), as well as the add-on feature of MIPS.

Best road-bike helmet: Giro Aether Spherical Adult Road-Bike Helmet

MIPS with Ventilation

Get all the protection of MIPS, in a comfortable cooling design. Giro

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The Giro Aether Spherical Adult Road-Bike Helmet is the best road-bike helmet. It’s a lightweight, comfortable road helmet with wind tunnel vents and internal channeling. Dual-density EPS foam liners with MIPS protection are integrated for added comfort and safety.

Need the best bike helmet for hitting the trails off road?

Trail riding, mountain biking, or off-road biking all require a few extra features that aren’t found on all bike helmets. When you are riding in nature on uneven terrain, you are facing dappled light from tree coverage, unpredictable surfaces like gravel, fallen branches, and mud, and the possibility of falling onto sharp objects. One could argue that road biking seems more dangerous because of the threat of high-speed impact or car crashes, but the obstacles encountered when mountain biking can be just as or potentially even more dangerous simply due to unpredictability. For that reason alone, mountain biking demands the best helmets designed with nature in mind.

The biggest noticeable difference you will find is that helmets for mountain bikes are designed with a visor. The visor is essential on mountain bike helmets because it protects you from a myriad of obstacles. First, it offers shielding from sunlight and rain. Second, it provides added protection from unexpected low-lying branches. Seeing clearly is a priority for mountain biking. 

Mountain bike helmets require even more vents than road helmets because the overall ride is slower, which means less airflow to keep you cool. You will find that mountain bike helmets are built up with extra padding to protect from sharp object impacts and falls over the handlebar. While road riders strive for speed and seek aerodynamic designs, mountain bike helmets eschew sleekness for extra padding. Finally, for some downhill-style mountain biking, you will find helmets with goggle integration or ones designed with full face shields.

Best mountain-bike helmet: Smith Optics Forefront 2 MIPS

Award-Winning Design

A lightweight helmet with MIPS protection and zoned ventilation. Smith

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The Smith Optics Forefront 2 MIPS is a full-coverage helmet that offers MIPS protection with eyewear/goggle integration. AirEvac channels help ventilate without fogging up eyewear.

Looking for helmets for kids?

Each year, an average of 26,000 children are admitted into emergency rooms for brain injuries related to bicycle riding. These are scary numbers, and they should drive home how important bike helmets are. 

The use of bike helmets has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by at least 45 percent. They can reduce brain injury by 33 percent, facial injury by 27 percent, and fatal injury by 29 percent. In California, there are laws stating that anyone under the age of 18 must wear a helmet while riding a bike, skateboard, or scooter and parents may be fined if they don’t. 

Finding a helmet that fits properly is just as important as wearing a helmet in the first place. An ill-fitting helmet won’t do much to protect your child, so it’s vital to know what to look for. You should always have your child try a helmet on, as different manufacturers may size their helmets differently. Beyond that, check for certification from the CPSC, and get a helmet that fits your child at that moment. These are not the kinds of items that you want them to “grow into.” The helmet should fit snug all around their head. It shouldn’t move side to side or front to back;  it should sit level and low. There should be room for only one or two finger-widths above the eyebrows.

Best kids’ bike helmet: Giro Scamp

Great Protection and Price

This helmet is easy for kids to get on and off themselves while on the go. Giro

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A lightweight helmet with a dial-adjust system and optional MIPS technology, the Scamp is easy to fit and use right out of the box. It doesn’t boast exotic designs or too many bells and whistles, but it’s a solid option that delivers value and protection at a great price.

What to look for if you need a bike helmet for cold weather

Not unlike surfing, bike riding is usually considered a warm-weather activity. It’s something to get you out and about when the sun is shining and the skies are blue. But among the truly dedicated and hardcore, there exists bike gear that allows you to pursue your passion all year round, regardless of weather conditions. 

Anyone who has tried to strap a stubborn helmet over a toque on a frigid day can appreciate the need for a cold-weather helmet. They will ensure that you don’t have to pick protection over comfort or vice versa when heading out into the wild. And while it might be tempting to simply, say, use a snowboarding helmet to pull double duty, it’s wiser to invest in a separate cold-weather bicycle helmet. Snowboarding helmets are typically too bulky and don’t provide enough ventilation for your head. Their extra padding and size can feel unwieldy when you’re biking. The ideal cold-weather bike helmet would provide some kind of lining, with ear flaps and vents that can be opened or closed while riding. They are usually much lighter weight, as well.

Best cold-weather bike helmet: Lazer Dissent

Cold-Weather Protection and Versatility

Matching high levels of protection with warmth and customization, this model is an all-around great option for winter biking. LAZER

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With its quick and easy thumbwheel adjustment, the Lazer Dissent is easy to fit and use right out of the box; versatility is its biggest selling point. Riders can adjust the ventilation system and even remove the ear flaps depending on the severity of the cold. 

How can I find a safe helmet on a budget?

Safety is paramount when selecting a bicycle helmet. The best budget bicycle helmet will not skimp on safety ratings and testing standards. While you can find bicycle helmets online for under $20, we recommend avoiding the cheapest models and opting instead for a highly rated budget model. With an average price range between $20 and $300, you can find a safer budget helmet for between $50  to $100.

Best budget bike helmet: Giro Register MIPS

Highly Rated and Nicely Priced

Excellent impact absorption with comfortable ventilation. Giro

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The Giro Register MIPS helmet offers a MIPS design that helps reduce the risk of concussion. With a lighter weight design and plenty of ventilation, this helmet should be comfortable to wear for longer days on your bike.

FAQs

Q: What should I look for when buying a bike helmet?

The best bike helmets offer impact absorption, a sturdy retention system, and a comfortable, snug fit. Helmets that are designed with MIPS are important in keeping you safe in case of an accident. Lighter-weight helmets with ventilation systems make wearing your helmet a more comfortable and pleasant experience,  especially for long rides. Most importantly, be sure the helmet you choose fits properly in order to receive all the safety benefits.

Q: Are cheap helmets safe?

When shopping for a bike helmet on a budget, you might be wondering if cheap bike helmets offer the same protection as high-end models. The good news is less-expensive bike helmets can be safe. That said, it’s important to research whether the bike helmet comes with a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission label. Safety standard testing will help you understand the level of protection provided. Keep in mind that very inexpensive or “cheap” helmets can be fakes and offer poor levels of protection. To avoid this possible issue, always buy bike helmets from reputable brands that guarantee safety standards. Expensive helmets can be more costly because they use lighter-weight materials and offer greater ventilation, which is more for comfort than safety.

Q: Are mountain bike helmets safer?

Mountain bike helmets are often safer than helmets designed for the road by virtue of having more padding. These helmets are designed with thicker materials and have more protection at the base of the skull and top of the neck area to protect bikers from uneven, rocky terrain. The biggest differences between the two types are that road helmets usually don’t have visors, are lighter in weight, and provide greater ventilation to account for the added heat from asphalt. If you are looking for one helmet for both mountain biking and road biking, it would be a safer bet to buy a mountain bike helmet. However, if you are mostly riding casually on the road, it might be most comfortable to purchase a lighter-weight road helmet with lots of ventilation.

Related: Shopping for a new bike? Here’s how to choose whether a cheap or expensive bicycle is best for you.

The final work on the best bike helmets

There’s really no two ways about it—bike helmets are a necessity no matter your age, skill level, or bike-related activity of choice. Investing in comfortable protection just makes sense, and you have a broad range of options when it comes to price, design, and intended usage. Being aware of how you ride, where you ride, and the weather conditions around where you live will all help you narrow down your choices to find the right fit for you and your family of bike riders. Being as safe as you are comfortable is a very achievable (and worthwhile) goal.

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