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Buying a Bike Helmet 101

Answers to 6 Common Consumer Questions

Bike helmets are part of bike safety for kids and adultsThere are essentially two camps when it comes to opinions on bike helmets: You should wear one, or you don’t really need to bother. Those who don’t wear them offer many reasons: they don’t do much; they are ugly; they are uncomfortable; the list goes on.

Yet, studies—many of them—show that bicycle helmets reduce head injuries.[1] And though the claims of how effectively they do so may vary, the studies are in consensus about the fact that they do.[2]

Wearing a helmet is a big part of bicycle safety for adults and kids, whether you are pedaling around the neighborhood on your beach cruiser or jumping over obstacles on a mountain bike. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about purchasing a bike helmet.

1. What is most important to consider when buying a bike helmet?

There are a great many options when it comes to buying a bike helmet. They come in many colors, styles and price points.

First, select a helmet that is designed for bicycle riding. Next, check to make sure it meets Consumer Product Safety Commission standards—there should be a sticker inside the helmet and the box should also be labeled accordingly. Every bike helmet sold in the U.S. since 1999 must meet CSPC standards—such helmets provide protection against skull fractures and severe brain injuries when used properly.[3]

Finally, try on a few helmets and choose the one that fits best. A properly fitting helmet should be “both comfortable and snug,” according to the CPSC.[4] The helmet should be worn level on the head and should not move in any direction when your head moves.

After that, it is really up to what you can afford and your aesthetic preferences. You may wish to select a helmet specifically designed for the type of riding you do (e.g., recreational riding, touring, mountain biking, road racing, time trials, cyclocross, BMX). Style and color may also impact your decision, which leads us to the next common question consumers have about bike helmets.

2. Is a more expensive helmet better than a cheap one?

In general, the answer is no. Again, any CSPC-approved helmet has been tested and found to provide protection against skull fractures and severe brain injuries when used properly.[5]

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute submitted six helmets, ranging from $9.96 to more than $206.99, to a leading U.S. test lab for CPSC testing.[6] Their performance was virtually identical. The BHSI concluded that paying more for a helmet typically gets you “an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics.”[7]

3. Why do some helmets cost so much more?

Less than $20 to more than $200 is quite a price range. So, what exactly are you paying for if the protection is supposedly the same?

A more expensive helmet may get you a sleeker, more aerodynamic style, additional vents, fashionable colors and designs, name brands, lighter weight, and other cosmetic- and comfort-related features.

4. Can a bike helmet prevent concussions?

Bike helmets do many things, but they have not been proven to prevent concussions.[8] The CSPC explains that bicycle helmets are designed to “absorb the high impact energies that can produce skull fractures and severe brain injuries.”[9]

5. Does the law require me to wear a helmet when riding my bike?

Some state laws require children and teens to wear bicycle helmets; however, no state laws currently require adults to wear them. Click here to learn about the bicycle helmet laws in your state at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute website.

6. When is it time to buy a new helmet?

Check the manufacturer guidance provided with your helmet. If you do not have this information, the CSPC recommends replacing your helmet within five to 10 years of purchase and suggests you consider frequency of use, care and storage when making this decision.[10] Furthermore, the CSPC advises that cracks, worn straps, fading and crushed liner foam are some of the reasons to replace your helmet. Materials can lose their effectiveness over time, even if you can’t visually see damage.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute and others advise that you always replace your helmet after a crash in which you hit your head—even if it looks okay and/or believe you did not hit your head hard.[11] Helmets lose their effectiveness after the foam has been subjected to impact; this includes dropping your helmet on a hard surface.

While it may be tempting to purchase a bike helmet online, consider visiting your local bike shop where you can try several on and discuss them with a knowledgeable sales associate.

See Bicycling magazine’s “How to Make Your Bike Helmet Fit,” REI’s “Bike Helmets: How to Choose,” the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s “A Buyer’s Guide to Bicycle Helmets,” and Consumer Reports’ “Bike Helmet Buying Guide” for more guidance on helmet fit and selection.

 

 


[1] Elvik, Rune. “Publication bias and time-trend bias in meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy: A re-analysis of Attewell, Glase and McFadden, 2001.” Institute of Transport Economics, Gaustadalléen 21, NO-0349 Oslo, Norway. Received July 15, 2010. Accepted Jan. 11, 2011. http://www.cycle-helmets.com/Elvik2011_helmet_reanalysis.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Which Helmet for Which Activity.” Publication #349. July 2014. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Bicycles/Which-Helmet-for-Which-Activity/

[4] Ibid.

[5] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Which Helmet for Which Activity.” Publication #349. July 2014. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Bicycles/Which-Helmet-for-Which-Activity/

[6] Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “Cheap or Expensive Bicycle Helmets.” Last updated March 7, 2015. http://www.helmets.org/testbycost.htm

[7] Ibid.

[8] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Which Helmet for Which Activity.” Publication #349. July 2014. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Bicycles/Which-Helmet-for-Which-Activity/

[9] Ibid.

[10] United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Which Helmet for Which Activity.” Publication #349. July 2014. https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Bicycles/Which-Helmet-for-Which-Activity/

[11] Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “When Should I Replace My Helmet?” Last updated or partially revised on Aug. 8, 2015. http://www.helmets.org/replace.htm

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