When shopping for a helmet, bike commuters have different priorities than road racers who need helmets as lightweight and aerodynamic as possible. If you’re riding your bike to work instead of the Tour de France, you’re probably more concerned with preventing sweaty, messy helmet hair, staying visible to cars on the road, and having a helmet that’s easy to tote around when you’re not wearing it. And it doesn’t hurt if it looks good, too.
Of course, the most important function of a helmet is protecting your head. Fortunately, all helmets sold in the U.S. are required to meet standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, so it’s perfectly fine to choose a helmet based on looks as long as it fits correctly. The front of the helmet should cover most of your forehead and not tilt back when you move your head, and the chin strap should be tightly fastened. To find the best helmets for keeping you safe on the go, we consulted with bike-store owners, cycling style bloggers, and bike commuters. Their picks — including an animal-print stunner and a helmet that folds down small enough to fit in you palm — are below.
Best overall commuter helmet
Christina Torres, founder of City Girl Rides, said she’s been “obsessing over Thousand bike helmets for their retro look, functionality, and also sustainability practices.” Sitting pretty at the intersection of form and function, it’s not surprising that nearly all of the experts we spoke with mentioned the brand. “While the design is clean and simple, the helmets have innovative features that include vegan-friendly straps, a creative pop lock to help leave your helmet with your bike, and a simple-to-use, pinch-free magnetic clasp,” said Lauren Jones, manager of marketing and product development at Brilliant Bicycle Co.
Caz Nicklin, founder of the London-based cycling shop and blog Cyclechic, said they are “the biggest brand for us at the moment. The quality and design is impeccable, and they sell well to men and women. The navy is probably the most popular, but the new mint shade is also causing quite a stir.” They’ve also been regularly selling out at Brooklyn Bicycle Company, according to company president Ryan Zagata.
Best helmets for riding in the dark
You should already have lights on your bike (it’s illegal to ride at night in NYC without a white headlight and red taillight — this USB rechargeable set is a good pick), but if you regularly commute before sunrise or after sunset, a light-up helmet ensures that cars on the road won’t miss you. Pete Reynolds, founder of the cycling style website Discerning Cyclist said Lumos helmets are popular among commuters: “These are essentially smart helmets with lighting integration, including automatic braking and indicating lights on some models, which work in tandem with their app, as well as other apps like Strava.”
Compared to some of the other helmets on this list, Zagata admits that the Hyban is “a bit shorter on style,” but he said that “what it lacks [in that department], it makes up for in durability and utility in spades — plenty of vents, integrated LED rear light, and it’s super light.” The removable visor allows you to modify the helmet based on weather conditions, and the taillight improves visibility.
Best folding helmets
Just as folding bikes are commuter favorites since they can be brought on a train or stashed under your desk, folding and collapsible helmets are a sleek solution to carrying around a bulky helmet. Reynolds said the Closca Fuga helmet “is easy to fold in and out, provides good protection, and actually looks pretty good for a helmet.” Torres likes that the Closca is “smaller than most folding helmets, making it convenient to store in a bag.” When collapsed, they’re less than three inches high, and “they collapse down to half their size in seconds,” according to Nicklin who also said they’re “much more attractive than most folding helmets on the market.”
The Plixi helmet folds down to three times smaller than its full size, and also features lockable dividers for a customized fit. Jones said it’s “awesome because it folds up small enough to fit into a backpack or tote, without sacrificing style or breathability.”
Best helmets for sweaty rides
No one wants to show up to work drenched in sweat, and covering your head with a thick helmet doesn’t help. On days when the heat and humidity are reaching record highs, a helmet with lots of airflow can work to keep you cool. “In hotter temperatures, I will usually opt for a lightweight ventilated road-cycling helmet such as the Specialized Airnet Helmet because of the ventilation technology,” said Torres. “While it is aerodynamic, it is a bit more stylish than an average road-cycling helmet.”
Nicklin said Bern helmets, with their “flattering, rounded shape,” are very popular, and she also likes how they have “plenty of ventilation holes to get air flowing through to your head.” This Brighton model looks extra chic in rose gold. It’s also a top pick of Torres for hot days since it’s “designed with thin-shell technology and ventilation vents to keep you sweat-free and cool while you keep up with traffic.”
Another metallic option, this one in “satin Champagne,” came recommended by Nicklin because of the brim, which keeps the sun — or rain — out of your eyes. Besides making for a more comfortable riding experience, she said it “creates a more flattering line around your face than a helmet that cuts across the middle of your forehead.” It’s also available in black if you’re not into shiny.
Best anti–“helmet hair” helmet
Torres acknowledges that helmet hair can be a “major issue” for commuters, and she recommends Sawako helmets as your hairstyle’s best defense. She said part of preventing helmet hair is “letting your head breathe and sweatproofing your tresses.” A Sawako helmet’s 11 ventilation holes throughout the head sets it apart from other commuter options. Also, being extremely lightweight, it won’t put as much pressure on your head as a heavier helmet, which will mean less of an indent in your hair.
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