“I think the helmet you wear is the best helmet,” says Charles McCorkell of Bicycle Habitat. We agree: You should always wear one. But which helmet to choose? Different bikers have different priorities. If you’re riding your bike to work instead of in the Tour de France, for instance, you’re probably more concerned with preventing sweaty, messy helmet hair and having a helmet that’s easy to tote around when you’re not wearing it. Or say you’re mountain biking — maybe you’ll want to invest in a helmet with MIPS technology, which helps protect against brain injury if you fall. If you’re riding on a particularly sunny (or rainy) day, you might want a helmet with a visor to shield you from the elements. Or a helmet with lights, for riding at night, to make yourself more visible to passing cars on the road. And it doesn’t hurt if your helmet looks good, too. “Helmets not only need to protect your head; they need to be comfortable and stylish,” says Albert Cabbad of R&A Cycles. In other words, if you like the way your helmet looks, you’ll be more likely to wear it.
Of course, the most important function of any commuting (or other) 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 fasten tightly. To find the best helmets for keeping you safe on the go, we consulted bike-store owners, cycling style bloggers, and bike commuters.
Best bike helmet
“After safety, comfort and ventilation are the most important features,” says McCorkell. The Echelon II MIPS helmet from Specialized fits the bill. This style, which McCorkell notes is “reasonably priced,” combines the comfort of a commuter helmet with the ventilation you’d want for more intense biking. Unlike some “fashion-based” helmets, which are inspired by skateboard and snowboard versions, this one offers ample air vents for keeping your head cool whether you’re biking to work, road cycling, or traversing bumpier routes. It has a “static yoke below the ear so the straps don’t tangle when you hang it on your handlebar when not riding, and it never needs adjustment after the first fitting,” McCorkell says. The static yoke is also great because, while most helmets need readjustment, this one doesn’t — the yoke keeps the strap in place. “This is my favorite helmet feature, as the helmet is always ready to go when you are.”
Best commuter helmets
Christina Torres, founder of City Girl Rides, says she has been “obsessing over Thousand bike helmets for their retro look, functionality, and sustainability practices.” Sitting pretty at the intersection of form and function, the brand unsurprisingly was mentioned by several of the experts we spoke to. “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,” says Lauren Jones, manager of marketing and product development at Brilliant Bicycle Co.
Ryan Zagata, president of Brooklyn Bicycle Co., calls this helmet “stylish yet incredibly functional,” adding that it offers “an abundance of ventilation to keep your head cool while riding.” It also has a removable visor to shield your eyes from the sun. The combination of these features, Zagata says, makes this one “a top-notch city helmet.”
Torres acknowledges that helmet hair can be a “major issue” for commuters, and she recommends Sawako helmets as your hairstyle’s best defense. Part of preventing helmet hair, she says, is “letting your head breathe and sweatproofing your tresses.” A Sawako helmet’s 11 evenly distributed ventilation holes set it apart from other commuter options. And, being extremely lightweight, it won’t put as much pressure on your head as a heavier helmet will, making less of an indent in your hair.
Best mountain-biking helmet
Several experts we spoke to recommend helmets from Giro, and Caddad singles out the Montaro model as a good choice for mountain biking. He says it offers “concussion prevention” and is available at “a great price point.” The helmet boasts MIPS technology, which stands for “multi-directional impact-protection system.” Helmets with MIPS technology feature a layer between the shell and the liner that allows the helmet to slide relative to your head in instances of angular impact and that helps to reduce brain trauma should you fall or be hit.
Best bike helmets for women
Women’s helmets tend to be a little smaller than men’s for a better fit. That said, don’t forget to leave room for your hair: Cyclists with thicker hair may need a bigger helmet, and if you’ve gotten a short haircut recently, you may want to make sure your helmet still fits as snugly as it used to. For women, Andrew Crooks, owner of NYC Velo, suggests the Giro Seyen MIPS helmet, which he says “represents an incredible value for a performance-driven helmet for women.” It also has plenty of ventilation to keep your head from getting too sweaty while you ride.
Caz Nicklin, founder of the London-based cycling shop and blog Cyclechic, says Bern helmets, with their “flattering rounded shape,” are very popular, and Torres also likes that they have “plenty of ventilation holes to get air flowing through to your head.” This Brighton model looks extra-chic in rose gold. Torres recommends it for hot days since it’s “designed with thin-shell technology and ventilation to keep you sweat free and cool while you keep up with traffic.”
Best helmets with visors
If you’re riding anywhere near cars, it’s a good idea to make yourself super-visible. Joseph Nocella, owner of 718 Cyclery, says he uses the Giro Cormick helmet and likes that it comes in a shade of “high-visibility yellow so the [most] people can see me as possible.” Nocella notes that it’s a “nice hybrid of the roadie style and the bowling ball/skater style,” meaning it “looks nice and sleek but has ventilation.”
Compared with some of the other helmets on this list, the Hyban is “a bit shorter on style,” Zagata admits, but he says 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 superlight.” The removable visor lets you modify the helmet based on weather conditions, and the taillight improves visibility.
Another option with a visor is this helmet in “satin Champagne,” which comes recommended by Nicklin. Besides making for a more comfortable riding experience, she says 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 helmets for road biking
“Comfort can be defined by many things — how light [the helmet] is, how ventilated it is,” Caddad says. As a comfortable choice for road biking, he suggests the Kask Mojito, which comes at a great price point for an “amazing” helmet and is “light, vented, and minimalist on the head.”
On days when the heat and humidity reach record highs, a helmet with lots of airflow works to keep you cool. “In hotter temperatures, I will usually opt for a lightweight ventilated road-cycling helmet, such as the Specialized Airnet, because of the ventilation technology,” says Torres. “While it is aerodynamic, it’s a bit more stylish than an average road-cycling helmet.”
Best folding helmets
Just as folding bikes are commuter favorites because they can be brought on a train or stashed under your desk, folding or collapsible helmets are sleek alternatives to carrying around a bulky one. Pete Reynolds, founder of the cycling style website Discerning Cyclist, says the Closca Fuga “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, it’s less than three inches high, and “it collapses down to half its size in seconds,” according to Nicklin, who also says it’s “much more attractive than most folding helmets on the market.”
Best smart helmets
If you want something more high-tech, you might want to look into the Specialized with ANGi, which is a sensor that can detect when you crash. “If you fall, it will have your emergency contact called with your location,” McCorkell says. All you need to do is sync the helmet with an app that sends out the notification. McCorkell adds that, of the helmets with this technology, the Specialized Propero has been the most popular, possibly because it’s the lowest-priced helmet with the feature.
You should already have lights on your bike — it’s illegal to ride in NYC at night without a white headlight and red taillight (this USB-rechargeable set is a good pick) — and if you regularly commute before sunrise or after sunset, a light-up helmet ensures that cars on the road won’t miss you. Reynolds says 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.”
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