Let’s Talk Helmets

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to the bicycle lifestyle. The good news is, I’m learning. I’m a a bit overloaded digesting new information right now but, I know that will pass. As my friends and coworkers will tell you I’m a pretty good researcher. It’s one of the things I repeatedly get praise for from my peers and from my superiors at work.

When it comes to spending my hard earned cash on something I tend to go into research mode. My hyper-vigilant nature can sometimes be a bit of a curse. The good news is, when I make a decision, I feel good about the choice I’ve made.

So in preparing to ride again I’m shopping for all the different gear. Probably the most important bicycle accessory you can own is a proper helmet. So of course, I’ve been doing some research. I’ve found a number of websites with good information aimed at helping the prospective helmet buyer make an informed choice.

REI Logo

One site that I have come to appreciate is REI. The retailer has a lot of good and easy to follow articles and helpful videos for the prospective bicycle rider. When I first started looking for a new bike, I read a number of the articles REI has posted on their site. Their article, How to Choose a Bicycle Helmet is a good place to start.

I would like to reinforce one of the important points that REI makes in their guide, one that I think might often be overlooked by riders. If you’re involved in a crash where your helmet takes an impact, it’s time to get a new one. Just because it “looks” okay, doesn’t mean it will protect you properly in a subsequent crash, so don’t take that risk. Hopefully your helmet will remain crash free for years and if it does, you need to remember it still needs to be replaced every 5 years. Things break down over time and your helmet may not protect you properly if it’s very old. I learned these basic rules years ago because they are also true for motorcycle helmets. Think of your helmet as a very inexpensive insurance policy.

If you want to dig deeper for more information about bicycle helmets, then I recommend the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. To quote the BHSI they, “are a small, active, non-profit consumer-funded program providing bicycle helmet information.” They are part of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a bicycle advocacy group located in our nations capitol. The BHSI website may not be pretty but, it houses a wealth of information.

Of particular interest to me is their information on bicycle helmets for the 2012 season. The primary recommendations of the BHSI for this year are to find a helmet that fits you well and has, “a rounded, smooth exterior with no major snag points.”

Something else mentioned in the article that I believe is worth repeating, is whether you spend $20 or $200 on a helmet, they all have about the same impact protection. Buy what you like but, know that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a helmet that will protect your noggin. I also recommend you have a look at the page BHSI has posted on helmet visors. The takeaway on helmet visors is that they can be problematic and they may cause you harm. On impact they could shatter, the edges could scratch your face, and there’s a chance they will snag in an impact jerking your neck.

Pearl Izumi Cycling Cap

To me, it seems like it would be easier and better to buy a helmet without an integrated visor or just remove the visor if the helmet you like comes with one. Instead of using the stiff plastic visor, that might cause you harm during impact, you can instead ride with a cycling cap, like the one pictured above. The cycling cap is lightweight and many are designed to be worn under your helmet. The material will help absorb sweat and the soft visor probably won’t cause any additional damage to your pretty face should you have an unfortunate incident.

Armed with the recommendations from BHSI, here are a few helmets that look interesting.

Giro Reverb

First there’s the Giro Reverb. The Reverb is smooth and rounded without any snag points like the BHSI recommends. There is a removable integrated visor on this helmet but, it’s made of a soft cotton material. If you’re looking for something that hits all the marks for safety according the the BHSI report, the Reverb looks like a great choice. I think the styling of the Reverb works for both on and off-road riders. There also seems to be a good number of large vents to keep things cool.

Bell Faction

Next up is the Bell Faction. It’s features a smooth and rounded profile but, it’s skateboard / BMX styling may not be for everyone. You might look a little strange wearing this helmet while riding a road bike. Personally, I like the styling and I like that it’s offered in a wide range of colors all with different graphics. However, It looks like the Giro might offer a bit better ventilation.

Nutcase Stumptown Woody

Another brand worthy of consideration is Nutcase. Just about all of helmets that Nutcase makes are the same basic shape. They, however, offer enough styling options to suit just about anyone’s taste. Nutcase helmets range from simple solid colors to sparkly metallics and feature graphics that range from simple to outrageous. Something unique to the Nutcase helmets is the magnetic closure on the chinstrap. Don’t worry, their helmets are not held in place by magnets alone. The helmet isn’t going to fly off your head when you need it most.

Bern G2

Then there is Bern. The Bern G2 looks interesting to me. The G2 was new for 2011. The eight vents on the G2 seem pretty large and according to Bern they can be opened or closed. Being able to close the vents should offer greater comfort as the temperature changes. Like the Giro Reverb, the G2 features a soft removable visor.

Regardless of which helmet you choose, I believe you’ll be safer wearing any proper fitting bicycle helmet than riding without one. I don’t know yet which helmet I’ll choose. Like buying a pair of shoes, I feel it’s important to go to a local store or bike shop and trying on the models that interest you. If the helmet you choose isn’t comfortable on your head or doesn’t fit properly, chances are you probably won’t wear it.

What about you. Do you have a favorite helmet? Share it with us by posting a comment. I would love to know what recommendations you have.

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Helmets

  1. All of those helmets are going to be VERY hot. They just don’t have the venting needed to keep you cool during any kind of high intensity riding.

  2. Marty, thanks for the feedback. I’m still new to this and that’s exactly the kind of feedback I need. I too have my concerns about the ventilation on those helmets. While they meet the BHSI recommendations, the only one that seems to offer decent venting is the Giro and compared to the more traditional designs, none of these helmets offer the same level of venting. While these helmets are not bad designs, there are probably better choices for more intense riding or riding in warmer climates. After writing this post, I did some additional research and decided, I was going to have to write a follow-up post about helmets. Thanks again for your feedback.

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