I relate wearing a helmet to wearing a seatbelt. It just makes sense. Like seatbelts, helmets can save lives in the event of a crash. These days, at least 21 states even require you to wear one.
Helmets have come a long way—both in terms of style and function. But which one is right for you? Good question. Here are some suggestions for selecting the helmet best-suited for you.
Make it MTB-Specific
Walk into a bike shop and you’ll likely find three different types of helmets: road, sport and mountain bike. While all three will get the job done, I suggest you choose the helmet that is specifically designed with mountain bikers in mind. These types of helmets typically offer a visor and cover a larger area of your head. They’re made with trail hazards in mind and, aside from a full-face helmet, offer you the best protection possible in the event of a crash.
Helmet prices can range from inexpensive to astronomical. More expensive options will typically feel lighter in weight and offer more features to improve comfort.
Consider the Bells & Whistles
Before you buy, compare what each helmet offers. One of the first things to look for are venting and adjustment features. If you live in a warm environment, or ride at night often, you’ll want to choose a helmet with a decent amount of vents. Not only will the openings keep you cooled down on steamy rides, they’ll allow you to easily mount a headlamp to your helmet. Simply thread the Velcro straps or other mounting accessories through the vent on your helmet and voila! (OK, it might be a bit more complicated than that. It’s best to read the headlamp instructions before you attempt to secure it on your own.)
If you ride year-round, consider how many adjustment and fine-tuning options are available. My helmet just barely fits over a thick, wool headband or hat. Ideally, you’ll want enough space so that your helmet is secure when there is both an uncovered head and an additional warm layer underneath. This will require you to fiddle with the straps in the store. If you have the option, bring your favorite brain warmer of choice with you, so you can try it before you buy it.
Proper helmet fit is important each and every time you ride. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends you measure your head to determine its size, position your helmet so that it is level on your head and low on your forehead, and tighten the chin strap until it is snug. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the measuring required to choose the correct helmet size, have someone who works at the bike shop help you out.
While most helmets will come in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes, dimensions may vary depending on the manufacturer. Your best bet is to measure the largest part of your head (right above your eyebrows) and use that measurement to determine your size. Note that children's helmets are typically of the one-size-fits-all variety.
Know When to Replace It
Generally speaking, any time you (and your helmet) are involved in a bike crash, you’ll need to purchase a replacement. Why? Because thankfully your brain protector did what it was supposed to do—which was, um, protect your brain—and is now damaged. Even if you can’t see this damage, and sometimes you really can’t, it needs to be replaced if it’s been significantly impacted. Helmets aren’t made for multiple impacts.
For those of you who have remained crash-free for several years, please send some of your luck this way? Just kidding. (Sort of.) In all seriousness, you too will need to replace your helmet after five years of incident-free mountain biking bliss, because weathering, UV light and other elements can cause the components to deteriorate over time.
Be sure that whatever helmet you ultimately end up with has passed the minimum safety requirements as set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A sticker usually designates this.