How to Choose the Right Cycle Helmet

Written by : Bob Sharp; in :
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Whether you are a casual cyclist that goes for an easy cycle once in a blue moon or you prefer to spend every spare moment racing down mountainsides at breakneck speed, a helmet is essential.

Helmets are the most critical piece of cycling safety gear you will own. A study highlighting the dangers of riding without a helmet has thrown up some frightening statistics.

The study, which was published in Brain Journal, showed that 78% of adults and 88% of children who suffered neck and head injuries in cycling accidents were not wearing helmets. (Source – Consumer Reports)

Protecting your head is paramount when cycling, and the easiest way to do this is by always wearing a helmet.

Choosing the right type and fit of a helmet is critical, this guide is designed to make sure you choose the right cycle helmet to keep you as safe as possible.

How cycle helmets work

Helmets are designed with one aim, to keep your head safe in the event of an accident. How they achieve this breaks down into three main areas.

  1. Absorption and energy distribution: Helmets are made from polystyrene foam. This foam compresses upon impact, cushioning the blow. It also distributes the force of the impact over a wider area.

    The hard exterior shell of the helmet stops the foam from splitting during an impact, but it also helps by protecting the neck from jarring impacts if you find yourself sliding along the ground after a crash.
  2. Protection from puncture type accidents: The hard outer shell is designed to withstand impacts from acute objects that would otherwise puncture through the foam.

    Mostly, these shells are made from hard plastic, but some now use carbon fiber composite materials. These are lighter and more robust but are more expensive.
  3. Retention system: A helmet that falls off in the event of an accident is useless. The retention system is there to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The retention system will normally consist of an under-chin strap.

Types of cycle helmet

Not all cycling carries the same risk, a gentle cycle along a riverbank will not require a full-face helmet, similarly, speeding downhill on a slippy mountain track will require all the extra protection you can get.

The main types of helmets are listed below:

Mountain bikes and BMX

Although there are specific types for each discipline, they are highly interchangeable and offer the same features.

In road riding crashes, the momentum of the rider usually means that the bulk of the crashes are forward of the rider. In Mountain biking and BMX biking, the nature of the sports means that crashing can occur in any direction. To account for this helmets designed for these sports provide greater protection to the temporal and occipital areas of the head.

Another factor is the cooling ventilation -  As speeds are generally slower in mountain biking and BMXing the vents on these types of helmets are usually larger but fewer to maximize the airflow at low speeds.

These helmets usually incorporate visors to protect against glare and sunlight as well as deflecting overhanging foliage. There are three main categories:

  • Open face: These have no protection for the chin or lower jaw.
  • Full face: Looking more like traditional motorbike helmets, these protect the lower head and jaw area.
  • Convertible: Convertible helmets offer the best of both worlds with a detachable chin protector that allows you to use the helmet in full-face or open-face mode.

Road bike helmets

As I mentioned road crashes are usually of the forward type. To account for this road helmets have protection that is focused on the front and sides of the head.

Road cycling is faster than mountain biking and the helmets also take this into account. In instances where speed is king, then weight and aerodynamics come into play. More expensive specialized models will utilize carbon fiber in the instruction and will be designed to offer little wind resistance.

This factor also affects ventilation. Because of the higher speeds involved, there are usually fewer and smaller vents.

Kids Helmets

These are usually just smaller versions of adult helmets, although many of them feature color schemes that are designed to make them feel like the coolest kid in the neighborhood!

Safety and Safety Standards

One great thing about mountain bike helmets is that most countries will have a set of rigorous standards that the helmets must comply with. In essence, this means that the cheapest helmet will be as safe as the most expensive. Generally, the price difference is down to the sophistication of the design, materials used weight, etc.

Some simple steps can help improve safety when buying your helmet. Choosing a highly visible color can reduce the risk of getting hit by others on the road.

If you already own a helmet, then its age is another consideration. Good cycle helmets are robust and should last for years, but look for faded colors and frayed straps. If this is the case, it is time to replace it.

Finally, the right fit is essential. Which is what I will cover next.

Buying the right size of cycle-helmet

To protect your head properly, the helmet must be the correct fit. Luckily, most helmets are highly adjustable. Manufacturers will label helmets by size, normally small, medium, and large, sometimes there are x-small for kids helmets.

Each size will have a listing that shows the head measurement it corresponds to. To measure for the correct size is simple:

  1. Use a tape to measure around the largest part of your head. This is just above the ears.
  2. Select the size of helmet that matches this measurement.
  3. Once you have the right-sized helmet place it on your head and adjust the chin strap. Tiy should be able to feel the helmet on all parts of your head.
  4. Try to rotate the helmet from side to side, it shouldn’t rotate on your head.
  5. Make sure the helmet doesn’t come off too easily. Tod od this tilt your head forward and have someone apply gentle force to the base of the helmet at the rear, it should remain in place.

While the classifications vary by manufacturer, a table with some guideline sizes is below:

Head Size

Helmet Size

51 – 52cm (20 – 20.5 inches)


53 – 54cm (20.5 – 21.25 inches)


55 – 56cm (21.5 – 22 inches)


57 – 58cm (22.5 – 23 inches)


59 – 60cm (23 – 23.5 inches)


61 – 62cm (24 – 24.5 inches)


63 – 64cm (24.5 – 25 inches)



Staying Safe

Cycling is a healthy and fun pastime, but it isn’t without its dangers. Minimizing the risks before you set out on any cycle is critical. A helmet can protect you from serious injury and worse.

I hope the guide has helped you choose the right helmet. I have also written a great review of the best helmets, which you can find here.

Have fun cycling, but always wear a helmet!

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