Bike helmet for the helmet averse
June 25, 2014 4:37 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy a helmet for my 20 year old son who commutes to work and school via bike. He does not now own a helmet and hasn't since middle school and would not be likely to purchase one, but I'd like to give him one. What helmet would he be likely to wear?

He rides in the city. I suppose he may need to lock it up with his bike occasionally, not sure if that's a factor. He is keenly aware of 'cool factor', i.e. if he looks like a dweeb, he would not be likely to wear it.

In short, is there a helmet that the cool kids wear?
posted by readery to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I tend to think that Nutcase helmets are cooler than average--at least they are unique. But I am pretty much a dweeb...
posted by chaiminda at 4:43 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are cool helmets that look like hats! Check out yakkay!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:55 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

What city? I ask because Nutcase helmets, while coming in a variety of designs, are less vented and therefore hotter than other helmets.

You're never going to look like you're not wearing a helmet, so you might as well get something comfortable.
posted by supercres at 4:58 AM on June 25, 2014

I'd recommend a Giro Reverb. They look pretty good, they're really comfortable, they're light, and they require almost no adjustment to get a good fit. I'm helmet averse myself and it's what I settled on for those times I have to wear one. I tried Nutcase and some "skate-style" helmets and always found them to be heavy and fit badly. That being said, if your son's commute is long or in hot weather, it doesn't provide the kind of ventilation that a more sporty helmet would.

If you want to get him a piece of hand-made art, there are these beautiful wood/cork helmets from Oregon.
posted by Emanuel at 5:00 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know, most cool design helmets (like that linked above) look pretty lame to me. They look like they are trying too hard which is the opposite of cool. I think a black no-frills helmet is better than most. Something sleek.
posted by Aranquis at 5:02 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I forgot about another couple of things that make me choose the Reverb: minimal aesthetic available in plain colours (I hate ridiculous design), and also was one of the thinnest helmets I could find. The thicker the helmet, the more likely you are to hit your head, so I wanted something low-profile. Most helmets meet the same (rather low) impact standards anyway, so the thickness doesn't make any difference to effectiveness if you actually need the helmet, but thinner/lighter means you're less likely to need it.

Oh and seconding crocomancer, but that's not actually answering the question :)
posted by Emanuel at 5:22 AM on June 25, 2014

Mod note: Comment deleted; let's just stick to answering the question. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:29 AM on June 25, 2014

I'm a 22 year old guy who cycles to work, and who never wears a helmet, despite the fact that his parents got him one a few years ago, so I think it might be difficult to manage this. But to maximise your chances of getting it right, have you tried speaking to him straightforwardly? Why not tell him you'd be happier if he wore a helmet, and you'd willingly buy him one that he likes.

If you want to guess at something though, personally I'd be most likely to wear a plain black skateboarding helmet, but each to their own personal protective equipment or whatever.
posted by Ned G at 5:34 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd recommend the Gyro Revel. It's relatively compact and has great ventilation to keep your head cool.
posted by juiceCake at 5:35 AM on June 25, 2014

I love my Torch, but it's too hot in the summer (they are working on a more vented design, however) and too expensive to lock to your bike and leave outside.

The snowboarder kids (I know, not quite the same thing) all fancy up their helmets with stickers and tails and goofy crap. There are some sleek snowboarder helmet designs, but again--too hot for summer and too expensive to lock to your bike).
posted by crush-onastick at 5:38 AM on June 25, 2014

It's tricky. I mean part of the uncool factor of helmets is that people are always telling you to wear them and are always dismissing your reasons for not wearing them. Even as an adult, nothing triggers my irrational pushback response faster than a patronizing insistence that I'm making an objectively wrong decision, as though my values and criteria are a simple factual error.

So it's great that you've identified and are respecting his "cool factor" reason, but it will probably be vital to identify his others as well. Does he find them uncomfortable? There are some very light and very comfortable helmets, but it can be very hard to match this with cool factor. Does he find them too hot? Again, the helmets with the best airflow tend to be the dorkiest looking. Does he hate that they mess up his hair? If it's that last one, you may be SOL.

Personally, when I was riding my bike all the time and didn't wear a dorky helmet, I bought a Salomon Brigade snowboarding helmet. It's really comfortable and it looks pretty badass (much like the Nutcase ones chainminda linked in the first answer. Plus, when people notice you;re wearing a snowboard helmet rather than specifically a bicycle helmet, you still get to hear their self-righteous commentary about how your irresponsibility, just as though you weren't wearing a helmet, so that's a plus.

But then, it's too hot to wear on really hot days, so I still go helmetless for most of June, July, and August. And, of course, it messes up your hair.

Long way of saying, ask more questions about what he doesn't like about helmets, maybe show him a few of the helmets suggested in this thread and offer to buy him any of them. And be prepared for him to potentially still not be interested.
posted by 256 at 5:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

How does your son feel about scarves? Not sure how easy they are to get in the US just yet, but I love the idea of a safe way of biking without something covering my head.
posted by Grither at 5:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

There really isn't one easy pick. Bike helmets are quite personal and he is likely to be very particular, so he should really pick it out himself. Anything you choose for him is likely to gather dust given that he's not particularly interested himself.

If you see him often, I'd just offer to take him to a shop and cover the bill. If he's far away, send him a gift certificate to a local bike shop or, with a note explaining that you'd like him to get a helmet, and why it would mean a lot to you.
posted by susanvance at 6:09 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bern helmets are tasteful, available in many colors, and popular among NYC riders. They are better ventilated than many similar-looking helmets, especially the Allston model.
posted by akgerber at 6:30 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he's far away, send him a gift certificate to a local bike shop or, with a note explaining that you'd like him to get a helmet, and why it would mean a lot to you.

Strongly agree with this. I hate helmets with a passion and only got into the habit because a boyfriend at the time guilted me into it. I would have really unlikely to wear any helmet gifted to me, since hating helmets and all, there is a really narrow range of "acceptable" for me.
posted by randomnity at 6:32 AM on June 25, 2014

I ride every day and love my Giro Atmos because it's light, has a nice adjustment system, and it's very well ventilated.

My next helmet is probably going to be a Lazer Helium or Oxygen, because so far that's the only thing I can find that's even better than my Atmos (but my Atmos is perfectly fine and I can't justify buying another helmet just because).

I can't imagine anyone buying a helmet for me, or me buying a helmet for anyone. I think giving him cash/gift card and saying "this is specifically for finding a helmet you like" is the way to go.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:37 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aside from the question of which style he would prefer (the skateboard look is really huge at the moment, but that will undoubtedly change), helmet fit is a trickier issue. Heads are weird. A Nutcase fits different from a Giro from a Bern from a Garneau. If you buy from a local bike shop, have a gift receipt on hand, so he can exchange it. (Also, I strongly recommend not locking up a helmet with the bike, as it could be damaged, stolen, or vandalized.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:59 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

A matte black Bern is kind of an understated hipster classic.

But speaking as a former cool kid, you might just have to wait a couple years until he fully grasps the concept of mortality.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:34 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Those Nutcase ones and most ones described as "sleek" or "not dorky" are INCREDIBLY HOT AND SWEATY. For real, there's a reason why all those weird ventilation holes exist. My head is actually cooler when I'm wearing my Aeon than when I'm not, thanks to how well the design funnels air over my scalp.

He is less likely to wear a helmet that makes him incredibly hot and sweaty.

I run a bike gang in a major city and am friends with a bunch of bike messenger dudes. Here are the helmets that would be considered the coolest/most enviable.

The Giro Atmos that spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints mentioned - this is by far one of the most common helmets you'll see at bike races, for example

The Giro Aeon is a slightly nicer, lighter version of the Atmos - I wrote reviews of it here and here.

Catlike Helmets are very iconic, enviable, and highly desired (they're also very expensive....). They're one of those things where the average biker probably thinks they're way ugly but someone who knows a lot/really likes bikes is all "ugnhhhhh I'm so jealous I hate you" if you have one.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:42 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just to be clear though, there are definitely competing definitions of "cool" here.

I'm a former bike messenger and know a lot of serious bike geeks. The Aeon is a very cool helmet if you're a bike geek. Which is the very reason it's pretty much the dorkiest helmet imaginable if you aren't a huge bike geek.
posted by 256 at 8:22 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. My plan is to show him examples on line and try to get his input. I'll see him this evening. I know that the odds are he won't wear it, but I am his mother and feel the need to press this on him. He doesn't live at home and a few days ago he was telling me about adventures that mostly involving late night/early AM rides thru the streets of Chicago which sent my maternal instincts all a-twitter. The pot holes are still awful.

I am a bike person too, but as a middle-aged lady I will plunk any old thing on my head so am out of the loop as to what's out there.
posted by readery at 8:35 AM on June 25, 2014

The coolest helmets I've ever seen are these hand-painted Belle Helmets.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2014

Another or additional safety option which he may be more likely to use is good lights; back, rear, and side. A large percentage of accidents occur at night because visibility is bad for both driver and cyclist.
posted by metasarah at 10:32 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I love the heck out of my Closca folding helmet. Another folding helmet, Morpher, has also gotten lots of good press.
posted by evoque at 10:59 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Personally, I would never wear a helmet. And when I lived in Chicago in 2004, cycling the indeed pothole covered streets from Humboldt Park to the lake & back, I never did.

Seeing that you write about him cycling at night:
I would get him reflective tape for his bike, those spinning lights that you attach to the wheel (, or reflective clothing, like the bands that you loop around your legs or arms.
They're not as uncool, and other drivers are more likely to see you.

Also: I can also recommend getting him a really good front-bike-light to light up the street ahead of him to avoid potholes. I would love to get that as a present, because I'm not likely to shell out over $60 for a bike light. But they are heaven to cycle with at night, and also increase his visibility by other road users.
posted by Thisandthat at 1:48 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really like the idea of giving him lights instead of a helmet. I am a daily urban bike commuter in pothole-ridden Boston and in spite of being a generally cautious, grown-up woman, I only wear a helmet most of the time (didn't today because it's too hot). I think my helmet is vastly less important to my safety than my lights and my brakes. The revolights that Thisandthat mentions are very cool (and very visible) but they're also a huge pain in the ass to install, so if you give him something like that maybe buy it through a local bike shop that will do the installation.
posted by mskyle at 2:45 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yup, agreeing with others: a good strong headlight so he can see the potholes, and reflectors/rear lights so cars can see him. I *love* my super bright headlight at night (we have potholes here, but even worse are the deer). Preventing a crash in the first place is much better for safety than a styrofoam hat which may or may not help in the even one does crash (and does nothing at all to prevent non-head injuries).
posted by Emanuel at 3:40 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If lights are on the table as an option, I just recently got and installed a set of Reelights on my bike, which are battery-less lights that generate energy from a set of magnets on a bike's rotating wheels and are ALWAYS. ON. They are AMAZING and make me feel so much more at ease about having lights, since I never have to worry about dead batteries or remembering to pack my lights all the time (although I would not generally use them as my principle lights on purpose; they're pretty low to the ground). They are also super easy to install.

(this is a great thread - there are lots of cool helmets out there!)
posted by urbanlenny at 6:21 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If helmets were for anything other than my head, I wouldn't wear them.
But head injuries suck.


Not wearing helmets is not as bad as being an anti-vaxxer, because brain injuries aren't contagious. Given my rather's, I'd rather be crippled than brain injured. It's almost always frontal lobe injuries too. You need those bits.
Brain injuries can, not will, but can cause the kind of problems that kind of turn you into an impulsive, poor decision making dickhead for the rest of your life. Anecdata.

Anyway, Get a plain black skate/bike/bmx style helmet.
Or hell, colored.
posted by Elysum at 8:13 PM on June 25, 2014

Response by poster: We went with a set of lights. He's not going to wear a helmet, no matter what his mother wants. As a driver he appreciates bikers that are adequately illuminated, so was open to a set of high quality lights.

Thanks for all your input.
posted by readery at 9:32 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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