Bike Helmet Recommendations
April 19, 2020 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing more road biking on hills, and it has me thinking I should get a helmet. What's a good and comfortable helmet for a casual weekend rider, and how does sizing work in helmets?

I usually ride along the beach, but they closed the bike paths to create physical distancing, and it's forcing me onto the streets and that also has me going up and down hills more than I had before. So I'm thinking I'd feel a little safer with a helmet.

My rides are usually pretty short (less than 1 hour). So, I could probably make do with about anything, but I'd still prefer to be as comfortable as possible and I can spend a little extra money if it gets me a lot more comfort.

It looks like helmets may come in sizes and since I can't go into a bike store right now to be fitted and I have no idea what size head I have, it would also help to know how that works.

I looked at past bike helmet questions, but they were from several years ago, and the recommendations don't seem to be readily available on Amazon.
posted by willnot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Bontrager MIPS Solstice and really like the adjustable band that goes around the back of the head. Easy to adjust for different hairstyles. Keeps my head cool. The claim is that the MIPS helps with concussions.
posted by ProtoStar at 2:37 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's a way around finding a seller who accepts returns and being prepared to try on a few different helmets. You can measure the circumference of your head to get your ostensible size, but different helmets are made for different head shapes. There's no way to tell if a helmet will be to shallow for your head without trying it on.
posted by aussie_powerlifter at 3:18 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

... have no idea what size head I have, it would also help to know how that works.

If you have a tape measure, measure the circumference of your head (above the ears, and about an inch above your eyebrows.
(Lacking a tape measure, you can just use a string and then transfer that measurement to a yardstick.)

To a decent approximation, you can Assume A Spherical Head and divide by Pi to get a diameter, which will be pretty close to your hat/helmet size.

A slightly better answer is to use an on-line lookup table

or here

Helmets will vary a bit in sizing and comfort, but this will at least get you in the ballpark.
Try to find a vendor that'll do returns/exchanges.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:29 PM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Comfort is basically 95% getting something that fits well. Heads aren't anywhere near being uniformly shaped so that means a bunch of trial and error. Measuring your hat size is the most basic of starting points and you'll usually end up trying on at least a half dozen helmets to get one that fits properly snug without digging in somewhere. And hope you don't have a big oversized head like me that makes fitting a helmet a major chore. Because you don't want wash a helmet with anything but the mildest soap and water a bike store is really in a bind when it comes to letting you try them on. I'd call around though. They may have whipped something up where they put potential helmets in a plastic bag or something.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has a sizing chart. Bell and I think others now have a one size fits all (which of course doesn't) ring system which would be what I'd be trying now in your situation. If your head shape is such that it will adjust properly it'll be the easiest thing.

There essentially isn't any safety difference between brands or between cheap and expensive helmets so you just need to find something attractive that fits properly.
The optimal bicycle helmet for that moment when you hit the pavement has a round shape and a hard, or at least smooth, plastic, shell. The first ones we saw in the US market were skate-style helmets. Most of them have minimal vents and are hot for warm weather bicycle riding. But now road and mountain bike helmets are improving every year. Some are lumpy and have styling ridges, but most manufacturers are moving toward more rounded designs.

For sliding, the rounder the helmet the better. In addition to possibly adding sliding resistance if a rear projection digs into the pavement, the rear of the elongated helmet could shove the helmet aside when you hit, leaving your head unprotected. Although it has been debated ever since the elongated designs appeared, Professor Hugh Hurt raised this question again in 2005, based on both testing problems and field reports of injury from helmets being pushed aside. You probably do not want a helmet that could only be tested by duct taping it onto the test headform. Fortunately, the current trend is to "compact" helmets, and the aero shape looks dated now.
PS: Snell hasn't found an advantage to MIPS in their testing yet. However it wasn't a detriment either.
posted by Mitheral at 4:08 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

My nutcase brand helmet came with a bunch of different foam inserts and several adjustment points, notably a sort of ratcheting tightening system. It is very customizable and would seem to fit a very wide range of heads. Maybe not good for you if your head is far outside the norm.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:32 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bike commuter, just under 20 miles/day. Received one of these for Xmas this year.

My bike is lit up like a goddamn Xmas tree. I figure the best way to not die is to not get hit by a car.

I probably wouldn't have bought it for myself, and I had to be shamed into wearing a helmet at all, but now it's essential for me. The turn signals are great.
posted by booooooze at 7:47 PM on April 19, 2020

When you measure the circumference of your head, use centimeters, as that is what most major manufacturers use to determine whether you're a small, medium, large, etc. They will all have at least one adjustment so that it can accommodate your specific sizing needs; the nicer ones will have multiple adjusting options. Buy one with a decent amount of vents for optimal breathability for your head.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:40 PM on April 19, 2020

I have Wirecutter's discount recommendation. The easily adjustable ("dial-in") back strap makes getting a good fit much easier than helmets with only straps that you pull on.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:05 PM on April 19, 2020

I don't want to sound all preachy but yes, yes you should get and wear a helmet. Take it from me.

I wear a Smith Route. It very comfortable, lightweight, and I'll add in a second vote in favor of MIPS.

As long as you can get a relatively accurate measure of your head circumference, a lot of modern models have a nice tightening dial feature that sits at the back of your head--you can tighten or loosen the helmet's "grip" on you to personalize your comfort level.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:35 AM on April 20, 2020

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