THE POPULAR BICYCLE safety slogan says it best: If you’ve got a head, you need a helmet. Protective gear reduces the risk of cyclist head injuries by more than 50%, according to the National Safety Council. And helmets have come a long way since you were a kid, with new compressible materials that better cushion your crown from impact and companion apps that trigger alerts to an emergency contact after a fall.
Safety experts point out there’s value in getting a helmet designed for your cycling needs: Just as mountain bikes are better at traversing rough terrain than their roadie cousins, beefier mountain-bike helmets cover more of your dome in case of tumbling falls. They also fit your head more snugly, staying secure even when you attempt a jump, and their visors stick out to protect your mug from branches and debris. Though no less safe, road bike helmets are more streamlined, prioritizing lightness and sleekness to help you speed along. (Don’t try to sub in a skateboarding helmet, meant only to shield you from the multiple moderate impacts associated with falling off half-pipes.)
Another reason to upgrade your helmet to one more in line with your cycling habits? As
president of the Boise cycling shop Idaho Mountain Touring, explains: “Most helmets are made of [Styrofoam], which degrades over time so it loses its ability to absorb shock.” Crashes, bumps, drops and even regular use can accelerate this process.
Helmets fit everyone differently, so try on a few styles. To start, our top picks for everyone from day trippers to hard-core racers.
For Mountain Bikers
Blaze WaveCel by Bontrager
For an extra line of defense in case of falls, the Blaze pairs a traditional outer shell with an inner layer of the brand’s exclusive, collapsible “WaveCel” material that crumples to absorb impact before it reaches your head. The helmet offers more extensive back-of-the-head coverage than your average hard hat, and employs a high-tech fit system and magnetic buckle you can easily adjust with one hand while riding. Just attach a
to the magnetic mount setup to capture your latest booter. (That’s lingo for large jump.) $300, trekbikes.com
For Casual Riders
Hudson by Bern
For leisure cyclists who don’t need to commit overkill in the name of safety, this winner of the 2021 Outdoor Retailer Innovation Award is considerably chicer and more affordable than many similarly well-appointed models—while meeting rigorous international safety standards. Its 13 vents ward off sweaty helmet-head, while an easily detached visor works like a ball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes. Integrated LED lights allow you to see better at night—and help drivers see you better, too. Rated for use up to 27 mph, the Hudson is also a good choice for electric bikers. $120, bernhelmets.com
For Road Racers
S-Works Prevail II Vent by Specialized
Hardcore cyclists used to long, sweaty rides will appreciate that the Prevail II Vent eliminates the heat-trapping middle layer seen in most designs. By integrating a multidirectional impact protection system into the padding itself, the helmet stays light and breathable even on sweltering days. It’s also equipped to reassure significant others who hate sending you off alone: In the event of a collision, its crash sensor will send your spouse (or any other contact you specified in its companion app) a text message. $250, specialized.com
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