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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

Quick Answers
to Your Helmet Questions



Summary: Helmet answers in fast-reading format.



What's the best helmet to buy?

We think you should pick a helmet that fits you well, is round and smooth on the outside, and has a sticker inside certifying that it meets the CPSC standard. There is not enough verifiable difference in impact performance to make recommendations.

Consumer Reports last published a full helmet article in 2006, and an article on kids' helmets in 2009. Most of the models are no longer available, and they were not able to cover many brands. We have a detailed page on Helmets for the Current Season if you want more info. We also have a long description of what we consider to be the ideal helmet.


Who makes the coolest helmet?

Marketing hype aside, coolness always depends on ventilation, and that depends mostly on the size of the front vents. Consumer Reports found all of the adult helmets they tested were at least Good for ventilation and only one was Excellent. But you can look at a helmet and see 90 per cent of the ventilation story. Most riders will not need all the vents you see in the most expensive models, but in some climates cooler is better.


What will I pay for it?

Our local K-Mart, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart discount stores have smooth, round, helmets meeting the CPSC standard on sale regularly for about $10 to $25, and most discount stores are under $30. Local bike shops have major brands for $35 to $200.


Is a cheap helmet as safe as an expensive one?

Yes! We submitted samples of six helmet models to a leading U.S. test lab: three in the $150 to $200 range and three under $20. The impact test results were virtually identical. There were very few differences in performance among the helmets. Our conclusion: when you pay more for a helmet you may get an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics. But the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets we tested equaled the expensive ones.


What about helmet standards?

Helmet standards test for things you can't judge in a store: impact performance and strap strength. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission's bike helmet standard is law now for every helmet made for the US market after 1999. So CPSC is the benchmark standard. ASTM and Snell B-90 are similar to it, and Snell B-95 is a little better, if you can remember all that in the store. (The old 1984 ANSI standard you may remember is dead.) We have a page comparing the standards if you want details. But every bicycle helmet sold in the US will have a CPSC sticker inside.


Kid's helmets?

There are lots of helmets for kids from one to five years old. There are no tiny helmets on the market because nobody recommends taking a very young infant on a bicycle. Kids need vents in hot weather even if they are not pedaling, and most toddler helmets have sets of fit pads of different thickness to adjust for growth. We have more on kids helmets, more on taking a tot along and a page on trailers or bicycle-mounted child seats too.


Where can I find a helmet for my extra large head?

Several manufacturers have XXL helmets, listed on our page on helmets for big heads.


What about my bald head?

We recommend that bald riders pick their helmet carefully, add light screening in the top vents, or wear a kerchief or use sunscreen to control those tan lines. We have more advice from other bald riders.


When do I need to replace a helmet?

  • Did you crash it? Replace!
  • Is it from the 1970's? Replace.
  • Is the outside just foam or cloth instead of plastic? Replace.
  • Does it lack a CPSC, ASTM or Snell sticker? Replace.
  • Can you not adjust it to fit correctly? Replace!!
  • Do you hate it? Replace.
For details, see our inevitable page on when to replace your helmet.


What other activities can a bike helmet be used for?

The ASTM standards for Inline Skating and bicycle helmets are the same. Inline skaters asked to have it that way after using bike helmets for a decade and finding them adequate for skating protection. For other activities you are on your own with a bicycling-only helmet. There are a few multi-purpose helmets on the market that meet Snell's N-94 multi-purpose standard. And of course we have a page up with more on multi-purpose helmets.


How can I tell if my helmet is on backwards?

On some helmets it isn't easy. Some helmets have a "Front" sticker. The brand is normally on the front, and the nape straps go toward the back. We of course have a page with detail on finding the front of your helmet.


Who has mandatory helmet laws?

At least 21 states and 145 localities in the US. All of Australia, and parts of Canada. Here is our list of laws.


Where do I find statistics on helmets?

Here, on our statistics page. Lots of them, and they don't agree, so you can take your pick!


How well do helmets work?

Very well indeed, as long as they are fitted securely and buckled when you crash. Helmets provide a 66 to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Ask any club cyclist, whose shared experience with other cyclists has shown them the pattern clearly. The down side is that many helmet users are not securing their helmets level on the head and adjusting the straps carefully. Those cute kids with helmets tilted back have their big, bare foreheads right out there ready to crack. A helmet has to be fitted carefully to do its work.


Can I wear beads braided in my hair or a baseball cap with my helmet?

Not if you want your helmet to fit well. If the beads interfere with fit, they can make your helmet less safe. So does the brim of your baseball hat, and the thickness of the hat. In addition, beads in your hair or the steel ball at the top of many baseball caps can concentrate the force of an impact on one spot, or the beads can shatter in a fall, cutting you. We have a page up on hairdo's with beads braided in and wearing baseball caps under a helmet.


Where can I find a hard shell helmet?

There are plenty of hard shell helmets, but most are skate-style, and they have the classic skate shape with tiny vents. A company in Taiwan, Hopus Technologies, is making hard shell helmets in bicycle styles, and you can find at least one of them as a PTI brand helmet at Target stores. Check our page on helmets for the current year and search for the word "hard" to find more.


How can I promote bike helmets?

That's not a quick question! Check out our Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs for an amazing array of helpers.


Where can I get pamphlets?

Check this page on how to get our pamphlets on paper or as Word or .pdf files.


Can we quote you?

Certainly! Please follow our press rules.


Who pays your salary?

We don't get salaries! We are an all-volunteer program funded at less thal $12,000 per year exclusively by consumer donations, most of them very small. We do not accept funding from any helmet manufacturer or industry group. That lets us take a free swing when we go to an ASTM standards meeting or write up a review of this season's helmets. Our FAQ, or "Can you trust this site?" page has more description of who we are.


If you're so poor, what are you doing with a big, fast site here on the Internet?

It's amazing what volunteer labor can do for you on the Web. To see how we run our link at minimal cost and reasonable speed, check out our network description. We have been around since 1974, and on the Web since 1995, so we have a lot of stuff for you. Then notice how often our pages are updated from the dates at the bottom. People count more than money if they care.

Teachers: here is a 5th grade-level quiz based on this page. We will email answers to you. And here is our resources page for teachers.


This page was last revised on: June 5, 2013

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