Fake or Counterfeit Bicycle Helmets
Summary: We have seen and others have documented the continuing sale of helmets in the US market that do not meet the CPSC standard. Cheap helmets online or in low-price stores may not be properly tested and certified.
Sub-standard helmets have always been available in the US market, and still are.
Following the adoption of the first ANSI bicycle helmet standard in 1984, many of the least protective bicycle helmets were swept from the US market. When the Consumer Product Safety Commission published its standard in 1999 there was finally a US law that required bike helmets to meet a standard.
There have always been loopholes: if a helmet is labeled for another sport, it does not have to meet the CPSC standard, allowing many "skate style" helmets to be sold without meeting CPSC even though they are used for bicycling. For fear of lawsuits, most retailers will not sell them, but some are still available in skate shops and online.
The rise of Chinese manufacturing brought knockoff designs and very cheap helmets, some with fake CPSC stickers. They are available from major online retailers, Chinese websites, and low price stores. The same problem has led consumers to be cautious about where they purchase a wide range of products. In 2020 the British magazine Which? and others tested 3 bicycle helmets from online sources and found that all three failed.
Price is not always a marker: there are cheap bicycle helmets that do meet the standard and perform well. We tested some for this page on cheap vs. expensive helmets.
We think the best way to avoid buying a counterfeit or sub-standard helmet is to deal with retailers you trust. Your local bike shop or a trustworthy online source may be more expensive, but the product is more likely to be genuine.
Consumer Reports has investigated the problem in depth and posted this excellent article.
This page was revised on: September 28, 2020.