Stylish & Safe Specifics to Look for in a Bike Helmet

Sweat the details to find one that's both design-minded and death-proof.

Summer. This is the time for witbiers and roof decks, flip-flops and linen shirts, beach towels and guilty reads. It’s also prime cycling season, when we start to eye those bike lanes and scenic routes with a refreshed sense of adventure.

And a refreshed sense of adventure, we find, pairs nicely with an appreciation for physical safety. If you’re looking to get on two wheels this season, that means helmeting up.

Yes, You Do Seriously Need One

A bike helmet likely isn’t tops on your “can’t wait to buy” list, but your head will appreciate the purchase should you ever have a disagreement with that pothole on your route to work. And while nobody wants to look like they just hopped off a tricycle, helmets are no joke.

If you run into trouble on the road — and if you're cycling in a big city, that's more just a question of "when" — a good helmet can be the difference between brushing off your shoulders and a trip to the hospital.

Luckily, you don't have to abandon all hope of looking good to stay safe on your ride. If you know how to pick a winner, it’s more than possible to stay protected, ride comfortably, and look put-together.

Sport Helmets

The “sport” class — a more street-inspired take on things — has gotten steadily more popular over the past few years. They're big on looks, affordability, and the ability to withstand multiple impacts.

Design-wise, you may recognize the silhouette. It borrows liberally from skateboard helmet design: straightforward, bomb-proof, versatile. Some crossover models are actually equally at home on the ski slope as they are on the street, which comes handy when trying not the break the bank come wintertime.

The tradeoff? Ventilation and weight. Sport helmets excel in durability, less so in keeping heads cool and hair coifed.

Road Helmets

If you’re more Lance Armstrong than Tony Hawk, a road helmet might be your ticket to safety nirvana. Per David Weiner, co-founder of Priority Bicycles, “If you’re going to wear a helmet, it should be as lightweight and breathable as possible. It should make you feel like you’re not wearing one.”

Road helmets are designed to do just that, though you may end up paying for it. As Dave sees it, “making a skate-style helmet safe is easy. Making a helmet with 25 holes safe is hard.” That's why professional-grade models can cost north of $200.

That said, you don't necessarily have to spend a mortgage payment's worth of cash on one. Shop around and you can find excellent options in the $50 to $150 range, especially if you’re willing to forego big brand name makers.

The Key Features To Look For

Regardless of the type of helmet you choose, make damn sure of two things:

  1. That it’s CPSC-certified

  2. That it fits.

If you’re in the US, CPSC approval is must for all manufacturers — no need investigate. It’s worth checking, though, if you happen to be buying overseas.

Fit, as you may have guessed, is a personal thing. Which is why we wholeheartedly encourage you to go to your local bike shop and try on a few different options, or make sure you're ordering from someplace with free shipping and returns.

Some simple but critical advice from our own local shop (Manhattan’s MSC Customs): “Adjust the dial and give it a good shake. If it doesn’t jiggle around, you’ve got a good fit.” That's tough to determine without physically going in and getting a feel for different styles, sizes, and brands.

Put all that into practice and score the right helmet, and what used to be a hair-ruining chore can become an easy, comfortable kick off to a great day in the saddle. Happy pedaling, and we'll see you in the bike lane — not the trauma ward.

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