A good helmet is never optional when you’re getting on your mountain bike. Even if you’re just going out for a trial run close by, it’s essential that you wear one every time you get on your bike. Use your head, keep your brains intact, and you’ll be able to get in a lot more runs now and in the future. Here’s how to choose a great helmet.
Full-Face vs. Half Shell
Half shell helmets are what you traditionally think of as a “bike helmet.” They cover the top and back of your head, with some forehead protection, but there’s nothing along the sides of your face or under your chin. Full-face helmets are what you think of BMX or other aggressive bikers wearing. These helmets look more like motorcycle helmets than traditional bike helmets.
You can wear any type of helmet for any type of riding, though less aggressive riders or those who need more peripheral vision usually wear half shell helmets. The full-face versions tend to be reserved for people who are riding aggressively in competitive sports. We’ll talk mostly about half shell helmets here because full-face ones can have some specialty fitting procedures and some are even molded to fit the rider’s head.
Every helmet sold in the United States must be certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Some other countries rely on this certification, too, while others have their own set of standards. There are other certifications that a helmet can get, but they are always in addition to this one, which is all that is essential. There are certain minimum safety standards that a helmet must meet to get this certification, but there’s no way to tell if a product exceeds these or not. Thus, all helmets should offer some protection, but nothing can guarantee you won’t suffer a head injury.
Some helmets feature MIPS technology. This is a special system created specifically to protect from rotational energy in MTB falls. It is effective, but often expensive, and some manufacturers say they have other systems in place that handle this energy just as well.
Getting a Helmet That Fits
The single most important factor in buying the right helmet is getting one that fits. Color, style, venting and all of that are extra. If your helmet doesn’t fit well, none of the rest of it matters because it won’t protect you effectively. It’s difficult to fit your own helmet without help, especially if you haven’t done it before. You should always seek out the help of a professional at the helmet store to make sure you’re getting one that is right for your head. Here are a few things you can look for, though:
- The helmet should be the right size. Have someone measure around your head with a flexible measuring tape and give you the number in centimeters.
- Make sure the helmet is adjustable so you can tweak it to fit your particular head.
- The inside of the helmet should make contact with your whole head.
- The helmet should sit right above your eyebrows without obscuring or messing up your vision.
- Your helmet should be tensioned or padded so that your scalp moves with it.
- The straps need to tighten so that the helmet moves no more than an inch up or down and cannot tilt more than that, either.
- The Y in the strap should sit right below your ear lobe.
- The helmet should be able to sit relatively tightly without discomfort from the straps.
- If you adjust the helmet but you can still move it more than an inch, it’s time to try a new helmet.
Some people find that they can fit into almost any helmet. Others find that one or two brands fit better than all the rest. Figure out what works for you by trying on a lot of helmets and working with a professional.
If you’re going to be riding in summer’s heat, you probably want to get a helmet with at least a little ventilation. Many helmets have slits that go through all of the layers, allowing air to access your head. Some have air channels designed to help air actually flow over your head even while the helmet is on.
For the most part, ventilation improves with the price of the helmet. You can also find helmets specifically designed for ventilation if that is a priority for you or you plan to ride somewhere especially hot.
You can get all sorts of features, as long as you’re willing to pay for them. Just remember: fit must come first. And, if you aren’t going to use a feature very much, it’s not actually making your riding life better.
That said, you can find helmets with GoPro mounts, goggle clips, sunglasses holders for when they’re not in use, lights or light clips, and more. If you know you want a helmet with one of these, it can help eliminate the rest from competition for your money.
Fit is king when it comes to buying the right MTB helmet. However, as long as the helmet fits and you can afford it, there’s no reason to avoid helmets that offer other features you need. Just make sure you get some help fitting your first helmet so you can buy the right one the very first time!