If you are riding a bike, you need a helmet. It’s not just the law; it’s absolutely essential in case of an accident.
Fortunately, Australia has some of the highest standards in the world when it comes to helmets. Every helmet sold in Australia for use on the road must meet a set of Trade Practices, so you can be confident that it will protect your head. That means you’re free to consider the other important factors such as style, fit, weight and ventilation, all the while knowing it will be protective!
The most important factor is definitely fit. A perfectly fitting helmet with be comfortably snug all over your head, with no pressure points. When correctly adjusted, you should be able to lean forward without the helmet falling off, even if the straps aren’t done up. The staff at Reid Cycles are happy to show you how to correctly choose and adjust the size of your new helmet.
Structurally, there’s three main parts to a helmet: the liner, the shell and the retention system.
The liner is generally made from foam, sometimes with an internal structure for strength. The foam is designed to crush down on impact, so your head decelerates and the impact of the blow is reduced. The foam will not protect you if it’s already crushed or cracked, so replace your helmet every time it saves you.
Over the foam will be a plastic shell. This is designed to prevent the head catching on the ground and causing neck injuries. Do you have an old helmet with a grippy fabric cover? Bin it now. BMX and skate style helmets typically have a hard shell, where the shell is cast separately from the foam liner and then laminated on, like the Reid Skate Helmets. On road and mountain bike helmets, the shell is formed in the same mould as the liner and they are fused together. This is called ‘in-mould’ construction. While one is not safer than the other, the hard shell helmets are typically cheaper while the in-mould helmets have great advantages in weight and ventilation.
Modern road helmets are highly ventilated to allow heat to escape from your head. The light and well-ventilated shells are more difficult to construct to the same high standard. This is why the best helmets are more expensive than the cheapest, even though they’ll both protect your head. A top end helmet (such as the Flow Road Helmet) has a large number of ventilation holes and weighs only a couple of hundred grams. This is possible because of the internal structure and in-mould construction.
The retention system is the straps that hold the helmet on to your head and any adjustable bands or pads inside the helmet that keep it in place. A good quality road helmet with be adjustable around the full circumference of your head for a perfect fit and have a quick, one-handed adjustment dial or similar to allow changes ‘on the fly’. The straps will form a Y shape on either side of your head, allowing you to adjust the position of the ‘fork’ of the Y and the overall length of the straps for maximum comfort and security. A helmet should not shift or slide around on your head. The best helmets have lightly padded straps for a snug but comfortable fit.
So which helmet should I buy?
If you’re riding on the road, you generally want the highest quality, lightest and most ventilated helmet you can buy. It should fit well and the colour should match your kit, not your bike. That said, carbon or white matches just about anything. It’s not all about practicality. You have to look good too!
If you’re riding off-road, you still want the highest quality, lightest and most ventilated helmet you can buy but you may choose one with a beefier or deeper design, i.e. one that comes down further at the back of your head, particularly for ‘all mountain’ style riding. Extreme mountain biking calls for a full-face helmet but that’s a different story.
What about the visor?
Traditionally, mountain bike helmets have a visor (or peak) while road helmets do not. However, you often see touring cyclists with peaked helmets. A peak is good for keeping branches or leaves out of your face and it also keeps the sun and rain out of your eyes. However, it’s a very slight disadvantage in terms of weight and aerodynamics.
What about caps?
Never, ever wear a baseball cap under a helmet. They have a big metal button on top where the panels of the hat join. If you have a crash, the foam of the helmet will compress but this metal button will still jab you in the head. If you need a visor under your helmet, wear a specific cycling cap. They’re very thin so your helmet will still fit, they have no metal button on top and the shallow brim won’t cause you problems if you do come off. Plus, they look the business!