Things to Consider When Buying a Cycling Helmet

Helmets save lives. That is enough reason for every cyclist to buy a helmet along with your new cycle. A study of 64000 cyclists in Australia showed that bicycle helmets can reduce serious injury by 70%. Buying a cycling helmet is not optional, in fact in some countries it is mandatory.

Unfortunately in India cycling helmets do not have safety ratings or standards as is provided for motorcycle crash helmets. It is therefore essential that you do your homework before going to a store and buying one.

So here’s a quick read to help in buying a cycling helmet in India:

Buying a Cycling Helmet

Before finalising the helmet you will buy, you need to figure out what sort of cycling are you going to do. Your spanking new shiny cycle is a good indicator. If you bought a road bike, you don’t need an MTB helmet. If you are planning to commute to work, you need something airy rather than aero.

These are the variety of helmets available:

Road Helmets

As the name suggests, these helmets are built for use on the road with road bikes. These light and compact helmets are built to be reasonably aerodynamic without sacrificing ventilation. The lighter and more aerodynamic a helmet, the higher will be its cost.

Kask Road Helmet

MTB Helmets

Helmets for use on trails with your mountain bike. These helmets have more coverage area on the sides and rear, because a mountain biker can crash and hit their head on protruding elements of the trail. Roadies on the other hand have more protection for frontal falls. MTB helmets will often feature a visor which is never found on a road helmet.

MTB Helmet

Full Face Helmets

These helmets resemble motorcycle lids in physical appearance. These are used by a very specific kind of mountain biker. Downhill riders use full face helmets, since they offer significantly more protection than a regular cycling helmet. Not just the skull but the face is also protected in case of a crash.

The reason these aren’t used for regular cycling is because they sacrifice weight, ventilation, comfort and aerodynamics in search for maximum safety.

MTB Full Face Helmet

TT Helmets

Triathlon or Time Trial helmets are a niche among road cyclists. The objective of this helmet is only to provide the best aerodynamics possible when the rider is in an extremely aggressive position on the bike.

These do not have much in the form of ventilation and are thus unusable for regular road cycling. The lack of ventilation coupled with the fact that you would like an alien, is reason enough to not wear them on your next club road ride!

Buying a cycling helmet: Time Trial Helmet

Commuter Helmets

You can of course use your road or MTB helmet for commuting and needn’t bother buying a separate lid to get to work. But if your only riding is going to be to work, then you might think of buying the most commuter friendly helmet.

These helmets will have a large coverage area like their MTB counterparts, while still providing decent ventilation. No one wants to reach work drenched in sweat.

Commuter helmets will often be in bright colours or have reflective taping for better visibility to other road users. (READ: Commuting in India on your cycle. Safely!)

Buying a cycling helmet: Commuter Helmet

Helmet Construction

Which brings us to the next point, construction. What exactly is your helmet made from which makes it so light, safe and expensive. Cycling helmets have two main components, the shell and liner.

The shell is polycarbonate to hold the liner together during impact and also acts like an impregnable wall from hard objects on the road surface. Smooth plastic helps the helmet slide on the ground to reduce the impact passed on to the skull. Shells can also be made from carbon fibre and fibre glass.

The liner is made from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam. The sole job of which is to transfer the energy on impact away from the skull. Together the shell and liner weigh very little. EPS is meant for a single impact use only. Once you crash, you need to trash the lid. That is why some manufacturers use Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) instead, which is designed for multiple impacts.

The majority of weight comes from the remaining bits of the helmet, which includes straps, buckles and retention systems. Expensive helmets try to save weight on these components along with the removable padding.

Sizing and Fit

No matter the price, quality or brand of helmet you purchase. If a helmet doesn’t fit you properly, it is practically useless. The best way to buy a properly fitting helmet is by trying it on. As such, online purchases are always going to be risky (READ: Buying a Cycle Online?). Head to the nearest store in your city.

Different manufacturers have different sizes, shapes in the model lineup. People have different sized and shaped heads. As a result, a helmet which was perfect for your riding buddy, might not be the best for you. A general rule of thumb when finding the correct size is:

  • Measure the crown of your head and check the sizing chart of the manufacturer. It is a good starting point and you will be either one size up or down.
  • It should be a snug fit, i.e., one which presses gently down on your head. Not tight enough to give you a headache.
  • The helmet should stay on your head even without the straps being fastened. If it is sliding off your head, then it is one size too big.
  • Strap up and see if a proper V is being formed beneath your ear lobe.

Helmet Features

A helmet which meets the mandatory safety standards will not be wildly different in shell and liner construction. What differs is the rest of the features which should help you decide one over the other.

  • Weight: The longer the duration of your ride, the heavier the helmet will feel! The few grams saved on your helmet can feel like its weight in gold. Of course, saving those few grams can also cost as much as gold.
  • Ventilation: Extremely important when cycling in India. Else your body will enjoy the cycle ride while your head will feel like it was left behind in a sauna!
  • Aerodynamics: If you are planning fast paced road rides, then this is a feature well worth looking into. The top of the helmet dome will be smoothed out to allow for the air to flow over easily. Vents are placed lower on the dome.
  • Retention System: Most modern cycling helmets from the mid-price range will have an adjustable retention system. This helps in getting that perfect fit. The more expensive systems will allow a mechanism which can easily be adjusted with one hand on the go.
  • Ponytail: For those with long hair, make sure your helmet has room for a ponytail. Most helmets do not have such provision.
  • Visibility: If you expect to be riding often in the dark and in traffic, then it is good to have a helmet with this feature.
  • Padding: Removable padding which can be washed is a boon to keep your helmet clean and hygienic.

Safety Standards

In India, motorcycle helmets are regulated by ISI standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Such standards do not exist for cycling helmets here yet.

Most cycling helmets in the market will as such be built for developed countries. Check for their safety rating. These helmets will be built to comply with the European standard of EN1078, American standard of ASTM F1952 – 15, Canadian standard of CAN-CSA-D113.2-M or Japanese standard of JIS T 8134.

If your helmet does not comply with any of these standards. Then you might want to stay away from it. DO NOT buy a cheap helmet online from some unheard of brand. It can literally be life threatening.

Adjusting your helmet for the perfect fit

Loosen the retention system before placing the helmet on your head. Now gradually tighten it. The retention system could either be a wheel or a ratchet system. Push the helmet from the rear and see if it falls over your face. Tighten till the point where it stays on your head without tipping over.

Tighten the chin strap gradually till it forms a V just under and in front of your ear lobe. Open your mouth wide, the straps should pull the helmet closer to your head. If not, tighten it a bit more. It shouldn’t be so tight where you are unable to open your mouth fully.

If you wear a beanie under your helmet or ride with a ponytail, remember to adjust your helmet under the same circumstances. As such, you might need to adjust your helmet separately for summer and winter riding.

Helmet Care

A helmet if not crashed will last anywhere between 3-5 years. The question is how to make it last closer to 5 years rather than 3.

  • Wash the removable padding regularly to keep the helmet clean. Do not use strong detergents.
  • Clean the helmet shell with a soft cloth and soap water as recommended by the manufacturer. Do not use chemical cleaners.
  • Store your helmet in a dry and properly ventilated area. Do not keep in a place where there is excessive heat buildup like in a closed car.
  • Avoid using paint/ stickers on the helmet shell, which might have chemical solvents.

Cost

Helmets aren’t cheap. You are looking at spending around Rs 2000 for a good basic helmet without any frills.

Sub 1500

In this range you will get a helmet with only a chin strap and no adjustable retention system. These also will generally sport a visor. At this price point it is a good idea to stick to the offerings from Decathlon. No name helmets offered in some cycle stores just don’t cut it.

1500 to 5000

The options open up dramatically in this price range. You will find helmets which provide the required protection and are adjustable as well. These have a dial/ ratchet to adjust the helmet around the crown of your head. You will also get removable and washable pads and decent ventilation. These will look rather plain Jane with the funky graphics reserved for the more expensive lids.

Brands available in India in this range are Btwin, Rockrider, Catlike, Lazer, Merida, Cratoni, XMR, Specialized, Giro and a lot more. With each brand having multiple models, you have a plethora of options.

5000 Plus

Past the 5000 mark you get helmets which are built for performance, with better aerodynamics, weight, ventilation and padding. You also get cooler looking helmets which make you look more ‘pro’! Specialised helmets like Downhill and TT lids are also available in this price range.

The more you spend the more performance you get. The question is whether your riding style, skill or level requires the same. At this point you are going from casual leisure cyclist to a proper athlete.

Helmet Replacement

No matter how much you care for your helmet, at some point you need to replace it. Manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet every 3-5 years depending on usage. Once past 3 years, it is good to give your helmet a thorough inspection every once in a while.

Check the liner and see if it is crumbling on the edges. The shell shouldn’t be breaking apart. Check the straps around the buckle as it tends to wear out with rubbing. If your helmet is showing its age then go back to buying a cycling helmet!

If your helmet uses an EPS liner (most likely) then you need to change it after a crash. Even if there is no visible damage. An EPP liner can withstand multiple crashes, but it is prudent to inspect your helmet for damage after a crash.


If you found this article on buying a cycling helmet useful then you can check out the 10 Cycle Accessories for new cyclists, preventing cycling injuries and basic on road repairs that every cyclist should know!

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