A good helmet is an essential and could save your life. But with so many to choose from, how should you select yours?
Cycling isn't just loads of fun, it's a really economical way to get around. Your own energy costs nothing, so with the right bike and a bit of extra equipment, you'll be ready to save on costly bus tickets and mammoth motoring bills. In order to ride safely, though, you'll need to get hold of a few accessories, and some are more important than others.
A decent helmet should be at the top of every new cyclist's shopping list, but with so many on the market, choosing the right one can be difficult. Thankfully, there is a bit of a checklist you can go through to ensure the model you pick up meets all of your needs. Let's take a closer look at the factors you should be considering.
Every one of your internal organs is valuable, but if you were forced to put a list together, the brain would come out top every time. Unfortunately, it's also the most vulnerable, protected only by a thin layer of skin and bone. So, when you're hurtling down a hill at 40mph, you'll probably benefit from a little extra cover.
All helmets have to go through standards checks before they can be sold, just to ensure they serve their primary purpose - keeping your head in one piece. In the UK, you're looking for the CE mark, which is usually printed on a small sticker somewhere inside or on the box. Those in the US or Australia/New Zealand should be keeping their eyes peeled for CPSC and AS/NZS approval respectively.
The vast majority of modern helmets are made in the same way, with the outer and inner sections moulded together. This increases strength to provide extra protection for the wearer. Some models will be more robust than others, however. Those who favour mountain biking might want to prioritise strength over ventilation and weight features, as they're more likely to come off during an average ride. Rocky terrain also poses more of a threat than the flat asphalt that road riders will find themselves travelling on.
Road safety and public health groups are forever encouraging cyclists to wear helmets, and for good reason. Fortunately, the task of persuading is much easier now the helmets on offer are more lightweight and ergonomically designed. Comfort has to be part of the equation, as without it, you're more likely to leave the house saying to yourself, 'what harm is one ride with no helmet?'
To make sure you get the best fit, you'll need to look at three different parts. First is the size. Everyone's head is different, so don't expect to find too many one-size-fits-all options in your local cycle store. Instead, you should see them separated into small (S), medium (M) and large (L) - or at least something similar. Consult the manufacturer's size guide if you're buying online, or just try a few on in store!
Adjustability and ventilation are the other two elements to bear in mind. Even if the helmet doesn't feel right at first, it may still fit with a little altering. Play around with the adjustment mechanism to give yourself a little more room if necessary. Padding usually comes in the form of soft, Velcro-attached pieces of foam around the inside of the helmet. Once again, these can be adjusted and moved as necessary. Just make sure the helmet doesn't move around too much when fastened.
Lastly, make sure the helmet offers enough in the way of ventilation - this might depend on what you're intending on using it for. Road cyclists on long journeys, for example, might need more air than their mountain-biking counterparts, who tend to favour added protection.
Of course, you'll want to find a helmet that looks good, but remember its purpose and resist any urges to sacrifice functionality for style. A lot of cycling manufacturers now make a point of producing their products in loud and vibrant colours to ensure their owners are seen when riding. Fluorescent helmets, for instance, will only add to the lights and reflectors you're already using to make yourself stand out.
If you're dead set on getting a darker coloured helmet, try to choose one that has reflective strips, or even a light fitting. A small, inexpensive LED can be highly effective when attached to the rear of the helmet - especially when switched to 'flashing' or 'strobe' mode.
As cycling kit goes, the helmet is an absolute essential. In 2013 alone, 109 riders died in accidents in the UK, with a further 3,143 seriously injured. Around three quarters of those killed suffered from major head injuries. With the market now full of comfortable, wallet-friendly options, there really is no excuse not to be protecting yourself properly when out and about on your bike.