Bicycle Helmet 101

Everyone should wear a helmet.

Let me rephrase that.

Everyone should wear a helmet that fits correctly, is not damaged, and less than 5 years old.

The basics are, as a helmet becomes more expensive, generally, they get lighter, have less contact to the head, and have more venting.

Bontrager Helmet Retention System
Bontrager Helmet Retention System

Each company has their own style of retention system to hold the helmet on your head.
They all have a strap and buckle to make sure it doesn’t get knocked off your head during an impact, but most of the nicer helmets will also use a retention system to caress your noogin and fit around the back of the head to hold it in place more securely.

The helmet fit story also varies between companies. The shape or mold they use to design their helmets around are slightly different.

Giro Helmet Retention System
Giro Helmet Retention System

For example, if you have a round head, a Bell helmet would fit you better than a Giro helmet. Giro helmet fit you better if your head is slightly oval. To find the helmet that fits you best, you will need to try a few on. When you are doing so, make sure the straps are not twisted inside the helmet before you put it on. Once on your head, align the front of the helmet so it is parallel to the ground. Not on the back of your head pointing up.

Most cycling related impacts are frontal. Mountain bike helmets will provide more protection in the back than a road helmet due to the nature of off road cycling. Sometimes you fall backwards.

road compared to mountain bike helmet
Back of a road (left) and mountain helmet (right). Notice the mountain helmet has more protection.

Now for venting.

We carry a Bell product, I call the Bell Crock Pot.

bell crock pot
Bell Crock Pot

The Bell Crock Pot does its job. It straps on your head with the traditional strap & buckle system. It also has some holes on the top for steam to escape. It does not vent well. You can see from the above picture there is no light inside those holes. And if there is no light, there is no wind coming through. In the summer while wearing this bad boy, you will find out why I call it a crock pot.

Moving up the scale we carry the Bontrager Solstice. This is our #1 selling helmet.

Bontrager Solstice helmets
Bontrager Solstice helmets ready to go.

These helmets step up the game with a real helmet retention system as well as the strap and buckle. All the helmets we carry from here on up also have retention systems and straps.

Bontrager Solstice vents
Bontrager Solstice vents

Now we have some light creeping through there. This helmet fits good and has some ventilation. It also comes with a snazzy visor you can remove if you desire. Leave it on to block the sun. I use glasses. My visors come off.

While we are on vents. This is one of the main reasons helmets cost more money. The more advance the venting system, the more “pulls” it takes for the mold to make them. Each direction and different shape requires another “pull” from the mold. The more advanced the mold, the more it costs to make it. Also, while helmets are being made, there is always bad ones being made, and there is a higher chance of a bad helmet being produced when there is more going on during the manufacturing. Once again making the helmet cost more money. You can see with the Bontrager Circuit, Bell Volt, and Giro Aeon, the venting systems are much better.

Bontrager Circuit has large vents. No crock pot here.
Bontrager Circuit has large vents. No crock pot here.

Depending how much you ride, how often you ride, and your budget usually will dictate how much to spend on your helmet. Do not buy anything that doesn’t fit well. If if is uncomfortable, you won’t want to wear it. Spending the extra bucks to get a better fit is worth it.

bell volt
Bell Volt
Giro Aeon
Giro Aeon

The Bell Volt has quite a bit of light shining through there. The Giro Aeon an amazing helmet. Lots of venting and very little weight. These two helmets are getting up there in price. But when it comes to fit, ventilation, and styling. They are hard to beat.

All the helmet we have been talking about so far are what is called a “single impact helmet”. These helmets are designed for one impact. The foam that makes them up is harder then another type of helmet called “multiple impact helmets”. These are the “skater” or BMX styled helmets. While you should replace your single impact helmet after a accident or even dropping it on concrete, the multiple impact helmet is designed to take more abuse. The trade off is there is more helmet on your head. They are designed to take impacts from all around your head. They also offer some fancy styling options not found on other cycling helmets.

Bell Faction helmets are all fancy and look pretty sweet with the BMX bike paint jobs
Bell Faction helmets are all fancy and look pretty sweet with the BMX bike paint jobs.
Bell Faction vents. Kinda. You will look cool, but be warm.
Bell Faction vents. Kinda. You will look cool, but be warm.

Do you have to ride a BMX bike or fixed gear to wear one of these. Nope. Can you race cross in one?

always wear a helmet
Go Speed Go!

Yup. You will look like Speed Racer. But you will be hot doing it.

Which ever helmet you like the most, you will wear the most. Just wear one.

When it comes to wearing one. The position of it on your head and the correct fit is essential.
First make sure the straps aren’t all twisted up when you are putting it on your head.

Helmet strap twisted. Will not fit correctly on your head.
Helmet strap twisted. Will not fit correctly on your head.
Helmet straps nice and flat. Will fit good
Helmet straps nice and flat. Will fit good.

Now that the straps are ready, put Mr. Helmet on your head. Place it so the front of the helmet is level to the ground. Not on the back of your head. Helmet retention system goes on towards the back.

how not to wear a bike helmet
No. No. and No.
how to correctly wear a bike helmet
The ladies of the Chicago Cross Cup take helmets very serious.

Once it is on your head and level. You will need to tighten the retention system so the helmet is firmly on your head. It should be tight enough that when you move the helmet, your eyebrows move with it. If you don’t have any eyebrows from your younger days as a pyro, use a sharpie of something else to draw them on for testing. A real pro would use a marker that matched his or her kit.

Next it is time to adjust your straps. You adjust the straps on the side of you head so that they fall under your ear.

Adjust these fellers so the straps are under your ear
Adjust these fellers so the straps are under your ear.

You will also be adjusting the fore and aft position of them at this time as well.

Once you have this all figured out. Time to adjust the buckle. These days helmets are held secure by the retention system. The strap under your chin does not have to be so tight you can’t move your jaw. It needs to be tight enough that the strap does not come over your chin while buckled.

Chin strap. Not flapping over
Chin strap. Not flapping over.

Helmets can also get old. The foam starts to age from the minute it comes out of its mold. The rule of thumb for helmet age is, that you lose about 10% of the helmets effectiveness each year it is alive. After 5 years, the helmet is half dead, and should be replaced. Otherwise the foam could be less effective and you could end up half dead. Or even all the way dead.
Helmets with damage to them like cracks or busted straps should also be replaced.
Good news is, most helmet manufactures have crash replacement prices available for their product.
If you crashed in a helmet you like, you can get it replaced for a discounted price.

our selection of children's helmets
Children’s helmets a go go!

Don’t forget your children need helmets too. There are many styles available for the little ones too.

bell children's helmets
Bell Fraction. Staying stylish on little heads.

Even fancy BMX helmets from Bell called the Fraction.

That is all for now. More helmet info to come. But what ever you do.


And chastise those who don’t. It saved my girlfriends life. I am quite glad she wears one.

Share this Post!

Related post

1 Comment

  1. […] helmets are only encouraged and not required by law to ride a bike, still wear one. Seeing the mayor of Chicago with his majestic, wind-whipped hair not shielded by the protective […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.