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A Beginner's Guide to Cycling Helmets in 2021

Accidents can happen when you least expect it and wearing a helmet is a great way to prevent some of the worst injuries that can happen on a bike.

The laws concerning wearing a helmet whilst cycling differ country to country. In the UK there are currently no laws in place however it is reecommendd by Transport for London and the Highway Code. Rule 59 states that 'you should wear a cycle helmet that conforms to current regulation, is the correct size and is securely fastened.'

The main purpose of a cycle helmet is to prevent or reduce the extent of injury to a cyclist's head during a collision. It's important to note the helmets are not tested or expected to offer full protection to cyclists who collide with a moving vehicle. This is because speeds can be far higher and the forces that can result can be unpredictable. 

Here is a simple guide to understanding some of the features to many popular bike helmets and how often you should look for something new.

  1. Cycle helmets must adhere to standard EN1078 in the UK, which states that a helmet must be designed to withstand an impact similar to an average rider traveling at 12mph falling onto a stationary kerb-shaped object from a height of one metre. Look for a CE marked EN1078 sticker. For younger children's helmets the standard is known as EN1080.
  2. Bike helmets come in a bunch of different sizes, usually a range of small-medium and medium-large. This is due to a crank in the back of the helmet that allows it to be tightened and loosened as the rider needs. The helmet shouldn’t be too tight where it’s painful or uncomfortable but also shouldn’t be loose to the point of it moving around a lot on the rider’s head. A good way to check is to hold down the helmet on the top of the rider’s head and have them move their head around, side to side, back to front, and all around. The helmet should have a little wiggle room but should generally move around with the rider’s head. The straps should form a "V" under the ears and the cyclist should not be able to fit more than two fingers between their chin strap and their chin. There should be no tilting forwards or backwards and there should not be a gap of more than two fingers between the cyclist's eyebrows and the helmet.
  3. Look for a helmet that has Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). It’s a plastic shell on the inside portion of the helmet that adds an extra layer of protection and helps redirect dangerous rotational forces that can the brain can be subjected to during a collision or fall. This is a standard in most helmets these days but always good to double check.
  4. Newer technology includes Bontrager’s Wavecel which provides a 360 degree range of compression for the helmet should it take an impact. A recent study showed Wavecel 48x more likely to prevent a concussion when compared to a traditional foam helmet. These helmets are currently quite expensive however as it becomes more common that price will come down.

5. There are ride-type specific helmets that you should also be aware of. Road cyclists will use aero-dynamic helmets with plenty of ventilation while mountain bikers with more all-around protection, even some full-face helmets if they’re really going to be tearing it up. Consider bright or fluorescent colors if you’re out on roads as well or commuting to increase your visibility.

6. Keep in mind though, the shelf life for helmets these days is around 5 years before the foam starts to deteriorate and it is no longer safe to take an impact with it. Also, if your helmet has any crack in it, it is not safe to ride and MUST be replaced. The helmet has already been compromised and if it were to take another impact, it could completely break and give no protection at all.

You might also be interested in our Beginner's Guide to Bicycle Lights or our Guide to Bicycle Locks

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