How To Choose the Best Bike Helmet

Helmets are essential for riding safely—here’s how to pick the right one for you.

When riding your bike, the most important thing isn’t your frame material, wheel size, or gear ratio—it’s what’s on your head. Whether you’re shredding singletrack on a mountain bike, logging pavement miles on a road bike, or just commuting to work, a helmet is essential for a safe and enjoyable ride. Cycling presents a range of potential hazards for your head. Not only are you far above the ground, but depending on your discipline, you may be exposed to potential collisions with trees, cars, or pedestrians. No one wants to think about crashes, but they do happen—that’s why the best protection you can invest in is a good helmet. Get one that fits properly, and it can save you a lot of trouble and pain down the road. Here’s how to find the right helmet for you.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Before you start shopping and comparing helmets, take a moment to think about where and when you ride, as well as how much you can spend.

What kind of riding do I do?

Mountain biking on twisty singletrack, road biking on country highways, commuting on city streets: The places you ride your bike will have a big effect on the right helmet style for you (more on that below).

What weather will I be riding in?

Consider your local climate and the seasons you ride in. Some helmets prioritize venting for hot days and hard rides, but if you mostly go on leisurely excursions (or live in a cooler climate), you may not need those features. 

How big is my head? 

Many modern helmets have an adjustable fit, but that can only get you so far. Measure your head and choose a helmet that is close to your head size to ensure a good fit. 

Will I need to carry my helmet when I’m off the bike?

This is an important consideration for bike commuters. Helmets can be a bit bulky, and that makes them annoying to carry around once you arrive at the office (or grocery store, or wherever you’re biking to). Look for collapsible or less bulky models that are easier to carry and stash away. Alternatively, you can also lock up your helmet with your bike—some helmets even have dedicated features to make this easier.

How much am I willing to spend? 

Protecting your head is a worthwhile investment, but everyone has different budgets to work with. Decide how much you are willing to spend and then aim to get the best protection possible in that price range. 

Get a Good Fit

A helmet only works if it fits: Even the most advanced technology is useless if the helmet slips off your head or falls out of position. It’s also important to make sure that it’s comfortable. If you don’t like how a helmet feels, you’re less likely to wear it—and a helmet that collects dust in your garage won’t do anything to keep you safe.

Measure Your Head

Helmets come in a variety of sizes that vary depending on the manufacturer. The easiest way to determine their right size for you is to know your head dimensions. Grab a tailor’s flexible tape measure, and wrap it around your head at its widest point. If you don’t have a flexible tape measure, use a piece of string. Wrap it around your head, mark the circumference on the string (or cut it), and then lay it down straight next to a tape measure: That’s the circumference of your head.

A Proper Fit

Once you have your head measurement, it’s time to try on some helmets. Try on a variety of sizes and styles to get a better idea of your preferences. A helmet should feel snug around your head but not uncomfortable. If it has soft pads on the inside (most do), your head should press against them, but it shouldn’t feel like the helmet is constricting your skull. 

The helmet shouldn’t move if you shake your head up and down or side to side. The chin strap should be tight enough that pushing up on the front of the helmet doesn’t cause the helmet to tilt backwards or lift off your head. The helmet should sit level on your head, not tilted forward or backward, and rest about an inch above your brow. 

If the fit is close, but not quite perfect, there are remedies. Many helmets have an adjustment system, often a dial at the back, that allows you to tighten or loosen the fit. In addition, you may be able to swap in different foam pads to adjust the fit to your head.

Helmet Materials

Most helmets use a two-layer system to protect your head. The outer shell of the helmet is usually a hard plastic. This prevents objects like a sharp stick from penetrating and helps the helmet slide across asphalt or dirt, which prevents any sudden stops that could injure your head and neck. 

In premium road helmets, weight is a critical concern (at least for some cyclists). For that reason, some components, like the outer layer, may be made of ultralight carbon fiber instead of plastic. Helmets that utilize this material will weigh less but cost considerably more—probably not the best choice for beginners.  

Underneath the outer shell, most helmets are made of expanded polystyrene foam. This material will compress or split on impact. In doing so, the foam absorbs and dissipates impact forces and protects your head from serious injury. (This is why bike riders are encouraged to replace helmets after severe crashes and to never buy a used helmet, where it’s often hard to determine any internal foam damage.)

A woman taking off a bike helmet, she has red hair and is wearing a multi-color shirt.

Concussion Technology 

While the two-layer system has been around for a long time, modern helmets also offer a variety of advanced technologies that further reduce impact forces and lower your chances of getting a concussion should you fall or collide with something. These technologies will bump up the price of a helmet, but the extra protection is often worth it.


MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection System, can be found in many brands’ helmets. It consists of a thin liner between the foam of your helmet and your head. In the event of a collision, the MIPS liner is able to slide a few millimeters within the helmet to reduce rotational forces. This spreads the brunt of the impact and reduces the chance of a concussion.


WaveCel helmets have an additional layer of molded plastic within the helmet. This layer looks like a net or mesh with a complicated pattern that folds back on itself. In the event of a collision, this layer can crush, glide, and flex to reduce rotational impact forces and dissipate the overall force of the impact.


Spin is a system that can be found inside POC helmets. The system, short for “Shearing Pad Inside,” uses carefully placed silicone pads inside the helmet. These pads are designed to shear during a collision, which reduces rotational forces while dissipating the overall intensity of the impact. 

Riding Discipline

Always consider where you’re riding, and how you ride, when choosing a helmet. Manufacturers build helmets for the hazards inherent in specific riding styles. While it is possible to find a helmet that will protect you in a variety of activities, buying a helmet that matches your riding discipline will ensure you get the best protection possible. 

Mountain Biking

Unlike other disciplines where impact usually comes from the front, mountain biking impacts can come from all directions. Whether you fall backwards off your bike in a climb, or slide sideways into a tree, a mountain bike helmet features additional protection in all directions. Compared to other styles, these helmets usually extend farther down the back and sides of your head to guard against backward falls and side collisions. 

Downhill or BMX helmets may even have full face coverage with a bar that covers the chin and mouth. It’s a good feature for aggressive downhillers, but usually not necessary for other riders.


For road cyclists, most impacts come from the front or sides, so road helmets usually lack protection on the back of the head. In addition, they often feature smooth aerodynamics and venting to help keep you cool.

As with many road cycling components, road helmets often command higher prices if they’re made with lighter materials. If you’re new to cycling, prioritize spending your money on protection rather than weight shaving. 


Commuter helmets usually have a more understated look that blends in with casual or office clothes (instead of a lycra speed suit). Since you generally won’t be pushing too hard on your commuter bike, commuter helmets often forgo aggressive venting in favor of a simple and effective shell. On colder days, this also has the benefit of trapping more heat to keep you warm. 

Like MTB helmets, commuter helmets often have coverage farther down the back of your head—this adds protection for the more chaotic collisions that can occur in an urban setting. It’s also possible to get commuter helmets with advanced concussion systems and even premium features like integrated lights and built-in holes for locking your helmet to your bike. 

If carrying your helmet off the bike is a concern, look for helmets that collapse or pack down into a smaller, more portable package. 

Additional Features

Protection is the main concern when shopping for helmets, but there are a few other features to look out for as well.


If you know you run hot, or you ride in a hot climate, look for helmets with plenty of vents. They’ll shed heat and create cooling airflow across your head.


While less common on road helmets, visors offer a built-in way to protect your eyes from the sun (and give your helmet a little extra style, too).


Want to attach lights or a camera to your helmet? Look for models with built-in mounts. 

Color and Design

You’ll wear your helmet more if you like how it looks, so don’t be afraid to spend a bit more to get a helmet that matches your style. Just don’t sacrifice protection for aesthetics. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.