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Make your Ride to Work Safe and Comfortable
Reviewed & Compared
by Daniel Atlas
While there an infinite number of possibilities for what you can wear while bike commuting to work, there should always be one constant in your ride: a helmet.
Wearing a commuter helmet is not only essential to your safety while riding, but it also sets a good example for other cyclists and makes drivers more friendly towards you.
Not all bike helmets are designed equally – which means not every bike helmet will be perfect for your commute.
In this section, we’ll help you understand what differentiates bike helmets, so you know what features to look for when choosing a bike helmet for your ride to work.
Bike helmets can be broken down into three broad categories:
recreational helmets, road bike helmets, and mountain bike helmets.
If you’re only planning to use your helmet for your commute and nothing else, chances are a recreational helmet 'll best serve you.
These helmets are typically the least expensive because they’re not meticulously designed to shave weight, capitalize on aerodynamics, or provide exceptional breathability during long rides.
Instead, they are typically designed with an eye towards urban style and feature helpful accessories like visors and bike lights.
Road bike helmets can be a great choice for your commute if you have an especially long ride or if you like to incorporate a workout into your ride.
These helmets are designed to be as lightweight and aerodynamic as possible while still offering protection in the event of a crash. This means that they typically have no unnecessary accessories that you might find helpful during a commute.
One advantage to road bike helmets, though, is that they are also optimized for breathability to keep your head cool while working up a sweat on a hot day.
Mountain bike helmets bear more resemblance to recreational helmets than road bike helmets but extend in the back end to protect the rear of your head. Mountain bike helmets may feel a little stuffy thanks to that added protection, but they also offer a more secure fit that some commuters appreciate (these helmets are designed to stay tight on your head while bumping through the woods). Also, mountain bike helmets often offer better breathability than recreational helmets. Just watch out for mountain bike helmets that come with face masks as well – these are more likely to make you uncomfortable and overheated during a road commute.
One of the key things to note when choosing a helmet is how it is designed to fit. Some manufacturers produce one-size-fits-all helmets – this sizing style is especially common among recreational helmets – while other helmets follow a sizing chart based on the relative size of your head.
Either way, make sure the helmet you choose has an easily adjustable ring in the rear to clamp down on the back of your head, as well as an adjustable neck strap.The easier these straps are to adjust, the better – you’ll need to adjust the fit anytime you wear a hat under your helmet or even if you cut your hair.
Whether your helmet is designed to properly circulate air from the front to the rear or not can make a big difference in the comfort of your hot summertime commuting rides.
Most helmets have slots on the front and top of the exterior to allow air to flow through while you are cycling, which lifts heat away from your head.
However, not all helmets are equally breathable.
Mountain bike helmets, in particular, are designed for efficient air circulation at slow speeds, while road bike helmets are designed to work at high speeds.
Recreational helmets often sacrifice breathability for style, so be sure to think about how hot your head may get before opting for the most fashionable helmet you can find.
Nearly all bike helmets on the market today are constructed from a liner of expanded polystyrene foam surrounded by a plastic shell.
The foam dissipates the energy from an impact to distribute it around your head, while the plastic shell helps to hold the liner together as well as protects from punctures from rocks and other road debris.
Recently, a new technology known as Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) has made its way into bike helmets.
Helmets equipped with MIPS have a low-friction layer inside the foam liner that allows the helmet to rotate slightly around your head during an impact.
Although a small change, MIPS-equipped helmets go a long way towards protecting you from traumatic brain injuries during a crash by dissipating rotational forces – which for many people justifies their additional cost.
Helmet weight may not seem like a big deal if you’re not racing to work – after all, the difference between a lightweight helmet and a heavy helmet is only several hundred grams.
However, weight affects comfort as well as speed because your neck needs to support the added weight of a helmet on your head.
If you have a long commute or suffer from neck pain on the bike already, consider spending extra on a lightweight helmet to reduce the strain on your body.
Recreational helmets are commonly equipped with accessories designed to make your ride more pleasant and to encourage you to wear your helmet.
Many recreational and mountain bike helmets come with visors on the front that help shield your eyes from the sun, and some helmets even come with removable face shields to protect your eyes from road debris or rain.
Another common accessory is a built-in rear light, which can help to make you significantly more visible to drivers and other cyclists.
When it comes to urban commuting, it’s hard to beat the price and design of this cycling helmet from Base Camp.
The helmet features a rounded design that offers full coverage for your head, including the back. However, don’t expect to overheat simply because your head is enclosed – the helmet offers nine air vents to promote circulation as you are riding.
While more color options would be nice – the helmet is only available in black or white – the helmet’s style is perfect for an urban commuter looking to incorporate it into the rest of their commuting outfit as well as keep their head safe.
The fit is snug but comfortable thanks to the small-medium-large sizing system and a removable padded inner lining the foam helmet liner. Also, the chin strap is extremely easy to adjust, as is the rear dial-controlled band on the back of the helmet.
Where this helmet excels compared to the competition is in the accessories it brings. The helmet includes a removable visor that is attached to the helmet via magnets so that it takes only seconds to add or remove the visor depending on the day’s weather.
At the same time, the magnets are secure enough you won’t lose the visor if you hit a bump during your ride. Even better, the helmet has a detachable rear light to make you visible to drivers. The light is battery-powered and removable and operates as a flashing red light.
If you’d rather spend your hard-earned money on accessories other than a helmet, this option from Zacro offers an inexpensive option for protecting your head against a potential crash.
At under $20, this helmet doesn’t compromise on safety – it features a similarly expanded polystyrene foam liner and hard plastic shell to nearly every other cycling helmet on the market.
But, it is relatively bare on other features, saving you both money and weight.
One of the best features of this helmet is that it has numerous cut-outs on the front and top to allow air to move freely, especially when you tilt your head forward and ride at high speed.
The helmet is also one of the most lightweight helmets on the market at this price – it weighs just 225 grams, so you will barely notice it’s on your head let alone have to worry about neck pain.
The helmet is comfortable even though it does not feature any extra padding on the interior to help with the fit. Adjusting the neck strap can be somewhat of a pain, although the dial-controlled band on the rear is easy to adjust in case you add a hat to your head during the winter months.
Since there was little extra effort put into the fashion style of this helmet, it is only available in a single color: black.
However, the helmet does come with a detachable visor.
If you worry about leaving your helmet with your bike while you’re at work because of potential theft, this thief-frustrating helmet from Thousand is a perfect addition to your commuting kit.
The helmet features an ingenious pop-out hole beneath the logo so that you can thread a cable lock through the helmet and lock it to your bike.
If your helmet is stolen while locked to your bike, Thousand will replace it for free.
That’s not all this helmet has to offer, either. The helmet is one of the most beautiful urban commuting helmets on the market today, with a sleek and vintage rounded design intended as much to make a fashion statement as to protect your head from all angles.
The chin strap is constructed from imitation “vegan” leather that was made without harming any animals, and the buckle is magnetic to make it easy to lock with a single hand.
Plus, the helmet comes with two alternative padding kits so that you can dial in a snug fit around your head even if you fall in between the available sizes.
Of course, all this style-minded design does come with some drawbacks. There are relatively few vents on the helmet, so it can get quite hot inside when riding during the summer.
The helmet is also somewhat heavier than other commuting options at over 400 grams, as well as more expensive given the special design that went into the exterior.
If the idea of having your head fully protected appeals to you, or you just like the style of full head cycling helmets, look no further than this helmet from Giro.
The helmet resembles a skater helmet more than a traditional cycling helmet, but it offers all of the protection you need while riding to work.
The helmet is available in a huge variety of colors, ranging from mint to highlight yellow to matte purple so that you can express your style with this helmet.
One of the additions that make this helmet stand out is the soft visor, which provides sun protection almost similar to wearing a flat-brimmed hat underneath the helmet.
The helmet is designed with a unique cord lock system that allows you to shrink or expand the interior of the helmet all at once (within a limited range) as opposed to the rear band that most cycling helmets use.
Unfortunately, the buckle on the chin strap has some quality issues and is prone to breaking, and it can be difficult to get a replacement from Giro.
Although the helmet has relatively few and low-profile vents, it circulates air surprisingly well. This helmet may not be your first choice for racing on a hot day, but it won’t leave your head sweating profusely on a casual ride to work either.
If you want a helmet that won’t catch wind or unwanted eyes, this low-profile helmet from Critical Cycles is a great option for your commute. Except the numerous air vents, this helmet resembles high-end aero road biking helmets designed to cut through the wind when riding at high speeds.
But you’ll appreciate all those air vents when you’re commuting during the summer – this helmet boasts some of the best air circulations among all of the helmets we reviewed. Plus, at just 250 grams, it is extremely lightweight and won’t wear on your neck.
The helmet is sized to be one-size-fits-most, which can make it difficult to get the fit feeling snug if you have a small or large head – users with large heads, in particular, had difficulty getting this helmet on. The adjustment system for the helmet is good, but nothing to write home about since it features the same chin strap and rear band adjustments found on most recreational cycling helmets.
However, one unique feature is the red LED light built into the center of the rear band, which is capable of static lighting, blinking, or strobing to warn drivers of your presence. (Note that the light cannot be removed from the helmet.)
One issue to watch out for with this helmet is a separation between the plastic cover and the foam liner. While this happens mostly at the edges with this helmet, full delamination will compromise the helmet in the event of a crash.
If you do most of your bike commuting during the hot summer months, you need a helmet that won’t heat your head. The Airflow helmet from TeamObsidian is specifically designed for maximizing air circulation through the helmet at the moderate speeds of a commuting ride, making it perfect for keeping you as cool as possible.
The helmet design features 22 massive air vents, making it seem almost as if there isn’t enough helmet left between the gaps to keep your head safe.
Of course, in reality, the helmet doesn’t compromise on safety either. To keep its structural integrity, TeamObsidian designed this helmet with an ABS plastic layer in between the plastic cover and the foam, which adds rigidity in the event of an impact.
The downside is that this also adds to the cost – while this helmet looks similar to many inexpensive models, it costs nearly twice as much as other recreational helmets.
The helmet fits snugly for most users and is divided into a small and large size. More important, TeamObsidian offers a “perfect fit guarantee” to give you the option of returning the helmet if it does not fit as expected.
One thing that helps is that the adjustable band in the back is padded to provide extra comfort and security on your head.
When it comes to protecting your head, there is no helmet technology on the market today better than MIPS. While this technology is largely restricted to serious mountain biking and road biking helmets, Giro inserted it into a commuter-friendly helmet in their Register model.
This helmet is modestly priced, albeit more expensive than a standard recreational cycling helmet, and comes in a wide variety of colors so that you can be seen clearly and express your style.
One of the most common concerns surrounding MIPS helmets is whether they will fit and adjust easily. Although this helmet is designed to be one-size-fits-all, it truly does fit most heads between the adjustable chin strap and Roc Loc Sport adjustable band in the rear.
The MIPS system takes up a very negligible amount of space within the helmet, even leaving room for ponytails to flow out the back of the helmet.
The helmet includes 22 air vents to promote air circulation during warm rides and includes a removable visor to protect your eyes from the sun.
Beyond that, the helmet is relatively minimal and keeps a low profile on your head, so don’t expect the urban style or rear protection offered by some other commuting helmets.
For the mountain bikers who also commute to work – and especially those who want to go for a ride in the local forest after work – it’s important to have a helmet that can work for both commuting and mountain biking.
This lightweight helmet from Smith Optics does just that, offering protection for your entire head, including the rear, without being bulky or obstructive in the way that many mountain biking helmets are.
The secret to this helmet is the lightweight single-layer webbing that sits between the foam shell and your head, helping to snug down the fit so that your head is protected without making a bulky helmet.
The helmet also incorporates Smith Optic’s VaporFit adjustable strap system, which offers a slightly different take on the traditional chin strap to offer better fit around the ears where you need it as well as a padded rear band that can be quickly adjusted with a dial.
Compared to other mountain biking helmets, this one is also breathable enough to be used comfortably for commuting. The helmet features a large number of gaping air vents that are designed to allow cooling even at low to moderate speeds.
The only downside to this helmet? It’s expensive since it has to stand up to high-speed mountain biking crashes as well as commuting crashes.
Most of the helmets we’ve reviewed are designed to fit either men or women, but most of them – especially those that are one-size-fits-most – don’t take into account that most women have smaller heads and more hair than most men. Schwinn set out to fix that with this women’s-specific version of their recreational Thrasher helmet.
While still a one-size-fits-most design, this helmet is designed to fit smaller heads and comes in colors that are more traditionally associated with women’s gear.
The fit of the helmet can be easily adjusted using a dial-controlled rear band as well as with straps along the sides of the helmet under your ears, which make it easy to squeeze a ponytail out the back of the helmet and keep it in place.
The helmet itself is extremely lightweight thanks to its simple, low profile design. It also features 20 air vents distributed over the top of the shell to keep your head cool during warm summer rides.
The front of the helmet includes a removable visor to keep the sun out of your eyes, and Schwinn added a secondary plastic panel at the rear of the helmet both to provide additional protection for the back of your head and to provide a reflective surface that makes it easier for drivers to spot you.
One of the most frequent complaints that bike commuters have is that they have to carry around their helmet for the whole day since it can’t easily be locked up as your bike can. While a lockable bike helmet like the helmet from Thousand is one way to solve this problem, Overade took a different approach – making a foldable bike helmet that can be stuffed into a backpack or work bag easily when you’re done riding.
The Plixi helmet is designed to fold down to about one-third of its uncompressed size when it is not in use. The folding and unfolding process is straightforward – simply unlock the stays on the interior of the helmet and push it together along the compression panels.
Overade uses an ABS plastic skeleton underneath the plastic cover of the helmet to ensure that it is burly enough to protect your head in the event of an impact, so you don’t have to worry that foldability means that it won’t protect your head.
The fit is easy to adjust thanks to multiple inner pads provided with the helmet. Also, the helmet is available in multiple sizes rather than as a one-size-fits-most design.
The downside to this helmet is that the ability to fold comes at a significant cost – this helmet is far more expensive than investing in a recreational commuting helmet with MIPS technology, which will do more to protect your head in a crash. Also, the helmet looks somewhat silly compared to a standard helmet.
If the helmet you’re interested in has specific sizes rather than a one-size-fits-all design, check the manufacturer’s website for a guide to their sizing categories. Typically, these categories will correspond to the diameter of your head, which you can measure by wrapping a string around your head at its widest point (just above your eyebrows) and measuring that. If you are in between sizes, either opt for the smaller size or plan to wear a beanie or hat if you choose the larger size.
Yes – any bike helmet will work for commuting as long as it fits properly. A mountain biking or road biking helmet may be more expensive than what you need to be safe while commuting, but these can be a great option if you also want to use your helmet for these types of cycling in addition to commuting.
MIPS is relatively new, so most cycling helmets – and especially recreational helmets – don’t feature this technology just yet. That’s not to say it isn’t worth seeking out a helmet that has it since it’s hard to argue against investing a bit extra in a technology that will potentially keep your head safer in the event of a crash.
If you crash your bike and hit your head, thank your helmet for protecting you and then throw it out. Helmets are designed to be crashed only once since it is impossible to verify that the foam liner is stable enough to protect you during another crash even if it looks alright. So, after any crash that involves your head and helmet, replace your helmet.
While all of the helmets we reviewed will protect your head during your daily cycling commute, we feel that the Base Camp Commuter Helmet is the overall best commuter bike helmet on the market today.
This helmet is not only stylish and functional, with a built-in hard visor and coverage that extends to the rear of your head, but is also highly breathable and comfortable. The helmet includes a padded chin strap and has nine air vents that allow air to move relatively freely through the helmet. Despite its size, the helmet is relatively lightweight so it won’t lead to neck pain over time.
It is worth noting that this helmet takes a one-size-fits-most approach to sizing, which can be difficult for cyclists with small or large heads.
However, the helmet includes multiple interior pads that can be used to adjust the fit, and the rear band is easy to adjust with a control dial.
With all of these features, the Base Camp Commuter Helmet is a great choice for keeping your head safe during your ride to work each day.
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