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I'm finally going to buy a bike next month. And a helmet. I'm wondering how much I should budget for buying a helmet.

I'll be riding around New York City, so I want good visibility around me. And safety is a big concern for me as well.

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Related: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/2207/… –  Ambo100 Jun 30 '11 at 10:11
    
The cheapest one that fits and has the features you like. Unfortunately, it's often hard to find a helmet without tail fins these days, so it's not so much a question of price as simple availability. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 30 '11 at 11:29
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4 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Testing of helmets shows that there is little difference in impact protection. A better quality helmet, defined in this case as one that fits your head, is well ventilated, and looks good.

A well ventilated helmet prevents you from overheating while riding, especially at high speeds. A helmet that fits stays put on your head during a crash. And one that is comfortable and lightweight is less noticeable while you ride.

From a pure safety standpoint, buy a DOT/ANSI certified helmet, and you'll be fine. If you want to enjoy riding, and not mind wearing the helmet, be willing to spend more. $300 dollars is not out of line for a really high quality helmet, but that doesn't mean you need to spend that.

Find one that fits, ask your LBS to explain the ventilation differences between it and its more expensive cousins, and find one that fits in your budget. Looks good can be important, too, but that's personal and subjective.


The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute submitted samples of six helmet models to a leading U.S. test lab: three in the $150+ range and three under $20. The impact test results were virtually identical. There were very few differences in performance among the helmets. Our conclusion: when you pay more for a helmet you may get an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics. But the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets we tested equaled the expensive ones.

The results are a testimony to the effectiveness of our legally-required CPSC helmet standard. Although our sample was small, the testing indicates that the consumer can shop for a bicycle helmet in the US market without undue concern about the impact performance of the various models on sale, whatever the price level. The most important advice is to find a helmet that fits you well so that it will be positioned correctly when you hit. We have a page up with details of the testing.



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Good answer - covers all the main points and backed up with a reference. –  Tom77 Jun 30 '11 at 10:08
    
This is an OK general introduction to helmets but doesn't really answer the OP, which asks "how much should...?" with an implied "not too much I hope" without saying "as little as possible". –  ChrisW Jun 30 '11 at 12:05
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So you are answering the implied question, rather than the one asked? I told the OP to spend the most he could afford, and to find something fitting those necessities that does the job inside his budget. What exactly doesn't that cover? –  zenbike Jun 30 '11 at 20:22
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I'm sorry I commented to complain, and it's good that the OP found your answer helpful. –  ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 2:59
    
Just fails to mention the macro economic aspect that if enough people keep buying the 150-300$ ones then the $20 will be the new $120 ones. :) –  gcb Dec 11 '11 at 8:21
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A more direct answer: If you shop in a bike shop you'll probably have to shell out $50-75 for something that fits and suits your taste. If you shop in a discount store you can likely find a serviceable helmet for $20-30, though it may not be vented as well, if that's a criterion for you.

Main criteria would be

  • Fit/comfort (doesn't rattle on your head, straps can be adjusted to suit you)
  • Venting (more important for longer rides and if you're apt to be really working at it)
  • Durability (eg, some sort of "skin" over the styrofoam body helps)
  • Visibility (depends on your riding position -- be sure to check this especially if you ride head-down on the drops)
  • Not looking too dorky (for me this means no Pooh Bear decals and no tail fins)
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Hint: Place a "sanitary napkin" or "maxipad" of the self-adhesive variety in the helmet forehead region to improve the fit there and absorb sweat that otherwise would run down into your eyes. The pads can also be used elsewhere in the helmet to keep a too-loose helmet from rattling.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 30 '11 at 15:57
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Good idea... totally getting Pooh Bear decals for my helmet –  CamelBlues Jun 30 '11 at 17:07
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Although safety is a big concern, I don't think that a helmet per se will keep you safe. Wearing a helmet may make the difference between being lucky versus unlucky, if you're in an accident. I wear a helmet (well, a hard hat): I'm not against helmets; but the other things you do, e.g. choosing where and how and when to ride, would probably have a bigger effect on your safety.

I don't know that any helmet would impair visibility: it moves when your head does (and, I expect, stays up on the crown of your head instead of slipping in front of your eyes).

I may be wrong but I think that what you're buying with a more expensive helmet would be:

  • looks better (if you care about the 'look')
  • fits better (e.g. more ways to adjust it)
  • more comfortable.

I bought a "Bern Brighton" hard hat because it was cheap and comfortable and (I hoped) more likely to at least stay on, in an accident, than others in the store which fit less well.


Edit: Someone mentioned that some helmets come with visors, which can interfere with your visibility when you're in a "heads down" position. Now I recall, I did notice some with a visor, often a detachable visor, and reflexively (note that I'm a novice buyer/user, not an expert/salesman) avoided them: I reckoned that instead of a visor I could wear sunglasses instead, if it came to that.

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-1 This implies that wearing a helmet is only marginally important. Pretty much every study suggests that helmets reduce head injuries in a crash by as much as 90%, and at a minimum of 40% accounting for the difficulties in accurate data, and finding a control population for these studies. In addition, while the Bern Hard Hat helmet is appropriately safe, it doesn't fit the other categories of necessity for a good helmet, irrespective of cost. –  zenbike Jun 30 '11 at 7:56
    
+1 to mitigate for the unreasonable -1. Helmet wearing should not be considered obligatory. @ChrisW is correct, the helmet is not a panacea, it is a tool. It will not of itself keep you safe, but wearing one will help you in certain situations. –  Unsliced Jun 30 '11 at 8:34
    
Lots of helmets impair visibility, due to having a visor that drops down too low. When riding head-down on drop bars you don't want a visor in the way. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 30 '11 at 11:31
    
@zenbike If it's cheap, comfortable (subjective), and safe, what "other categories of necessity for a good helmet" doesn't it "fit"? I tried on every sub-$100 helmet in the store and found that this fit better (wobbled less) than every other that I tried (alternative would have been more expensive: which the salesman said were more adjustable). It is admittedly less ventilated, and doesn't look like a racing/bike helmet. Anyway, that's my data point for the OP: an amount which you can (I'm not sure about "should") spend on a helmet can be whatever you find is the cost of a Bern: e.g. $60..100. –  ChrisW Jun 30 '11 at 11:47
    
To be clear: I would (if someone asked me) recommend wearing a helmet. Especially on the street. Especially when you're a novice. Only, don't expect that wearing a helmet will keep you safe (is enough to keep you safe): there are other, riding-in-traffic skills which you should learn and practice. –  ChrisW Jun 30 '11 at 12:09
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In many countries all helmets legally sold meet a certain minimum standard. So there is no "too cheap" option, as the cheapest helmet you can buy will be considered safe enough. In this case spending more gets you a lighter, better looking (subjectively) and more comfortable helmet.

The USA also has a mandatory standard. For information about the standards and also plenty of other information and studies about the safety benefits of wearing helmets, see this wikipedia article

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) created a standard called ANSI Z80.4 in 1984. Later, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) created its own mandatory standard for all bicycle helmets sold in the United States, which took effect in March 1999.

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Not in all countries, however. In many Asian countries, there is no minimum safety standard. You can usually find helmets in these places which are made to European or American standards. Just be sure to check for the certification sticker inside the helmet. –  zenbike Jun 30 '11 at 8:02
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@zenbike, does a sicker mean anything in the 3rd world, or will they just be added to put up the profit of the seller? –  Ian Jun 30 '11 at 13:01
    
I live in Dubai. I can't speak for everywhere, and there is always a level of trust involved with the dealer. But generally, if a product here is sold with European standards, then it is legit. I would be less concerned with third world, where the tech base is not likely up to a decent forgery, as I would in Hong Kong or Taiwan, where forgery is rampant, and the tech base is high. –  zenbike Jun 30 '11 at 20:18
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