I'm about to start daily bike commuting again after a long hiatus, and I want to go all out on safety. My fear of an accident is extreme enough that I am looking into regularly wearing body armor and a full-face helmet just for commuting.

When I commuted previously, I felt like I was having near-death experiences on a weekly basis. Biking on my route is fairly dangerous, because cars constantly whip around right turns without even looking whether there are pedestrians or cyclists in the way. I was once rear-ended by a cab, and another time I had a braking problem and had a sidelong collision with a car as a result. Thankfully there were no injuries those times, but I do not want to take any chances of orphaning my daughter!

I live in Washington DC and ride about 4.5 miles each way. It's fairly steep downhill (going) and uphill (coming back). My bike is a very heavy electric assist model. Because of the electric assist, I don't have to worry about overheating as much as on a traditional bike, and I also have much quicker acceleration from a stop. Due to the heaviness of the bike and the speeds I reach going downhill, braking hard can also be dangerous. In addition, I will also be biking throughout the winter when my homeward leg will be in darkness.

I'd love tips and recommendations on body armor and helmets that could maximize my safety in case of a big crash—especially stuff that comes in women's sizes.

I know next to nothing about what is out there and have never done any mountain biking or the kind of sport biking for which people normally use the heavy duty safety gear. Putting on separate knee pads, elbow pads, etc. seems like a huge pain to do twice a day. Instead, I want to find something more like pull-on long-sleeved or short-sleeved top that has the padding sewn in (ditto for shorts or pants), so I could wear them under t-shirts & skort/skirt for summer. I'm considering just getting a padded waterproof motorcycle or ski outfit for winter.

On helmet safety: are the skate/multisport helmets like Bern more or less safe than traditional cycling helmets? Could one of those potentially be a better choice for commuting than a full-face BMX helmet?

  • 4
    Helmets and protective gear don't make you safer. They only provide a probable amount of injury protection. Jul 29, 2012 at 17:31
  • 13
    Sounds to me like the electric-assist is the problem. I'm starting to see this more often now. People out-ride their capabilities on these bikes. The extra speed puts them places where they shouldn't be, going faster than the rest of their cycling-capabilities are suited for. I don't want to flame, but if you think a full face helmet and body armor are needed you should be asking this question to moped (and bigger) riders.
    – jqning
    Jun 29, 2015 at 3:19
  • What helps a lot to increase your safety is to actaully assume car drivers are out there not lokking for you - that's you job. If a car overtakes you, watch for the next right turn possible and assume the car will take it, no matter if it gives directions or not. That way you'll be able to brake in if it happens. And it willn sooner or later.
    – user33275
    Jul 1, 2018 at 12:58
  • 1
    In large cities, it can even make sense to assume that cars intentionally want to kill you.
    – Stef
    Oct 18, 2021 at 12:00

10 Answers 10


While you can certainly wear BMX armour, or possibly even use motorbike armour and wear full face helmets, I would put much more emphasis on changing the way you cycle to reduce the risk from cars.

You say cars turn without seeing cyclists- well, you have two options:

  • become more visible. It isn't high fashion, but wear colours and lights, flashing and bright. Use your lane- own it, don't hide over at the side.
  • become more aware of other vehicles and make sure you are not where they will be.

If you wear a full face or motorbike helmet you will not be able to hear as well, so your awareness of other vehicles may suffer.

Especially on such a short commute cycle, you should be able to take care at each junction.

  • 4
    Adding to this some things to help you survive (I used to ride "street" in San Fran, tricks in the street, usually requiring navigation through bad traffic conditions. 1) assume that no cars can see you 2) assume the 1 or 2 cars that CAN see you will try to hit you!! This will get you in the mind set that you should not be anywhere that a car could hit you even if they wanted to.
    – BillyNair
    Jul 27, 2012 at 22:15
  • 3
    Absolutely. That's even my approach in a car or on a motorbike- assume they are out to get you.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 27, 2012 at 23:16
  • 9
    Also, many full face helmets may restrict your peripheral vision, and restrict you from turning your head is quickly, which can affect how you can see cars behind you.
    – Kibbee
    Jul 28, 2012 at 16:51
  • 1
    Don't put anything on your bike that actually flashes. Has a tendency to make other drivers, motorised and cyclists, aggressive, which nobody needs. Also in the dark it's hard to make out the distance to a flashing light.
    – Karl
    May 16 at 21:35
  • 1
    I disagree @Karl, as do many road safety organisations. Flashing lights always attract attention better than fixed lights. Also, who gets aggressive over flashing lights? I've never encountered that or heard of it before - sounds very weird. The distance at night bit is true though, which is why at night you want fixed plus flashing lights.
    – Rory Alsop
    May 17 at 7:20

Frankly, what you want is impossible. A good bicycle helmet provides substantial protection from head-impacts-pavement and head-impacts-vehicle events, but basically only those where the velocities involved are small. The helmet functions by slowing the skull down slowly, avoiding the skull-brain impact which often does the most damage.

But, where the helmet is effective we're talking about impacts which, if they involved another body part, would only result in a bad bruise or maybe a relatively minor fracture -- impacts not much worse than slipping on the ice and going down hard. Yes, body armor would help with such impacts, but the cost (in terms of weight/comfort)/benefit(in terms of reduced bruising) ratio is very low.

Getting broad-sided by a car is an entirely different situation. If, eg, the car strikes your body at the hip, your spine will be subjected to enormous torsion and a spinal injury is very likely. Body armor (short of the stuff used in Iraq) will not stiffen the spine. If the impact is at the knee, similarly no practical body armor will prevent the knee from being torn apart by the impact.

  • 3
    Ditto. Add into that if you are wearing a full face you will not be aware enough of your surroundings. If you are wearing full armor, you will not be nimble enough to ride safely. In most cities you can commute safely on roads, trails, talk to your local bicycle advocates and "test" some of the routes on weekend or non-peak times.
    – Ken Hiatt
    Jul 28, 2012 at 3:14

I ride a motorcycle on the freeway (interstate for those back east) and you have to live with the fact that if you are hit by a car there is really nothing you can wear to protect you the way you would like. A helmet will protect your head from the impact of you falling 6 feet to the ground going 20 MPH, but I have yet to see one that will fully protect you from a car or running head on into a barrier on a motorcycle. Even then, you are more likely to obtain serious injury or death from neck injuries than a cracked skull. My son plays football and even using the Xenith Helmets (best anti-concussion helmets) you still hear of concussions. I am not trying to scare you, I am trying to let you know that there is nothing guaranteed to keep you safe on a bike from cars. As long as you understand the risks and still agree to riding, there are a few things to help keep you safer than spandex.

There are motocross style shirts with thicker pads in them. The material is designed to breathe really well so it doesn't get hot but still good for a hard fall/slide at speed (80-90 mph). Or are body armor that you can buy to go over your clothes. The stripped down "spine only", the MX style chest plate, and the integrated arm and chest (similar to the shirt I first mentioned but wearing the pads on the outside.) Chest Pads

For the lower body, you can get racing leathers. They are the motorcycle pants that MX riders wear. They protect the hips, thighs, knees, and shins. You can find some pretty light weight ones (and they look frekn SEXY on women!!)

I wear Lizzard Skins Shin Guards. They are by far the best shin guards out there! Their plastic inserts are thick and bent into a V-shape to distribute the impact to the sides of your legs, where the meat is, rather than the shin bone.

Breaking down to the Kneepads. You can pick up some good ones from any skate shop, and if you decide not to get a fully integrated chest protector, you can get your elbows there too.

While you are at it, don't forget that a GOOD pair of gloves will protect your hands from road rash is you are sliding. I have used some pretty crapy ones, and found that Mechanix make some really good gloves! I use them for my motorcycle as well as my BMX in the skateparks, they hold up against everything I have put them through.


New answer to an old question.

You didn't say how much power your ebike will provide.

I've recently sold my 500 watt motor and batteries, because the speed alone was dangerous and put me in bad situations. I was achieving peak speeds of 46 km/h and regularly travelling at 40 km/h with pedalling on the flat.

I found that drivers glance and see a bike some distance away, then start their manoeuvre, and suddenly I'm right on top of them.

You need to ride much more defensively and be proactive in avoiding problems. I learned to never bike in the door-zone, and to look well ahead.

You can also maintain the death stare at any driver who looks like they are about to do something wrong, like turning across your path.

So armour and helmets and pads come into play once everything has gone wrong. Their prime goal is to minimise damage. Your aim is to avoid the damage happening in the first place.

So do wear a helmet, and have plenty of lights, and high-visibility vest and gloves, but remember that's your second line on defense.

Finally this question was asked three years ago. What did you actually do, how did it work for you, and what have you done differently since then? Follow-ups of your experiences help other users.

  • 1
    This was surely the "fast" bike. To pedal 46 km/h on a heavy bike where the motor switches off at 25 km/h, not for everyone.
    – nightrider
    Jan 24, 2022 at 19:44
  • 1
    Legal maximum support on E-bikes is different between different countries, 25 km/h is the European standard, not a world wide one.
    – Willeke
    May 19 at 10:55

It seems to me that the types of injuries are different for motorbikes and bicycles, so that the requirements are different, and I can't see that body armour is useful for bicycles.

Common motorbike incidents are when a rider comes off the bike at fairly high speed, either because they lost control or in a collision, and the clothing is designed to protect the rider as she/he slides on the road and possibly hits something.

This is not typically what happens in bicycle incidents, especially in cities. Most deadly collisions happen when an HGV turns with a bicycle in the blind spot and the cyclist ends up under the rear wheels. No amount of reasonable body armour can protect you when the weight of 20 ton truck crushes you. You can only try to stay away from large vehicles as much as possible.

Other bicycle incidents in cities are usually not high impact/high speed, and the main danger is hitting your head on the ground at 10-20km/h. Not only when you hit a pothole, but also in collisions. When you get right-hooked by a car, most damage is not from the collision as such but they may clip your front wheel and you lose control and hit the ground. When a car pulls out, you often slide over the bonnet and again the main injuries come when you hit the ground. For an impact of 10-20km/h, the head is the body part with a large risk of serious damage - that's why cycle helmets are designed for this kind of scenario. The rest of your body is much less at risk; you may get a broken wrist and a lot of very painful scratches but rarely anything life-threatening. Padded clothing can make the fall much less painful, of course.

So, I wouldn't put too much trust in body armour. Fine for motorbikes due to the different kinds of speeds, but for bicycle incidents in the city they are either unnecessary or can't protect you enough, depending on what you get hit by. I guess that's why even professionals only wear helmets, despite their more dangerous riding style.


There are organizations that offer riding in traffic classes, they even plan with you your best commute route, I would look into that as a way to gain confidence. Keep in mind that if you are afraid or you doubt at some intersection or maneouvre it can be dangerous if someone decides they don't want to wait for you to make your move. Confidence and paying attention to your environment is best for safety, which includes, as mentioned above, claiming all the lane for you.

Practice and get proper confidence on your skills, get a good helmet,(I wouldn't go for the full closed hwlmet because in the tradeoff between visibility and increased face security I think it is better to have more visibility), see that your bike is in excellent riding condition, gears brakes, etc, make yourself seen without blinding other road users, that's it.

And then, rememeber you can't be 100% safe on the bike, but just walking on the city is also dangerous, we have to go outside the womb


Maybe a light leather jacket and gloves if the weather matches and you are not vegan. I think there is nothing bad in getting the best helmet you can afford (MIPS, etc) at least for better feeling. I am not sure if it needs to be a full face helmet (you can read here our discussion on them). This helps if you fall, pushed by car or otherwise. There is probably no gear against direct high speed collision, you need to concentrate on how to avoid it instead.


Concerning an ultra-safe helmet I'd recommend to have a look at a Hövding or similiar bicycle airbag systems. It certainly isn't cheap but seems to offer the best protection at the moment.

Edit: as of 2023/Hövding 3-controversy that company is insolvent.

That said, in my experience the best protection is to drive defensively: you have to accelerate and brake faster. In a city like Berlin you constantly have to watch out for people cutting you off on turning and you must be able to brake or at least evade.

  • Really madly extreme technologies like this maybe could be on topic.
    – nightrider
    Jan 24, 2022 at 19:38
  • 2
    Note that Hövding went bankrupt in the meantime.
    – Rеnаud
    May 19 at 13:11

Being an avid road cyclist myself, honestly, I can only agree with all above speakers who criticize Therese's idea. Current technology won't provide you an armor to protect you in any serious road incident. If you are hit by a car at 50-70mph, that's probably it (best case scenario you'll spend a few months in hospitals/recovering). Any extra protection you can get will encumbrance you greatly, slow you down - and will turn your riding experience into a hellish one. You'll just hate it, and will probably stop riding soon after trying this. At the other hand, it won't be that useful, except for may be getting you a bit more confidence when falling of your bike. But then again, I've fallen from mine a dozen times through last couple years, and the worse consequences I had were some hand/shoulder/knee pains for a week or two, and road rashes. Definitely not something justifying wearing a few pounds of extra armor on daily basis.

Basically, there are few major threats you should be worried about when cycling, and the mindset mentioned above a few times already covers them: just expect anybody on the road to not see you, and behave accordingly. If you are afraid that a car will turn right, hitting you - just always slow down at junctions and intersections and make sure there won't be such car behind you before passing it. If you fear somebody will jump the red light at a crossroads and hit you - just slow down at every crossroads (even if it's green light to you), assess the situation and pass it slowly and carefully, while looking around.

As for the falls, there are few really serious injuries you may get when falling of your bike at speed: hitting your head against some rock or concrete, damaging your eyes - or getting your neck broken. The first two are countered by helmets and glasses quite good; and your armor won't help you against the last one anyway.

Honestly, I think what Therese should really address here first of all is her rather high anxiety level. Because a feeling like "I was having near-death experiences on a weekly basis" isn't something normal, imo - unless we are talking about life in a failed state, or in a combat zone. You probably can see dozens of cyclists commuting around you on each of your rides - but I'm very much doubt most of them experience the same anxiety while doing it (I don't, though once in a while there are frustrating incidents where I feel myself not very secure). Anxiety of such intensity may be as bad for your health in long perspective as being hit by a car.

  • There are still many cases when you may be hit at much slower speeds like nobody turns at 70 mph or even drive into the unexpected car yourself so a good helmet makes no harm.
    – nightrider
    Jan 24, 2022 at 18:36

If you're commuting, and using a folding bike as many do, bear in mind that the joint on the horizontal tube is a singe point of failure. If that joint fails for any reason, you're suddenly going to be riding a pair of unicycles instead of a bicycle. You'll almost certainly hit the ground face-first (especially if you use clipless pedals) and only a full-face helmet will be of any help.

And yes, it happened to me. I was unconscious for over 20 minutes, still have a memory gap of 35-40 minutes. I had a fractured skull, 3 loose teeth, have ongoing vision problems and face a probable facial reconstruction operation in a few months time.

Full-face helmets can be hot in the summer and you may get some ridicule from other cyclists. But I, for one, will never ride a folder without a full-face helmet again. Normal bikes are no problem, if a weld fails there is some structure left that will probably save you for a while at least.

  • 1
    Welcome to Bicycles SE. Sorry about your accident, but +1 for the mental image of two spontaneous unicycles.
    – Criggie
    Oct 4, 2015 at 5:22

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