Wear a helmet! Welcome to the Priceonomics guide for bicycle helmets. Here we help you find the fair market price for a helmet to keep your precious noggin safe! Search for any bike helmet brand or name and you’ll be instantly greeted by our price! To kick off the guide, Priceonomics contributor Kathryn Casey has put together a bicycle helmet buying guide. Happy trails!

a camel riding a bicycle

Image credit: NBM.

As kids, we all heard it from our parents: “Your bike helmet won’t work if you don’t wear it.” But, there’s actually a lot more that factors into the effectiveness of a bicycle helmet, and in turn, the intactness of your precious skull. While we all know it’s smart to wear a bike helmet, it’s also the law in at least 21 states. And manufacturers have taken great steps to make helmets more stylish, lightweight, and comfortable, so that we will wear them.


But before we talk about the things to look for in choosing your bike helmet, let’s establish some facts. There’s a lot of debate out there about whether or not wearing a helmet actually does any good in protecting cyclists, preventing injury, and saving lives. Bottom line: YES. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that riders wearing helmets saw an 85% reduction in their risk of head injury and an 88% reduction in their risk of brain injury. These numbers are even more poignant when you look at the benefits of wearing a helmet among children. However, other studies, like one looking at Australia pre-and post- helmet laws, indicate that when you force people to wear helmets, death and injuries rise.


This conclusion seems to be based on the fact that when forced to wear “unstylish” helmets, people stop riding, and thus, motorists are less likely to be on the lookout for them, leading to more frequent accidents and injuries. However, in the case of an accident, my money is still on the guy wearing the helmet, so, unless you want to end up like humpty dumpty, take some time to ensure you’ve got the right helmet protection.


First of all – it’s probably not a good idea to buy used! Bicycle helmets do not come with a Carfax. We can’t check if they’ve been in an accident, left out in the rain, or if they’re a lemon. They are designed to take the impact of a crash, so, if one has been used, it’s less likely to be able to protect you as effectively the next time.


What type of riding are you doing? Sport, road, or mountain? Each of these riding conditions present unique obstacles, speeds, and impact factors that your helmet will need to protect you from. Sport helmets are designed to protect you just in case you don’t land that wheelie, while road bike helmets are lightweight, aerodynamic, and provide sufficient ventilation so that street warriors can quickly maneuver around cars, busses, and potholes! And of course, the mountains offer their own treachery, for which bikers need to be cautious. Mountain bike helmets are designed to protect riders from the natural obstacles you may find on the trail: think tree limbs and branches, not bird poop and mountain lions. These helmets have also got to be snug, so that they don’t lose their grip on your head over rough terrain.


Once you’ve decided what type of helmet is best for you, be sure that it fits properly. Not to sound like your mom, but the helmet really won’t do any good if it slips off before impact. To determine what size helmet you’ll need, measure the largest portion of your head – about 1 inch above your nicely manicured eyebrows. Most bicycle helmet manufacturers use Small, Medium, and Large, and the measurements of each size will be posted so that you can ensure a proper fit. If you find yourself on the border between two sizes, play it safe and snug, and opt for the smaller size. And once you’ve got your helmet size, be sure to use the adjustable straps for that just right fit.


Finally, be sure that your new helmet has the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) stamp of approval. While you may think the helmet itself deters from your coolness, this marking will make you look extremely cool, should you have the misfortune of being involved in a bike accident.


Your skull, and your life are important and valuable. You took a lot of time on choosing your bike (and, maybe even your spandex riding gear?) so take the same time and thoughtful consideration in choosing your head protection.