Most helmets are aimed at road cyclists or mountain bikers, the groups who wear cycle helmets most often. While these can be also worn for commuting, there's a growing market in commuter helmets, where practical features and design take priority over the light weight and ventilation sought by sportier cyclists.
Helmets are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), which absorbs impacts by crumpling. That's fixed to a plastic outer shell. For cheaper helmets, the shell is made separately from the EPS and is stuck on afterwards. For more expensive helmets, the EPS is sprayed into the shell in the mould ('in-mould construction'), which produces a lighter and sturdier helmet with more options when it comes to vents.
Most helmets use a ribbed design with numerous big vents. Helmets for commuters increasingly use a 'skate-style' design. Partly that's fashion, but the fuller outer shell provides more head coverage and resists day-to-day wear-and-tear better. Reduced ventilation is rarely an issue for moderate-paced commuting.
To be sold in the UK – indeed, anywhere in the EU - a helmet must pass the relevant safety standard: EN1078. To pass this, helmets are strapped onto a dummy head and dropped onto a variety of anvil shapes, the impact speed corresponding to a fall from your bicycle at around 12-13mph. A helmet might also pass other standards. Most are comparable, although the independent Snell B90 and B95 standards are more stringent.
Within a given standard, one helmet is unlikely to offer significantly better protection than another. A more expensive helmet will probably be lighter, better ventilated, more comfortable, more stylish, or have features the cheaper helmet doesn't. But the cheaper helmet is probably just as tough.
Helmets must be worn correctly. This requires, first and foremost, that the helmet fits. All offer a fair amount of adjustment, via the chinstrap, pads, and ratchet strap at the back of the helmet. Yet many come in two or three different sizes. (Women-specific helmets are generally just smaller, as men have larger heads on average.) And some helmets fit some head shapes better than others. So it's important to try before you buy.
Any helmet must have secure and adjustable strapping. A visor is useful for shielding your eyes from sun or rain, particularly if you wear glasses – although a cotton cycling cap can be worn under a visorless helmet to do the same job. Reflectivity is useful at night; some helmets even have integral LED lighting to make you stand out further. The key features, however, are comfort and fit.
Here are five good examples of helmets for commuting.
Bontrager Women's Solstice
You can get a perfectly good helmet for less than £30, as Bontrager's Solstice proves. The in-mould construction keeps the weight down – just 260g in the smaller size – and it has a removable visor. The rear strap can be adjusted with one hand, while the chin strap has flip-open dividers to make it easy to get the straps snug under your ears. There's a crash replacement policy for the first year, so you can get a free helmet if you damage this one. It comes in two sizes: small/medium (50-57cm) and medium/large (55-61cm). The men's version is essentially the same.
Cyclescheme Price: £21.32
Apex City Helmet
While there are ten vents in the Apex City Helmet, it's warmer than average so suits commuters who ride at a steadier pace more than those who sprint for the traffic lights. That's an asset in cool weather, of course, and it doesn't look as strange as a race lid if it's worn with normal office clothes. A fixed peak helps keep the sun and rain off, and there's a rotary dial at the back to adjust the strap there. Construction is in-mould and that and the low-profile design keep the weight down to 260g for the medium size (54-58cm). It's also available in large (58-62cm), and in yellow or white.
Cyclescheme Price: £28.42
Endura Luminite helmet
Like Endura's Luminite jackets and other gear, this helmet is emblazoned with reflective details. It also comes with an integrated and USB-rechargeable LED rear light that fits to the top of the helmet. The rear strap has a dial for one-handed adjustment, and you can set the strap at three different heights to best fit the back of your head. The chin strap has the usual adjustments. There's a three-year crash replacement policy: you get 50% off the price of a new helmet if you crash-damage your existing helmet. Sizes: S/M (51-56cm), M/L (55-59cm), L/XL (58-63cm). Colours: black, green, or yellow.
Cyclescheme Price: £35.54
It's suitable for recreational riding as well but the Muni is aimed at city riders. That's why it has abundant reflective details. The removable visor has mounts for a Blackburn Flea front light and for Bell's Flip Mirror, which folds away when not being used. (Both items are available separately.) The small loop at the buck is meant for a Blackburn Flea rear light but would fit other small LED lights. Like the Endura helmet, the Muni's rear strap can be adjusted vertically as well as tightened and loosened. The chin strap has a ratcheting buckle that makes it easy to get a snug fit there. Sizes: S/M (50-57cm) and M/L (54-61cm). Colours black, white/silver, titanium, green, yellow.
Cyclescheme Price: £35.54
Another low-profile helmet aimed squarely at urban cyclists, the Sutton's EPS protection is moulded in to the extensive outer shell. There are eight vents, but like the Apex City this best suits easier-paced commuting in normal clothes. Three of the vents are reinforced so you can lock the helmet to your bike without damaging it. Subtle reflective details add nighttime conspicuity and there's a clip for a rear light. A soft leather visor sits just above your eyes; you can remove this if you prefer. Sizes: S (51-55cm), M (55-59cm), L (59-63cm). Colours: lots, including black, red, green, olive and navy.
Cyclescheme Price: £49.75
*=based on minimum savings of 25% inc End of Hire - many save more. Check your personal savings here.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
When your bike folds to the size of a suitcase, your cycle-to-work strategies will be different. Here are some tips.
White lines provide straightforward instructions – which are sometimes misunderstood or ignored. Here’s how to adjust your riding accordingly.