Let’s face it; unless you’re the coolest graffiti artist in your hood, sometimes our sense of fashion can easily get lost in the mountain bike helmets we wear. And while safety is paramount, you don’t want to be mistaken for an Uber rider; nothing personal here, every time you step off your bike in a shopping mall, right?
So how do you strike a balance between safety and looking cool all the time? Well, this article is all you need. And yes, it’s actually easier than most people make it look. You don’t need to over-accessorize. You just need to understand how and where to strike the balance between safety and fashion.
So today, we are going to discuss several stylish helmet features for you. We will also have an in-depth look at the safety aspects so you understand what you are compromising with each helmet you choose. We will also discuss how to maintain your mountain bike helmet so you can enjoy several years of riding with it. However, there’s a limit to that which we will look at later.
And if you are yearning to ride green, we will also show you how you can achieve that without looking cheap. Sounds interesting?
Let’s dive in.
The Importance of a Mountain Bike Helmet
The key role of a mountain bike helmet is to protect your head against injury in case of an impact. But how exactly does a simple plastic shell with a layer of padding achieve that?
A mountain bike helmet is designed to absorb and distribute impact forces in case you collide or fall. Without a helmet, such forces would otherwise be absorbed by your head leading to severe skull damage and possibly traumatic brain injury. How well your helmet absorbs and distributes such destructive forces depends on its material construction and not how heavy it feels. We will discuss the material construction of a helmet shortly.
Protection from Debris
As you enjoy your rides, it’s the responsibility of your bike helmet to protect your head and eyes from falling debris such as flying twigs, sand, or rocks. At high speed, such small debris can cause significant injury when you’re not wearing a helmet.
By law, manufacturers are supposed to test their helmets against set safety standards and certify these helmets. Similarly, as a rider, the law requires you to observe certain legal requirements when riding your mountain bike. While these laws differ from one state to the other, wearing a helmet cuts across most of these jurisdictions. So always ensure you are wearing a certified mountain bike helmet to avoid penalties and other legal repercussions.
Science has proven that Ultraviolet rays from the sun can have a negative impact on the human body. And maybe you’ve experienced sunburn firsthand, when you went swimming without applying sunscreen, right? Well, some modern bike helmets are equipped with anti-UV light materials that simply absorb these harmful rays and give your eyes and skin excellent protection even without wearing a sunscreen cream. So now you can ride confidently even in the summer.
Finding the Perfect Fit Mountain Bike Helmets
For your helmet to provide excellent protection, you must ensure it fits well. However, with the ever-advancing technology, helmets now come in various shapes and fit and you might find it difficult to identify a perfect fit. So what key areas should you pay particular attention to in this regard?
Your Head Size
Use a tape measure to determine the length across the widest part of your head. The tape should pass just above your eyebrows to the largest part of the back of your head. This measurement also referred to as the head circumference, is used to size your helmet online. On your favorite brand’s Amazon online store, you’ll find a sizing chart provided. Cross-check your head circumference with the outlined chart to identify your helmet size.
These charts also indicate if the helmets offer a small fit, true to size, or a large fit. Pay attention to these small details and you’ll get your perfect fit easily. Another size reference is based on Small, Large, to Extra-large sizes. All these will have a head circumference range listed that your measurements will also fall under.
The Perfect Helmet Position
The reason we place the tape just above the eyebrows when measuring is that your helmet should sit level and cover the top of your forehead. By sitting level, we mean it shouldn’t tilt backward or forwards as you ride. Note that it should cover your forehead without obstructing your vision.
Another test is to shake your head gently sideways and from front to back. A well-fitted helmet should remain in the same position without a significant move. However, you should feel as if it’s trying to slide only that it isn’t.
Talking about vision, for the helmets with a visor, ensure that the visor sits right across the eyes, just above your nose, to offer unobstructed vision. A visor enhances your safety as the rider by offering protection against sharp lights such as the glaring car lights at night or the sunlight in summer. The visor also protects your eyes against dust particles, rain, and mud splashes on the road. This way, you can maintain your track without losing focus or straining your eyes too much in different riding conditions.
Safety and technology features
Since your helmet ensures safety in case you fall or crash, your head should fit well for optimal protection. The shell should feel tight yet snuggle enough to fit a finger in between. So what are the common safety and technology features of mountain bike helmets?
MIP (Multi-Impact Protection) and MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System)
Both of these technologies help with impact absorption and distribution. MIP utilizes multiple foam layering to enhance impact absorption. Such foam includes EPS (Expanded Polystyrene). By nature, these foams will continuously absorb impacts before needing a replacement which means you can enjoy a more durable helmet.
MIPS on the other hand, focuses more on the impact distribution specifically rotational forces on your brain as a result of an angled impact. MIPS integrates a low-friction layer into the helmet. This way, the helmet will only experience a small rotation upon impact.
Helmets that offer this technology will often indicate it in their certifications so be sure to confirm the same before purchase. Remember also that in some situations, taking off your helmet after a collision is best so you should be able to remove it easily. At the same time, it should not be too loose that it goes flying in the air upon impact. You still want it intact to be able to distribute the collision forces evenly.
Buckles and Straps vs. Roc Loc® Fit System
To further enhance fit, most traditional helmets will have adjustable straps that form a ‘Y’ shape around the ears. When you strap in, ensure they neither feel too tight nor too loose. As a quick check, you should easily open your mouth and speak comfortably. Similarly, adjust the buckle (chin strap) to fit securely yet allow two fingers to pass through.
New modern technology has introduced the Roc Loc® Fit System. This adjustable tension dial makes it even more convenient and easier to adjust your helmet on the move. The ultimate choice of which of these options to choose depends on personal preference.
The Helmet Construction
Have you heard of In-mold construction? Well, this technology fuses the EPS foam lining with the outer shell during manufacture resulting in a stronger yet lighter helmet for better impact protection. Bike helmets constructed using In-mold technology also offer better ventilation and a fashionable sleek design.
Safety On the Road
If you frequently ride on busy roads, you might want to purchase a reflective helmet. These include reflective elements such as a reflective logo, or thin reflective strips to help other motorists notice you on the road, especially at night or in low light conditions.
Other helmets will have LED lights in the rear or on both sides to notify motorists of your presence. At a push of a button, these lights mimic left and right car indicators and alert other motorists when you’re changing direction. In our opinion, these look sleeker and more befitting of the younger generation. However, you shouldn’t be hesitant to wear them when riding on a busy highway since then you have guaranteed visibility to other motorists from a distance.
Ventilation and Breathability
Most helmets have small holes (vents) on the outer shell. These are designed in a way that they allow natural wind to circulate as you enjoy your rides. As you wear the helmet, ensure these vents are aligned with the natural airflow. Don’t let your head obstruct them. Otherwise, they will not effectively serve their purpose.
Some helmets have adjustable vents that you can open and close manually. You’ll most likely leave them closed on a chilly morning ride and fully opened on a hot day, right? Either way, such options are highly convenient for a seasoned rider.
Others have internal vent channels to direct natural wind over your head as you ride. These vent channels intentionally direct air to the hottest parts of your head consequently preventing heat buildup. Now that’s really cool.
Another way in which helmets offer ventilation is via the use of moisture-wicking materials such as polyester especially on the interior padding. As you ride, your body releases sweat. A helmet that wicks away this moisture keeps your head dry and comfortable as you ride. Moreover, in intense heat, effective moisture wicking enhances ventilation by continuously allowing your body to release more sweat which in turn cools you.
You might have also seen helmets with a mesh panel. Do you wonder about its purpose? Well, these mesh panels and their inserts enhance ventilation by allowing for efficient airflow. They are strategically placed on the helmet’s brow area, integrated into the padding, or even placed on the forehead. Note that such mesh doesn’t compromise the helmet’s structural integrity.
The more modern and technologically advanced helmets are constructed aerodynamically to offer more streamlined shapes with fewer vents. Yet even with fewer vents, these offer the best ventilation since such a specialized vent system is strategically optimized for maximum comfort.
Finally, it goes without saying that a lighter helmet will be cooler than a heavy helmet, right? Although we will discuss the helmet’s weight aspect in detail shortly, it’s important to mention that the materials used in lighter helmets contribute to the helmet’s overall ventilation and comfort. In addition, a lighter helmet puts less strain on your neck which makes it easier for natural wind to circulate your head as you ride.
Embracing Style: Mountain Bike Helmet Designs
You enjoy peace of mind and some level of confidence when you ride your bike while wearing a helmet, right? Luckily, you don’t have to get confined in boring helmet designs anymore. Technology has advanced greatly, offering you diverse helmet options so you can fully immerse yourself in the biking experience as you enjoy your time on the trails. Below we look at some of these trendy designs:
Some helmets look more rounded while their aerodynamic counterparts look really sleek and angular. The shape you settle for depends on what type of rider you are. The angular helmets are for people who ride a lot. They offer less wind resistance. On the other hand, the choice of the round ones would be more of a personal preference.
Color and Exterior Finishes
Some brands have a unique helmet color profile while others offer a wider range to choose from. Still, some opt for color blocking so you can easily identify a feminine or masculine helmet. The exterior finishes such as textured surfaces, branding and logos, and gloss or matte finishes among others determine how fashionable the helmet looks. The logos also help you as the rider identify with your favorite brand. However, this is really more of a personal preference.
Helmets with accessories such as visors, helmet covers, and stickers add an extra personal touch. While some of these accessories offer additional protection, some are just more of a fashion statement.
Lightweight and Durable Materials
You’ve probably seen most of the bike helmets tagged EPS (Expanded Polystyrene Foam). This material is widely used majorly due to its excellent impact absorption. EPS is equally lightweight which provides more comfort to the wearer. While EPS is relatively durable, it might compress permanently upon significant impact.
The next common lightweight yet durable material is Polycarbonate (PC). Now PC is a strong thermoplastic and offers better impact resistance. It makes very lightweight shells with a capacity to evenly distribute impact upon collision.
In some premium bike helmets, you’ll see the use of Multi-Density Foam. However, this is mostly sandwiched between other foams including EPS. The major reason for combining foams of varied stiffness is to enhance your protection against impact. These multiple layers absorb and dissipate impact forces more efficiently. In addition, these layers increase ventilation without risking your safety.
Carbon fiber is yet another popular lightweight bike helmet material. They use carbon fiber as a reinforcement or insert it in the high-risk areas of the helmet. Consequently, the helmet enjoys additional impact resistance and strength while still maintaining minimal weight. Overall, carbon fiber helmets are highly sort after due to their exceptional strength-to-weight ratio.
Have you heard of Kevlar? This helmet material falls under a cluster of Aramid fiber. Just like carbon fiber, they have high tensile strength yet super light in weight. Aramid fibers can also be combined with other materials or used alone. Either way, they increase the helmet’s rigidity and strength without adding to its weight.
It’s not uncommon to see a mix of two or more of these materials in your mountain bike helmet. Manufacturers combine them to achieve certain properties that would otherwise be impossible to achieve using only one material. The key properties here are safety, durability, and comfort with regard to the helmet’s overall weight and cushioning.
Maintaining Your Helmet
Your mountain bike helmet’s lifespan depends on how well you maintain it, the product quality, and of course how well you use it. Since the last 2 are within your power, let’s discuss how to maintain your helmet. What do most manufacturers recommend and what are the dos and don’ts?
For starters, you should never store a wet helmet. Either from sweating or rainy weather, moisture deteriorates your helmet, especially in padded areas. Moist environments encourage the growth of mold and bacteria. It is recommended to always dry off your helmet before storing it. And if possible, remove the liner or padding and hand wash them separately. Then let them dry in a well-ventilated environment to get rid of these problems. Also, remember to replace them as needed.
The plastic shell will be just fine with a little wiping occasionally. However, invest in thorough cleaning with mild soap and warm water whenever it gets dirty. Don’t use harsh scrubbers or else they will scratch the plastic surface. Instead, opt for soft cotton, a sponge, or a microfleece cloth. Similarly, harsh chemicals and cleaning agents that are naturally abrasive will damage the helmet material.
Let your helmet air dry naturally. Forced drying with the use of artificial heat sources such as an oven or a hairdryer will quickly degrade the helmet by distorting the shell and inner foam.
After properly drying the helmet and its parts, always store them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated environment. Places with extreme temperatures, both cold and hot, and those with extreme humidity degrade the helmets over time.
Eco-Friendly Mountain Bike Helmets
Due to the resource-intensive nature of helmets and other protective gear in general, sadly we can’t have an entirely green mountain bike helmet. However, some manufacturers are going way and beyond in several of their environmentally conscious manufacturing practices, which eventually contribute to the larger global sustainability.
So which of these practices should you consider when choosing an eco-friendly mountain bike helmet?
The most obvious are of course the certifications and manufacturing standards. Look for C2C (Cradle to Cradle), Bluesign, as well as GRS (Global Recycle Standard) certifications. These are proof that the manufacturer has committed to adhering to environment-friendly practices and transparency.
Besides the certifications, the use of sustainable materials both in helmet manufacture and packaging is yet another key indicator. The use of upcycled or recycled material, renewable energy sources as well as biomaterials such as natural fiber is a great approach to eco-friendly practices. These materials should also be non-toxic. That means the adhesives, dyes, and coatings used should be safe for you, the helmet wearer, and the environment.
Finally, pay attention to the weight of the helmet. More often than not, lightweight helmets require minimal resources as compared to heavy ones. Lightweight also implies the use of more modern and advanced construction methods.
The fashion meets safety trend is a great positive shift in the mountain bike helmet design industry that is set to emphasize aesthetics and style while still guaranteeing safety. A few centuries back, bike helmets were the least appealing attire to adorn. However, with this new trend, manufacturers have realized that their helmets have to appeal equally to our fashion preferences.
From this style guide, you must have realized that it’s possible to have a mountain bike helmet that is both stylish and functional. Moreover, manufacturers offer a variety of mountain bike helmet styles to encourage the riders to wear a helmet as a norm rather than viewing them as an inconvenience.
This guide highlights several trendy helmet designs; you’ll be spoilt for choice. We have also discussed how to find your perfect fit and the safety measures you should be keen on. We also elaborated on the different helmet materials and their contribution to the overall end product.
Finally, we looked at the eco-friendly helmet variants and gave you tips on how to maintain your favorite mountain bike helmet for longevity and excellent service. Use this guide as a resource when looking for helmets that align with your fashion sense while still meeting the stipulated safety measures.