Words: Austin Mills
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Choosing a comfortable cycling helmet will keep your head cool in the summer and warm in the winter — and it could just save your life. Below we describe what to look for in the ultimate lid.
Although legislation in the UK does not dictate that cyclists must wear helmets, unlike in Australia or Canada, it’s rare not to see riders wearing helmets on our roads. Whether they’re commuting to work, popping down the shops or out on a Sunday morning club run, it’s just an accepted part of the get-up.
Ultimately cyclists do need to consider head protection — let’s face it, you won’t have to look far to find a story of a friend or colleague that’s had a near miss, or potentially been saved from more severe injury by wearing one. All helmets sold in the UK have to pass stringent tests so you can rest easy they’ll do more good than harm, and these days the vast majority are actually rather stylish, so the fashion police won’t be after you either.
Most designs have more than enough vents to keep your head cool — even if you’ve got a very hairy or particularly hot one — so there’s really very few excuses left for opting out. What’s nice is that it’s a personal preference.
For this test we’ve considered ease of adjustment, ventilation, comfort, cost and possible add-ons like peaks and lights. The only thing that remains is for you to pick one.
What to look for
The most important of all criteria is how well the helmet fits you. Most offer plenty of adjustment and customisable fit options, but always try before you buy. Just because your mate finds theirs great, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you. Try models from more than one manufacturer, as the fit often differs, in order to find which helmet suits you best.
On the level
The most common error we see is helmets jauntily perched off the back of heads like straw hats. Helmets should sit completely level, with the front in the mid-forehead region, in order to offer the rider full protection.
They do not need to be chokingly tight but straps need to be adjusted just so to ensure the helmet cannot slide forwards or backwards off the head once secured. The helmet retention system should be doing the bulk of the work, not the straps. Adjust it so the helmet fits snugly, and does not wobble around even if the chin strap is undone. Never ride with the helmet like this, but it’s a good way to check the fit.
Fit for purpose
Think practically about which features are most relevant. A sleek, minimalist design might not be ideal for commuters if light-mounting options and reflective detailing are pertinent. Similarly, comfort may be a real priority if you intend to ride your bike all day long.
A super airy design might be great on balmy summer days, but overly chilly on a frosty morning. You may want to consider whether there’s enough adjustment to allow you to wear a hat underneath when the temperature drops.
Our 7 of the best
With plenty of ports the racey-looking Lazer 02 Road provides excellent ventilation to the head. Lazer has come up with a novel solution to operating the retention system — a barrel on the top of the helmet – which is easy to use along with the straps. It was one of the lighter helmets on test but does lack features such as optional padding or a peak. Not everyone got on with the retention system as it envelopes the whole circumference of the head.
Aesthetically, the LAS Squalo is striking. It has a removable chin strap pad and easy-to-adjust straps. The rear retention system is very adjustable, but feels a bit low-cost on a helmet at this price. Both padding options are also awkward to change. Having swapped the pads we discovered, while climbing on a cool day, it was too hot. All the padding is fine for comfort, but it restricts air-flow, which in turn greatly reduces cooling.
Being one of the less expensive helmets on test, the Diamor Road is less adaptable than the others. The wire bug mesh is an excellent feature. The straps are easy to adjust, but the rear retention adjuster is also fairly fragile. At the rear of the helmet are two reflective strips. It has padding for the chin, but there is no peak or alternative padding. Two other drawbacks are the weight and quality. It also generates a lot of wind noise at speed.
The stylish Sterling feels comfortable and switching between padding options was tedious, but ultimately worthwhile. The chin padding was welcome and a removable peak adds to its versatility. The adaptable retention system works easily and securely tightens the lid. Rudy Project’s attention to detail is excellent, like the ‘dock’ provided for glasses. Faults? The strap adjustment around the ears is stiff and needs effort to move.
9/10 TEST WINNER
With 23 vents the Inferno is one of the airiest helmets here and its low-bulk straps are supple and easy to alter. The foam body is well protected makingit robust in terms of slight knocks and scrapes. Reflective detailing on the back, plus a three-year warranty should make this lid a commuter fave. As for drawbacks, there’s no peak option or any customisable padding and the built-in retention system is a bit low tech for the price.
The Sweep makes a good all-round helmet with its removable peak and easy-to-adjust straps. The Ergodial retention system works well. Comfort and weight were not an issue, but there’s only a single padding option. Ventilation was good and the finish is of a high standard. We feel that the graphics do let it down though, especially with the peak fitted. You may find the strap inflexible, but it may well soften up with more regular use.
Initially, this helmet felt uncomfortable in a few places until we found a set of micro pads lurking in the box, which instantly sorted this problem out. Straps are easy to adjust, but the helmet’s ratchet-style retention system is a little outdated and not as user friendly as other systems. Lots of vents mean you may need a skull cap on colder days. It has a removable peak and its construction and weight are both fantastic for the money.
8/10 Best on a Budget
For a helmet that’s going to be used on a daily commute, we feel that you couldn’t go far wrong with the Met Inferno due to it’s robust construction, despite that fact there’s no peak. Specialized’s Propero offers great value for you money, but doesn’t have the best retention system. At just under £110 Rudy Project’s Sterling is the most expensive lid on test, but it’s very customisable and there’s been a lot of attention to detail in its fabrication. Overall, there was very little to complain about; the Sterling knocks the others into a cocked hat.
This article first appeared in the December 2010 issue of Cycling Active magazine