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Buying and fitting a cycling helmet

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Knowledge level: Beginner

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Article posted: 21/05/2014

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With modern cycling helmets being lightweight, well ventilated and streamlined, there’s really no excuse for not wearing one. With many makes and models to choose from, knowing which to go for can be confusing but the most important aspect is fit.The best helmet is the one that you don’t notice you’re wearing and you’ll only find it by going to a bike shop with a good range and trying them on.

Safe: Make sure your helmet has passed either the US Snell B90/B95 standard or European standard CE mark test. This can be found on a label inside the helmet with the relevant markings.  

Retention device: This keeps the helmet snug and secure on your head. Often called a cradle, most have a dial or sliding ratchet system that allows for adjustment and, if possible, you should look for one that allows vertical as well as horizontal adjustment. One handed adjustment is a plus for tweaking your fit on the go and, as you may wear a casquette or skull-cap under your helmet when it’s cooler, bear this in mind when trying them on. The helmet should sit square on your head, just above your eyebrows and should not be tilted backwards or forwards.

EPS liner: The bulk of the helmet that crumples and deforms to absorb the shock of impact. Usually made of expanded polystyrene, some more expensive helmets now also have a skeleton inside, often made of carbon fibre. Because of the sacrificial nature of this part of a helmet, you should always discard a helmet after a significant crash and closely inspect it after any impact.

Carapace: The shiny outer shell is not just there to look pretty. It protects the EPS liner and ensures in the event of an accident, it slides along the roads rather than suddenly jarring to a halt.

Vents: Intake vents at the front suck air in which is channelled over and around your head and then out of exhaust vents at the rear, creating an airflow through the helmet. There are an increasing number of helmets available with a reduced number or even no vents. These can deliver small aerodynamic gains and be good for winter riding but, for most riding and riders, a well vented helmet is a better bet.

Pads: Located on the inside of the helmet to ensure a comfy fit. Look for removable ones that you’ll be able to wash or replace and also that have been treated with some form of anti-bacterial compound. Some helmets allow you to swap in heavier liners for cold conditions.

Straps: Usually made of nylon webbing and adjusted with cam locks beneath your ears and at the buckle. Take your time to get the fit just right. The cam locks should sit just below the bottom of your ears and the straps should be snug under your chin with approximately a two finger gap. Make sure the buckle is comfortable, not digging into your face or chin and any excess strapping is secured or cut away.

Aero helmets: If you ride time trials or take part in non-drafting triathlons, an aerodynamic helmet can potentially give you some of the best gains relative to pounds spent. All of the above advice for fitting applies but it’s also essential you take your riding position into account too.

If you tend to ride with your head down, there’s no point buying a teardrop shaped helmet with a long tail as it’ll simply stick up into the air, creating rather than reducing drag.You’d be better off with a more rounded truncated design. Aero helmets also tend to have poor ventilation so, if it’s a longer race in hot conditions, aero gains can easily be off-set by overheating and you’d be better off in a regular vented road helmet.

Here are video instructions on fitting your helmet correctly.

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