Helmet Shootout? Well, unfortunately not exactly. I started this project with a ‘who’s best’ focus, but after getting these helmets in I realized a ‘who’s best focus’ only helps me, not you. So this has changed to more of guide. The write up on each helmet focuses more on the facts, the fit, helmet similarities or difference. So if you’ve tried on that $375 TLD, loved the fit and feel, but can’t shell out that much, use this to see what other helmets might be best for you and what their features are. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to sugar coat anything, if a helmet really has a flaw, I will point it out.
All these helmets got 4 to 5 days of ride minimum ride time from me and some other riders. I tried different sized goggles out, washed and examined all this helmets, and written my reports for these helmets. I have also done my best to describe how the helmet fits.
If you have questions about a detail I might have left out, or if something isn’t totally clear, please write a question in the comment section. Words, as we all know, are not always as clear as we’d like them to be. Let me be a resource to help you find a helmet. Ask questions and make comments on your own experiences if you’ve got them. It helps everybody out in the long run.
I’d like to thank the companies who have sent in a helmet/s to get this guide going. If you’d like to send in a helmet for this guide please send me an email.
Index (Quick links)
This is a quick little section of things I’ve come to realize about the differences in helmets. Some observations are obvious to most people who’ve worn several different full face helmets before, but others might not be so familiar.
* More manufacturers need to include a sizing pad fit kit in with the helmet. TLD has got the obvious cornered on this one. Others….??? Hello?
* Different helmets meet different rider needs.
* Weight vs. Safety Rating: A DOT/Snell or DOT helmet with current technology is going to weigh more than a helmet with a CSPC, ASTM F-2032-00/1952-00, and CE ratings, most of the time.
* Price vs. Weight: The more a helmet cost, the lighter weight it will probably be, relative to the safety rating.
* A thick, soft, all encompassing EPS liner is going to be better at saving you brain from internal damage than a thinner, less encompassing, lots of vents, EPS liner. (Please see the safety rating section for more explanation.)
* A thicker EPS liner will lead to a more ‘Jack-in-the-Box’, or larger helmet profile. Especially on the sides.
* DOT/Snell helmets don’t typically vent as well as a helmet with lots of vents and lower safety ratings.
* Some helmets don’t fit large goggles well.
* Different helmets give different levels of room for your ears.
* Floating padded liner allows a wider verity of head shapes to fit the same helmet.
How to pick a helmet
There are only a few things you really need to think about when picking a helmet.
Fit – The helmet should fit snug around your head. What does snug mean? Snug means it should fit like your shoes fit your feet. Not too tight to be uncomfortable, not so loose it has a lot of play. There should not be a lot of room on the inside as if you had on a pair of shoes several sizes larger than your feet. There should be as little left to right (side to side) play as possible. As well, forwards to back play should be as little as possible. The helmet should be level and stable when you shake your head around. Where I noticed most of the side to side play in helmets was just above the ears there tends to be a gap in the contact space between the helmet and my head. Any side to side movement there should be reduced as much as possible with extra fit pads or by finding a helmet with a better fit. Front to back movement should also be reduced. You don’t want your helmet sliding forward and down your face covering your eyes after you’ve Canadian head bobbed a landing. You want something that will stay just where it should at all times.
Your Needs – What are you looking for in a helmet? Are you looking for the lightest weight helmet out there? Are you looking to get the safest helmet you can find? Does ventilation matter most? What are your needs? These are questions you are going to have to ask yourself. For example, lets say you live in a hot climate so you want a helmet that vents really well but you also want a helmet with a high safety rating, like a DOT safety rating. You’ll have to balance out the DOT vs. venting vs. weight conflicts. The Dainese D-Raptor has huge vents and air flows though it like it isn’t even on, but, it doesn’t have DOT safety rating. Will you compromise the safety rating for better ventilation or will you want to know what best meets your needs? Figure this stuff out, look for a helmet that will fit those needs, buy it, wear it, be safe.
What is a Helmet Made From
There are two main parts to the helmet, the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam shell on the inside that handles most of the energy management from a crash, and the external shell which can vary in material from plastic to carbon fiber and fiber glass.
Quickly speaking, the EPS liner doesn’t absorb the energy in a crash but rather transfers it into heat. This process is referred to as impact management. Helmet manufacturers design and custom tune the EPS physical design and density to manage the energy from a crash. Below are two images which show different g-force ratings over time. One with a helmet and one without. You can see the one with is much softer and the peak is moved further along in time as apposed to the helmet less impact where the peak of the spike is un-managed.
There are several different types of foam liner used for energy management, but most manufacturers use the EPS foam. Also some foam liners can vary in density relative to what the manufacturer believes is best. Generally speaking, once a helmet has been hit hard enough in a certain spot all the managing ability of the EPS liner has been used up and the helmet (or liner if you can) should be replaced. A second impact to the same location will offer very little protection.
The shell can deflect some of the impact energy to helmet manage as well, but mainly it is there to keep something from penetrating the EPS shell which is must softer in comparison. As well, it gives manufacturers something to color on.
There are a lot of different safety ratings for helmets. DOT (FMVSS 218), Snell, CSPC, ASTM F-2032-00, ASTM F-1952-00, CE EN1087 (British version), UN ECE 22.05, and the list goes on. If you are interested in reading the standards just click the name of the rating for more information.
Most helmet safety articles focus on motor bike helmets. This doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn. There is a fantastic but long article from Jim Brown you should absolutely read. Seriously, read this article. It is mainly concerned with DOT vs. Snell safety ratings, but in that it explains a lot about EPS liner g-force ratings and why they matter. Along with a lot of other great information about helmets. Helmets.org also has a very robust list with info and more links on bicycle helmet safety standards.
These safety ratings are mostly concerned with two things, making sure the g-force ratings of the EPS liner don’t go over a certain amount and making sure the chin strap stays on.
Do yourself a favor, find the safety standard that regulates the strength of the helmet chin guard. I bet you’ll be surprised to find which ones don’t have it.
Also poke around on Helmets.org and find out about helmet recalls and other interesting things like the Danish Cycling Federation’s fear of the CE standard becoming the lowest common denominator in helmet safety standards.
My Head and What I Look for in a Helmet
You should know a bit about the shape of my head so you can keep that in mind when reading about a helmet’s fit. When I say certain things like, the helmet feels more ’round than oval’, or it has a greater ’side to side play’ for me than other helmets. You will have a great understanding as to what that means.
Imagine putting a dot about an inch above the eyes in the middle of the forehead as a reference point. My head measured around from that point and back is 59cm round. From level with that point but from ear over the top to the other ear is 26cm. Again from that point on the forehead to the same point on the back of the head measure to 31cm. The distance from the point on the forehead to the measuring point of the ears is 16.5cm. That would mean from that point above the ear to the equal point on the back of my head is 13cm. My head shape is more oval than perfectly round. So helmets with a more oval shape will fit my head best. I also don’t have a lot of hair. A full head mind you, but only about an inch long at this point and not lusciously thick either.
Measure your head and find your headform shape.
I’ll tell you now a couple of things. Every helmet I tried had a max size larger than 59cm. The max size range was from 60-63cm. Helmets with a larger max size that also had a rounder shape had more side to side play for me. The helmet that fit me (note this is ‘fit’ not ‘I liked’) best was the TD D2 Carbon after I put the extra sizing padded in.
What I look for in a helmet is light weight, a solid visor adjust screw, ability to fit large goggles, good ventilation, covers the jaw and lower back of the head well, something that feels like a helmet.