There are new helmets in 2012 that are worth a look if you need a new one. There are more new models appearing with the rounder, smoother profile that we think is best when you crash. But there is still no major advance in impact performance, ventilation or wearability this year that would compel you to replace your current helmet.
Almost all of the helmets listed below meet national or international standards and offer good protection, although some standards are tougher than others. For the US market the CPSC standard is required by law for any bicycle helmet. Without comparative test data we usually do not know if a particular model exceeds the requirements of the standard and offers superior protection. Most of them probably do not, except those that provide additional coverage. There are unpublished indications that the lightest and thinnest helmets do not perform well when impact levels exceed those required by the CPSC standard.
Highlights for 2012
- Rounder profile “compact,” “city,” “urban” or “commuter” models are still growing in number, and almost every manufacturer has at least one in their lineup now. The list below has more than 65 models. The older elongated styles with long rear points are beginning to look dated for everyday use. We are pleased that the fashion pendulum is swinging, and most of the newer models are the much improved “compact” style, even if not fully rounded.
- The higher priced helmets have big vents, but no verifiable advantage in impact performance. You can pay more than $200 if you want to, but Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and other discounters have models that meet the same CPSC impact standard at an everyday price of under $20. And in the $20 to $35 range they have better looking and better fitting models. Our testing showed that the very expensive helmets and the very cheap helmets we tested have about the same impact protection.
- A slip-plane helmet appeared in 2010 with a second shell or liner that can slide over the inner shell a few millimeters at the moment of impact. This is said to mitigate the rotational force on the head, and in some cases that has been measured. The hope is to reduce rotational injury, generally considered a prime cause of concussions. POC has a nicely rounded road model now with this technology built in and extended rear coverage, the Trabec Race MIPS, and a very round and smooth skate-style model. Lazer has introduced two child models. TSG has announced a skate style model for availability mid-year. We might consider a MIPS helmet in a skate style helmet, downhill mountain bike model or any helmet that has extended rear coverage, since the helmet may be more closely coupled to the head than a standard road bike model with less coverage.
- There are no new radical impact materials for the foam in helmet liners this year, although in football, hockey and lacrosse there are some new developments substituting collapsible plastic modules for foam.
- Ring fit systems, the “one size fits all” solution, have taken over for most of the market. They work well for some, but not at all for others, who find that they have to tighten the ring uncomfortably to get a stable fit. You have to try them on to be sure. There are still models using fitting pads instead, but you may have to look for them, and you may pay more.
- Expensive materials: Carbon fiber is still found only in premium models. It does allow slightly lighter construction, but there is so little of it used in a bike helmet shell that the weight saved is minimal except in the heaviest BMX helmets. Some manufacturers have removed it from their line. Manufacturers are searching for ways to use titanium, another glamorous and expensive product that saves very little weight in a helmet. Kevlar is still in a few helmets, mostly in the internal reinforcing.
- Several manufacturers have brought out fit systems with fixed side straps to compete with Bell’s True Fit system. But they do not have the internal strap anchor cage that makes the True Fit system work, and we found that they do not work for us as well as the True Fit system. That includes Bell’s own helmets.
- Strap adjustment fittings–buckles and side pieces–still badly need improvement. Most of them slip too easily, resulting in the “strap creep” that can loosen straps even on riders who have adjusted their straps carefully. You can check that when you buy, just by tugging on the straps. You may have to sew your straps or snug rubber bands up under the buckles to make them hold. We think that should not be necessary, and note in our writeups some of the ones that hold well.
- Rubber finishes and a fabric finish are found in a few helmets. We do not recommend them for road use because rubber or fabric surfaces might increase the sliding resistance of a helmet when it hits the pavement. We do not have lab tests yet to confirm that, but scrub one on pavement and see the difference for yourself.
- Anti-microbial pad materials are increasingly used as odor-fighters for high-end models. Most use silver or other chemicals, and might be useful if you are having helmet odor problems, but if you are seeking to reduce your exposure to industrial chemicals and metals they are probably not something you want to have held against your sweating head on every ride. Periodic washing of the helmet with a mild dishwashing liquid keeps it fresh. Here is one manufacturer’s Web page detailing the anti-microbial chemicals they sell. Those who use anti-microbial soap every day may not be concerned. Bike helmets are easy to wash with mild soap and have never had a general odor or bacteria problem.