Epicenter Cycling's Guide to Bike Helmets
Noggin Protection 101
Did you know the earliest known helmets date back to 900s BC? Like many modern advancements, these protective shells were designed for military battle. Pre-1970, the bicycle helmet existed in a surprisingly basic form. As the sport of cycling grew, impact-related data accumulated and it became clear that the most distressing injuries to cyclists were blows to the head. The advancement of humankind has been dependent on our cranial capacities. Therefore, whether you ride trails, the road, or just pedal around town — wear a helmet. You gotta protect your noggin!
The 3-5 Year Rule
It’s not enough that you wear any old lid. Your helmet shouldn’t be more than three to five years old (depending on use) or have been in a crash, whether you can see cracks or not. Your helmet’s interior components (foam, etc.) break down over time and you won’t necessarily see that deterioration. Pay attention to the age of your helmet and make no excuses about replacing it when necessary. We recommend replacing your helmet every three years if you ride several times a week. Similarly, if you are a weekend cruiser and take good care of your helmet, you can likely get by with a 5-year trade-in schedule.
There’s a crucial exception to the three to five year rule: when you experience any crash where your helmet took a solid blow. This is because even if you cannot see cracks on the outside of your helmet, there may be nefarious cracks hiding with-in the helmet’s interior matrix. These cracks reduce the effectiveness of your helmet therefore increasing the risk of serious injury the next time your noggin takes an unexpected meeting with a solid surface.
When presented with the question, “Why wear a helmet?” your reflexive response is probably: “Safety!” Indeed, according to Epicenter owner Shawn Wilson, “a helmet is the cheapest health insurance money can buy!” Our sales manager Chris Ray adds, “Every time I put on a helmet before a ride, I teach my daughter the importance of safety.” Our marketing coordinator Michele Charboneau, who’s a former horseback riding instructor, can’t help injecting a few words here about the importance of properly fitting chin straps. “Snug that strap up! Your helmet isn’t going to do any good when it flies off your head on impact because the strap was loose.”
The technology revolution has helped engineers and scientists develop tools to better understand traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). The bike industry closely follows this critical topic to take advantage of new developments and produce top of the line cycling helmets. Here’s the skinny on some of these safety developments.
In March 2019, Trek / Bontrager unveiled a groundbreaking helmet technology called WaveCel. This revolutionary material is proven to be up to 48x more effective than standard EPS foam at preventing concussions from common cycling accidents.* This is a major milestone in cycling history that will change the cycling industry and make helmets better for all riders.
Standard foam helmets are designed to protect against direct impacts. But WaveCel accounts for how most cycling accidents actually happen: ungracefully, with twists, turns, and angled impacts. On impact, WaveCel's collapsible cellular material absorbs energy in multiple ways and then disperses it in a remarkably effective way.
WaveCel is exclusive to Bontrager helmets, which are initially being offered in four models. Choose between town/cruise/commute, road/commute and MTB options; all offering a range of colors. Learn more about WaveCel in our article announcing this new technology here.
MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System)
MIPS (which stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) is another example of impressive cycling safety gear technology. With roots in Sweden, a country known for advocating a bicycle-centered lifestyle, MIPS research drove the bike industry to integrate innovative neuroscience-based technology to the bike helmet’s familiar in-mold composite skeleton. The MIPS system is a “low friction layer” that sits between a rider’s head and the helmet’s shell. This layer is scientifically proven to reduce rotational motion by absorbing and redirecting rotational energies and forces transferred to the brain from angled impacts to the head.
MIPS is available in Bontrager, Bell and Giro helmet models we recommend for a range of cycling disciplines.
In hospitals, doctors and neuroscientists are discovering cornerstone information for the development of safety gear. Meanwhile, in labs, chemists are developing lightweight polymers for helmet shell composite. Cycling engineers are utilizing this research and technology to produce innovative solutions that mitigate serious brain damage from impacts we all eventually experience on two wheels. One of these developments is Drop-In Coverage which extends helmet protection to the area of your skull that protects your brain stem, and wraps around the circumference of your lid for balanced comfort. This anatomy-inspired design reduces the whiplash effect sometimes experienced after particularly rough encounters with Mother Earth.
Hi-Vis and Reflective Features
Believe it or not, we’ve had customers say neon helmets look “dorky.” We beg to differ. In fact, we think it’s dorky NOT to wear neon when pedaling pavement. Although daytime running lights are always the first line of defense when it comes to being seen, helmets in hi-vis colors truly stand out and get noticed. Some helmets even come with reflective elements which are especially important at night.
Consider the experience of one of our regular mountain bike customers who started commuting by bike after landing a local job. When she bought her Trek FX commuter, she used her Day One 15% discount by purchasing a set of lights designed for day-time visibility. She thought this would be enough to feel safe from distracted drivers as she made her way through the city streets to and from work.
One day she stopped by to let us know how much she was enjoying the commute-by-bike lifestyle. She mentioned that she was still a bit leery of distracted drivers, and we chatted again about the benefits of hi-vis kit components. It dawned on her that “neon helmets served a greater purpose than re-living the 80s.” Indeed! She stopped by again after a few months of running hi-vis and was happy to report that vehicles were consistently giving her comfortable space on the road, making her feel much safer.
Neon … there’s nothing dorky about it.
Other Features & Tech
Safety aside, there’s a lot more to consider when choosing a helmet these days. Factors such as breathability and weight are determined by the type of riding you’re doing. For example, if you enjoy hammering the miles on your road bike, you’ll want to look at lightweight, well ventilated, aerodynamic models. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a solid, full-face lid model is appropriate for gnarly descents on technical singletrack; sure, it will be heavier, but that added protection may save your life if your head meets a tree.
Furthermore, there’s always new technology to enhance your riding experiences and comfort. Following are some features we’re especially impressed with.
Bontrager Blendr System
Blendr is the ultimate system for clean and easy integrated installation of lights, computers, and other accessories. We love using this system to easily and securely attach a Bontrager Ion light or GoPro in the top vent of your helmet.
Pro tip: GoPros can be tricky to quickly and adequately mount in a way that prevents Blair Witch class footage. You know what we’re talking about … your buddy returns from a bike trip stoked on the footage he caught on his GoPro. You sit down with beverages, turn on the tele, and white-knuckle your way through vertigo prevention as you watch him through the beautiful landscape that is Moab. Save yourself the woozies — gift your GoPro’ing buddies a Bontrager Blendr!
You may think there is little difference in the form fitting features found on the back of many modern helmets. Au contraire! The Boa system is incredibly smooth, precise, and can be adjusted using predictable clicks. With the structural integrity of Bontrager’s Headmaster II system and the unique Boa fit, this feature will make the helmet feel like your favorite beanie. A FormFit brow band tightens the front of the helmet using the pads; a mechanism that makes for cooler rides because of space created between the shell of the helmet and the pad. The Boa system makes a difference. You might have to experience it to believe it, so do come on in and check it out.
So, Which Helmet Is Right for You?
With so much to consider, how do you know what kind of helmet is right for you? Don’t worry, we’re here to help! We carry a wide range of helmets from the best brands for the following general categories: Urban Riding & Casual Cruising; Road Cycling & Commuting; Cross Country & All-Mountain Riding, All-Mountain & Downhill Riding; and Pump Tracks & BMX.
Read on for information about these different types of helmets and which models our crew especially recommends. And feel free to stop by and try on as many lids as you like.
Pro tip: Bontrager helmets come with a one year guarantee. This means, if you crash your helmet in the first year of ownership, it will be replaced free of charge. Also, Bontrager and Epicenter each donate $1 to People for Bikes for every Bontrager helmet purchased!
Helmets for Urban Riding & Casual Cruising
You might ponder the necessity of donning a helmet to cruise over to the coffee shop or head down the street to check the surf, but remember that accidents can happen anywhere, at any time.
We know of one young man who is a hardcore downhill rider, but his worst crash was a low speed collision with a vehicle after a ride, one block from his house. The impact was so powerful his helmet cracked.
Another valued customer we talked to was coaxed by his wife to wear a helmet on his West Cliff surf checks. At first, he wasn’t stoked … isn’t it nerdy to wear a helmet on a cruiser? He soon discovered the answer to that question: absolutely not. On a ride home one night, he pedaled quick to get some speed to attack a punchy climb. No cars, no other riders, no train tracks; yet, he stacked on his bicycle because his chain fell off. Pure mechanical failure caused an accident that resulted in a crack on the inside of his helmet.
Moral of these stories? Wear a helmet every time you hop on your bike!
Bontrager and Giro make some great lightweight, cool looking helmets for your cruises around the community. We especially recommend the Bontrager Charge WaveCel, Bontrager Solstice MIPS, and Giro Caden MIPS.
Helmets for Road Riding and Extended Commutes
Roadies and cyclocross enthusiasts, your helmet lingo speaks aerodynamic, lightweight, and artistic ventilation features. Commuters, you want efficient protection that will reduce sweat and maximize protection so you arrive at your destination safe and fresh.
At Epicenter we have a selection of helmets that were designed by engineers and tested by riders with these specific characteristics in mind. We especially love Bontrager XXX WaveCel, Bontrager Specter WaveCel, and Bontrager Circuit MIPS.
Helmets for Cross Country, Trail & Moderate All-Mountain Riding
Cross country and all-mountain riders, your helmet lingo includes maximum safety and breathability (essentially water retention). You value the costly and timely investments you have made for the health and well-being of your brain.
We, too, care about your health and safety while shredding, so we recommend the Bontrager Blaze WaveCel, Bontrager Rally MIPS, Bontrager Quantum MIPS, and Bell Sixer MIPS.
Helmets for Aggressive All-Mountain & Downhill Riding
Riding especially aggressive and technical terrain requires a helmet that boasts maximum cranial coverage. Full face helmets are designed to provide the protection of motorcycle helmets and come in many variations including those with a removable chin bar for a breathable ascents.
Shop favorite all-mountain and downhill helmets include Bell 3R MIPS-Equipped, Bell Super DH MIPS-Equipped, and Giro Switchblade MIPS.
Helmets for Pump Tracks, Dirt Jumps & BMX
If you live to rally berms, pump rollers, and send it off jumps at your favorite pump track or bike park, be sure to protect your noggin with an appropriate lid. The Bell Local is sharp OG, and a crew favorite — check it out below. For maximum safety, we recommend a full face helmet. See suggested models in the “downhill” section above.