Commuting 101: Get a Helmet

Next week’s Bike to Work Week may have inspired you to check out our site; if so, thanks for stopping by and I would encourage you to peruse our Commuting 101 section.

There is a lot of debate about whether or not you really need to wear a bike helmet; personal experience has shown myself and other readers of this site that you do. If you don’t have a helmet, or if yours hasn’t been worn in years and just doesn’t fit right, your best bet is to go to a bike shop or store that has someone knowledgeable about cycling to help you find the right helmet.

You’re going for a snug, not tight, fit when the helmet is placed level on your head. Most helmets come with an assortment of foam pads — use them.

Adjust the straps so that the triangles are just under your ears and tighten the chin strap up (again, not too tight). Now, if you push on the front of the helmet and it moves enough to expose your forehead, shorten the front straps. Re-tighten the chin strap if necessary. Grab the back of the helmet and act like you’re going to peel it off to the front; if it moves enough that it starts to cover your eyes, shorten the back straps. Rinse and repeat until you’ve got it right. If you just can’t seem to get it adjusted, you need a different model of helmet.

I’ve been shopping recently and was surprised to find out that the old adage “you get what you pay for” isn’t necessarily true when it comes to bike helmets. Consumer Reports has a nice list of ratings showing the less expensive models coming out on top and some of the more expensive helmets rated as unacceptable. You can see the Consumer Reports 2006 ratings HERE.

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0 thoughts on “Commuting 101: Get a Helmet”

  1. Fritz says:

    Warren, CR just measured impact absorption. When I’m riding 50 miles in 90 degree heat, there are other considerations in helmet selection. Fit and comfort become more important. I also want to maximize airflow over my noggin. These features add to the cost of helmets.

  2. Fritz says:

    Oops. Can I take my comment back? I didn’t see the column that lists “Ventilation.”

    Number 3 on CR’s list is the Specialize Aurora, which is my personal favorite. The Citi is just ugly. The Slant is a good helmet. I don’t see my current helmet — the Giro Encinal — on the list.

  3. Brett says:

    Personally, I think the Citi is the best looking one as it’s no frills. The ones that are all aerodynamic seem a bit…funny.

    Goes to show, that looks are based on opinion.

  4. Mike in Florida says:

    I am on my second Bell Metro. The first took a hit from a truck mirror and sacrificed itself to save my skull. The second one is a 2007 model—blaze orange. I love the Metro. If I had been wearing my Giro Eclipse I would have been hit in the head by the mirror, as the Metro has more rear coverage. Still, I’m considering one of the new Giro “life and style” helmets that looks like a skate helmet. More rear coverage is good.

  5. Robin says:

    I’m so used to wearing mine that I wouldn’t know how to fix my hair when I get to work unless it was a tad bit sweaty and mashed completely to my head.

  6. Greg in Loveland, CO says:

    I love the way the Bell Metro (& its low-cost sibling, Citi) looks, but Bells just don’t fit my Alien-shaped skull. Specialized has always given me the best fit, so that’s what I keep going back to time & again. I’ve always gone for less expensive models in the past (less than $40), but this time my family wanted to get me a new helmet for my birthday & I ended up choosing the $100 Instinct. Besides the fantastic fit, great ventilation, extended rear coverage & included visor, it’s got micro-shell on the lower half to keep the edges from getting chewed up over time.

    What is CR’s (standardized?) test method for impact absorption? The Instinct is tested to Snell, which I think is more stringent than ANSI.

  7. Ken says:

    I found tons of useful info on, including their reasoning that non-aero, rounded helmets are better for not having pointy sections that can snag when sliding on (god forbid) pavement. There’s also a rundown of each year’s models for pretty much every brand available in the U.S., as well as some discussion of the various standards (Snell, CPSC)…

  8. Mark says:

    Ironman Cycling Helmets sells their ILS helmet with two built-in LEDs and rechargeable battery. The single rear red LED is bright, but definitely not sufficient to act as the only ‘be-seen’ rear light in traffic. It’s probably enough for the bike trail. The single front white LED is bright, but again is not sufficient to be the only ‘be-seen’ front light for commuting. It certainly isn’t bright enough to light the way when riding, but is bright enough to light the way when walking, for making repairs, and it’s great for lighting up the computer at night. I view it as a supplement, just one more thing to grab drivers’ attention. Unfortunately, the batteries are molded into the shell and cannot be replaced, so once they wear out, that’s it.
    For info: see

  9. Fritz says:

    Thanks for that info, Mark, I wasn’t aware of the Ironman. Li batteries last two or three years, by which time I’m usually close to replacing my helmet anyway, so i don’t think I’d consider this a serious flaw.

  10. K-9 says:

    I am the inventor of the ILS system. Mark, I designed it to be rechargeable and like Fritz said, Lion batteries last several years even with regular use.

    We tested the lights and the front LED can be seen by oncoming traffic for over a mile and the rear for up to 700 yards. Both are designed to be seen at up to 70 degree angles so a driver can see you without you looking directly at them.

    The system isn’t designed to be used as a healight but rather so others can see you.

    Bike safe.

    K. Harris

  11. Mark says:

    “We tested the lights and the front LED can be seen by oncoming traffic for over a mile and the rear for up to 700 yards”

    I have no doubt that in the dark, that degree of visibility it possible. But as I near the office at 6:00 AM, I’m riding in the dark on roads lined with businesses. Lots of competing light sources like illuminated signs, parking lot lights, traffic lights, cars waiting to turn out, on-coming headlights, and even old-fashioned neon. (But no street lights!) In that visual clutter, the ILS’s small LEDs can easily get lost, that same as many low-power LED bicycle tail lights. Even the tail light on a motor scooter can be hard to notice. I’m running a Lupine Wilma 4 up front, and a DiNotte tail light on the rear. Those are definitely visible in a busy environment. I really like the ILS as a second light source in each direction, sitting up high at SUV window level. All without the weight of most helmet-mount lights.

  12. Ken says:

    I wear my Ironman ILS every day on the bike trail.

    It’s a super concept.

    Now that my helmet is fading and I want to replace it, where do I go to find a sales source?


  13. Tedd says:

    Did they stop making ironman helmets?

  14. Ken Merkel says:

    K Harris:

    Please be informed that your Ironman ILS helmet saved my life. When I seriously crashed in October, 2012.

    I went down extremely hard. Saw Stars: @#$%^%$#$%$^&&**(*(()) Incredible stars, when head and helmet hit the concrete.

    Remember thinking, thank God, I’m wearing a helmet.

    Broke left leg (greater trochanter). Now have an 18-inch long stainless steel rod in left femur, held in by a 10mm screw. (Wanted a titanium rod, to match my Merlin Agilis; none in the hospital stockroom.)

    All is OK now. Still riding.

    Thanks to you and your excellent Ironman ILS helmet. Helmet looks great; no cracks. But it’s retired now. Looking all over for another Ironman ILS. Scarce.

    If you know where I can get one in the US, please contact me at

    Thanks a Million.


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