Bicycle Helmet as a present?
Summary: Buying a helmet for someone else is tricky. The most important thing about choosing a helmet is getting one that fits well. Since it is a piece of wearing apparel, fashion is a key element as well. Here are some tips.
Most important: it has to fit wellWe always recommend trying a helmet on before you buy. Buying one for someone else is not easy because you can't do that and keep it a surprise. Our best solution to that problem is to buy where the recipient can easily return the helmet if it doesn't fit well. If everything is local, you can buy at a local bike shop or other retailer where returns are easy and there is a good selection of other helmets. Big chain stores are a solution where the recipient is far away and the same store is near them. Buying online requires shipping back the helmet, discouraging most people.
What helmet to buy?Impact protection may be your least worry. By law all of the bicycle helmets on the US market must meet the Federal CPSC standard. Most are designed to that standard, and do not exceed it much. Consumer Reports has tested a few and has some recommendations you may want to review. We have tested a sample of cheap and expensive helmets and found no real performance differences by price. So you are looking for a helmet that fits well and has a rounded, smooth exterior with no major snag points.
Outside the US, the helmets you find are likely to meet a national or international standard, but you have to consult the stickers inside to be sure. Our bias would be to find one that meets the US CPSC standard.
We also recommend the rounder profile "compact," "city," "urban" or "commuter" models for lower sliding resistance on pavement than the older, elongated styles. But beware, this is a fashion statement. Your recipient may want nothing less than the helmet that won the Tour de France this year. A more recent "compact" model might be a better choice.
If this is for a grandchild, you should resist the temptation to buy that cute little helmet with the external ears, nose, tail or spines. As cute as they are, they just add places where the helmet might grab the pavement in a fall, increasing the strain in a little neck and the g's to the brain.
For easier fitting, 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. You have to buy a Bell in a discount store to get a True Fit model.
How much to spend?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. A nice name brand in a bike store might get up into the $60 range. Our testing showed that the very expensive helmets and the very cheap helmets we tested have about the same impact protection.
What about a gift card?If the tips above seem to make the gifting too complicated, you can always resort to a gift card. Your recipient can verify the fit and choose the style they want. Then your only worry is the amount on the card!
This page was updated or partially revised on: October 1, 2016.