Gone are the days of clunky shapeless mushroom helmets with ill-fitting straps and pinching pains. With mountain bikes getting lighter, tougher and seriously more stunning, head protection has been following suit.
Though it's not a legal requirement, wearing a helmet on your bike is a very good idea - and at TWC we certainly recommend it. Many trail centres and bike-parks require you to wear a helmet on their site as a minimum, and the number of times we've inspected helmet damage after a crash and been thankful we weren't inspecting our heads is enough to convince us. Steep trails, techy sections or even just a harsh gust of wind can knock you off the bike and head first into the unforgiving ground.
In the same way that mountain biking has broken down into many sub-genres, helmets have been developed to better suit varying styles of off-road riding: downhill, all-mountain, XC and even BMX. Fortunately, helmet brands are taking into consideration that no one wants to feel like bobble-head bimbling down a mountain, so head protection is getting sleeker, lighter and seriously awesome looking.
What to Look Out For
When buying a new MTB helmet there are a couple of things to consider and a few features to look for as you seek the ultimate mix of comfort and protection:
The purpose of wearing a helmet is not just to look awesome. Its primary function is to protect your head in the event of an accident by absorbing the impact of the collision. The construction of a good quality helmet is important and technological advancements in the field of protection have enabled manufacturers to create helmets that are stronger and lighter in weight.
Helmets are commonly constructed from expanded polystyrene foam which is protected with a thin layer of polycarbonate to help spread the impact over the foam. The internal construction of a helmet consists of soft foam or gel padded for comfort, and secure straps which loop the ears and fasten under the chin.
A relatively new protection system for helmets is called MIPS: Multi-directional Impact Protection System. This innovative design provides a low-friction slip cage inside the helmet which helps reduce rotational forces incurred through impact.
Helmets sold in the UK should meet the British Standard, and this will be marked with the BS Kite Mark. You can also check for the helmet meets European Standards, which will be displayed via the CE mark.
You lose a lot of heat through you head, especially when you exercise so it's important to enable adequate air flow for the heat to escape, and keep your head cool throughout the ride.
It doesn't always mean that more is better though. Ventilation should be at the front and back of the helmet, spaced out well to allow effective air channels to work efficiently.
It goes without saying that your helmet should fit correctly - it needs to be snug and must provide enough coverage for the off-road discipline you're riding.
A good helmet will allow you to adjust the circumference of the inner helmet cage, as well as the height so that it can comfortably cradle your head. Foam or gel pads on the inside of the helmet should be evenly spaced to helmet spread the weight and pressure evenly.
Helmet straps should be strong, durable and adjustable to clasp under the chin whilst looping around the ears.
Although many MTB helmets come with adjustable visors, these aren't a mandatory safety feature. They won't completely shield your eyes from the sun, but they do help take the glare out, help keep the rain out of your eyes and they keep the shape of the helmet more aerodynamic.
Helpful bonus features include camera and light mounts which come as a standard with most helmets now.
Removable pads are very welcome. There's nothing more refreshing than removing and washing those sweaty stale pads and popping them back in for a fresh ride.
A full face bonus is additional padding that can be inserted and removed to make the helmet fit more appropriately. Full face helmets can't be adjusted in circumference and height as much as trail helmets, so additional padding helps keep the full face in a snug position.
Types of MTB Helmets
Like there are varying types of mountain bikes for different disciplines, there are different styles of helmets to suit as well. Which helmet you get depends on what kind of riding you do.
Cross country riding involves long periods of time in the saddle, hurtling up and down mountains and across vast distances.
Without tackling super techy and steep sections, or gnarly downhill tracks, XC helmets tend to be open faced and well ventilated. Coverage can range from a half lid to a 3/4 lid, but the main focus is the strong and super lightweight construction.
ENDURO / TRAIL / ALL - MOUNTAIN
The most commonly found MTB helmet has a 3/4 coverage and a longer adjustable visor. These helmets are the most versatile as they can be worn for all disciplines of cycling, even commuting as they provide ample coverage, protection and in most cases, the visor is removable.
These helmets are ideal to use with goggles as well. This is common mostly in enduro riding, but goggles can be fitted around the helmet, and under the visor when not in use.
If you're ready to attack the gnarly steep trails of the downhill routes, then a full face helmet is for you. These helmets are designed to protect your head and face in the event of a heavy and fast impact.
These usually come with two pad sizes to wedge in for fit and support. A chin strap fastens the helmet on for additional security, and the visor is adjustable for stashing your goggles under when they aren't in use.
Having a suitable off-road helmet that fits correctly and provide ample protection is vital for a safe and comfortable ride.
Helmets come in all different shapes and sizes though, so where possible, try-before-you-buy or check the size guides and measure yourself at home.
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