Bike Helmets

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Whether riding through city streets or down steep embankments, the very real risk of head injury riding has made wearing bike helmets the law in many places in North America. We find out if all bike helmets are created equal, and what you need to know before you buy one.



The Basics

  • Helmets come in a variety of different styles to fit the way you ride. Choose the one that fits your head and your riding profile:

    • Micro Shell: most common, general use helmet. A thin layer of semi-rigid plastic glued to expanded polystyrene (EPS). Uses: cross-country, recreational mountain bikers, road racers and cycling commuters.

    • Hard Shell: multi-sport helmets with an outer shell made of thick, high-density plastic composite, lined inside with lined with EPS. Uses: free-ride mountain bikers, skateboarders and BMXers.

    • Full-Face Hard Shell: same as hard shell design with more forehead coverage and protection in front for the jaw and mouth. Uses: downhill and free-ride mountain bikers, terrain park riders, longboarders.

  • If you ride a lot, look for a helmet with several air vents to keep your head cool – and it also makes for a lighter helmet.

  • Keep in mind that a brighter colour means higher visibility when you’re out riding.

  • If it doesn’t fit right, it can be as dangerous as not wearing one at all:

    • The chin strap should be snug; almost enough that you feel a pinch when you fasten it.

    • The strap at the back of the head keeps the helmet firmly in position.

    • You should not be able to tilt the helmet forwards and backwards; it should be snug enough to remain in position.

  • Look for a certification sticker from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in Canada or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the US. This guarantees that the helmet has met all of the safety standards.


We substituted real heads for watermelons in our impact tests, and also tagged along with some bike couriers, who helped us try out four helmets for size and comfort:

  • Bell (micro shell): $13
  • Axiom (micro shell): $35
  • Louis Garneau (micro shell): $95
  • Mace (hard shell): $30

Impact Test

  • Thankfully, human skulls are a lot tougher than watermelons, but, regardless of the helmet, none of our skull-substitutes survived.

  • The Axiom was the only one that ended up with a crack on the inside of the helmet.

Comfort Test

  • Casual bikers were happy with the Axiom for comfort, though the Mace won out in the style category.

  • Serious riders preferred the Louis Garneau for its lightweight feel and great venting system, plus the strap system at the base of the head really kept it in place.


As long as the helmet has a designated safety certification, it fits properly and is comfortable, you can’t really go wrong. Remember to replace your bike helmet every five years.


   Buy It

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