Back in the day strapping a piece of foam to your head looked as bad as it sounds. While the picnic cooler liner has been the bicycle helmet’s mainstay of protecting power since the mid-80s, elements of comfort, convenience, and aesthetics have come so far that today’s MTB skid lids are now as much a fashion statement as a necessary evil.
Choosing the “best” mountain bike helmet is like choosing the best bike — all that really matters is that you have (and wear) one. That said, head shape, riding style, and personal preference means some helmets will be better than others.
“What should you consider when looking for the better helmet?” is the question I will address on the first page, with differences between genres and recommendations on following pages. Whether you’re budget-minded, bold, or baller, I’ve gathered some of the best offerings from a variety of helmet manufacturers. If yours isn’t listed, make a case for it in the comment section below.
Helmet Safety Standards
By law, every bicycle helmet sold in the United States since March 1999 must meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) minimum safety standard. Other certifying organizations have come and gone before 1999 and some (Snell, ASTM, CE) still exist, but are either voluntary stamps of approval or apply in specific applications. Denoting the US certification preference is important because, although the CPSC is widely used throughout the world, some countries have adopted their own standards.
Most standards follow a similar protocol. The helmet is secured to a headform that measures g-force (G) on impact after being dropped one to two meters onto an anvil. Permanent head injury occurs at 400 Gs while 300 Gs produces unconsciousness with possible neurologic sequelae. Helmet straps, amount of coverage, and stability when yanked are also tested.