Friday, April 10, 2015

Choosing a Casual Bicycle Helmet

Whether you are a person who rides a bicycle with or without a helmet, you may have found yourself trying to figure out the best protection for your noggin on at least one occasion or another. There is so much that goes into choosing a helmet - even more than I initially believed - and everything from aesthetics to fit to type-of-use seems to come into play. Some people have a wardrobe of helmets to choose from, while others prefer the one-and-only-for-all-rides option.

I freely admit that I am very likely to be found helmetless when riding around town, but almost never go on a road/sport ride without one. How that tradition started, I'm not entirely sure, but I struggle for some reason to remember or care about using one on short trips around the city. I do know that it upsets a certain segment of the cycling community to see (or hear about) me wandering about town on a daily basis without a helmet, but I am still of the belief that this is (unless required by law) entirely my choice.

But (as per my usual digressions), this is not intended as a time to argue the merits (or not) of donning a helmet, but rather, I am curious as to how others go about making a decision about a type or style of helmet, and even whether or not the looks of the helmet matter to you personally?

As I've found myself riding in the dark more frequently over the years, I've thought it might behoove me to wear a helmet around town on occasion (I am naturally clumsy and riding at night just adds to the potential for hitting unseen items in the road), and thus started my search for a helmet that wasn't too sporty-looking, that fits properly, isn't weighty, looks good (or at least acceptable), and that isn't boring. I have to admit, it hasn't been a very fruitful search.

Throughout this multi-year hunt, I've tried on, purchased and borrowed a variety of styles, and I have yet to find one that seems to check all the boxes.

Nutcase has been making helmets for a number of years now. It's easy to spot them in retail establishments because they are more than likely one of the more colorful and aesthetically creative designs one will see. Their rounded shape, unlike most of the more oblong road and mountain bike helmets is yet another easy way to spot them. Not to mention that they're placed strategically in magazines, often times when not even advertising for the Nutcase brand.
*Image from Nutcase helmets
Personally, I'm frequently drawn to this maker because of the colorful designs. I lean toward more subdued and neutral choices for clothing, but I've found the opposite to be true when it comes to bicycles and accessories. For some reason, the brighter the colors the more I seem to find myself picking up and trying a particular item. I can recall the day when I spotted "Phoebe," my former Amsterdam, in a local shop. I tried to convince the owner that I am more of a wallflower, to which he replied, "Anyone drawn to that bike is not a wallflower!"

However, I know there are those who prefer just the opposite and who seek out more subdued choices for helmets or even bicycle colors (which are also available from Nutcase). I don't necessarily object to a neutral helmet either, but it needs to tick all of the other boxes, and at about $60-70 USD, they are one of the less expensive options available.

My biggest issue with Nutcase helmets (and those of similar shape, such as Bern) is that they are on the heavy side. If I wear them for any length of time (more than a few minutes), I find that I have a strained neck for days afterward. I haven't quite decided if it's the fact that these helmets ride so low on the back of my head, or if it's the weight itself, but strained neck muscles are something I'd rather avoid.

Additionally, I also prefer more venting in a helmet, so the minimal hole design of these helmets doesn't particularly appeal to me. They seem to work fine in cool or cold months, but when the temperatures rise, I find it difficult to continue wearing this style of helmet.
*Image from Bell (Solara helmet pictured) Approx. $40 USD
Other options that I've perused and tried are the more commonly spotted helmets in shops such as sporting goods stores and include those from Bell, Giro, Specialized, and so on. They often look similar in style and shape to the one pictured just above, and come in a variety of color choices and slightly different shapes.

For me, finding the right shape for my head seems to be challenging. I own one in particular that fits well overall, has a lower profile (which I prefer), has lots of large vent holes, and is lightweight; however, I end up with painful dents in my forehead every time I wear it due to the shape of my head - which seems to be in opposition to the shape of the helmet - despite the fact that it fits better than most helmets I've tried. I've been told in the past that people have either a Specialized shape head or a Giro shaped head, but I seem to have difficulty with both brands, depending on the particular model.
*Image from POC (model is Trabec)
I spot a lot of the POC helmets (and Smith Optics are a close second) on the roads these days too. The style (at least to me) seems to meet somewhere in between the super-round helmet and the space-looking helmets. Venting seems adequate (though I still prefer more/larger venting), and I like the variety of color options ranging from neutral to more stand-out colors. At $150 USD, this one starts to tug more at the purse strings than I'd prefer. Still, it isn't the most expensive helmet available, and perhaps this could serve as both a sport helmet and casual helmet for many riders.

Helmets have such a huge range in price, and (at least in the U.S.) they all must meet Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requirements in order to be sold on shelves. In my experience though, it seems as though the more a person is willing to spend, the lighter the weight becomes and often, though not always, they seem to look better. Is it some kind of trick to attempt to get me to spend more money on a bike helmet? Perhaps. But, I suppose the more accurate answer is that the higher the price tag, the lighter the materials the company can use to manufacture the product and still meet safety needs.

After years of looking for the near-perfect, more casual, everyday type of helmet, I still have nothing definitive to point to. There are a lot of options to choose from, but it can be challenging to know which way to go - even when able to try them all on in person. Sometimes, I find the most information when actually using the helmet on a ride, and at that point it's too late to return the one selected.

How do you go about choosing your helmet(s)? Do you prefer to have just one helmet for all different types of riding and or bicycles, or do you like to have options to choose from? If you've had problems selecting based on your head shape, what have you found to be successful? Do you care about looks more than fit, or perhaps the opposite?

16 comments:

  1. I love the look of Nutcase, too. I have not seen them in any local shops and don't want to order sit unseen. Thanks for letting me know about the weight. I don't need more neck issues so I won't be getting one.

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    1. Sharon, I should point out that the newest generation of Nutcase (Gen 3, I believe) seem lighter than the original version. Additionally, depending on the position in which a rider sits on his/her bicycle, there may not be an issue at all with Nutcase helmets. My "city" bike is one that is somewhere between the stance of absolutely upright cruiser and leaned over road bike, so I find that I have the need to hold my neck up in order to look at traffic more than on bicycles that sit more directly upright. On the right bicycle, I don't think these would be bad at all.

      One other piece of information that I didn't note above is the detachable visor on the newest version. People seem to be either for or against these, but I think it's a nice feature, especially if you are a rider who is routinely blinded by the sun.

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  2. I recently purchased a new helmet as I'd damaged the fitting in my sportier looking one & as I now have a very Dutch city looking bike (skirt guards, full chain guard the works) I wanted something which suited it more. Now for a woman the issue I seem to have is I have a rather large head, so while I wanted a Bern helmet the ladies options were all too small really only giving me the unisex option of black which I didn't want (at least here in the UK). The other thing is I'm from across the pond in the UK where it seems nutcase helmets whilst available are more difficult to come across. Anyway I discovered a fairly new urban helmet company from Germany called Melon ( http://www.melon-helmets.com/en/ ) which have recently become available in the UK & throughout Europe, but I don't know about the U.S. etc. These urban unisex helmets look similar in style to nutcase with the exception of the fact they appear to have a few more vents & they have a choice of larger colourful visors you can purchase to put on your helmet, resulting in a almost baseball cap style look. I bought a red one about a month ago & have just purchased the visor which I've not yet tested but certainly seems will keep my sensitive eyes free from the sun & rain. Now I can't comment with relation to other brands such as Bern etc as I've said I've never worn them but one claim this company makes is the helmets are significantly lighter than other similar style ones. Now I work for a larger local outdoor cycling facility & all staff have to wear helmets at all times while cycling, even off the premises to set an example for people who may see us out and about, admittedly on hot days I would probably rather go helmetless but only when I'm on traffic free routes which I tend to use but I can't, so something comfy, which I won't get too hot wearing & with a design a like was really hard to find & this helmet seems to so far do the job. I have worn it on an longer ride & will say I didn't get any type of headache or aches at all. I also have a thick wad of hair & naturally get vey hot & sweaty (as I'm a curvier 'unfit' gal anyway) & to be honest considering I cycled my heavy bike along with my heavy duty locks & quite a bit of shopping in some lovely basil pannier baskets for about 20 miles with some big hills (only 8 miles on return with the shopping), although I had helmet hair it wasn't anywhere as sweaty as I had expected it to get. My husband after commenting on how lightweight it is, is now even considering replacing his undamaged helmet & purchasing one, after trying mine on & messing up all my fittings lol. Anyway while I still think particularly here in the UK the urban helmet market particularly for ladies & those with larger heads (helmet & hat designers etc please note not all ladies have small heads) still has a long way to go though hopefully the explosion of bike use will fuel it more, I have to say if Melon helmets are available across 'the pond' they might be worth considering.

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    1. Wow! The Melon helmets do look very similar to the Nutcase design and style. I like the larger (longer) visor style as well because it seems as though it would work well to block the sun a bit better. I haven't spotted this particular manufacturer locally, but I'll have to pay a bit more attention to see if they attempt to get a piece of the market on this side of the pond. It is nice to know that you've found them not to be particularly or overly sweat-inducing on rides around town too! Thank you for taking the time to share this. Really appreciate it. :O)

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  3. I only have one do-it-all hemet.My current is a Bell Citi. I lean toward the commuter type of helmet: it must have a visor, be well ventilated, fairly lightweight, and I love brighter colors. This also works for any type of bike touring that I do. Nutcase nails it for style for me, but I can confirm their helmets are heavy and not ventilated. My son has one.

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    1. I've actually spotted a few decent looking Bell helmets recently. I used to avoid them because they just didn't appeal to me, but they seem to be making an effort to bring some interesting options to the market. I do like the idea of a do-everything helmet as well. My "road" helmet at the moment I really love because it's super lightweight and vents well - and most importantly, fits my head properly - however, I feel ridiculous wearing it on more casual rides which is, I suppose, what has started this whole hunt. :O)

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  4. We have the Nutcase and love the color selection and styling. Like with lycra clothing, we are so over the "aero" look. The reduced ventilation holes on the Nutcase seem to make zero difference to me (and I sweat profusely in warm weather) vs supposedly more highly ventilated aero styles. My head sweats with both types of helmets equally, although I never feel hot with either one. I do not have long hair, however. Maybe that would make a difference. I also like the strap's clip and the rear adjustment on the Nutcase.

    Unfortunately with the Nutcase, the fabric liner delaminated from the foam pads. Pretty quickly for me, maybe six months use. I ride about 5 days a week. Took about a year for my wife's helmet to delaminate. She goes to the gym and rides fewer days per week. I e-mailed Nutcase about the delaminating pads and customer service promised to send replacement pads, but never did. I noticed at the time, the Nutcase replacement pads were listed as out of stock on their website. So maybe others ran into the same problem. There are now Gen3 pads listed on the Nutcase website, but no mention if they fit older helmets.

    After the premature failure of the Nutcase, I then tried Giro's similar "city" styled helmet. The "Flak" purchased off Amazon. Same problem, but the Giro lasted twice as long as the Nutcase before the fabric lining on the foam pads started to fail. I e-mailed Giro customer service and they quickly shipped me replacement pads at no charge. I have to say I have usually had good look with Giro products and can't complain about their customer service in this instance. Also, the Giro does have better ventilation than the Nutcase, but still a city style. Not nearly as many color choices, however. Between the two, I plan to stick with the Giro brand.

    It seems the helmet manufacturers are putting cheap linings in the city styled helmets - maybe figuring they are for kids? Too bad if that's so, because many of us adults prefer the city helmet styling over a racier aero look.

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    1. It's good to know that you haven't noticed a higher sweat-factor in warm weather using the Nutcase helmet, Augsburg. I always seem to worry about this, even though I'm not a particularly sweaty person (though I do sweat - particularly when lots of climbing is involved).

      The addition of longer hair really can make a difference - both with sweat factor and the way a helmet fits. For instance, I know that I have to be cognizant of the way I pull my hair back with my road helmet or it doesn't sit properly on my head, or if I do two braids instead of one, sometimes the fit just isn't right.

      It is quite unfortunate that the inner liner hasn't held up well on the Nutcase or Giro helmets. I have a Lazer helmet that is similar to the style of Giro and Nutcase's rounder designs, but I haven't worn it frequently enough due to fit issues to know whether it would have a similar problem.

      I don't quite understand the cheaper linings on city helmets. I would think most purchasers would be willing to spend a few extra dollars to have a quality product (I know I would).

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  5. When I need a new helmet, I'm seriously considering one of these: http://www.abus.com/us/Recreational-Security/Bike-Safety-and-Security/Helmets/Urban-City/Hyban-green-M-37272. I love that the helmet has a built in tail light.

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    1. I like that design too, Kendra. It reminds me of the POC/Smith Optics helmets, but a little more rounded in style - and without the hefty price tag. I LOVE that it has a tail light built right into the helmet too! That could come in very handy.

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  6. Last year, when I bought my Pashley, I bought a beautiful Sawako Furuno helmet to wear while riding it. I wouldn't recommend it though. It is heavy, and scratchy, and makes my head looks super large. The vents are small and in summer I feel uncomfortably hot. Also, I have had problems with the strap ... The clip keeps getting stuck, which forces me to remove the helmet by lengthening the strap and pulling it over my head. Not the stylish look I was hoping for! Thanks for the Melon recommendation Gem ... Will try it out. I have not changed the helmet yet because it was expensive and I feel wasteful discarding it, but it really is uncomfortable.

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    1. Those Sawako helmets are interesting looking as well. I hadn't heard of nor seen one until now. It is unfortunate that they are heavy and don't seem to vent well. I wonder if you might be able to sell it to someone who'd like to try it to help recover some of the cost rather than disposing of it when you find a helmet that will work better?

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  7. I just got a large Nutcase Street Sport helmet, it really is a beautiful object ... however, I agree it's quite heavy (compared to my old Bell) and kind of makes my head ache. Like you, I can't tell if it's because it's heavy or because it sits so low on the back of my head. An other factor could be the wheel adjustment squeezes too tightly? I also was not a fan of the visor because I found it obstructed my vision, sometimes I like to look up. I do like the visor on my Bell helmet which sits higher and doesn't obstruct my vision. The Nutcase is also kind of huge, I find it looks better without the visor and if I wear glasses. The vents probably are adequate but less so than others. My helmet (the Americana) looks bad ass, like Evel Knievel, it's white with a band of blue with white stars down the center, between two red lines.

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    1. I truly wish Nutcase would make a lighter weight version of their helmets. I would even pay more for it. I love their designs, but yes, they are creators of headaches! I think my most comfortable helmet is actually the least attractive, so I've had to just kind of roll with that. :)

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    2. Just an update, I'm becoming more accustomed to the heavy Nutcase helmet. Either my head is becoming stronger due to the weight, or the helmet is melding better with the shape of my head. It took about 2 weeks of daily commuting (7.5 miles each way) to no longer be bothered by the helmet. I ordered and received a Specialized Echelon II (in orange) if the Nutcase turned out to be too uncomfortable. It's much lighter, and also looks pretty good. I'll probably alternate between them by mood, weather, or to match my bike or clothes :)

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    3. Ha! Maybe that's true. I know I tried wearing mine a few times and it was just causing too many head/neck issues that I ended up selling it, but maybe it's just matter of toughening up?! :)

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