How many bike helmets do you need? One. However, there are a number of different types of helmet for different purposes, so let me tell you about the five that I have.
1. Commuter: I ride to and from work year-round on a daily basis. Although much of my ride is on dedicated bike trails, portions at the start and the end are in relatively congested traffic. Therefore, priority one for a commuter helmet is visibility. My Bell helmet from Costco features a bright colour scheme as well as a rear light affixed to the tensioning mechanism. The other priority for the commuter is low cost. Due to the frequency of use, it’s highly likely that at some point it will be dropped off a desk, stepped on, or accidentally thrown on the ground inside a pannier. All helmets sold in Canada must meet safety standards, so low cost doesn’t sacrifice minimum safety (although higher cost does often come with increased safety features.
2. Mountain Bike: Mountain bike helmets tend to provide a bit more protection down the back of the head (similar to commuters), as well as featuring a visor. Your road helmet may also come with a visor, but this is the first thing I remove as it tends to impair your vision as you tuck down on the drops. The visor is a useful feature on mountain bike helmets for two reasons: 1) Helps keep the sun out of your eyes as you go through varying thicknesses of brush, causing a rather blinding flickering effect; 2) Provides increased protection to your face from unexpected branches or brush. Serious downhill riders will want to consider a full face option, and cross country racers will want to consider weight. However, for a recreational mountain biker like myself, the Garneau Eagle does the trick at a good price.
3. Road (endurance): Long summer rides demand a light and cool helmet with comfort being the number one priority. If you notice the weight of your helmet after a 20km ride, you will REALLY notice the weight of your helmet after 100-160km. If you are going to have just one helmet, this is the one to have. Therefore, I would be willing to splurge here and get something close to top-of-the-line. In addition to weight, if you live anywhere south of the tundra, venting should be a key feature of the helmet design. If it isn’t advertised as well vented, look elsewhere. Personally, I went with the Garneau Quartz II which weighs in at 8.8 oz and features “evacuation channels” for moisture and airflow. In hindsight, I should have saved for a couple more months and sprung for the Course helmet at the same weight but with 31 vents. I spend so much time in this helmet that I should have gone with the best available.
4. Aero Road: Last summer I raced the beginner race at Le Tour de Terra Cotta. I was gapped by the lead group down the final hill just before the finish sprint. While I was pedaling downhill at 70 kph, other riders were going by me in an aero tuck. I was clear to me that for this year I needed more aerodynamic equipment to step up my racing game. Three items were on my priority list: wheels, skinsuit, and helmet. Essentially, an aero road helmet makes some sacrifices in weight and venting in order to prioritize aerodynamics. Now, one needs to be a bit skeptical about the claims from manufacturers as it’s not objectively possible for each and every one of them to have the most aerodynamic helmet as claimed. And, although some reviewers have attempted more objective tests of aerodynamics of helmets, their methodology is decidedly flawed. So, I relied on other helmet reviews and settled on the Bontrager Ballista. I figure the choice of a number of pro sprinters can’t be too wrong.
5. Time Trial: Let’s be honest, this is the one that you’re most interested in as a triathlete. And this is the helmet for which I have the most pragmatic suggestion: buy what you can find second-hand. Giro, Garneau, Catlike, Specialized, Lazer, and more all have the notorious teardrop helmets that truly set triathletes and time trial specialists apart from the cycling crowd. We’re not afraid to look like superheroes/aliens/weirdos in order to set that personal best bike split. However, this helmet will likely get the least use of them all, and the differentiation between them is relatively minimal. The primary recommendation I would have has to do with position and helmet style. There are essentially long (pictured here) and short tail versions. Long works best if you maintain your aero position and looking up for the duration of the ride. As soon as you sit up or look down, the tail starts to be an aerodynamic penalty. In that case, a short tail helmet like the POC Cerebral is a better option. However, due to the similarities between these and the limited use, just hit up Pink Bike or kijiji and see what’s available in your size, close by, and for a good price.