Shortly after I wrote a recent column on bicycle helmets (Safety on the Brain: How to Choose a Bicycle Helmet), Consumer Reports released its latest study on this year’s crop of helmets (subscription required). The results are insightful—and affirming—of the recommendations I outlined in my article.
In particular, every one of the 22 helmets tested by Consumer Reports (CR) for impact absorption—from the $15 Schwinn Merge to the $220 Smith Forefront—met the standard required by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (here’s the complete 37-page CPSC document if you’re really interested). So, yes, safety comes standard on any bike helmet, regardless of its price.
That being said, the CR ratings do appear to indicate some variation in how effectively different helmets absorb impact forces. Roughly a third of helmets received an “excellent” rating in the “impact absorption” category, while the other two-thirds instead received only a “very good” rating.
To meet the CPSC standard, adult helmets must reduce the impact forces on the head to less than 300 G’s under standard testing protocols, which Consumer Reports closely replicates (see video below). Given that all the helmets tested met this threshold, do the different ratings indicate that some lower the resulting G forces more than others? That seems likely, though this aspect of the ratings is not fully explained on the Consumer Reports site.
This matters because the CPSC standard is designed to prevent catastrophic brain injuries, but does not eliminate the risk of concussions, which occur with impact forces well below 300 G’s. Presumably the more a helmet reduces G-forces on the brain, the better protection it will offer in the event of a serious accident. So all other things being equal, I would certainly lean toward helmets that received an “excellent” rating if possible.
So which helmets earned an “excellent” in impact resistance? The Scott Arx Plus ($150, overall top-rated helmet), Bontrager Circuit ($100), Lazer Cyclone ($45), POC Trabec ($150), Louis Garneau Sharp ($95), and Giro Reverb ($60).
Keep in mind that Consumer Reports only tested 23 helmets, a small fraction of the total styles available. But as the results indicate, regardless of which helmet you ultimately select, you’re essentially ensured that the helmet will offer impact protection at least as good as the CPSC standard.
Also remember that a good fit and proper adjustment are crucial components of helmet safety. To help illustrate the key aspects of fit and adjustment, Consumer Reports also features this excellent video, which both outlines the testing methods they use for evaluating helmets as well as a clear and useful explanation for properly fitting a helmet:
Additional resources from Consumer Reports:
Equipped is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.