Are Expensive Bike Helmets Worth It?


A bike helmet is the most important piece of gear that you should be wearing when riding a bike. Its main purpose is to protect your head in the event of an accident, so when buying one you’re actually investing in head protection. You’re probably wondering why there is such a difference in price between bike helmets and why some people spend so much money on a helmet when they can get a decent helmet for a fraction of the price.

Box of cash
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Are expensive bike helmets worth it?
Safety standards/certifications are exactly the same for all bike helmets regardless of price, however, the expensive helmet will most likely be made from better quality materials, may weigh less, have better ventilation, have additional features and look more appealing than its cheaper counterpart.

It would make sense that an expensive helmet would be the better choice when buying one, but helmets work in a similar way to pieces of clothing, an expensive one may work great for some people, but for you, a cheaper one would be better suited, or vice-versa.

We’re going to address any questions you may have regarding cheap and expensive helmets so that by the end of this article you will be able to choose the helmet that better suits your needs and you can adjust your budget accordingly. It might not be the cheapest or the most expensive one, you may choose to take something in between.

Differences Between Cheap And Expensive Helmets

All helmets, no matter their production costs and final price, have to conform to the safety standards that have been approved by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), so no matter which helmet you’re buying, it must have passed the CPSC safety standard as required by the law.

Stamped certified
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

There are other standards that are not mandatory but some helmet manufacturers choose to submit their products to these tests to further validate them, increase their product value and give more confidence to consumers. Some of these safety standard tests are conducted by The Snell Foundation which has the most stringent testing.

The mandatory testing that all helmets are subjected to assess their construction quality, energy absorption ability in moments of impact, retention system effectiveness, the field of view, and chin strap quality to make sure all helmets meet the buyers’ requirement of high level protection.

These standards and certifications assure the consumer that their helmet is safe and that they are investing in something useful. So, there’s not really any difference between a 30 dollar helmet and a 300 dollar one in terms of safety in order for them to be legally sold.

So, if you can be assured that all helmets are certified to keep you safe, then what is it that makes an expensive helmet worth more?

The main added value that comes with a more expensive helmet is in its comfort, weight, ventilation properties and sometimes even in the finish and fashion trends. These all can change and vary depending on the helmet type that you need and the materials that it’s made from.

We’re going to look in more detail at these helmet properties and how they can make a difference in pricing so that you can decide for yourself if it’s worth investing a little more on looks and comfort or to stay with the basics.

Met bike helmet
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Materials, weight and ventilation

One of the main price differentiators in a helmet is the material with which it is made and the total weight of the final product. Lighter helmets provide riders with more comfort when riding long distances. Most helmet outer shells are made of polycarbonate, but to reduce the weight some are made of carbon fiber which also provides better durability.

Protection and quality

Some cheaper helmets use glue to join the outer shell with the inner padding, while more expensive ones mold both shells together during the construction to assure endurance and quality while reducing weight. A cheaper helmet is going to be built with cheaper materials than a more expensive one for obvious reasons. If you opt for a cheaper one it won’t always look pristine for as long as a more expensive one, but don’t worry, they will both provide you with head protection during your rides.

Fit and comfort

To have greater comfort when wearing a helmet, the fit is essential. Sometimes a cheaper helmet won’t have features like more than one tightening mechanism making it more difficult for the customer to find the right fit. To have a better fit, the shape is also an important factor to consider. Cheaper helmets may have basic shapes but sometimes you feel more comfortable in a narrower helmet that costs a bit extra.

Some helmets have removable padding or extra inner pads to vary the thickness of the helmet and to easily achieve the perfect fit for everyone. Usually, these tend to be the most expensive helmets but you can find basic ones like this one that has removable pads (link to Amazon) to give you more comfort at a lower price, but, of course, the quality of the pads may reduce with the price.

Just like the inner helmet shell has its padding, the chin retention system uses similar pads to offer comfort, there are even some expensive options that opt for leather chin straps.

Couple cycling
Image by Deb Mason from Pixabay

Other added features

Helmets can have all sorts of added features. They can range from simple ones to more specific features that need the latest technologies. These are some of the features that can influence the price of the helmets:

  • Lighting (LED).
  • Removable parts (chin bars, visors, padding).
  • Adjustable fitting systems.
  • Internal ventilation channels.
  • Inbuilt electronics to measure heart rate or head position.
  • Integrated cameras or mount points.
  • Optimized aerodynamics.
  • MIPS technology (brain protection system).

Helmet Styles

Prices can often vary depending on the helmet type that you’re buying. When cycling for leisure or commuting to work, you won’t be needing the same style as a professional rider. Depending on your riding needs, you’ll look for urban helmets, road helmets or mountain bike helmets, there are even full-face helmets that offer more protection.

For starters, urban helmets are great for commuting, these are the basic ones and probably one of the cheapest because the users of this helmet don’t need more advanced technologies as they don’t speed much or ride through courses other than urban streets or roads. Even if these are the “basic” helmet a person could wear, you can find a wide range of prices.

For example, you can get this one for less than 50 dollars (link to Amazon) or get a more equipped one like this for around 180 dollars (link to Amazon). Prices in this style of helmet can vary by the added features they have, you can find one with more vents, a more sporty look or integrated lights.

Woman and man cycling
Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Road helmets focus more on the rider’s visual coverage in the front and sides of the head as most crashes on the road occur in these areas. If you’re looking for a road lid when riding longer distances, you probably want it to be lighter and with a good ventilation system to keep you cool and comfortable throughout your whole ride.

These helmets also focus on aerodynamic performance because of the high speed a rider can reach when cycling on the road. You can get a super-specialized road helmet for the road for almost 300 dollars like this one (link to Amazon) or get a less expensive one like this (link to Amazon).

Finally, mountain bike helmets are known to be the most expensive ones because of all the protective coverage they provide. Unlike a road crash, mountain accidents can happen in all directions, so many times riders might opt for a full-face helmet to get more coverage and feel more protected.

Prices are more elevated because these helmets are bigger and more complex than the others. Surprisingly, you can find these types of helmets from under 100 dollars, but at the same time you can find more expensive and professional options like this one that offers more features (link to Amazon).

Vectar image of bike racer
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

What To Expect From Cheap Helmets

Helmets under 50 dollars are usually for kids or for commuting purposes, you can find some basic road and mountain bike helmets for this price but they will probably not count with the same features as a more expensive one or their features will be basic and limited. For true mountain bike and road helmets, you want to spend a little more than 100 bucks to get one that can satisfy your whole needs.

What To Expect From Expensive Helmets

If you’re planning on spending over 250 dollars on a helmet, you want it to have the latest technology in all the features it has. Besides, you should also expect the latest fashion trends and looks when investing in high priced helmets. It should be your favorite and one that you would be happy to be seen in.

Regardless of the helmet you choose, whether it’s cheap or expensive, you should always go for the one that makes you the most comfortable and the one you trust the most in making you feel safe when wearing it. In case of an accident, the helmet most likely will need to be replaced, as after an incident they lose part of their protective properties. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cheap or an expensive helmet because most of them are classified as single impact and will no longer survive another collision or protect in the same way as they did the first time, so either way, you will need to replace it.

If you haven’t already, check out some of those links to Amazon in the text above. There is some really good value in some of them, and some damned awesome helmets in a couple of the others, provided it’s within your budget.
In the meantime, here’s a nice video that confirms pretty much what we’ve written above.

Courtesy Global Cycling Network on Youtube.

Not sure of your helmet size? Check our article ‘How To Know Your Helmet Size‘.

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