First-time shoppers should try on just about every helmet they can find, from the cheapest to the most expensive, in order to get a good feeling for the way different brands fit. In order to simulate road conditions, it's a good idea either to get on a bike with the helmet (easy if the shop has a trainer) or to crouch over in a riding position.
Helmet selection should initially be done with the help of a knowledgeable salesperson. (Once you've gone though the process, you can go ahead and pick out other helmets on your own.) Properly adjusting all the straps is the key to a good fit, so take the time to have the buckling mechanisms adjusted by a pro.
It's almost never a good idea to buy a helmet from a mail-order source unless you are absolutely sure the helmet will fit. However, buying a spare helmet of the same brand and model would be a safe bet. Slightly more risky would be purchasing a different model by the same manufacturer.
Still, it's better to spend a bit more money on a helmet and buy a major brand from a major shop. Helmet fit and bike fit are two areas where input from a salesman can make a tremendous difference.
Riders who do both road and mountain riding might look especially hard at mountain bike helmets. They protect equally as well on and off the trail, but provide some durability that suits the road as well as it does the trail.
Visors and Visibility
Check to make sure that visibility is good when tucked in an aero position. Some long-nosed helmets, or those with visors, make it difficult to look far away without tilting back the head.
Helmets with detachable visors are terrific for changing road conditions, or for changing riding styles. Snap on the visor and hit the off-road trail confident that small branches will be deflected. Or, pop it on for a rainy road ride. Take it off for long road rides in the drops where visibility is most important.
Never put stickers on a helmet or use any types of glue. Non-approved adhesives are virtually guaranteed to weaken the plastic and foam of a helmet, leaving the rider vulnerable to breakage. Likewise, never mount anything onto a helmet, no matter how good it looks. If an object won't break off a helmet during impact, it can apply additional pressure to the foam, snapping it during impact. A little mojo zip-tied to a helmet could actually be the thing that kills during a fall.
A helmet should never feel too tight and the chin straps shouldn't pull at the neck, cut off oxygen, or cause pain. Neither should they be so loose that a few fingers could be slipped underneath the straps.
Anytime any changes are made to headgear, a change must be made to the straps of the helmet. Add a head warmer to combat a cold? Adjust the straps. Get a haircut? Adjust the straps.
Helmet replacement programs are offered by many of the major manufacturers. The general idea is, "break a helmet, and we'll replace it for a fraction of the price of a brand-new one." These programs were instituted when manufacturers realized that people were riding without helmets (or with the same one) after a crash because of their replacement cost. (A related program offered by Giro involves children's helmets. Giro offers a great deal where children's helmets can be traded in toward the purchase of larger sizes.)
Remember this rule above all else: If your helmet is involved in an accident, replace it. Period.
Bell Sports and Giro (part of the same company) dominate the helmet market. For decades, they have made attractive, stylish, functional equipment that has saved countless lives. Their helmets are the choice of millions of riders from the occasional weekend rail-to-trail pedaler to the full-on downhill pro.
Relative newcomer Specialized produces some helmets that are very popular with their owners but are only available at Specialized dealerships; Louis Garneau also has a line of stylish and tony lids available at many shops. Neither Specialized nor Garneau is as easy to find as the market leader, Giro/Bell, but their helmets are every bit as great and, some would argue, better looking.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication