Consumer Reports tested bike helmets in both adult and youth sizes to see how well they'll protect your head in an accident.
Because a helmet can't do any good if it doesn't stay in place, testers first perform the chinstrap test, which assesses whether the chinstraps will stretch, break or open upon impact. All 13 bike helmets passed this test.
To see how well a helmet will protect your head upon impact, Consumer Reports performed an impact test.
"The impact test simulates what happens when a helmet impacts different surfaces, like a flat surface like a street, a rounded triangle like a curb, and a hemispherical surface, which simulates hitting a rock," said Consumer Reports tester Rich Handel.
Two adult helmets did poorly: the Nutcase Street Sport 8 Ball and the Bern Brighton Thin Shell EPS for Women.
On the plus side, two helmets rated very good for impact resistance: the Specialized Echelon for adults ($60), and the Bontrager Solstice Youth for children ($45).
But a helmet can only protect when it's worn properly:
- Make sure it's level on your head, with no more than one or two fingers' width above the brow.
- The straps should form a "V" under each ear with the buckle centered under the chin.
- Lastly, when you open your mouth, the helmet should pull down.
It's a good idea to try on a bike helmet before you buy it. You want it to be comfortable, and it should fit snugly. You should be able to shake your head back and forth without the helmet moving even before you strap it on.
If you have one of the helmets that didn't do well in the Consumer Reports impact test, don't stop wearing it until you replace it. That's because wearing any helmet is better than no helmet at all.