Does Bike Helmet Color Matter? (for Visibility and Heat)

Hopefully, you’ve found yourself a safe helmet, but have you given any thought to the color?

Visibility and heat are two things you want to take into account when you’re picking out your helmet, and people often wonder how the helmet’s color comes into play.

The color of your bicycle helmet can help improve safety by making you more visible to cars. However, the color of a bike helmet doesn’t have much impact on the heat you will feel. The styrofoam inner shell of a helmet is an effective insulator and most of the extra heat from darker colors won’t reach your head.

With that said, let’s dig a little bit deeper. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Color Bike Helmet is Safest?

The safest and most visible helmet colors are solid white or solid fluorescent colors, such as yellow or orange. Opinions are split between which of those options are safer, and regardless of which you choose, solid colors are more visible compared with other patterns.

Your helmet isn’t the most noticeable part of your profile when you’re riding a bike, but visibility is everything when it comes to safety. A car that doesn’t see you is one that’s a danger.

White helmets work well in this case. Few things in the natural landscape are solid white, with the exception of clouds and snow. Unless you’re riding in the aftermath of a serious snowstorm, it’s a good choice.

On the other hand, some colors are used for visibility already. For example, construction workers often use high visibility orange or yellow vests to keep themselves noticeable, and safe from vehicles. They’re mandated on job sites, and many cyclists wear high visibility vests as well.

They’re another good choice for safety.

The basic idea here is simple: your helmet should contrast your surroundings and be recognizable to help people notice you while riding. Patterned helmets are hard to notice, since the human eye may regard them as visual noise at long distances. Even if they have fluorescent colors incorporated.

Solid helmets are more visible.

Your helmet may not be the first line of visual defense, but picking the right color will make you more noticeable to drivers. Always use more than one source of high-visibility clothing, lights, and other indicators that you’re on the road. Motorists can be slow to notice cyclists, so do everything you can to make sure they notice you.

Should Your Helmet Color Match Your Bike?

Opinions differ, but some people insist that their helmets should match their bicycle’s color. Few people seem to ride with contrasting colors, but people who switch bikes a lot tend to go with neutral colors like white or grey.

It really doesn’t matter, except as an aesthetic choice. Since white helmets are one of the more visible colors, it’s not a bad idea to go neutral.

Are Black Bike Helmets Hotter than White Helmets?

By the strictest definitions, a black helmet will be hotter than a white one. Darker colors absorb more energy and the surface of the helmet will be hotter. In practice, the protective foam in the helmet is an excellent insulator and it’s unlikely to actually feel hotter to wear.

The truth is that the foam in the helmet makes this a moot point.

Darker colors will get hot faster, which may cause warping of the plastic in extreme conditions, but it’s not going to make your head noticeably hotter. The minor effects of heat on the surface are mostly counterbalanced by the wind when riding.

Just remember that windspeed doesn’t protect your helmet when it’s stored in a hot car.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS foam) is the most common material used in the protective layer of bike helmets. It’s also used as an insulation material in construction for the same reason.

The bottom line is this: black helmets will be hotter on the surface, but this doesn’t translate into them feeling hotter on your head.  

The Best Color for a Bike Helmet

As a general rule, a solid white helmet is the best choice for most cyclists. It’s highly visible, won’t absorb much heat, and doesn’t look out of place with any color of bicycle. If you’re not sure what color of helmet to choose, then a solid white helmet is usually a safe bet.

While not a direct parallel, white helmets are associated with 24% fewer crashes on motorcycles, so I think this also adds some support to the value of white helmets for cyclists.

With that said, there is still an argument to be made for high-visibility fluorescent colors. They won’t go as nicely aesthetically with all bike colors, but they are arguably more visible than solid white, and these colors have a long history of use by people who want to avoid getting hit, and they work.

The human eye recognizes neon colors very easily. They stick out since they aren’t present in nature at all, while white is an occasional feature of the terrain. The blaze orange used by hunters is a good example: it looks out of place and immediately draws attention.

They’ll also contrast with most bike frames. A helmet is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to visibility, the colors you’re wearing matter more. A high-viz vest is a good idea if you’re in an area with a lot of traffic.

Black isn’t a great choice if you’re riding on the road all the time. It blends with asphalt and it’s hard to see at night. That goes for any dark, highly saturated helmet color you might find.

At the end of the day, you can simplify your choice to a solid white helmet for most people. If you don’t mind the “look” then you may find that high-visibility fluorescents offer even more helmet visibility.

One more thing I’d suggest is using LED helmet lights. These lightweight lights fit on your helmet and work better than even the brightest, most eye-catching helmet. Plus they work in the dark.

Can You Paint a Bike Helmet?

You can paint a helmet, but you’ll need to use water-based paint. Other paints contain solvents that run the risk of damaging the foam inside the helmet. If in doubt about a specific helmet and paint call the manufacturer to ensure you won’t compromise the integrity of the helmet.

Painting a helmet may seem like a great idea, but if you use the wrong paints you can damage the protective foam shell. Most of the different foams used are easily dissolved in petroleum-based solvents, and those form the basis of a lot of paints.

In theory, you can mask off any portions of the foam that may be exposed to paint. If you were planning on a quick spray paint job… well, it’s going to take extraordinary measures to protect the foam from overspray.

Some solvents can also damage the plastic of the shell. Cracks caused by solvents can be covered up by the paint as well, hiding the damage to your helmet’s integrity.

Acrylic paints are the safest to use and can be applied evenly with a brush and generally cause no damage. Everything else is a bit suspect, at least until verified with the manufacturer.

You shouldn’t take any half measures with a helmet’s safety. Foam that’s degraded doesn’t protect as well, and you’ve only got one head. If in doubt, call the manufacturer of the helmet and ask, or simply buy a new helmet in the color you want.

Your helmet is too important to take a chance on it.


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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