A good bike helmet is a necessity for safe riding – and is even a requirement in many states and trail networks.
But look at any website or bike shop and you’ll find an incredibly wide range of helmet options, at an equally wide range of prices.
So what makes a cheap helmet cheap, and an expensive helmet expensive? And how much should you spend on a bike helmet?
Most bike helmets fall within the $50-300 range, with the average coming in around the $100 mark. But the best helmet for YOU may fall above or below this average depending on the type of riding you do, your experience level, and what helmet features you consider essential.
Don’t worry! After reading this bike helmet buyer’s guide, choosing the right helmet to keep your brain safe will be…well…a no-brainer! Here’s what I’ll cover:
Average Bike Helmet Pricing
We briefly touched on the price range for bike helmets, but now let’s get into the details.
The average price for an adult bike helmet is around $100. Budget helmets trend towards a price of $50 and premium or specialized helmets can cost as much as $300. If you’re shopping for a kid’s helmet, you can expect to spend less with prices in the $50 range.
$50-300 for an adult bike helmet is a pretty wide range, but it’s helpful to know that the price range is fairly consistent across different types of cycling (i.e. mountain biking, road cycling, or just casually commuting).
To illustrate this point, I’ve put together the below table which shows the pricing of a budget helmet and a premium helmet in 3 of the most popular cycling categories (mountain, road, and casual). As you can see in the table below, whether you ride on dirt or pavement, you have the option to stick to a budget or go all out.
|Giro Fixture MIPS ($65)||Specialized Align II ($50)||Bontrager Solstice ($45)|
|POC Tectal Race ($220)||POC Ventral ($200)||Bontrager Charge ($150)|
|Smith Mainline Full-Face ($300)||–||–|
At first glance, mountain bike helmets seem to be the most expensive, but that’s because I’ve included full-face helmets in the table. These are primarily for downhill and bike park use, so if this isn’t the kind of riding you do, you’ll find that average trail helmet pricing rivals that of road and casual helmets.
There are certainly outliers at higher and lower price-points, but the majority of adult bike helmets in all of these categories tends to average around $100, with children’s bike helmets averaging much closer to $50.
Most riders will find a great helmet for around this average price.
But, it’s also worth covering what you get if you spend more.
Why are Some Bike Helmets So Expensive?
When you’re shopping for a car, each model is usually available at different price points. The more you spend, the better features you’ll get. This doesn’t necessarily mean the base model is less safe, but it will lack many of the modern technical conveniences that makes driving more enjoyable.
The same can be said for bike helmets.
Each company offers various models at different price points. The more you spend, the better features you get.
Like what, you ask?
Well, more expensive helmets are generally lighter. They’re made out of carbon fiber or other superlight materials, which makes wearing them all day a lot more comfortable.
They also tend to let your head breathe better. Higher-priced helmets will have more ventilation ports, which increases airflow to your head. If you live in a hot climate like me, you’ll be thankful for this!
Expensive helmets also have more “bonus” features; things that don’t improve a helmet’s safety, but do make riding more convenient in some way. This includes adjustable visors, clips to attach your riding glasses or goggles, and quick-release or magnetic buckles among other things.
Some companies also outfit their more expensive models with advanced safety systems to better protect a rider’s head, such as the SPIN system from POC, which is designed to reduce the trauma caused by a rotational impact on the brain.
So does this mean cheaper helmets are less safe?
All bike helmets from reputable brands must pass certain safety standards. And while patent-pending designs like SPIN may only be available at a premium, most modern helmets now come equipped with a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), which is designed to do the same thing.
Some very cheap (or no-name brand) helmets might not have MIPS or any similar rotational protection system, but these are rare…and I would definitely not recommend them.
So even a cheaper helmet from a reputable brand will offer the same level of protection as a more expensive helmet.
NOTE: Before I move on from the topic of safety, know that any helmet, no matter the price, is only designed to take ONE hard impact. If a helmet has undergone a big crash, its safety system could be compromised. Replace your helmet before riding again!
4 Factors to Consider Before Setting Your Helmet Budget
1. Experience Level
I used to be one of those people that would pick up a new hobby and then go out and buy the best equipment I could afford…and then after a few months, find a new hobby to spend my money on instead.
Experience has taught me that you don’t need to drain your bank account to enjoy a new hobby and have a great time. And also, it hurts a lot less if you decide later that the hobby you were “obsessed” with isn’t really your thing after all.
If you’re a new rider, there’s really no need to buy an expensive helmet. A cheaper helmet will be just as safe and will still let you get out and put some miles on your tires.
If you stick with biking and want to upgrade to a better design later, you’ll always have that option. But if you discover riding isn’t for you, at least you haven’t dropped a couple hundred dollars on something you won’t ever use again.
If you’re a seasoned pro, then you know a whole lot more about the features you want in a helmet, and can make an informed decision on what helmet offers your must-have features at the best price.
2. How Often You Ride
If you don’t ride very often, then a budget-friendly helmet option will be just fine. And you really won’t experience the full benefits of all those fancy advanced technologies and features unless you’re putting in a lot of hours in the saddle.
But what if riding is your life??
Well, then a more expensive helmet may be a worthwhile investment. Expensive helmets are typically made with better quality materials and will therefore last longer, not to mention the other benefits, like better airflow, comfort, etc.
3. Type of Riding
Mountain bike, road bike, and casual cycling helmets have very different features to meet the demands of the specific style of riding they were designed for.
For instance, mountain bike helmets have visors to offer additional protection from trail debris and low hanging branches. They also have a more robust profile in general.
Road bike helmets don’t require this feature and tend to favor improved aerodynamics, so their shape is much more streamlined.
Sure, all helmets provide protection: but just like you wouldn’t ride a road bike on mountain bike trails, you really should get a helmet designed for the type of riding you intend to do.
But let’s get even more specific.
Whether your bike is built for the road, the mountains, or the commute to work, if you only ride casually then any helmet will probably do the job. If you bike for the fun of it and prefer a leisurely pedal to an all-out sweat-breaking endeavor, a budget helmet will provide everything you need.
If you’re a hard-charging warrior who pushes the limits of what you’re capable of, then you’re the kind of person all those advanced technologies and features are made for. Advanced riders will appreciate the subtle improvements that more expensive helmets offer.
And if you’re a downhill mountain bike racer or ride in bike parks, then you may want to consider going with a full-face helmet. These helmets offer superior protection from severe head injuries that may result from this more demanding riding style.
4. “Nice-to-Have” Features
Nice-to-have features are just that: nice-to-have, but not essential. This is a very subjective category.
For instance, is a helmet with 24 ventilation ports instead of 20 worth an extra $50 to you? What about a helmet that weighs 14 ounces rather than 16?
For some people, these are absolutely worth the cost. And that’s fine.
For me? Not so much. But I have other “nice-to-have” features on my list that I would totally spend more on. I even spent a little bit more to get the helmet color that I wanted. Some people would probably think that’s dumb, but I don’t care!
Think about it: when you were shopping for a bike, you probably narrowed it down to a few options that checked all your boxes. Any of them would have provided a great riding experience.
So why did you pick the one you did?
It probably had something to do with the bike’s style: its overall design, what color it was, how cool it looked.
Helmets are the same way. You’ll have a ton of options to choose from no matter the price, but maybe one jumps out at you because it just looks cooler than the others. Just like the components on your bike and the clothes you wear while riding, helmets can be an expression of your style. So get one that speaks to you.
If certain features help you get the most out of your ride, then go for it! The only person you need to justify your extravagant purchases to is yourself: and in my experience, I have a hard time saying no to me 🙂
How Much Should You Pay for a Bike Helmet?
We’ve covered a lot here, but now let’s put it all together and apply it. After all, you’re shopping for a bike helmet, not compiling an annual report on helmet pricing.
So how much should YOU pay?
Less than $100 if…
The under $100 price range is right for you if you’re a new cyclist shopping for your first helmet, a casual rider or bike commuter, or a beginner rider who knows the basics but is still progressing.
A helmet at this price point will offer everything you need and nothing you don’t at your current ability level. It will definitely be good enough to take you to an intermediate level though.
Honestly, a helmet in this price range is probably all that the majority of riders will ever need.
In fact, I bought the Giro Fixture helmet mentioned in the table above and after a year of mountain biking, really don’t see myself needing anything more advanced…unless I start riding downhill and opt for a full-face helmet of course.
More advanced riders, those who bike frequently, or those who race or compete may like some of the added features you get in this price range.
A helmet between $100-200 tends to be lighter and have better airflow: two important features for which you’ll be thankful when wearing it for an extended period of time.
For example, I know a guy who sprung for a helmet in the $130 range, because he does long bicycle touring trips (like hundreds or thousands of miles long!), and thought the few extra features he wanted were worth the price considering how long it would be on his head.
These helmets are usually constructed of better quality materials, which also makes them more comfortable for all-day wear. You’ll also have more of those “nice-to-have” features to choose from, and a greater number of color and design options to match your personality!
More than $200 if…
To be honest, the only time you should strongly consider spending more than $200 is if you were in the market for a full-face helmet.
There are some options that exist for under $200, but you need to be careful: high-quality full-face helmets undergo more stringent safety certifications to be “downhill-certified,” but many of these budget options do not. They’re still safe for normal trail riding (assuming it’s from a reputable brand), but may not protect you fully in a high-speed downhill crash.
Aside from full-face helmets, you may consider a $200+ helmet if you’re a serious rider who likes to have the latest and greatest technology and features. If money is no object, you’ll obviously find a great helmet for this price.
However, there really isn’t much difference between $100-200 helmets and those that cost more than $200. You’ll get many of the same features and most of the same advanced technology at either price.
So at that point, it really comes down to personal preference and how much you’re willing to spend. Just remember that biking isn’t a cheap hobby, and there are always numerous other things to spend your money on!
Are Expensive Bike Helmets Worth the Cost?
The more you’re willing to pay for a helmet, the more cool features you’ll get. But when it comes down to it, safety is the most important feature, and all modern helmets from reputable companies will offer the protection you need for your ride.
So spend what you can, but don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t afford a top-of-the-line model. I bought a budget helmet and it doesn’t negatively impact my riding in any way.
After all, spending more money on a helmet isn’t going to make you a better rider: only practice will do that! So pick out a helmet you like and can afford, and make sure it’s from a solid brand. Then get on your bike, put down some miles and watch your skills improve!
Thinking of buying a cycling cap? Check out our article about cycling caps for the facts you need to know and whether it is worth it.