In Search of a Better Helmet

We were contacted by Randy Cardona, an Industrial Design graduate student at the Acadamy of Art University in San Francisco. He was hoping to get a little “focus group” action going on by asking you, our readers, to offer your input on bicycle helmets.

I want to design a helmet that meets the needs of commuters better that what already exists and I would appreciate any ideas/feedback you [and your readers] may have.

To get the ball rolling, I am thinking of a helmet that is weatherproof, breathable and has some kind of retractable goggle/faceshield among other attributes. Another possibility is an accessory that is somehow attached to a normal road helmet or BMX style helmet that does the same thing. Any input regarding things that you do NOT like about existing helmets is equally valuable if not more so.

Randy provided us with a few basic guide questions to get the conversation going:

1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?

2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?

3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?

4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?

5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?

6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?

7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?

8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?

9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?

Please help Randy out by offering your thoughts in the comments below…this sounds like a cool design project and the readers of Bikecommuters.com are the perfect focus group for such an effort! Thanks.


32 Comments

  1. Richard W September 25, 2011 2:52 pm 

    how about a helmet that doesn’t make those of us that wear a true XL look like darth vader? I’ve got to believe the technology exists to allow for a thinner helmet, one that doesn’t increase the size of my head by another 2 inches all the way around.

    Good adjustments and strap closures as well as some variability as to where the straps come down all seem important.

    I’d love something that looks like a baseball cap – something that doesn’t look like a helmet at all.

  2. daisy September 25, 2011 4:16 pm 

    I’d rather have two helmets, one for warm weather and one for hot, than one helmet that doesn’t do either very well. So, for summer, I’d like a lightweight helmet that still is safe, but has some nice ventilation so I don’t get too hot. I wouldn’t want to wear a weatherproof helmet in the summer if it meant I was hotter.

    And then I’d like a rainy day helmet, for cool, rainy days. That’s the one I’d like to keep some of the rain out of my eyes.

  3. Paul September 25, 2011 4:30 pm 

    1. Strap fit and ease of adjustment when putting on head gear in winter or buff in summer. I’ve always thought something like a seat belt that auto adjusts to size would be cool.

    2. As good as any

    3. When it rains I use a helmet cover. Maybe have a lever that you press to cover the vents when it rains?

    4. Sometimes. Glasses fog up. A flip down replaceable visor (sunglass, clear) would work. Far enough out to keep from fogging. Would also keep cold air off of the eyes in winter.

    5. Yes

    6. Yes, with the help of the rain cover in Winter. In summer it’s ok until 100+ degrees. Not sure you can do anything about that.

    7. As long as the helmet cover is on, no cold spots on the head. Ears always seam to be a problem though. Do they make wool air resistant pads that fit in the straps around the ear?

    8. It’s ok.

    9. Yes, depending on the features. 100+

  4. Margaret September 25, 2011 4:52 pm 

    Early- and late-day riding brings the hazard of Sun blinding that sunglasses don’t cure. An extended / adjustable visor could certainly help increase riding safety at these times.

  5. Tracy September 25, 2011 5:22 pm 

    1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?

    Thanks for asking. I have to buy a helmet that is too big
    in order to fit my fall/winter commuting stuff underneath.

    2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?
    Not by itself.
    I would love a visor that is wide enough that rain is kept out of my eyes.
    Something retractable would be really cool so that it extends in stages depending
    upon weather conditions.
    Another cool think would be vents that can be closed but I think that’s been done.

    3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?
    Absolutely. I need something way more capable of handling multiple weather scenarios.

    4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?
    Only without a nice long visor to block the rain.

    5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?
    Nope.

    6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?
    I wear caps when it is cool enough. I have multiple caps for varying temperatures.

    7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?
    In the front where the wind first meets the skull.

    8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?
    No. It’s too rigid where the molded foam meets the skull. I get headaches.

    9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?
    Easily 120+ if I had embedded light mounts for a light that generated
    greater than 100 lumens.

  6. Ghost Rider September 25, 2011 6:37 pm 

    I have a variety of problems with my helmet…and that’s why I own a few. One is too hot for wearing in summer, although it is discrete and has a nice visor. One is too vented for use in cold weather, even with a liner or helmet cover. One is just to garish to wear unless I am out CMing or cruising around with my pirate flag.

    What I’d really like to see is a helmet “system”…with interchangeable liners for cold or hot weather (including something to cover the ears in the cold), detachable visors or face shields, and easy adjustments. I really like Paul’s idea about the “seat belt” styled straps…surely an inertial retraction system can be made small enough to work in a helmet!

  7. Nick Tucker September 25, 2011 11:53 pm 

    Q1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?
    A1. It is a nasty piece of plastic crap that does nothing to earn it’s keep when it is not protecting my head during an impact, and even then would probably do little to help. It offers no side protection and nothing for the thin bit of your skull at the back – compare and contrast with motorcycle helmets, jockey skulls for horse riders, and skiing helmets.
    Q2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?
    A2. No – too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and shaped to fit a head possibly from quite a different species
    Q3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?
    A3 – See A2 – a helmet should offer protection from the elements eg keep rain out of eyes, ears warm, and not let you bake in summer. It performs these functions every time you ride.
    Q4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?
    A4. Strong rain is a problem – however so is steaming up when you stop
    Q5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?
    A5, I wear a lycra skull cap under my helmet to keep my ears and head warm
    Q6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?
    A6 See A5 – in summer I tip the helmet back on my head to get a decent draft through
    Q7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?
    A7 See A5 – my ears and face get cold. They do not get cold in equivalent conditions with a motorcycle helmet.
    Q8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?
    A8. Not really – it tends to grip my head, and needs to be occasionally resettled to stop headaches
    Q9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?
    A9. It depends on the every day functionality. For anything that the manufacturers won’t submit to the Snell Foundation, certainly not.
    If it could be comfortable and offer benefits for the majority time when I am not falling on it, maybe. Benefits would include cool in summer (forced draft ventilation?), warm in winter, scratch proof retractable visor, built in lights…
    Hope this helps, and look forward to seeing your concept in due course.

  8. Randy Cardona September 26, 2011 12:03 am 

    Great feedback so far. Thanks guys, keep it coming!

  9. Mike Myers September 26, 2011 5:05 am 

    I actually found my ideal helmet. Bell used to make the Metro, which was their “commuter specific” helmet. It was the first helmet(I believe) to include a mounting strap for a rear blinkie. The visor incorporates a folding mirror. Bell sold a rain cover which snapped onto the helmet and fit perfectly. They also offered a “winter kit”, which filled the vent holes and provided ear covers.

    Of course, they discontinued it. They offer something similar now, but they don’t offer the rain cover or winter kit.

    It’s tough to design a helmet which is going to do everything, and keep the costs down.

  10. john northrop September 26, 2011 8:06 am 

    I recently had a friend crash at low speed – the “standard” bike helmet left the side of his head exposed and the result is sorta grizzly.

    I went to get a “skater helmet” the next day. It protects my WHOLE head…not just the top.

    No, it doesn’t breathe like a road helmet…but it sure makes me feel better knowing I may not need skin grafs or to have my ear re-attached like my friend.

    besides, it’s fall now…and thru the fall, winter, and spring…the helmet’s lack of breathability is not gonna be a problem.

    I think any new helmet should look at protecting the entire head better – like the skater / multi-sport helmets. just a thought.

  11. Rider September 26, 2011 8:37 am 

    Strap reform!

    Can helmets be designed with straps that don’t create so much noise?

    I think so …

    Helmets have too much wind noise.

  12. Christopher September 26, 2011 9:37 am 

    1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?-The straps don’t keep their adjustment allowing the helmet to loosen over time.

    2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?-Eh, it is OK I guess.

    3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?-Weather is not an issue, I cover the helmet when it is cold and I use a hood when it rains.

    4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?-No

    5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?-A little

    6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?-I supplement my helmet with hoods or wet bandanas for cold or hot weather.

    7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?-NO

    8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?-EH it is OK.

    9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?-If the helmet was something I REALLY like sure, for just a helmet? Cheaper is better.

    I had a BMX helmet once that I loved. It covered the back of my head and had a big visor. It was hot in the summer but not unduly so. My biggest desire for a helmet is a better/simpler strap system, with less adjustment and better holding. Bern or Nutcase are my ideal helmets.

  13. Alcyon September 26, 2011 9:50 am 

    A good commuting helmet has already been made, and then discontinued: the Bell Metro. The most attractive option for me was the snap-on rain cover; it fitted well and looked acceptable, unlike aftermarket versions. When winter comes, I use the insert it came with to block the vent holes, and keep riding.

    As was touched on above, what I would really like in a helmet design is hard science proving its effectiveness. I wear a helmet when the temperature is under 85, it might help with a slow speed tumble, but I don’t believe that an inch and a half of styrofoam covering a small portion of my noggin will do very much in a serious situation.

  14. harry krishna September 26, 2011 9:56 am 

    i’ve had skin cancer on back of neck and top of ear. can a helmet help with this problem?

  15. mocon September 26, 2011 12:07 pm 

    1. What are the problems, if any, that you have with your current helmet?
    A: A typical helmet makes everyone look like they have an alien head, but I can live with that. If I wear the alien helmet for more than about 10 minutes, my hair gets all up in the vents and I look completely ridiculous when I take it off (which, frankly, is on par with how I look when I have the helmet on). The straps on the alien helmet loosen during riding. My Nutcase straps don’t loosen and it is much kinder to my post-helmet-removal appearance. While I am not the girliest of girls, I care about this. A lot.
    2. Does your current helmet meet all of your comfort and safety needs during your commute?
    A: Yes for both helmets but the Nutcase is too warm to wear when it’s 80+ degrees.
    3. In terms of wearing a helmet, is weather an issue? In what way?
    A: See 2. I wear a helmet in all weather conditions.
    4. Does bad weather affect your vision to the degree that you feel less safe during your commute?
    A: Oh, how I want a visor that will keep the rain off my glasses! I definitely feel less safe in the rain because wet glasses are a hazard.
    5. Do you sweat even in cold weather commutes?
    A: I don’t bike if it’s below 40 degrees, but I can sweat at 40 degrees.
    6. Does your head stay cool enough/warm enough in your current setup? Why?
    A: See 2. The nutcase doesn’t offer enough airflow for hot days. Cold ears and forehead are an issue on cold days (in any helmet) but a headband provides enough warmth.
    7. During cold weather commutes, where do you find persistently cold spots?
    A: My ears and forehead.
    8. Is your helmet comfortable? If not, why?
    A: Both my alien helmet and Nutcase are comfortable. Sometimes the Nutcase strap scratches my neck/chin a bit but it’s not unbearable. I really like the dial type adjustments that help customize the fit.
    9. Would you pay $80 for a better commuter helmet? $100? $120+?
    A: Yes, but it would have to be a do-all helmet that solves my current helmet issues.

  16. Graham September 26, 2011 12:18 pm 

    I’m going to second some of the problems folks have already mentioned:

    1. The light helmets don’t cover enough of the head and the ones that do (skater style helmets) are very heavy.

    2. Can I please get straps that don’t make so much noise? It is almost too loud to hear approaching traffic sometimes.

    Only two cents worth: I’ll leave the more nuanced things to the more experienced riders.

  17. Rusty Wright September 26, 2011 12:46 pm 

    Mike, I think the replacement for the Bell Metro is their Muni; I have one on order (my bike and helmet were just stolen Saturday; very depressing, but my fault for using a cable to lock it).

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00479R2EC

    Harry, I think you could use sun block creme/lotion. Who wants to wear a sombrero while riding a bike?

  18. Nick Tucker September 26, 2011 1:39 pm 

    Unhappily, neither the Amazon advert nor the Bell site gives the performance standard for the Bell Muni helmet.

  19. Dann Golden-Collum September 26, 2011 1:42 pm 

    The Bell Muni looks interesting, however it doesn’t have the snap-on cover or the hole fillers. These people have the best helmet cover I’ve found: http://www.bicycleclothing.com/index.html. You want the waterproof breathable model.

    The goggle/faceshield is a good idea, but incorporating it into a design that is aerodynamic, light weight and noiseless may prove hard to do. It would also have to shed water in a way to not impare vision – another difficult design issue.

    There’s not much you can do when the temp goes above 86 degrees F (sweat) or below 27 degrees F (layer). And, certain hair styles are not helmet friendly. Some kind of solar powered with battery assist cooling/heating could be interesting.

  20. ha1ku September 26, 2011 3:39 pm 

    1. I hate my helmet. If there were a design that didn’t feel so cumbersome, that would be a vast improvement. I enjoy my rides much less because of the helmet. The only reason why I wear one is because I don’t want to land on my head should I have a fall. They are just not comfortable.

    2. The safety benefits can comment on beyond what most people have heard from proponents. The comfort factor is where I can offer opinion: It just plain doesn’t feel good on my helmet. I like being helmet-free, however the only time I’m not wearing lid is on a dedicated bike trail or in a very-low traffic area.

    3. The helmet doesn’t improve the weather in any way. If you are in a downpour or it is snowing, you will get wet and/or cold. Helmet or no.

    4. Yes, but the helmet does not contribute in any way. I might put on a rain shield over the helmet, but that only means I get wet from perspiration instead of the weather.

    5. Yes, I always sweat when bicycling.

    6. Yes. Of course, I’m talking about Georgia where the winters are generally mild.

    7. I’m most cold in my face and my ears. And no, that does not mean I want a full-face helmet. I wear a wool balaclava for that.

    8. Hell no. Helmets suck.

    9. I already pay that much for helmets. I have two now. And they both suck.

  21. BluesCat September 26, 2011 3:50 pm 

    Yeah, I have the same unsatisfied-Goldilocks problems others have mentioned: either too-hot or too-cold, never just right. (“Helmet System” sounds like a GREAT idea, GR.)

    Count me in as one of the Big Alien Head Haters, too. And as a fan of someone developing a decent visor to block the early/late sun.

    One other thing that I haven’t heard anybody else mention is eye discomfort in cold weather. The cold, dry, desert winter air whipping around my prescription eyeglasses causes my eyes to water, then dry out. I couldn’t find a set of ski goggles which would fit under my bike helmet, so what I’d like to see is a helmet with a clear visor on the front, down to about the tip of the nose, so the wind can’t whip around behind my glasses.

  22. Mir.I.Am September 26, 2011 5:25 pm 

    I just recently ghetto-mounted an abandoned front light to the top of my helmet using zip ties. Super helpful at night, but I feel like I am son my way to a spelunking convention in hopes of meeting Bruce Wayne during the day… Can discrete light source be integrated? Not like I have a hot dog sitting on the top of my head? SHMANKS!

  23. cliffedens September 26, 2011 7:21 pm 

    REI has the aforementioned Muni on sale http://www.rei.com/product/809798/bell-muni-bike-helmet. I really like this helmet and also bought the Blackburn lights that attach directly to it. Already have a Louis Garneau Gore cover that I use in the winter. What I’d really like as an addition would be a face shield for colder weather. I loath balaclavas.

  24. Deb September 27, 2011 6:12 pm 

    This feedback might be worthless to someone trying to design a new improved helmet, but honestly my helmet is fine, and the ones I had before were fine. I have the nothing-special basic Bell.

    Maybe it feels a little hot on the hottest days of the summer, but there’s no magic hat that will make me feel anything but hot when it’s 100 degrees, so I don’t pay much attention. It only gets down to about 10 degrees, at the coldest, here (DC area) in the winter so a liner keeps my head (ears!) warm, nothing extreme needed. No cold spots. When it rains, my head gets wet. Not a big deal. In the summer, rain feels good, in the winter it still doesn’t matter because of the liner.

    So, bottomline for me is that I find the helmet I have to be perfectly adequate even though there’s nothing Inspector Gadget about it, and I would not pay $80+ for a helmet that had bells and whistles that I don’t feel I need.

  25. John September 27, 2011 7:46 pm 

    My biggest complaint with all helmets I’ve used is that the straps are always such a bear to adjust so that I often don’t. It’s just too painful. This is made worse by the fact that straps always seem to lengthen when they get wet with sweat or rain, so that the helmet gets loose even if it was well adjusted originally.

    In the very coldest weather I’d love to have some sort of a face shield (that didn’t get steamed up at traffic lights).

    It would be very nice if something could be done to cut down on wind noise without cutting down on ability to hear things. I like slipstreamz for this, but I find they tend to get tangled or out of adjustment easily. I think integrating them into the helmet somehow would be very nice.

  26. Jeff V. September 27, 2011 8:20 pm 

    I just recently had an accident in which I walked away with a sore road rashed knee and a fractured helmet, better the helmet than my head. I’ve been using the Trek Vapor and it was the only cheap helmet that I could find that did not look like a mushroom cap on my head. It also fitted like a custom molded helmet, no hard spots. I did not consider temperature as and issue when I purchased this helmet but who does when they live in san diego. It wasn’t until I moved to palm desert when I found out how badly vented this helmet is. But a great bonus was that I was able to use the blackburn flea tail light strapped to the back of the helmet, with use of the strap wrapped around the vertical foam structure. I really like the dial type fitting adjustments as opposed to others as it makes the hotter sweaty days bearable during my commute.

    I’ve been checking out the Bell Muni online for some time now, even before my accident, and I really like it’s features. Mounts for blackburn flea tail and headlight, additional lights on the straps, and a visor mirror accessory. Unfortunately I could not find one anywhere for a test fit. But I ordered one anyways from Performance Bike, should be here tomorrow. I have not done much cold or wet weather commuting, yet, but I plan on getting rain gear with a hood. Living in palm desert, ca the dry heat and santa ana winds are a problem for the eyes. I’ve been dancing around the thought of using chemical goggles to protect my eyes from flying debris. I have used those wrap around as seen on tv HD sun glasses over my RX glasses and they work ok. They tend to slide around due to sweat and they don’t look too bad. For the winter I’m thinking maybe some over the glasses clear or amber lens snow goggles would be the best bet since they are double walled to prevent fogging. I’m hoping the helmet is easily adjustable on the fly for those hotter sweaty days.

  27. Doug D September 27, 2011 9:43 pm 

    I and my daughter have longer narrower heads than average. Many helmets do not fit us at all. Some helmets slip back on my head leaving my forehead exposed and some just leave too much movement from side to side. I have three helmets and I chose the helmet for the day based on the temperature. Usually, it warms up in the afternoon and I wear no helmet since I brought a helmet based on the morning temperature.
    All goggles and glasses that I have tried fog below -20C.

  28. Randy September 28, 2011 6:25 pm 

    Thanks you readers, for your invaluable and enlightening words. This website is a great resource for all of our commuting issues.
    For latecomers to the article, your feedback is appreciated.

  29. Rusty Wright September 29, 2011 2:41 pm 

    I just got my Bell Muni helmet from Amazon, $37. I didn’t research it at all, I just figured it would be decent because it sounds like it’s the successor to the Metro.

    I didn’t realize that it has its own flashing lights in the back straps. And it has a mounting strap on the back for another flashing light if I want to add one. I may get the blackburn light that fits on the bill in front.

    I haven’t ridden with it yet but so far I’m pleased.

  30. WillyC September 30, 2011 2:36 am 

    Biggest issue for me is size and fit. 99% of the helmets I try on don’t fit around my noggin, and 99% of those that do actually fit make me look like a giant…well, something I don’t want to look like.

    Second, I sweat. A lot. Hot, cold, dry, humid. I does not matter. The longer I ride, the more I sweat. I wear a “wicking” type headband when I ride, and it helps, most of the time. Something like the halo band [sweat gutter], but built-in would be great.

    I have been using a more traditional looking helmet [mtn/road type] for the last forever, but recently switched to a “Skater” type helmet…you know, very solid, tiny/few vents. I have a more confidence in this helmet than previous if things go wrong in the concrete jungle. Plus, now when the kids want me to go to the skate park with them, I’m not the old guy with a bike helmet on. So form and function.

    Not sure I would buy a helmet with a visor, but a small visor that can fold out, and slip back in would be nice. The skater helmet style does not have any options, and my ride home is typically into the setting sun and later, so dark glasses are only effective to a point.

    Flashing red LED’s on the back rim [area] would be great as well, but adding more stuff means more weight. So not a deal-breaker.

    I would pay $80 for the right helmet, but fit top priority. XL means XL…not this 1 size fits most.

    Good luck with your project!

  31. Matt September 30, 2011 3:32 pm 

    I will not let a helmet touch my head. The thought of those sweaty pads touching me grosses me out. I wear a bandanna in warm weather and a hat in cold weather. My thought is to make a helmet more sanitary – maybe the helmet is sold with several linings that you can launder at your leisure.

    My second issue also has to do with sweat. The straps on my helmet get nasty pretty quickly but there is no way to remove them. Right now I use soap and gloves to try to get the straps clean every now and then but it is not an easy process.

    So I guess you could say I have sweat issues =)

  32. Jane September 30, 2011 7:38 pm 

    I like my current one well enough and probably paid about $50 for it, but I suppose there is always room for improvement. Since you can’t make it invisible (can you?), at least make it cute (yes, I admit that I care about such things), but it most importantly has to be very protective, since that’s the whole point.
    My helmet does not keep me warm. I live in Philadelphia and bike year-round. I gets really cold, and when it does, I wear a hood over my helmet and/or a thin cap underneath. When it rains, though, I expect to get wet everywhere and don’t even try to keep my head dry. I also expect that I’ll sweat, no matter what, cold or warm days, but I do appreciate that my current helmet is relatively light with lots of venting. I do bike in the snow and hard rain, and when I do in the winter, I wear snow goggles. I don’t like helmets with visors.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *