Any bike helmet is better than riding with no helmet. But when you're paying $50 or $60 for one, you'd like to think that it's going to protect your head if you crash into a curb, a rock, or the ground, right?
To find out how well bike helmets absorb impact, we used a device to drop 13 different models onto differently shaped anvils at about 11 or 14 mph (the speed depended on the anvil used). We used an electronic sensor inside a dummy head to detect how much force would be transmitted to a rider's head in an accident.
Of the nine bike helmets for adults and four youth models we tested (see bike helmet Ratings, available to subscribers), all but two absorbed the force of impact within the limit set by the current Consumer Product Safety Commission standard. The two that scored Poor in our tests for absorbing impact were made for adults: one made by Nutcase and the other by Bern, both multisport helmets that claim to be usable for other activities such as skateboarding.
In our own more-stringent impact test of bike helmets, in which we dropped helmets on the anvils at about 2 mph faster, only one adult model provided the necessary protection. At $60, it is a CR Best Buy. In our tests of four youth helmets, which are meant for children 5 or older, we recommend only one model, which scored the highest marks in its category by also passing our more-stringent test.
We also evaluated the helmets for ventilation, ease of use, fit adjustments, weight, and other features.
Bottom line. We believe that the models we have judged to be Very Good for impact absorption should provide significantly better head protection in the case of a bike accident. Find out how to get a good fit when buying a bike helmet, and how to stay safe when riding a bike.