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Pedal Science Blog: Helmet Choice & Cycle Performance

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week we look at the subject of CHOICE OF CYCLING HELMETS and cycling performance. 

Cycle helmets vary considerably in terms of design and price so when choosing a cycle helmet there are six main design features to consider:

  • Protection:

Protection is by far the most important consideration regardless of its intended purpose. All helmets sold from reputable dealers will sell helmets which meet the necessary standards so don’t think a more expensive helmet will necessarily provide more protection.

  • Fit:

As with any item of clothing you’ll find helmets fit differently between brands. For a helmet to provide the required protection it must fit securely so this should be considered the priority when choosing a helmet

  • Weight:

The more expensive helmets tend to weigh less as the construction method and materials require less material: essentially you get less material the more you spend. The lighter the helmet the more advantageous it is when racing (especially when climbing) but this shouldn’t be a primary concern when training.

  • Ventilation:

The less material there is in a helmet the more vents there are. Increased ventilation can actually be counterproductive in cold weather but noticeably more comfortable when climbing in hot weather.

  • Aerodynamics:

Most mid-high range helmets provide a degree of aerodynamic advantage but some models are specifically designed for competition. They have minimal ventilation and are more streamlined than a conventional helmet but unless you’re averaging over 20 mph there’s little benefit is using them: you won’t be creating enough frontal drag to benefit from them. Because of the extra material there’re also less ventilated and heavier which is less comfortable in hot weather or when used during hilly events.

Helmets can be split into three main categories, each with their own pros and cons:

  • Road helmet:

This is the most conventional design of helmet which the majority of cyclists will use. The combination of fit, protection, ventilation and weight make it the most logical and versatile choice for most people whether training or competing.

  • Time trial (tear drop) helmet:

This is the type of aero helmet people usually associate with time trailing. The helmet is shaped like a tear drop so air flow is channeled down the rider’s back to create a very aerodynamic position. However for this to be effective the rider’s back must be flat and the head lowered which makes it unsuitable for many cyclists. The head also needs to be kept still as the helmet actually increases drag if the head looks down or sideways.

  • Aero road helmet:

For anyone wanting the aerodynamic advantage of a time trial helmet without the weight or restriction in head position an aero road helmet is a suitable option. The shape is similar to a road helmet but the vents are covered thereby reducing frontal drag. This style of helmet is now commonly used by the professional peloton during flat stages and also used by many elite triathletes instead of time trial helmets. For most competitive cyclists and triathletes averaging over 20 mph this would be the most appropriate choice of racing helmet.

Conclusion:

When choosing a cycle helmet decide what you want it to achieve in order of priority. Someone participating in 100 mile sportives during the heat of summer will have different requirements to a competitive athlete averaging 25 mph in a triathlon.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.



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