Gear Guy

How much should I spend on a new bike helmet?

I have a Performance Microtec ST bike helmet (from 1992) that I need to replace. Is there a similar helmet on the market, and how much should I spend? Jeannie Indian Springs, Alabama


Ummm… you needed to replace that helmet about 12 years ago, when its performance rating got downgraded due to its inability to pass both the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and Snell Foundation tests. Not to mention the fact that sun, sweat, and other factors eventually cause helmet materials to weaken, even though the helmet itself looks fine. Most helmet makers recommend swapping out helmets every three years. That’s probably a bit much—even the conservative Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute says most helmets dating back to the mid-‘90s probably are fine. Helmets have saved my life in the past, but still, I’d split the difference and replace any helmet purchased before 2000.

Bell Metropolis Helmet

Bell Metropolis Helmet

One thing you don’t mention is the style of riding you do—road, mountain, or commuting. Because it can make a difference. Mountain helmets, for instance, typically have visors to help keep brush out of your eyes and bigger vents on top of the helmet, so they cool better during slow uphill grinds. Road helmets are very light and have lots of forward venting. Commuter helmets are rounder and less “geeky" looking, but actually are among the safest helmets out there because they have fewer sharp edges that can snag on pavement when your noggin is skidding down the road.

In a commuting helmet, Bell’s Metropolis ($70; is a good bet, with a nicely rounded design, adequate but not excessive venting (big holes can let sharp rocks in), a visor, and easily adjustable straps. For the road, Giro’s Eclipse ($80; has a sleek, classic shape that loses a few points in the eyes of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute because of sharp edges along its back end. But it’s a solid helmet. For mountain riding—or any riding, really—Bell’s new Slant ($54) has been highly rated both by the helmet institute and a leading consumer magazine.

Fit matters a lot in helmets, so get to a shop where you can try some of these one. Keep the helmet out of the sun (when not in use, of course) and don’t let it sit in a hot trunk. Wash occasionally with a little warm water mixed with some Dawn or Simple Green. You should be good for many years.

Get more advice from the Gear Guy as he picks this season’s top gifts in’s Holiday Gift Guide. You’ll probably find a few things to put on your own wish list, too.

Lead Photo: courtesy, REI