Consumer Reports Publishes
A Helmet Article!
Summary: Consumer Reports tested bike helmets in 2002. See this page for more recent helmet articles they have published.
Consumer Reports had an article on bicycle helmets in their July 2002 issue. The appearance of their periodic articles is always a major event for consumers of bicycle helmets. This one was well-written and concise, although it did not cover many brands or models. We recommend that you get a copy and read it, since this review does not have the details you need.
The ratings cover impact performance as measured in the Consumers Union test labs, the only independent test data available to the public. The only model rated excellent for impact is a youth helmet, the Specialized Air Wave Mega, a $35 model rated as a Best Buy. It achieved astoundingly good impact performance. Nine of the others tested were rated very good, meaning that they significantly exceeded the CPSC standard and are worthy of your consideration. The rest met the CPSC standard and were rated good. CU did not test for the "softest landing" helmet as they did in 1994, instead testing for the models that could take the hardest impact.
The top adult models were all rated very good for impact protection, and included the Giro Gila, Trek Vapor (at $40 rated as a Best Buy), Giro Torrent and Specialized Enduro Comp. Others were rated good, including the Specialized M1, Bell Aquila, Giro Pneumo and Bell X-Ray. Price was not an indicator of impact protection, since the top models were mostly much cheaper than the lower rated ones. In CU's opinion the lower rated adult models were all still good helmets. They don't mention it, but Giro also sells the Torrent without visor as the Transit, charging less for it.
Besides the excellent Air Wave Mega, the very good youth helmets were the Giro Kickfire, Trek Scout and Bell Amigo. The Bell Boomerang and PTI sports Kool Kidz rated very good among toddler helmets. None of the adult skate style models rated more than good for impact performance. CU does not mention it, but the Kickfire is actually a smaller version of the Torrent, and there is a Venus version marketed for women.
For ventilation, most of the adult models rated were very good or good, with the Specialized M1 the only helmet offering excellent vents. It was recommended as the choice for those needing maximum ventilation despite being in the third rank for impact protection. The three skate-style models tested were all rated fair for ventilation, as were all three of the toddler models tested.
CU tested visors to make sure they would detach easily in a crash. They said three did not: Bell Aquila, Bell Cognito and the Giro Semi MX skate-style helmet.
A sidebar on skate helmets notes that although bike helmets must meet the CPSC standard, skate-style helmets are not required by law to meet ASTM 1492 for skateboarding. It says the Pro-tec Ace Freestyle was the only skate model they tested that meets both standards, so we assume that means that the Specialized P3, Bell Trailrider and Giro Semi MX should be considered bike helmets only, despite their "skate" shape. All three rated only good in impact protection.
We are impressed with this well-researched and well-written article, but would have welcomed test results on more helmets. The very narrow helmet selection may represent what affluent Consumer Reports readers are likely to see when they go to a bike shop to buy, but covers mostly Bell/Giro and Specialized. It should really be titled Bike Shop Helmets, since it does not cover the discount retail market where other people buy millions of helmets. CU considers a $40 helmet cheap, but most people are paying $25 or less. The article does not cover the cheaper lines, at least in part because they change so frequently that CU can't test one and rely on it still being available in the discount stores a year later when their article is being used by a consumer. But in fact we believe that some of the most protective helmets are out there in the discount stores at prices from ten to twenty dollars. At least the message was clear that higher prices do not mean more protection. And sometimes you can find better prices anyway--the June, 2002, Bike Nashbar catalog has the Giro Torrent for $35, for example.
You can find the complete article at your library, or at the Consumer Reports website. The cover of the paper version does not mention bicycles or helmets, but the table of contents does.
Here is a link to our reviews of other Consumer Reports articles.
Here is a link to our comprehensive review of all bike helmets on the market. There are no ratings because we don't have a test lab.