Helmets for electric bikes and other light powered vehicles
Summary: If you use a bicycle helmet for a powered vehicle traveling 20 mph (32 kph) or more, you are taking a greater risk than most unpowered bicyclists that the helmet will not be adequate for the type of crash you should expect. For reasons explained below we recommend a light motorcycle helmet or at least a helmet meeting the Dutch NTA 8776 ebike helmet standard. For low speed powered scooters, CPSC recommends a bicycle helmet.
The popularity of electric bicycles and those powered by small gas engines has been growing in the US after years of popularity in Europe. California passed a law in 2015 setting up three categories of ebikes and providing regulations for where they can be operated. The categories are not useful for choosing a helmet, since the severity of a crash may differ but for any powered bicycle it is likely to be worse than a pedal cycle crash.
What helmet do you need for one of those vehicles? Some light powered vehicles are no faster than a bicycle, leading to speculation that a bicycle helmet could be adequate. We would not recommend that for several reasons:
These factors would normally lead us to recommend a light motorcycle helmet for motorbikes or fast electric vehicles. Helmets meeting the DOT motorcycle standard, while much too heavy to be optimum, should be adequate. Or you can opt for one of the helmets now meeting the Dutch ebike helmet standard, described below.
Powered ScootersPowered scooters are a different class of vehicle. They are not as fast as ebikes, motorbikes and motorscooters because they are not stable enough to travel that fast! The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued an advisory recommending the use of bicycle helmets for riding powered scooters, along with knee and elbow pads. In 2006 they issued another recommendation that bicycle helmets are fine for low powered motorized scooters.
StandardsThere is no US government standard for light powered vehicles other than the DOT motorcycle helmet standard, required by law for any motorcycle helmet. ASTM has adopted an alternative motorcycle helmet standard -- F3103-14 -- to produce more user-friendly helmets for off-road use designed for the most frequent impacts.
The Snell Foundation, a respected name in helmet standards-setting, published a standard for use with low powered vehicles, mopeds, and motorized bicycles in 1998. Reflecting the higher speeds expected, it has lab test drops somewhat higher than bicycle helmet standards at 2.4 meters on the flat anvil and 1.6 meters on anvils of other shapes. The extent of protection is considerably greater than a bicycle helmet standard. It is referred to as Snell L-98. As of September, 2015, 17 years after it was adopted, there were no helmets certified to it listed on the Snell Web site, but you can check this page on the Snell site to see if that has changed.
In 2016 the Netherlands published an ebike helmet standard, designated as NTA 8776. The test line in the front is only 2.5mm lower than the CPSC bicycle helmet standard, but on the sides and rear it is much lower. The flat anvil test drop is just above the CPSC standard, and the two are probably about equally stringent given that the Dutch standard uses the less severe European drop rig. Snell's B-95 standard would be tougher. On the curbstone anvil the Dutch are tougher, but they do not test with the hemispheric anvil at all. There are helmets available now from several manufacturers that meet the standard. You can check for the latest on the Holland Bike Shop site. Brands include Abus, Agu, Giro, Lazer and Polisport. Not all of them meet the Dutch standard, but you can check by doing a site search on NTA 8776. Our last check showed that at least one model from Abus, Agu, Giro, Limar and Polisport met the standard.
In the US we have at least two bike helmet standards that exceed the normal CPSC/ASTM bike helmet standard. There is the ASTM F1952 Downhill Mountain Bike Racing standard and F2032 for BMX cycling. Helmets meeting either one come close to the Dutch standard, and some do meet it. Giro is now advertising its Camden MIPS model as certified to the Dutch ebike standard.
The US DOT motorcycle standard exceeds the Dutch ebike standard in coverage and impact testing, readily seen in the difference between the helmets designed to each. We have two charts comparing the lab test lines (tested coverage) and impact velocities.
Bottom LineA bike helmet provides some protection in any crash, but not enough for a powered vehicle consistently traveling at 20 mph and higher. You are taking a greater risk than a bicyclist that the helmet will not be adequate for the type of crash you should expect. For a 28MPH ebike it would probably make sense to consider a light motorcycle helmet. There are lots of them to choose from at your local motorcycle dealer, or you can find them on the Web.
This page was revised on: April 10, 2019.