Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Bicycle Helmets for the 2003 Season

This is history! Current year here

Summary: Our review of helmets being sold in 2003. See this page for more recent years.

Trends for 2003

For 2003 most helmet brands have a few new improvements but nothing that prompts us to recommend replacing your old helmet. Prices are mostly stable as demand remains stable. From the consumer's point of view there are very protective helmets out there for reasonable prices, and very stylish ones for a few dollars more. Price and protection do not necessarily equate. There is nothing on the horizon to recommend delaying a helmet purchase, and still no compelling reason to upgrade an otherwise good helmet this year.


Giro has a unique new Xen model that represents a fresh approach to skate-style helmets. It appears to have better coverage in the rear than the bike helmet shape, and has a nicely rounded exterior with no elongated rear section and no rear snag points, usually the hallmarks of the Giro bicycle helmet line. The vents are much larger than any other skate helmet we have seen. Production models may be slightly improved over the prototypes we saw at the Interbike trade show, so we are waiting to see the final version before commenting further. This is a bike helmet, despite the shape, with crushable, one crash foam. If the rad approach catches on, this could be the future of skate-style bike helmets.

Lazer is bringing at least some of its extensive Belgian line to the US market in 2003. Their helmets are always interesting, although some of them have the most prominent external strap anchors marring the surface of the helmets that we have seen.

PTI/Mongoose has a truly exciting helmet for the younger BMX rider that has full face protection. Parents may find it useful for crash-prone boys who seem to go into everything face-first. This innovative helmet is labeled Child BMX and is model number MG-108. It is a thin-shell BMX model with the thick crushable foam liner wrapping all the way around the chinbar. It is an interesting design and the first we have seen with a fully padded chinbar for bicycle use. It has minimal vents. It is made for PTI, branded Mongoose, and sold by stores supplied by Pacific Bicycle. We found them at Toys R Us in December, 2002 for $20 and on sale in May 2003 for $15. The model can be seen on the Mongoose website.

The Schwinn brand is back, also with helmets designed by PTI and sourced by them from China, distributed through Pacific Bicycle, current owner of the Schwinn brand name. Some models have the shells glued on, but not taped around the edges, giving the appearance of a helmet that is inmolded and distinguished by a label that says they use "tapeless technology." We would expect the loose shell edges on the early samples we saw to deteriorate in use without the protection of the tape band at the edge, probably affecting appearance more than impact performance.

Serfas has a unique new "all sport" helmet called the Vault with a liner made of polyurethane, a material seldom seen in the bike helmet market. This is a very firm multi-impact plastic material rather than an expanded foam. We have not seen any test results, but assuming it passes the CPSC standard it will expand the range of materials currently being used. Although the helmet has a rounded shape overall, it has lots of external snag points due to its unique vent pattern.

Specialized is marketing their new Telluride mountain bike model with a claim that wind tunnel testing at 8 MPH shows that it cools better at low speeds than other helmets. As the season progresses they may put up the data on their website. Consumer Reports picked their older M1 as the coolest helmet they tested in 2002.

Uvex, better known in the US for optical goods, is bringing its line of helmets to the US for the first time in 2003. The models selected for the US are at the top of the Uvex line, and are high-end helmets all inmolded, with the usual elongated shapes, rear stabilizers and premium prices. Front vents have insect mesh in the European style. The company has a unique buckle with a long tab that inserts in a slot. Unfortunately it can be inserted upside down so that the teeth that are supposed to lock it do not catch. The entire line is made in Germany.

W Helmets has a new bicycle model to supplement their original ski/multi purpose model. You can visualize it as a rounded helmet with two little horns facing toward the rear, their interpretation of how to impart the "bicycle" shape. The added snag points are an unfortunate adaptation, since the original rounded model is ideally shaped to optimize crash performance.

New names you may see in the US or other markets in 2003 include Dainese, GPR/PLIM, Lazer, Oktos, Pioneer, Podium, Una and Winwood (Quality Bicycle Components' house brand). Avenir is back, distributed by Raleigh. Italy's Carrera, REM and Selev were on display at Interbike and may be exploring chances to bring their helmets to the US market. The Swiss firm PLIM expects to bring back the Brancale to the US in 2003.

Asian sourcing has become the rule for nearly all helmet companies for at least part of their lines. Many of the familiar US brands are made by a handful of companies primarily located in China and Taiwan. Bell/Giro are a major exception, producing 4.8 million helmets in the US this year, up from 4 million last year, in addition to the models they source in Asia. Some others are still made by one major subcontractor in the US, some in Italy or France, and the Uvex line is made in Germany. We have not seen any Australian helmets in the US market recently.

Designs for Women are mostly a sham. Hold up the women's model with the men's beside it and you will readily see that they came from the same mold, and the only visible difference is in colors and graphics. The few helmets that had pony tail ports have been discontinued, and designers do not seem to have found anything more to do for women than give them cosmetics.

Helmet colors are not much brighter than last year, despite the brightening of bike colors and the blazing color on the runways of the New York spring fashion apparel shows, usually indicators of the trend for helmet colors.

Prices are about the same as last year, with some older models slipping down ten to twenty percent as the design ages. We did not see any models with higher prices this year. A major manufacturer informs us that retail prices for discount store helmets will be somewhat lower in 2003.

Availability looks good, since there is adequate supply and demand remains tepid.

Mass merchant helmets are evolving perhaps more than the bike shop models as buyers for the big box stores get a better handle on the product and force the suppliers to come up with better models for the low end market.

What to Look For

We recommend looking for a helmet that:

1. Meets the CPSC standard. (Look for the sticker inside)

2. Fits you well.

And preferably:

3. Has a rounded, smooth exterior with no snag points.

4. Has no more vents than you need.

It is worth checking Consumer Reports for brand and model recommendations even though their most recent helmet article did not cover more than a handful of the helmets on the market, and none of the new 2003 models. They discovered that cheaper helmets are more protective than the most expensive, top-of-the-line models.

Since there is no comprehensive lab test data available, we do not make brand and model recommendations. We do recommend steering away from models with obvious disadvantages like snag points on the outer surface.

Most "skateboard" helmets now on the market are in fact bicycle helmets in the classic skate style. They are fine for bike riding, as long as they have a sticker inside saying they meet the CPSC standard. If you need a multi-impact helmet for aggressive, trick or extreme skating and skateboarding, look for a true multi-impact skate model in a specialty skate shop.

If you live outside the US, the basic features to look for are of course the same except that the standards sticker may be one of the numerous national standards or the European standard.