9th November 2017. It's hard to deny that the more time you spend bicycling, the more money you're likely to spend while accumulating equipment. From purchasing training apps for your smartphone to BPA-free water bottles, energy gels, lights, and of course new parts for your bike, it can seem like there's no end to the number of things you "need" to ride with success. However, though it may feel that way, it isn't actually true. All you really need is your bicycle and the will to ride ? and one other thing: a helmet. Riding with a helmet is essential for safety, especially if you frequently traverse routes that parallel busy roads. There's no telling if or when an accident could happen. Do you sometimes shy away from wearing a helmet due to the potential for discomfort? Many people do, especially those who still have vivid memories of an overtightened chinstrap cutting into their skin from childhood. Ill-fitting helmets aren't uncommon, and many people may wear helmets that aren?t the best for their head. The result is that you aren't really protecting yourself much more; a collision or a fall could send a loose-fitting helmet flying off, while one that fits too closely will still transfer all the impact force into your skull. Thus, knowing what to look for and how to choose a helmet that won't cause problems is very important.

Do you need an expensive helmet to be safe?

First, though, finding an answer to this question is also important. When you're first shopping for a helmet, it won't take long before you realise that some of them can carry a hefty price tag. That price often comes with advertising that touts advanced technology, extensive research into the design of the helmet, or even materials of a premium quality. The less expensive models, in comparison, can look drab or even downright boring ? so should you really spring for the more expensive helmets out there on the market? Will it make a difference regarding how much protection you get? The short answer is "no" ? a helmet that fits well, in general, will always afford you the protection you need. However, more expensive helmets often take rider comfort into greater account, whereas cheaper helmets may not always yield the most pleasant experience. If you only take short rides during the week as part of a larger fitness routine, a less expensive helmet will get the job done without issue. If you intend to do long-distance cycling or if you want to participate in races, though, it can be worth the extra money just to ensure you stay comfortable. A helmet that distracts you with discomfort will put you at greater risk for accident and injury, whereas one that you can wear for hours without issue will let you focus on more important tasks.

Figuring out what "a proper fit" means

Expensive or inexpensive, the fit of your helmet is what really matters ? but if you've never had much use for helmets, the knowledge of a proper fit can prove elusive. Luckily, figuring out what you need isn't too difficult. Cheaper helmets usually feature only an adjustable strap with a single size for the head; thus, you may need to try several helmets before finding an inexpensive one that matches your head shape. A good rule of thumb is that once you've strapped your helmet on, you shouldn't be able to fit more than one or two fingers beneath the chin strap. If you can, it's too loose. Make certain your helmet sits flat on your head. No more than two fingers of space from your eyebrows to the helmet should exist; if the helmet can rock around at all, you aren't safe at all. If you're having trouble finding a helmet, try measuring the circumference of your head at its widest point. Take this number with you to the athletic store. A clerk or an in-store chart should help you translate your numbers into an actual size. There's not much complicated about finding a good-fitting helmet ? just remember it should be level, snug, and comfortable.

What types of helmet materials are out there?

Unlike most of the items out there in the sports world, there isn't much difference between helmets regarding the material they use for protection. That's because there isn't much room to improve on the current solution, which is expanded polystyrene foam. In other words, it's the same material you might find a travel cooler made from ? but how does that protect you? A hard plastic shell covers foam, keeping it in place, and absorbing the initial impact. As the force travels through the plastic, the foam compresses and breaks, transferring the blow away from your head. This crushing action is what keeps you from suffering a serious injury. The main difference you'll find between helmets is the make of the foam and plastic. Cheaper models only glue the plastic to the foam, while more expensive models specifically mould these pieces together for a tighter, more cohesive fit. Both will yield effective protection, but a moulded helmet may produce better results in the most serious collisions. However, there is no pressing need to opt for this type of helmet if you can't afford one; you won't lose out on safety. While some helmets may use other materials, the general principle is the same, and there are diminishing returns in terms of safety to think about, too.

Choosing a style that fits your type of cycling

Not every helmet's application is the same, though safety is an obvious one. Helmets can vary in shape and size based on what the intended use. For example, the classic bicycle helmet with a slightly elongated shape how-to-choose-a-bicycle-helmet-styleswas originally meant for road use. They still fulfil this role admirably today. Helmets in the commuter style aren't intended for long-distance use, so they do away with the aerodynamic elongation of the road helmets; these are ideal for running short errands or for casual riders. Most of these styles predominantly feature vents on the top to allow air to pass down to the scalp for comfort. Aero helmets, on the other hand, do away with these vents as they create additional drag on the rider. For those who are serious about speed, these are the way to go, though they won't be comfortable for longer rides. They feature an even more elongated shape designed to be supremely aerodynamic. While they won't shave much off your time, they can help you get "in the zone" for racing and can help you to "feel" faster, even if you aren't accelerating. Choose the style that matches best with your intended use.

Additional factors to consider when helmet shopping

Finally, there may be other features you want to look at when shopping around for a new helmet. Some models feature visors over the top, for example, allowing riders to shade their eyes without the use of sunglasses ? though it's still a good idea to wear a pair for the UV protection. Others may feature mirrors for allowing you to check what's behind your bicycle, while others will include additional inserts on the interior of the helmet for added protection. After that, we have the many cosmetic variations that exist only to tickle your fancy. Why not choose a helmet that speaks a little about your personality? It's just one more way to have fun on your bike ? especially if your helmet makes you stand out in a race!

Keep your cranium safe and enjoy a better ride

Whether you opt for a high-end helmet with a high-end price tag or a simple but sleek racing helmet, the important thing is the fact that you've taken steps to protect yourself. Just as American football players outfit themselves with tonnes of padding and rugby players wear headgear to protect their ears, cyclists need protection for their head. No one wants to be helmet-less and staring at the pavement coming at them after taking a spill during a fast downhill. Remember, there is an almost endless amount of options out there! You don't need to settle for a helmet you don't like or can't enjoy wearing. Keep on looking until you find the perfect fit with the right materials and the style you desire. You won't regret the extra effort.