Comparison of Safe Bike Helmets for Older Kids and Adults: Bell Piston Review, Giro Revel Review, Schwinn Merge Review, Scott ARX Plus Review
In our previous blog on bicycle helmets, we covered some of the statistics involving brain injuries to cyclists. While serious injuries are not uncommon for adults or kids, fatal injuries tend to be much more likely with increasing age. That’s not only a big deal for tweens and teens, but especially for parents! But how do you pick a helmet? Here are a few tips:
- Select one with a CPSC certified label. This means it passed basic requirements and testing.
- Make sure it fits correctly. If it is too hard to adjust or doesn’t stay in place correctly, it may not be in the right spot to protect well after shifting around during a long ride. Most helmets should fit snugly and should not move much front-to-back, side-to-side or twisting. Have a question? Try shopping at a local bike store and have an expert help you!
- Select one for comfort. If it is too hot, or pokes you or gives you a headache, you won’t wear it and it won’t protect you. Ventilation and padding differ greatly and it’s not always the priciest models that are the best ones for you, because everyone has a different head and preference.
- Choose a helmet for cycling or one labeled for dual or multi-sport use. Models specifically for other sports like skateboarding may not be as suitable for cycling use.
- Select one you like. Fashion may seem irrelevant for safety, but if you aren’t going to wear it, it won’t protect you. Styles vary a lot, from motorcycle style with drab colors to ultralight racing models with fancy designs.
Much like carseats, independent testing is difficult to find. To my knowledge, only Consumer Reports® has done additional safety testing of select models in the USA. Their ratings of 22 models are available to subscribers online and can be found in the June, 2015 issue of the magazine. I don’t know if their testing is consistent with industry expert analysis, but much like carseats, it appears to be the only independent testing out there.
Consumer Reports also tested youth helmets. Their top choice was the Bontrager Solstice Youth at $40, available online and at local bike stores and Trek stores. For tweens, teens and adults, you probably need an adult sized helmet. Below, I have quick reviews on a few budget models that were recommended in CR’s ratings. In addition to being best buys, all three received very good impact absorption scores. All three have dial adjustments that ratchet to tighten and loosen the helmet.
I recently tested four helmets, ranging from $15 to $150. Do you need to spend a fortune to protect your head, or does a bargain model work just as well?
1) Schwinn Merge (above, center). A basic one-size-fits-all helmet. Weighs 10.3 ounces. I found mine at Walmart with an everyday price of $15, but is often on sale for as low as $11. Comes with a detachable visor. Of the three budget models, it had the easiest dial system for adjustment along with a little better padding, but lacked locking cams on the side straps to keep everything in place and twist-free. Even though it was barely big enough for my size 7-3/8 head, it seemed the most comfortable of these three. It is labeled for ages 14+, but fit my 10-year old and his big head very well. He also liked the styling the best. Schwinn is owned by Dorel, a well known brand in the carseat business.
2) Bell Piston (above, right). Another one-size-fits-all model. Weighs a bit more at 11.3 ounces, but seemed to adjust slightly larger than the other two. Mine was $20 on sale at Performance Bike. It’s regularly priced around $40, but is often sold as low as $30 at Amazon.com, various sporting goods stores and local bike stores. Includes a detachable visor and the molded construction and adjustments seemed a bit nicer than the Schwinn. It appeared to have somewhat less ventilation than the Schwinn and Giro. Both my 10-year old and I rated it somewhat below the other two overall, especially in terms of comfort and styling.
3) Giro Revel (above, left). Also one-size-fits-all, weighing 10.8 oz. Regular price is $44.99. I found one on sale at Sports Authority for $34, but this model is easy to find at many stores and is currently around $30 in some colors at Amazon.com with Prime shipping. Also has a detachable visor. Very similar to the Bell model overall in construction and adjustments. This was my favorite of these three in terms of styling and was almost as comfortable as the Schwinn. A very nice helmet overall; my wife is now using it!
While bicycle helmets are very effective in preventing most types of traumatic brain injury, they may not protect against concussions all that well, according to a recent Slate article. The CPSC also advises to beware of claims that helmets can prevent concussions. But a new style of helmet may be changing this: enter MIPS. This new design adds a thin layer inside the helmet that allows the head to rotate slightly if the helmet is struck. This is thought to help reduce rotational forces on the head that may lead to concussions.
Though it wasn’t tested for its ability to reduce concussions, I also checked out the model by Scott Sports that earned by far the top overall rating in Consumer Reports testing. It also earned the best result of “Excellent” for their impact absorption test, where they drop helmets loaded with a metal head onto a metal anvil to measure forces in various locations.
4) Scott ARX Plus with MIPS. Comes in three sizes as well as an identical MTB (Mountain Bike) version that adds a visor. The large size with visor weighs 11.6 ounces. I couldn’t find one around Chicago, but I found it at independent bike stores online. Be sure to get a good return policy, as the sizing was quite different from the other three models I tested. It is definitely a step-up from budget models in terms of easy adjustments, but at $150 it was among the priciest models in Consumer Reports ratings. Subjectively, it felt slightly cooler than the others, perhaps due to the larger vents, but otherwise it seemed similar in comfort. Even though I am in the highest risk age group for bicycle fatalities from head injury, is a glorified piece of EPS foam really worth half the cost of a decent new bike? I hope to never have to put this question to the test!
Honorable Mention: two models I didn’t evaluate. The Lazer Cyclone is another budget model around $45 that earned CR’s “Best Buy” rating. The Lazer Beam MIPS was not tested, but at $70 is one of the least expensive models with the new MIPS concussion system.
Check out the Consumer Reports helmet fit guide as well!
For the money, the Schwinn Merge (right) seems like a great deal and you’re not going to find anything all that much nicer until you move above $50. Any of these helmets should do a fine job at protecting your noggin, so pick the one that works best for you! Of course, the best way to prevent injury is to avoid a crash or fall altogether. That means obeying the laws of your state, being visible (with lights, reflectors and bright clothing) and playing it safe on the roads and paths. It’s not only cars that don’t see a cyclist, it’s other cyclists and pedestrians, too.
So put on that helmet, get some exercise and happy trails this summer. Have a safe 4th of July weekend!
No products or other compensation were provided for this review and all opinions are my own.