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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Bike Helmets
  2. Bike Helmet Reviews

Cheap Helmets Buying Guide

At their core, all helmets perform the same function: They are meant to keep the cyclist safe and comfortable. There's no reason for the casual rider to buy a $200 helmet optimized for speed and style when the best cheap helmets are designed to keep the wearer equally safe.

For every type of cycling activity -- mountain, road, commuter, sport -- and every type of cyclist -- male, female, youth -- there's a helmet marketed to meet the need.

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Regardless which category you fall into, the seal of approval from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) should be your top requirement. After that, you'll probably want to consider the price. Right away you'll notice that the range is extremely wide. At the low end, you can find cheap helmets for $20, while at the top end a helmet might sell for $200. Cheaper helmets are found in big-box department; larger and more expensive selections are usually available in sporting goods stores. The priciest helmets of all, unsurprisingly, are sold in cycling or outdoor shops.

What makes one helmet cost more than another? Experienced cyclists know the answer: Cycling is an image-conscious sport. Some cyclists shave their legs for no reason other than to show fellow cyclists how committed they are to shaving tenths of a second off their times. So it should come as no surprise that a rider's choice of gear would have the same effect. The biggest brand of all in cycling is, of course, Lance Armstrong. Having the name or logo of the seven-time Tour de France winner on a helmet means a marked increase in price. Cyclists also tend to be brand loyal, whether to Giro, Trek, SixSixOne, Bell, or any of the other producers.

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Bicycle Helmet Construction.

All bicycle helmets are composed of a durable plastic shell and expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) that is meant to protect the cyclist in the event of a crash. New technology molds together these two components, making helmets lighter than they had been in the past; the most expensive and the cheap helmets are identical in this regard. (A note on the EPS foam: it, rather than your head, absorbs the impact in a crash. But once you've been through a crash, the foam loses its protective properties and it's time to buy a new one.) The CPSC has approved this construction and manufacturers have adopted it in all lines. Youth helmets have a little more foam than adult models but they still should be replaced in the event of a crash.

Bike Helmet Weight.

There are plenty of cheap helmets that weigh between 255 and 310 grams (including all those referenced in this review), which is only about 10 ounces. Youth helmets usually weigh slightly more because they have extra padding; a good example of this is the Bell Faction (starting at $25), which weights 426 grams. While it might seem obvious that helmets with more vents are lighter, this, too, is not necessarily true. Some of the better-ventilated helmets, like the Trek Vapor (starting at $50), retain their density by distributing weight in the perimeter.

When shopping for children, parents should ask the child how the helmet feels on his or her head. It may take some trial and error to find the right blend of protection, comfort, and cheap price. Among youth helmets, the Razor V-17 (starting at $17) strikes this balance better than the rest.

Review continues below

Bicycle Helmet Design.

A casual cyclist would have difficulty distinguishing a commuter bike helmet from a road bike helmet, or a Bell helmet from a Giro helmet. Maybe that's because Bell actually owns Giro, but in reality a lot of helmets look the same, especially at first glance. Some models are distinctive, however. Razor models tend to be rounder and are price competitive with Bell and Giro. SixSixOne models tend to have more elaborate artwork, such as flames or detailed graphics, but users pay a higher price for these aesthetic flourishes. Cheap helmets for youth come in a wider array of colors and markings than cheap adult helmets, which tend to be aesthetically spare.

Artwork is how manufacturers try to separate their helmets from the crowd. Many helmets, particularly those intended for the youth market, come with the logo of a favorite college or pro sports team, or showcase pop culture characters like Hanna Montana. Such touches come at a price: a plain black youth helmet from Bell might cost $25, but the same helmet with an Oakland Raiders logo might cost $29. A parent posting on Walmart.com likes the Bell Aero (starting at $17) but her daughter prefers a few more flowers on the side. Another parent commenting on Amazon was thrilled to find the Razor V-17 because her son thinks it's cool enough to wear.

The number and placement of the vents also affect the overall look of a cheap helmet. Note, however, that all air vents are not created equal. Some are little more than round holes that should let air circulate. Others are teardrop-shaped, oblong, oval, or egg-shaped, and some have a shape for which no name exists. Some vents are less than an inch wide; others are larger than two inches. The best cheap helmets, like the Bell Venture (starting at $29), sport an array of different vents that give a sleeker, more aerodynamic look.

Vent shapes on youth helmets are less varied. They're either round or oblong, as in the case of the Bell Faction.

Locking Size Adjuster.

Many pricier helmets come in fitted sizes,which increases the comfort level. Cheap helmets, on the other hand, come in small, medium, large, and extra large. You can then tweak the fit by adjusting the band. The most common adjusting mechanism is a dial; the two leading brands, Bell and Giro, use their own patented system, the ErgoDial for Bell and the AcuDial for Giro. User reviews of these helmets express no preference for one system over the other. Any good cheap helmet, including the best and good models on our list, let the cyclist adjust the strap while wearing the helmet.

Parents should teach their children how to adjust a helmet by themselves. Given the importance of wearing a helmet, let children practice adjusting their cheap bike helmet in the driveway or on the sidewalk before taking off. Note that the Bell Aero does not have the ErgoDial system, which means the child will have to stop riding and remove the helmet to make any needed adjustments.

Bicycle Helmet Extras.

Among the most popular (and useful) accessories are a visor and an adjustable rear view mirror that clicks on to the front of the helmet. The Giro Transfer (starting at $26), for example, doesn't come with a visor, but the slightly more expensive Giro Indicator (starting at $29) does. (That's the only difference between the two, so if you can find a visor for less than three dollars consider yourself ahead of the game.) Cheap helmets (including those mentioned in this buying guide) are open-faced, meaning they have a chin strap but do not protect your face in a crash. Alternatively, you can buy a helmet with a chin bar, but there's a commensurate uptick in price. Competitive cyclists don't protect their faces with a chin bar, so it's not a necessity, although it does sometimes appeal to mountain bikers. The SixSixOne brand offers a chin bar in many models, but the cheapest, the 06 Launch, starts at about $70.

by Maralyn Edid (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Bicycle Helmets

Giro Transfer
Gold Medal

Giro Transfer

Adult Bike Helmet. You can't go wrong with the Giro Transfer: it has an ideal blend of ventilation, comfort, design, and price. Readers and experts agree this cheap helmet is well worth its price and some prefer it over more expensive models. Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Razor V-17
Gold Medal

Razor V-17

Youth Bike Helmet. There's no shortage of quality youth helmets on the market but the best may be the Razor V-17. It has 17 vents and is appropriate for multi-sport use. While stylish, its best feature is its ability to protect users; at least one parent claims this helmet helped her son survive a serious accident.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Good Cheap Bicycle Helmets

Bell Venture
Gold Medal

Bell Venture

Adult Bike Helmet. The Bell Venture has the attributes of a high-end helmet at a fraction of the price. Users like its easy adjustability, ventilation, and light weight.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »
Bell Faction
Gold Medal

Bell Faction

Youth Bike Helmet. Parents fret about finding a helmet that fits their growing children, which often leads them to the Bell Faction. This affordable helmet comes in small, medium, and large and suits children's varied head sizes; it's also marketed to adults for downhill and mountain biking.

Read Full Review and Compare Prices »

Don't Bother

Giro Sedona

Adult Bike Helmet. The Giro Sedona has the same weight and components as other helmets in the lower end of the Giro line, and the Sedona comes in at a lower price. Most users appreciate its value, but some are unhappy with its fit, saying it felt odd or a tad too small.

Bell Aero

Youth Bike Helmet. The Bell Aero is among the cheapest of Bell's helmets, is well-ventilated, and comes in an array of colors. However, it lacks the ErgoDial technology that allows Bell helmets to be adjusted on the fly.

Read more »

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