Gear | August 31, 2021 9:05 am

The Best Commuter Helmets for People Who Love Riding a Bike and Hate Wearing a Helmet

Protect your head without looking like a total dork

Four stylish, modern bicycle helmets — by Sweet Protection, Thousand, Smith and Bern, respectively — situated in a row on the sidewalk
From left: helmets by Sweet Protection, Thousand, Smith and Bern
Mike Falco

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If you’re a regular bicyclist, it’s only a matter of time before you get into an accident.

I’ve been a commuter cyclist in New York City for ten years and have had my fair share of mishaps. I’ve crashed into cars that stopped short. I’ve been doored on Flushing Avenue, again on 8th Street and once by an elderly lady in front of a church in Bed Stuy. Once during rush hour, I had a woman walk directly into of me on Essex Street. She was fine, but I lost all the skin on my palms. On another occasion I hit a stray block of concrete that had rolled out from a construction site and broke two of my ribs. I wasn’t wearing a helmet during any of these accidents, holding firm to the adage “If you need to wear a helmet in New York City, then you’re riding too fast.”

Then last summer I was riding my bike down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when I got into a spill. I can’t remember what happened, exactly, or where it happened, for that matter. Regardless, I went over my handlebars and landed face-first on the pavement. When I came to, I was bleeding profusely from a gash between my eyes. My two upper front teeth had been shattered. I’d later learn that my wrist was fractured in three places and I had what neurologists call “post concussion syndrome.”

It was around this point in my life that I realized I needed to start wearing a helmet. Is it an ideal experience? No. Will you look cool? No, you look like a fucking dork. I can guarantee, however, that you look a lot worse when your teeth are decorating the street and you’re debating whether to call an ambulance or an Uber to take you to the hospital.

If my anecdote hasn’t changed your mind, then I’ll point you in the direction of DOT statistics indicating that in 2018 almost three quarters (74%) of fatal bicycle crashes in NYC involved a brain injury, and nearly all bicyclists who died (94%) weren’t wearing a helmet. In short, when the human skull hits pavement, the literal and metaphoric results are similar to that of Humpty Dumpty.

Once I decided to swallow my pride and start looking for a helmet, I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was actually looking for. It’s not easy shopping for something that you don’t really want to own in the first place. Will it be too hot? Too bulky? Will it make me look like a turtle? These are all legitimate questions that I needed to answer. Thankfully I work at a digital publication that was able to call me in some helmets to test.

Thousand Chapter Helmet
Thousand Chapter Helmet
Mike Falco

Thousand Chapter MIPS

You gotta hand it to Thousand, they’ve really put a lot of work to making their helmet as fashionable and functional as possible. With the Chapter they’ve taken the elements of older “turtle” helmets and slimmed them down. The result is reminiscent of a riding helmet but has great ventilation and is surprisingly lightweight. The visors are interchangeable to match your personal style and come in surprising colors like rose gold and tortoiseshell. To top it off the helmet comes with a multi-use magnetic light that can also attach to your bicycle and a hidden poplock that makes for easy locking.

Thousand Chapter Helmet showing MIPS Technology
Thousand Chapter Helmet showing MIPS Technology
Mike Falco

The first thing to decide when choosing a helmet is wether you want to invest in a technology called MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System). It’s essentially a thin shield that helps reduce rotational forces on the brain if you get into an accident. You’ll want your helmet to work as well as possible when your head smashes onto concrete, so I’d say cough up the extra money and invest in this upgrade

Bern Watts 2.0 MIPS Helmet
Mike Falco
Bern Watts 2.0 Bike Helmet

Bern Watts 2.0

The Watts helmet definitely offers the most coverage, but that makes it more bulky and hotter to wear than the others. I’d recommend it as a winter helmet, especially if you live in a city where it gets brutally cold. You can also get a separately sold winter knit liner if you really want to keep your noggin warm.

Smith Express MIPS Helmet
Smith Express MIPS Helmet
Mike Falco

Smith Express MIPS

I like this helmet because it’s classic profile with an understated matte finish. It’s a little bit warmer than the other helmets, but it’s still lightweight and offers far better padding that the others. This is a great helmet for a year-round rider who wants something that functions in all weather conditions. It also comes with a removable fabric visor and an integrated rear vent light, so you’re ready-to-go in all lighting conditions. I see people wearing this helmet all around the city and now I know why.

Sweet Protection Outrider MIPS Helmet
Sweet Protection Outrider MIPS Helmet
Mike Falco

Sweet Protection Outrider Mips

This helmet was by far the sportiest of the bunch I tested. It also was by far the lightest. You barely notice it sitting on your head and it breathes incredibly well. Now that temperatures are rising into triple digits I’m really learning to love this helmet. I’m also a sucker for graphic design and love the logo and the details put into their adjustment system.