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Safety not the only consideration when choosing the right helmet

Every bicycle rider should use a helmet for protection, but safety isn't the only factor to consider when choosing the best helmet for a particular cyclist. For example, cyclists who are serious about speed will look long and hard at the weight of their helmets, trying to eliminate every spare gram. Airflow is also a top consideration for racing cyclists who want to reduce drag and maximize wind funneling through the helmet's vents.

Meanwhile, casual riders looking for an all-around helmet for occasional excursion should seek out helmets that cover the back of the head more so than the lightweight helmets marketed specifically for road riding. These riders may not need removable sun visors but might prefer clean lines and extra padding. Female riders and parents shopping for children's helmets will have other considerations as well.

For parents who want their children to learn to wear helmets, safety, design and fashion should all be considered. Because children can persistently object to wearing helmets that are uncomfortable or uncool, manufacturers respond with models featuring non-pinching chinstraps, bug netting in air vents and a host of fun, fashionable graphics on the lid.

Top-of-the-line helmets don't come cheaply; riders should expect to pay $250 without accessories. Others models that are suitable for weekend racing as well as commuting to work start at $100 and up, but the best hover at the $200 mark. That said, riders willing to sacrifice the number of vents on their helmets and add a bit more weight will find plenty of helmets at or under the $100 mark, with the cheapest recommended helmet, the Schwinn Thrasher, ringing in at only $25. Children's helmets range in price between $20 and $50, with our favorite, the Bontrager Solstice Youth, selling for $45.

Bike helmets are usually rated on ventilation, for comfortable rides on hot days; weight, to reduce neck strain on long rides and improve speed in racing; ease of adjustment, for the ability to tighten or loosen the helmet while riding; and style. To determine the best models, ConsumerSearch evaluated reviews by popular cycling and fitness publications, professional test results, blogs written by helmet users, and hundreds of consumer contributions from retail and consumer-opinion sites such as Amazon.com and Buzzillions.com.

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