Let’s face it: wearing a helmet when you ride your bike has never been the coolest thing to do.
Ever since we took off our training wheels and got some more confidence riding our bikes, it’s been tempting to throw caution to the wind and ride without the extra weight on your head. Whether you’re concerned with how others will see you, don’t want to mess up your hair, or just don’t want to buy a helmet, there are definitely reasons why helmet use falls by the wayside once you’re a regular bike rider. One can even look at places like the Netherlands, where helmet use while riding a bike is very uncommon, and determine that bike riding is actually fairly safe. Given that most bikes will top out at 12 to 15 miles an hour in speed, is it really a big deal if I skip the helmet?
The rise of eBikes has fundamentally changed the equation when it comes to helmet use and cycling, however. EBikes, with powerful motors pushing bike speeds up to 28 miles an hour in some cases, require caution and care to use. Still, all the reasons mentioned above are still valid, and may cause many riders to skip the helmet, even on an eBike. So - is it OK to forgo a helmet when you’re riding your eBike? Is it even legal to ride without a helmet when you’re riding an eBike? Let’s dig in and find out.
Should I wear a helmet when riding an eBike?
There should be very little debate about this question, so let me put it to bed with an emphatic YES. You should wear a helmet when you’re riding a bike. Any bike. At Bike.com we encourage everyone of any age to wear a helmet when riding any type of bike, period.
Even if you’re used to riding a bike without a helmet, getting on an eBike fundamentally changes the experience of riding. Not only are you going at a higher average speed, you’ll find yourself accelerating and decelerating faster, thanks to the motor backing up your first pedal strokes, and powerful brakes slowing you down with more force. Unless you feel very confident in your abilities, it’s important to have a failsafe for when your bike gets out from under you.
Even with supreme bike handling skills, the most dangerous thing you’ll encounter on any given bike ride are environmental hazards, like rough terrain or passing cars. Therefore, even if you’re a perfect rider, there’s still a chance that you could end up being involved in a collision through no fault of your own.
Moving at the higher speeds mentioned earlier, it’s important that you have some protection for your head in case of a crash. Riding on hard terrains like concrete or packed dirt can lead to severe head injuries in the event of a crash, so it’s important that you’re protected. It may not look the coolest, but it will keep you safe if you wear a helmet properly and every time.
Is it required by law or just best practice?
Helmet laws regarding eBike riding are difficult to speak of as a whole. In the United States, helmet laws are generally set at the state level, with no clear guidelines for the country as a whole. That being said, most states have at least some level of restrictions around riding an eBike without a helmet. Some states - like Michigan and Indiana require riders under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding any bike.
Others, like California, require helmets for class III electric bicycles (eBikes that have a top speed of 28 mph), regardless of rider age, and also have helmet requirements for anyone under 18, eBike, or not.
Some states have blanket laws requiring helmets for eBikes, and some states have no restrictions at all. If you would like to know what helmet laws apply to your state you can check out this table here. All that being said, common sense and best practice dictates that you should always wear a helmet when you ride your eBike, in order to prevent a head injury in the event of a crash. Note that regulations are changing rapidly, so make sure you're reviewing current information.
What about age restrictions in various states?
There are definitely age restrictions on your ability to ride an eBike, and helmet restrictions by age as well. Most states have an age requirement of at least 14 years old, with an average minimum rider age of 16 years old. Even in states with age requirements for riding an eBike (usually applied to minors), there is often a law requiring that riders wear helmets regardless of age, especially for class III bikes. Again, you can check the chart link above in order to find the rules for your particular state.
Even if your child displays an above average level of responsibility and caution, you should make sure they're ready berfore you let them ride an eBike. Even in states with no restrictions, it’s important to recognize that eBikes are not toys, and that your child needs to be supervised when riding any sort of motorized vehicle.
What styles of helmets are available for eBike riders?
Broadly, there are three popular styles of bike helmets, each corresponding to a different type of riding and designed with specific characteristics.
"Road" biking helmets, designed for endurance based, vigorous riding:
- lightweight with an emphasis on athletic perofrmance
- lots of holes for ventilation
- are designed with an aerodynamic shape for reduced wind drag. Casual riders might not like this visual style.
In contrast, "mountain biking" helmets are designed to be:
- more sturdy, with extra coverage around the back of the head
- often include a visor to protect your eyes from the sun and any debris
- these helmets will usually be heavier, but offer the most comprehensive protection
Rounding out the trio are "commuter" or "urban" helmets, which are somewhere in between road and mountain biking helmets:
- Commuter helmets will usually have a small visor to protect your eyes from the sun
- These helmets look to balance functionality with a clean aesthetic for urban riding
- Helmets designed for urban environments might include convenience features for bicycle commuting, like built-in lights or the ability to lock up the helmet along with your eBike
While there are different styles of helmet for different styles of writing, most helmets made today are designed to adhere to the vigorous standard set out by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, regardless of their visual style and shape. If you’re buying a quality approved helmet, you shouldn’t have to worry about the level of protection that it offers, regardless of the "road" or "mountain" label - buy one you like, so you'll wear it!
Although you’ll be traveling at faster speeds and have the potential for a collision at a greater speed, the helmets that you already wear are your best bet at reducing the chance for injury. If you’re worried that a standard bike helmet won’t be enough to protect you in the event of a crash, it may be worth it to look into the MIPS system, a recent upgrade that many bike helmet brands are incorporating into their helmets.
While MIPS helmets are a little more expensive, the MIPS system is designed to offer increased flexibility and helmet movement in the event of a crash, transferring the force of the blow away from your head and through the helmet. This new technology is a significant upgrade in the long-standing field, and worth your while if you’re concerned about being protected in the event of crashing on your eBike. MIPS helmets are available at Bike.com from brands like Thousand and Giro.
Modern helmets are better than ever
Compared with the helmets we wore just 10 or 20 years ago, modern helmets are amazing. They are much lighter and more comfortable to wear, are better ventilated, and simply look better. Modern helmets can also come packed with features, like visors, integrated lights, or built-in mounts for a GoPro action sports camera to capture your eBike rides!
If you're riding currently with an older helmet, keep in mind they do "degrade" over time and for maximum protection you should replace them periodically. Giro - one of the most popular helmet manufacturers - recommends replacing your helmet every 3-5 years, for example. MIPS technology has changed the game, so a new helmet might protect better than your old model as well.
If you aren't using a helmet because of previous negative experiences, you really should give a new, modern helmet a try! You might be surprised at how comfortable and attractive modern helmets can be.
Always replace your helmet after a crash
Be aware that bicycle helmets are designed for single use. In the event you do have an accident, it's time to replace your helmet with a new one immediately. Discard the old helmet (it did it's job) don't sell it or give it away.
Feel the Wind in Your… Helmet
It’s an incredible feeling to have a motor backing up your every pedal stroke when you’re on an eBike, but with that increased power comes increased responsibility. Keeping yourself safe on an eBIke requires more thought and planning than a normal bike, and state governments have placed increased restrictions on eBikes for that reason. Before you let yourself or a loved one get on any bike, be sure that you’re following all the appropriate laws, and common sense.
While you can look up the laws in your specific state very easily, it may be a little more difficult to determine what the common sense option is. If you’re struggling, let me spell it out very clearly: wear a helmet every time you ride any bike. Don’t let your kids ride an eBike unless they’ve shown themselves to be competent riders. Always be safe, and go into any ride knowing that you’ll be OK if something happens. With that peace of mind, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience of racing towards your next great adventure all the better.