If you’ve paid good money for a good helmet, you may be tempted to use it for other things.
After all, a good motorcycle helmet (for example) seems like it should be good for cycling since both devices are bikes and motorcycles are intuitively more dangerous, so a helmet that protects motorcyclists should also protect cyclists.
Horse riding helmets don’t look a lot like bike helmets, but bike helmets have been used for riding (though they shouldn’t be due to fall distances), so shouldn’t vice versa be true?
There are a few things that have to be understood when it comes to choosing the right helmet for the job, including helmets for cycling: why helmets are shaped the way they are, safety standards, and the types of things each helmet is supposed to protect you from.
While some cross-over may be possible, after reading this, you may decide it’s not always worth the risk!
We will start by looking at the three most common helmets that you may want to cross over to cycling: equestrian, motorcycle, and ski/snowboarding helmets.
Then we will look at why bike helmets are shaped the way they are (versus the other helmets) and why it may be in your best interest to have the right helmet for the right job.
Short answer? You could use other helmets for cycling, but it’s more dangerous and you will likely be missing some key protection that could cause serious injury or even death in an accident.
And some traffic officers may ticket you for using the incorrect helmet, depending on bylaws in your area (if they are specific about using a bike helmet or not, for example).
Why Are Cycling Helmets Shaped the Way They Are?
Before we go delving into crossing helmets for sports to see if it can be done, it’s important to know why bike helmets look the way they do and how they are designed for comfort and protection.
Bike helmets may not look like much (and many people think they look a bit silly), but a lot of thought and experimenting has gone into their design. The number one goal of a helmet is to protect your head in cases of a crash or impact and so everything is geared for that.
A helmet is made up of a hard, outer shell and a soft liner inside. The shell spreads impact force over a broad area and the soft liner absorbs the impact energy. All of this is meant to lessen the impact your skull receives so that it will stay in one piece.
Most helmets are made with something like ABS plastic, Kevlar, polycarbonate, fiberglass or something like that, though ABS plastic is the most common. The foam on the inside is usually made of EPS or EPP which can absorb impact energy well. ABS plastic is the most common material for the shell of the helmet.
Another consideration is aerodynamics; this can explain why they look so round and strange. Cyclists, particularly speed junkies, will not want a helmet that creates drag. The round shape of the helmet is thought to reduce drag by allowing air molecules to slide over and around the helmet rather than being caught in the helmet.
High-end racing helmets are even more carefully designed with drag reduction in mind as racers want to reduce anything that will slow them down.
And finally, bike helmets have plenty of ventilation to help keep cyclists cool as they pedal. A lot of body heat travels out through the head and face and by properly ventilating the helmet, that heat can escape and cooler air can come in.
You’ll notice that comfort isn’t exactly a consideration which is why so many people don’t like to wear them or refuse to wear them outright, even though studies show that cyclists who wear helmets are safer and less likely to be badly injured in an accident.
In short, bike helmets are designed to be used by bike riders who need to protect their skull in case of an accident, be properly ventilated and reduce drag while riding. Other types of helmets don’t take all of this into consideration, as you will see in the next sections.
Can You Use Horse Riding Helmets for Cycling?
If you go horseback riding, then you must have a helmet and furthermore, it is always a proper equestrian helmet, not a bike helmet (or it should be). The reason for this is because when you fall from a horse, you are falling from a greater distance and the helmet is designed to absorb the impact that comes from this.
Horseback riders are more likely to fall so that the back and sides of their heads are hit rather than the front like cyclists, so the helmets are designed to absorb more back and side-impact and little front impact.
Another factor is that bike helmets are designed to handle skid falls on the road, whereas those equestrian helmets are designed to take damage from a fall, but not a slide. And finally, if you fall off your bike while wearing a riding helmet, you’ll have to replace a more expensive helmet. Bike helmets are relatively affordable.
So, can you use equestrian helmets for cycling? Tentatively, perhaps, but you’d have to be careful how you fall (and how likely is that) and if the helmet is damaged in a crash, you probably have a more expensive replacement to find.
Furthermore, bike helmets are properly padded for bike accidents and equestrian helmets are properly padded for riding accidents and the two may not cross over, leaving you open to injury. Both types of helmet are ASTM certified, but for different types of impact.
In short, while many people have advocated for their use because they are more stylish and are well ventilated, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. But if it’s a choice between the horse riding helmet and no helmet, then definitely go for the equestrian helmet.
Can You Use a Motorcycle Helmet for Cycling?
Motorcycle helmets offer a lot more in terms of protection when compared to bike helmets. In fact, it’s argued that they are better at protecting cyclists because they have front protection and since many cyclists end up falling on their front, a motorcycle helmet is better protection. In that light, we would say that absolutely, yes, you can use a motorcycle helmet for cycling.
So why don’t more people do it? Mostly for two reasons: heat and appearance. Motorcycle helmets aren’t nearly as well ventilated as bicycle helmets (they don’t have to be since motorcyclists aren’t pedaling so and aren’t generating nearly as much heat) and so they can quickly become very uncomfortable for cyclists to wear.
Motorcycle helmets are also much heavier and so could lead to increased soreness or other injuries in an accident.
The other aspect is appearance. Motorcycle helmets tend to be bulky, large, and a bit unwieldy, so wearing one while riding a bicycle looks, to many minds, somewhat silly. This is enough to make most people turn away from motorcycle helmets to the traditional bike helmets when cycling.
Finally, motorcycle helmets are much more expensive than bike helmets, so if you’re not riding on a motorcycle anyway, it may not be worth the investment. And tied to the bulkiness of the motorcycle helmet is the fear that it would slow cyclists down as they check around them for traffic and reduce their hearing which would make it more dangerous to ride while cycling.
Motorcycle helmets also greatly reduce your peripheral vision, so you would be doing a lot more head-turning to check out your surroundings.
You certainly can wear a motorcycle helmet while cycling, as long as you don’t mind the weight, the heat and the reduction in hearing and having to move your head a bit more to see where you’re going.
Can You Use a Ski Helmet or Snowboarding Helmet for Cycling?
Ski and snowboarding helmets are meant to do two things: protect your head in cases of accidents at higher speeds and keep your head warm!
With this in mind, ski and snowboard helmets can be used as bike helmets, but you may find yourself being far too warm while cycling, just like motorcycle helmets. Where people like to use them is in winter riding where they can keep their head warm in the winter weather.
Keep in mind that many ski helmets are geared to protect the back of your head as well as the top, which may offer you some extra protection. There is no ventilation though which is why you will likely get quite hot.
The reverse is not true. People may wear bike helmets while skiing or snowboarding; however, these helmets aren’t impact tested at the speeds snowboarders or skiers regularly hit. Furthermore, once a bike helmet has been in an accident, it must be replaced.
A ski or snowboarding helmet, on the other hand, is far more durable. This is a good argument for wearing a ski helmet for cycling as well since it will likely be able to be used after an accident.
Helmets aren’t cheap, particularly motorcycle, equestrian and snowboarding ones. Therefore, if you engage in any of these sports as well as cycling, it is awfully tempting to use one helmet for everything.
Bicycle helmets are built for cycling, but as you have seen, there are benefits to using motorcycle or ski helmets as well. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend using horse riding helmets as they aren’t well vented, they don’t protect in the same way, and they are easier to ruin.
Motorcycle helmets protect well, but it may cut off your hearing and will reduce your peripheral vision. And ski helmets are hot, so we would only use one in the winter.
The short of it is that for many helmets, you can cross them over into cycling. However, most bike helmets are quite affordable (certainly more affordable than the other helmets discussed here) and are built for cycling.
While plenty of people use one helmet for several things, if you’re worried about injury, or about your appearance, then spending the money on an actual bike helmet is probably the best way to go.
But if it’s a choice between no helmet and the sports helmet from your last ski trip, go for the skiing helmet! Safety is critically important when you’re sharing the road with cars and trucks.
We’ve written various articles on bike helmets over the years. Here are a few of our most popular.