Does it really matter if you make do with a bike helmet as a skateboard helmet and vice versa? After all, both are designed for head safety. That being true, there are still concrete differences between the two, and they have more serious implications than just you looking inanely out of dress sense if you wear one in place of the other.
Bike helmet vs skateboard helmet: Bike helmets cover the top part of your head and less of the back, while skateboard helmets always cover the back. The former is designed to take on big, one-time hits and is then disposed of, while the latter is supposed to bear mild hits and falls while skateboarding, repeatedly.
There are marked differences in safety standards and design, and it’s not that one is safer than the other. Both are made to take different types of blows. To see full details of their differences, keep reading on!
Bike helmets must be CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) certified, which is a strict legal standard mandated by the government. All bike helmets are supposed to conform to this stringently, while standards for other activities are voluntary and set by independent organizations.
This is not to say those skateboard helmet standards are not followed. They are as present as bike helmet standards, in fact, a lot of people consider them to be legal standards. All skateboard helmets should be ASTM F1492 certified, and you should check for the certification sticker on the helmet because some skate style helmets might not have it.
If you must buy a helmet (see Amazon) that you can use for biking as well as skateboarding, then buy one which has dual certification, both CPSC and ASTM F1492, because those are suitable for both bike riding and skateboarding.
Dual-certified helmets still will not be as fine-tuned for either sport individually compared to dedicated biking and skateboarding helmets, but they do the job fairly well if you want to buy one helmet for both.
You should not, on the other hand, buy a skateboarding helmet which is only CPSC certified, because that is the biking standard and not appropriate for skateboarders.
Bike vs skateboard safety considerations
Bike helmets with CPSC certification are designed with hard foam to withstand single major hits, because bikers don’t tend to fall off very often. (Mountain bikers can encounter more falls so their helmets are designed differently to brace those.)
After a major rampage, a bike helmet is significantly dented and not safe for further use- so it should be disposed of and replaced with a new one.
Skateboarding however, involves multiple minor bumps and falls, so helmets with ASTM F1492 certification are designed with softer foam to handle those. They also have a thick outer shell to survive multiple impacts. Keep in mind that they cannot handle high impact hits (unless they are CPSC certified too).
Secondly, bike riders don’t tend to fall on their backs. Their impacts are mostly directed forwards and so the helmet majorly covers the top part of the head. Skateboarders tend to fall backwards a lot, so skateboard helmets must cover the back of the head.
Neither of them have full face coverage usually because those kind of helmets are heavier, warmer, and more uncomfortable. Those kinds are usually meant for mountain biking and aggressive BMX biking, since they tend to encounter a diverse range of impacts.
In short, you can now see that these safety standards stem from different safety needs, and one is not inclusive of the other. That is why we said earlier that using a bike and skateboard helmet interchangeably puts you at greater risks than just looking silly.
Vents are made for allowing air circulation and cooling. Bike helmets have more vents compared to skateboard ones which either have very few or none.
This will sound intuitive if you consider the purpose for which each is used. Bikers’ bodies tend to heat up more because of the more strenuous exercise and also the fact that people use bikes to travel long distances- tens of miles sometimes. They warm up more and so bike helmets always have multiple vents in them for cooling.
Having more holes and less material does not mean they are not safe; the vents are placed very strategically to ensure that the helmets still provide full coverage and brace for high impacts. It is harder to construct a helmet to be safe while still being lightweight and airy, and so bike helmets are more expensive too, despite using less material.
Skateboards are not commonly used for fast commuting, especially longer distances, so their helmets have fewer vents and a smooth shape which is easy to manufacture.
Although this should not be your primary concern when choosing between a bike and skateboard helmet, some bikers prefer the skating style because it looks cooler and more youthful. The reverse is also true for some people but that preference is less common.
So if you are seeking out a helmet for the looks and fancy a skateboard one for biking, then buy one which is dual certified.
We’ve talked about this in scattered bits above. A skateboard helmet is rounder and smoother, covering a greater part of your face including the back. Bike helmets are not as round or full-coverage, and have a lot of vents in contrast to a smooth, continuous surface.
Streamlining for aerodynamic considerations and lowering wind resistance is of more importance in bike helmet design because it is used for faster travel.
The foam material is probably the factor that makes the biggest difference because they are chosen to withstand different energy level impacts. Two popular types of material are Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS).
EPP is softer and designed to handle multiple small impacts after which it can restore its shape or “bounce back”. And hence it is commonly used in skateboard helmets.
EPS is harder foam which can cushion against high-energy impacts, but it is designed for a one-time big hit, after which it does not fully restore its shape. It is more commonly used in bike helmets, which consequently have to be replaced after a major blow.
A helmet can save your life
Okay, so all things considered, maybe we should also stress on wearing a helmet in the first place since some people even skip out on it altogether.
Your head is the part of your body that needs the most protection, and ignoring safety just because helmets are uncomfortable or don’t let you flaunt your hair about fully, is not the wisest decision. Safety comes first.
We recommend wearing full protective gear for whatever sport you choose. It takes getting used to, but it is worth it. Because if, God forbid, you were to meet a major accident, you’ll probably be thanking your helmet for saving your life.
Also, although we’ve said a lot about how bike helmets and skateboard helmets are not interchangeable unless they are dual certified, we do believe that some helmet is better than no helmet at all. So if you have only one at hand, go for it instead of going bare-headed. The best helmet, in any case, is one that is on your head!
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What are MIPS helmets?
MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) is the latest technology that is being used in helmets to reduce rotational forces in certain types of impacts that can lead to serious brain injuries.
Are more expensive bike helmets safer?
This is great news for you if you are on a budget, because, in terms of safety, a cheaper helmet will still fulfill all your requirements. This is because, for a helmet to even be marketed as a bike helmet, it must be CPSC certified. That is the law! So naturally all bike helmets being sold in the market, cheap or expensive, meet the necessary safety standards.
With the introduction of more sophisticated tech like MIPS, some expensive helmets might give you a slight edge if they have it, but, for the most part, you are only paying the extra price for greater comfort and better looks!
Do you really need a MIPS helmet?
CPSC certified helmets work perfectly well in terms of keeping your head intact during a crash. But, in some types of rarer accidents, which occur at oblique angles, MIPS can give you a higher level of safety due to how it reduces rotational forces. However, this is not a need or legal requirement. CPSC helmets work nearly as well for most part.