Body protection for cycling

Cycle helment

The amount of body protection you wear when you’re cycling depends mainly on the type of riding you do and your level of risk avoidance. All forms of cycling are potentially hazardous, but there is a big difference between a gentle trip out with the family on flat forest trails, road cycling and hard-core mountain biking. You need to take the level of precaution you feel comfortable with.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal to go cycling without a helmet, but it is strongly advised because, whatever the cause, head injuries are often serious. It may not be your fault and you may be very careful, but if you’re involved in an accident there could be serious consequences, so it’s wise to take measures to protect yourself.

Cycling helmets

A decent well-fitting bike helmet is the most basic protection for cycling. Although some people ride without one, most use some form of helmet especially when riding on the roads.

The most important aspects of choosing a helmet are:

  • Industry standards of design and build; this is British Standard BS EN 1078:1997 which is the same as the EU safety standard.
  • Correct size – a helmet that is too big or too small will reduce the level of protection.
  • Adjusted properly to fit your head – all helmets should come with straps and padding that can be used to improve safety and comfort.
  • Good advice on the type, size and fit of your bike helmet, preferably from a specialist bike dealer who can measure your head to help you choose the right helmet.
  • Replace your helmet every few years because they lost their impact absorbing qualities over time.

Helmet features

Helmets could in a variety of designs, but some of the latest design features include: 

  • air vents to keep your head cool
  • aerodynamic styling
  • comfort fitting systems
  • head fitting services and accurate to real head shape designs
  • fashion colours and designs
  • chin straps 

There is fierce debate about whether cycling helmets should be legally required and no clear scientific or community consensus about whether they reduce the level of accident and injury. Cycle helmets are tested to withstand an impact equivalent to an average weight rider traveling at a speed of 12 mph falling onto a stationary kerb shaped object from a height of 1 metre. They aren’t designed to make you indestructible and so you need to be aware of the road and terrain risks, improve your bike skills and be aware of the dangers of falling off.

Bells and whistles

Not exactly body protection but a bell can alert others that you’re coming and therefore save you from falling off your bike if you have to take aversive action. All newly purchased bikes must have a bell. A whistle is optional, but handy if you get into trouble. Bells are actually very useful if you’re riding around tracks where there may be walkers or runners around, or to warn of your presence if you’re going through pedestrian areas.

Body armour

There’s a huge range of body protection for your knees, elbows, wrists, shins and even full body armour, some of it kevlar plated. If you want to push the limits a bit then it makes sense to protect the most vulnerable areas of your body that can get injured if you smash into things or fall off your bike. Most body armour is a mixture of fabrics, neoprene and strengthened areas.

Full body suits may make you look a bit like Darth Vadar, but if you intend to do high speed aggressive downhill mountain biking you’ll need all the protection you can get. For most cyclists you’ll just a decent helmet and some elbow and knee pads to get by.

Other popular protection gear includes: gloves, hats, waterproof jackets and trousers, biking shoes and sunglasses.

Après cycle ride there’s a range of products on the market including muscle rubs, balms, creams, and anti-chafe concoctions to get you back in the saddle.

Further information

James Cracknells video:

Save a Cyclist blog article:

Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute -

Bicycle Helmets Research Foundation -

Why Cycle - - balanced view


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