A bicycle helmet is designed to attenuate impacts to the head of a cyclist in falls while minimizing side effects such as interference with peripheral vision. There is ongoing scientific research into the degree of protection offered by bicycle helmets in the event of an accident, and the effects of helmet wearing on cyclist and motor vehicle driver behaviour.
There is active debate over what can be concluded from available studies, and on whether the use of helmets by cyclists should be promoted or mandated, either just for children, or for cyclists of all ages. In particular the debate over bicycle helmet laws has been intense and occasionally bitter, often based not only on differing interpretations of the scientific and other academic literature, but also on differing assumptions and interests of various parties.
A cycle helmet should generally be light in weight and provide ample ventilation because cycling can be an intense aerobic activity which significantly raises body temperature, and the head in particular needs to be able to regulate its temperature. The dominant form of the helmet up to the 1970s was the leather “hairnet” style. This offered acceptable protection from scrapes and cuts, but only minimal impact protection, and was mainly used by racing cyclists.
Since more advanced helmets began being used in the Tour de France, carbon fiber inserts are often used to increase strength and protection of the helmet. The Giro Atmos and Ionos, as well as the Bell Alchera, were among the first to use carbon fiber.
Some modern road and track racing bicycle helmets have a long tapering back end for streamlining. This type of helmet is mainly dedicated to time trial racing as they lack significant ventilation, making them uncomfortable for long races.