Size it Right, Fit it Tight
Wearing a bicycle helmet is mandatory in many jurisdictions, but picking which one is right for you can be intimidating. Nowadays there are many different styles and shades of helmet to choose from. Thinning the herd can be daunting at first, but a few basic pointers will help get you outfitted with head protection that suits your sense of personal style, as well as satisfying your helmet’s modus operandi.
When you’re trying out a helmet, set it level (not forward or back) and medium-low on your forehead, about a finger-width or two above your eyebrows. You shouldn’t be able to see your entire forehead – just an inch or thereabouts. Make sure the helmet fits snugly (and, of course, that it’s not on backward). It shouldn’t flop around or move from side to side – though you also shouldn’t give yourself a headache from the squeeze. New helmets usually include different thicknesses of padding that you attach inside. Experimenting with these can help you achieve the best fit. Also, note that when you’re considering sizes, those sizes will often vary between manufacturers: One company’s “medium” may be another’s “large,” or still another’s “small.”
Once you’ve found a candidate that fits, get the straps situated. Position the helmet fairly low on your forehead, as described above. The V-shaped straps at the sides should be adjusted to come to a point just below and slightly in front of each ear. Center the chinstrap beneath your chin and buckle it snugly enough that you can’t fit more than a finger or two between the strap and your skin. Open your mouth wide, as if you’re yawning. If the helmet doesn’t move down on your head, tighten the chinstrap further. Be careful, though: it can be easy to pinch your skin when you snap up.
Before you take it home, check to make sure your headgear is certified by the US’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). If you already have an older helmet that fits well, look for a voluntary certification standard, such as ANSI, Snell and ASTM.
If your current helmet doesn’t fit, is cracked or has been involved in a crash already, retire it and get a new one. Some safety organizations also recommend replacing your helmet every five years.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a great illustrated step-by-step guide to correctly fitting a bike helmet.
Keep it Straight
Ensuring that our helmets fit correctly is probably the biggest favor we riders can do for ourselves. In the 1990s, several Washington State hospitals and trauma centers participated in a 30-month, 3,390-person cycling injury study. The researchers concluded that, while a poorly fitted helmet afforded a cyclist better protection than no helmet at all, it also roughly doubled the risk of head injury when compared to a properly fitted one.
An oversized or badly positioned helmet can tilt too far back on your head or, worse, come off completely.