Protect Your Brain, Wear a Helmet!
Other than your bike, your helmet is your most important piece of cycling gear. When I started bike riding I doubted this fact, myself. Then I saw someone fall. Their helmet cracked and split apart, but they walked away unhurt. This bike helmet buying guide just might save your life.
Bike Helmet Construction
Modern cycling helmets are made using in-mold construction. This process fuses an inner layer of polystyrene foam with an outer hard plastic shell. This process uses no glue, but does have great strength combined with lightness. A light yet strong helmet means that it is comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
- The shell is hard plastic. It holds the helmet together in a crash. It also protects from puncture injuries.
- The smooth plastic shell will slide along the ground, preventing worse injury.
- The liner is soft yet firm. It absorbs the force of the impact, protecting your skull and brain.
- Most helmets allow the placement of foam pads to customize the fit.
- MIPS, or multi-directional impact protection system, is a system that provides more protection from rotation during a crash.
- MIPS-equipped helmets have a low-friction layer between your skull and the foam layer.
Modern Options for Modern Riders
Modern helmets offer ventilation on most styles to keep your head cool. Some offer a hair port, for those of us with long hair. Most road and mountain style helmets have a sun visor at the front. Certain styles for BMX stunts and extreme mountain biking feature full face protection. Take all of these facts into consideration when you consider how to choose a bike helmet.
Good helmets use very exacting standards for materials and construction. Look for labels that name international or national safety standard guidelines. Be wary of any helmet that doesn’t offer at least one certification from a safety guideline group.
Basic Styles of Helmets
There is a helmet out there for every style of cyclist. As you will see, this is important. Cycling means different things to different people. Be sure to get the right kind of helmet for your style of riding.
Road helmets are light and very aerodynamic. Road helmets are heavily vented without compromising protection. They are quite close-fitting. They are designed to maximize movement with minimal weight.
Time trial helmets are long-bodied, aerodynamic and have no venting. They may be heavier than other styles due to their long plastic casing. They are designed to shave seconds off timed rides on tracks. They are not very practical for riding off the track.
Mountain biking helmets are sturdy, and offer more protection than other styles. They have thick, wide foam pads and extended coverage at the rear for extra protection. Features such as sun visors and wrap around face protection are common. They are fully vented to help keep you comfortable in the sun.
BMX helmets come in two styles. There are skate-style helmets which look pretty much like a skateboarding helmet. The full face helmet style adds chin protection which is useful during stunts. These helmets have minimal venting because BMX riders generally don’t leave them on for long periods of time like other cyclists.
Recreational helmets are what most of us will want. These helmets are often both more economical and more fashionable than specialized styles for specific sports. They offer comfort and complete protection for commuters and recreational riders like most of us.
Find the Right Size Bike Helmet
The best helmet in the world is useless if it doesn’t fit correctly. You’ll need to measure your head to find your fit. Wrap a flexible tape measure or string around the largest part of your head. The widest part is about an inch over your eyebrows. Take that measurement with you while helmet shopping.
- One size fits all men’s helmets will fit heads that measure 21.25 to 24 inches.
- One size fits all women’s helmets fit 19.75 to 22.5 inches.
- One size fits all kids helmets fit 18 to 22.5 inches.
- Some companies also make a range of sizes for better fitting helmets.
Get the Perfect Fit for Your New Helmet
Your helmet should fit snugly but not be annoying. Adjust the padding inserts until the helmet sits level on your head. It should not tilt backwards. The front edge should sit about an inch above your eyebrows.
If you can wiggle the helmet more than an inch in any direction, then you must adjust the straps. First, pull out the sizing wheel at the rear of the helmet. Then place the helmet on your head correctly and tighten the sizing wheel.
Now you must adjust and snap the ear and chin straps. They should make a comfortable “V” shape around each ear. Adjust the ear straps until they are comfortable.
Snap the chin strap. Adjust it till it is snug, then open your mouth wide. The helmet should push into the top of your skull. You should feel it, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Adjust the straps until it fits correctly.
Congratulations, your helmet will now protect you if you crash. Younger children should be helped with their helmet fit.
I’m between sizes. If you are between sizes like I am, then you can do what I do. I wear a cycling cap underneath my helmet for my perfect and safe fit.
Adults with smaller heads can wear child-sized helmets. Anyone can wear either gender’s helmets. The only difference between children’s styles or men’s and women’s helmets is the color scheme. Wear the helmet that suits you best.
In most of the United States and other countries a helmet is required by law. Some places require adults, teenagers and children to wear a helmet anytime they ride their bikes. Other places only need adults or teenagers to wear helmets while riding in the street or participating in events. Still others only require helmets for children. Always know your local laws.
Bike Helmet Care and Cleaning
Helmets are pretty easy to care for. If you sweat a lot, you will want to wash your helmet more often. Keeping your helmet clean makes it more enjoyable to wear. A cleaner helmet also prevents breakouts where the helmet touches your skin.
Only use a soft cloth, never a stiff brush. Use a gentle soap, never anything harsh like bleach. I like to use baby shampoo on the inside of my helmet. I use dish soap if the helmet has gotten muddy.
You can remove any removable pads, then wipe out the interior and vents. Slosh water into any vent you can’t get a finger in. Finish with a quick cool rinse. Stuff it with a dry towel to absorb any water.
Wipe down the exterior with a soapy soft cloth. Drape a wet cloth over any dead bugs or muck to soften it up before removal. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth.
Place the helmet somewhere cool, breezy and out of the sun to dry. Some people like to use a little plastic safe wax to enhance the gleam of their helmet.
A Few Quick Tips
- Never loan out your helmet. Your buddy could crash and not tell you.
- Never leave your helmet in the hot sun, in a closed car or in a hot garage. Too much heat causes bubbles to form between the foam padding and other helmet parts. A helmet with bubbling will not protect you.
- Never use a helmet that isn’t yours. You don’t know where it’s been or how they treated it.
When to Get a New Helmet
Just like children’s booster seats, your bike helmet has a safety life span. Newer helmets are safe for around five years of regular use. After five years the cumulative damage from the sun’s UV rays, air pollution and general weathering makes it much more likely to fail during a crash.
You will have to replace your helmet after a crash, too. While the helmet may look fine, each hard impact has an effect on the components of the helmet. They are only engineered to safely absorb the impact forces from one hard crash.
You will also need a new helmet if it is damaged from high heat or harsh solvents. The integrity of the foam is what provides safety. Chemicals and heat degrade the foam very quickly.
When it is time for a new helmet you should give it some thought. Thinking about how to choose a bike helmet now you know a bit more about them is a good idea. It might help you pick out one that is a better fit for your lifestyle.
It might take some time to get used to riding with a helmet. I know it took me a little while to get comfortable with wearing a helmet during my daily rides. Once you are comfortable with your new helmet, then you will wonder just how you rode without it. That feeling of being protected while you ride is great.