Everyone should wear a helmet, on every ride, no matter how easy the terrain or short the distance. In most states, helmets are mandatory for children of a certain age. But adults should also protect themselves.
The most important things to consider when purchasing a helmet are proper fit and size. Keep in mind that while more expensive helmets might have additional comfort, fit, and venting features, they don't necessarily provide better protection. By law, all helmets made after 1999 must meet the U.S. Consumer Product's Safety Commission (CPSC) benchmark safety standard. Look for additional certification by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Snell Foundation, widely regarded as the toughest in the industry.
Bike helmets come in four styles: sport, road, mountain bike, and full face. All four styles are designed to be lightweight, comfortable, and provide protection against impact. A sport helmet is a good choice for most casual and leisure riders. Those who will be mountain biking, road riding, or BMX and trick riding, will get the best protection by purchasing a helmet designed for that specific purpose. A fifth type of helmet--the multi-sport helmet --is designed for a multitude of sports, from skateboarding to skiing and riding, and not for one specific sport or type of impact.
• Multi-use helmets; good for everyday use in most situations
• Good value; affordably priced
• If certified for impact protection, provide standard protection
• Typically heavier than road cycling helmets
Road Cycling Helmets
• Designed to be as lightweight as possible for smooth riding and racing
• Typical construction consists of a plastic shell, foam padding, and a chin strap
• Often include larger vents to cut down on weight and circulate more air
• Typically have thinner chin straps for cooling purposes
Mountain Bike Helmets
• Offer maximum protection during off-road use
• May include features intended to customize and secure fit for rocky/bumpy riding
• May be similar or identical to road helmets with the addition of a visor
• Have thicker chinstraps designed to handle the bouncing and jarring of off-road riding
Full Face Helmets
• Larger and stronger than cycling helmets with superior protection
• Offer additional coverage around the back and sides of the head plus full face protection
• Intended for trick riding, BMX riding, or high-velocity mountain biking on rough, varied terrain with
increased possibility of crashing, falling, or collision
• Most are hard shell, full-coverage motorcycle-style helmets with chin bars and few if any vents
• Designed for use during many activities including biking, skating, skiing
• Typically consists of a hard shell and skate-style design
• May be heavier and bulkier than cycling-specific helmets
• May not be rated for cycling safety
• May offer less cycling-specific impact protection
Kids' bike helmets must conform to the same CPSC safety standards as adult bike helmets. Because of this standard, fit is the most important option to consider when choosing a kids' bike helmet. As long as you ensure the helmet fits properly, its fine to let a child pick the bike helmet he or she likes based on color or design (this will also ensure he or she will be willing to wear it). Bright colors are a good idea for easy identification in a crowd and proper venting is important for summer riding to avoid overheating. See the kids' bike helmet sizing chart and additional fit tips below.
All children need head protection while riding, but an infant or small toddler's neck may not be developed enough to support the heavy weight of a helmet. For this and other reasons, nobody in the injury prevention community recommends riding with, or bike-trailering, a child under one year of age. When your toddler is old enough, pay careful attention to fit as toddler heads vary in shape. The helmet should sit level on the child's head and fit securely with the strap fastened. See the kids' bike helmet sizing chart and additional fit tips below.
A bike helmet is only as good as its fit. Maximum protection demands a snug, well-aligned fit that is comfortable, yet secure. Helmets come in a variety of sizes and may vary slightly by manufacturer, but most are measured in inches and follow basic measurement guidelines. The only measurement you need to take is your head size or circumference.
Determine Your Head Size
Your head size is simply the circumference of your head in inches (or in some cases, centimeters). To find this measurement, simply wrap a measuring tape around your head starting about an inch above your eyebrows and encircling the widest part your head. Take several measurements for accuracy. To determine your head size in centimeters, simply multiply head size in inches x 2.54.
Find Your Size on Helmet Size Chart
Use your head size measurement as a guideline when choosing a bike helmet, which will come in either XS, S, M, L, or XL. Always check specific brand or manufacturer charts if available or refer to the charts below (keeping in mind that particular brand sizing may vary slightly).
Note:Some helmets, especially kids' helmets, will come with padded inserts to help adjust fit. It is not recommended, however, to buy a helmet your child will "grow into." Proper fit equals proper protection.
Now that we've figured out helmet type and size, here are a few tips to ensure the best fit and care of your helmet.
• To protect your forehead, your helmet should sit squarely on your head with the front of the helmet set low, about 1 to 2 finger widths above your brow.
• Don't tip your helmet back on your head--in this position it's likely to fall off during a collision and leave your forehead unprotected.
• Buckle the chin strap securely at the throat and pull on the strap until it is snug against your throat; there should be no slack when your chin strap is fastened.
• A loose helmet does not provide proper protection. Your helmet fits right when you feel uniform pressure around your head from the padding and the skin on your forehead moves if you tilt your helmet or try to turn it.
• The front and rear straps should form a "Y" just below and ahead of your ears.
• Replace your helmet if the straps become worn or frayed or the shell becomes cracked or comprised in any way. Manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every three years.
• Clean your helmet with water-based or soluble cleaners only; avoid solvents and wax.
• Do not store or leave your helmet in the back seat or trunk of a hot car; excess heat will damage your helmet.
• Store your helmet in a nylon gear bag or its original packaging to maximize longevity.