Every year, more than 6,000 cyclists in the U.S. sustain head injuries requiring emergency care, and head trauma accounts for 75 percent of cycling fatalities. That’s why bike helmets are essential. Used properly, they can prevent 90 percent of brain injuries. Twenty-two states and more than 200 localities require helmets for children ages 18 and younger; some laws mandate them for riders of all ages.
Here are some general tips on how to properly select and wear a helmet (booklets that come with helmets provide more specific instructions for those models).
- Look for a label certifying that the helmet meets the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If it doesn’t have the label, don’t buy it. Some helmets may also meet standards from the Snell Foundation, American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
- Choose a high-visibility color. You can also put reflective strips on the helmet. Rounded helmets with smooth shells may protect better than ridged ones (though they have little or no venting), according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.
- Get the right fit. Your helmet should be comfortable and sit mid-forehead (not tilted back), coming within a finger’s width or two of your eyebrows. If you’re not sure about the size or fit, ask for help from an experienced salesperson.
- For about $20 more, some helmets come with MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system), an extra layer of non-friction material to allow the helmet to slide a little more upon impact, intended to reduce the risk of injury. MIPS “may be worth the extra cost,” according to 2016 testing by Consumer Reports, though its analysis looked only at how much the helmets reduced rotational force and did not assess actual injury risk. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute considers MIPS “unproven technology.”
- Adjust the straps so the helmet fits snugly. The strap adjustors should sit right below the earlobes. Tighten the strap so that you can’t fit more than two fingers under it.
- The helmet shouldn’t move if you try to rotate it or shake your head. If you can rotate the helmet forward, tighten the back (nape) straps on each side. If you can rotate it backward, tighten the front (temple) straps.
- Check the fit each time you put on the helmet.
- Don’t wear headphones, hair bands, or barrettes under the helmet, since these can cause injury if you are in an accident. If you wear a cap on cold days, make sure the helmet fits tightly on top of it.
- Don’t modify your helmet in any way, such as with a light or camera. If you want a sun visor, look for a helmet that comes with one; these are removable and should detach easily upon impact. Problems have been reported about detachable visors, however, including shattering and causing cuts upon impact, or snagging on objects.
- Don’t leave your helmet in the heat for prolonged periods. Heat can damage it.
- Replace your helmet if it has been involved in an accident—even if it doesn’t look damaged. Since materials deteriorate over time, the Snell Foundation and most manufacturers recommend replacing helmets every five years.
Also see 12 Tips for Better Cycling.