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Keep your Head

Safety Corner logo


by Bob Zogg


As an alert WheelPeople reader, you may already know that the CRW has a new policy that mandates wearing helmets on CRW rides:

"All participants in a CRW-sponsored ride are required to wear properly attached ANSI-, SNELL-, or CPSC-approved bicycling helmets. The CRW will enforce this policy by requiring that members agree to wear helmets as a condition of membership and non-member participants agree to wear helmets as part of the non-member liability waiver."

But, what does this mean at a practical level? How do you choose the right helmet? How do you take care of it? When do you need a new one? Read on for answers.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute lists 161 different brands of bicycle helmets sold in the U.S, and most of these brands have a long list of models to select from. How does one choose? Here's how.

Proper fitFit: Above all else, make sure the helmet fits well, meaning it sits level on your head, touches all around, and is comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try. Be sure the helmet will adjust to accommodate whatever you might wear under it (sweat band, skull cap, warm hat for cold weather). If you need thick pads to get the right fit, try a smaller size.

Shape: A helmet should slide upon impact with the pavement, not catch on the pavement. Select a smooth, rounded helmet, free of anything sticking out. For this reason, avoid "aero" helmets.

Road vs. Mountain Helmets: Either can be used on the road—fit and shape are key. If selecting a mountain helmet for road use, ensure that the front of the helmet does not interfere with visibility when in the riding position.

Comfort: Look for good ventilation unless the helmet is specifically for cold-weather riding. Large vents in the front are especially helpful. Don't go crazy, though. Bigger vents mean less foam, which can concentrate the force of impact.

Color: White or bright colors are best for visibility.

Visors: Avoid visors unless you need one—which you may if you ride a recumbent or a mountain bike. It's possible (although uncommon) for a visor to break on impact and cut one's face. Ensure that the visor is flexible and will snap off easily in a crash.

Adjustments: Look for an easy-to-adjust rear stabilizer, especially if you sometimes wear a sweat band, cap, or hat.
Extended Coverage: Consider an extended-coverage model. Several manufacturers now offer models that provide extended coverage in the rear, rather than the semi-circle coverage of conventional road helmets.

Standards: As of March 10, 1999, all bicycle helmets sold in the U.S. must meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Part 1203). You should find a CPSC sticker inside the helmet.

• Some models are pony-tail compatible
• For large heads, see:
• For small, round, or narrow heads, see:
• For thinning hair, use a skull cap or sunscreen to avoid sunburn through the vent holes.

Position: Your helmet should be level on your head, just above your eyebrows. Wearing a helmet tilted back is probably the most common adjustment error that cyclists make.

Pads: If your helmet comes with pads of various thicknesses, use the thinnest pads on top that give you a comfortable fit. This lowers the helmet on your head to maximize coverage. If you have a narrow head, use thicker side pads. If you have a wide head, use a thicker front pad. The pads should touch your head evenly all the way around.

Wrong way to wear helmetRight way to wear helmetStraps: Adjust the side pieces so that, when the straps are pulled snug, they come together just under your earlobe.

Buckle: Adjust the buckle so that strap is snug under your chin. The chin strap will generally feel looser in the riding position than when standing upright—adjust it for the riding position. You should be able to feel the helmet pull down on your head when you open your mouth wide.

Rear Stabilizer: If your helmet has a rear stabilizer, adjust it to make the helmet fit snugly.

Strap trimmingTrimming the Straps: Once your helmet is correctly fit (and once you're sure you won't need to return it), trim the excess lengths of strap. After trimming, singe the cut edges so they don't fray by quickly passing the cut edges over a candle flame.

Before Every Ride: Before every ride, check the adjustment of your chin strap and rear stabilizer (if present). If your helmet came with a little rubber donut, position it against the buckle to reduce the tendency for the buckle to slip. A rubber band can serve the same purpose. If your helmet does not have locking side pieces (where the front and rear straps come together under your ear), check this adjustment as well. A rubber band can help here, too.

Store your helmet in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. Do not store your helmet in your car unless this is the only way you can remember to bring it to a ride. Periodically wash your helmet using a mild dishwashing detergent. Straps and pads may require soaking.

Most manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet after five years. Some think that a well treated helmet can last longer. If you store your helmet in your car, plan on replacing it much more frequently. If you crash, replace your helmet immediately. The damage may not be visible. Many manufacturers will replace helmets free of charge after a crash, in exchange for your old helmet.

For More Information
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute provides a wealth of helmet information (and is the main source used for this article):
To see how helmets are tested, go to:
For an interesting discussion of helmet history, legal issues, and opinions, visit:

Illustrations courtesy of CPSC

There's no "if" about it—you can keep your head. Wear a well adjusted helmet every time you ride.

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