In a March 2005 nationwide survey by Greenfield Online 60% of adults admitted that they don’t know how to determine the proper fit of a bicycle helmet. Here a few tips to help keep you and your family out of that majority.
1. Be Label-Conscious – Make sure the helmet you intend to purchase is approved by one of the following organizations: the American Society of Testing and Material (ASTM), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Snell Memorial Foundation (SNELL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). There are minor differences in the standards utilized by each group, but any helmet with an approval symbol from one ore more of these organizations is considered safe. No matter how cool it looks or how comfortable it feels, if the packaging doesn’t have an approval symbol, keep looking until you find one that does.
2. Don’t Just Eyeball It – Don’t buy a helmet by age, always by size. Many children have large heads and wear Youth or Adult helmets. My 4 year old is one of these; her newest bike helmet is a Youth helmet (intended for children approximately 8-12 years old according to the packaging). Many adults have smaller heads and require a Youth or Child helmet.
3. Measure for Success – Helmets are packaged by both age and size. Measure the head of the helmet wearer before shopping, even if they are coming with you. Pre-measuring will help you eliminate a lot of guesswork in the helmet aisle. Measure the head with a flexible tape measure. Measure circumference at the widest point of the head, making sure the tape runs low over the forehead and above the ears. Write down the measurement in inches and in centimeters since helmet sizes are listed in either but rarely in both.
4. Level-Headed – A correctly fitted helmet will sit low on the forehead, just above the eyebrows or just above the frame for glasses wearers, and level on the head. A helmet that is tilted back exposes the forehead and one tilted too far forward exposes the back of the head to risk. Even without the chin strap fastened the helmet should fit well enough that it does not slide when the head is moved. Most helmets come with two sets of inner pads, a thinner set that some installed in the helmet and an alternate set of thicker pads. If the helmet package indicates it is the correct size, based on head circumference, you made need to use the thicker pads. If all four thicker pads (front back and one or both sides) are used and the helmet is still loose you may need to exchange it for the next smaller size.
5. Strap In – You’re going to have to devote some time to adjusting the straps. This is, on average, a ten to fifteen minute process, so don’t expect to fit and run. When adjusted properly the helmet should pass the Eye-Ear-Mouth checklist recommended by Bell Helmets. This means when the straps are all fastened the wearer should be able to just see the front edge of the helmet with his EYEs, the y-strap on the sides should meet just below the EARs, and the chin strap should be snug enough against the chin that when the MOUTH is open the helmet pulls down slightly.
If you’re not sure if your or your child’s helmet is properly fitted, head over to a local bike shop and ask for professional guidance. If your area law enforcement has a bicycle division they are usually happy to help, too.