Healthspan Blog

Long healthspans mean happy lives

How to find the best bike helmet

6th July 2006

Cycling is one of the most popular summer activities – 57 million Americans ride bikes, in fact.  When I go for a ride, I’m usually packing on my toddler on the back in a seat and often have another son or two in tow.  Besides being popular, it’s also one of the most dangerous activities so I worry about our safety on the trails and roads.  Particularly, how should we properly protect our heads?

I journeyed to my local bike shop, tugging my children behind me, to find out exactly what I need to look for in a helmet.  Not all helmets are created equal, I found.  Joe, my bike expert, pointed out that a good helmet should:

· Be approved by the Snell Foundation*, ASTM* or CSPC* and have a sticker or imprint claiming so.
· Fit snugly.  If it shakes or can be moved from side to side, it’s too large. 
· Be comfortable.  If it feels like it’s squeezing my head, it’s too small. 
· Have a chin strap and buckle.  The Y of the strap should lie just under my earlobe and the strap should be adjustable.  The strap should be snug enough to pull down on the helmet when I open my mouth.
· Allow me to barely see the front rim when I look up.
· Have a hard plastic shell on the outside. 
· Contain a foam shock absorbent liner on the inside at least ½ inch thick. 
· Be stylish, so I’ll wear it.
· Not be made prior to 1975, that was before current standards applied.

“Alright, Joe, is there anything else I should know about brain buckets?”

Braids and beads in my hair are a bad idea. 
So are baseball caps with steel rivets on the top. 
Wear my helmet always, even short rides. 
All kids should wear helmets, even my tag-along tot. 
And if I get in a crash with my helmet, I need to replace it. 

The kids and I picked up some new helmets and had a few great lessons on bike maintenance.  On the way out of the bike shop, I saw a poster proclaiming “75 % of fatalities related to cycling could be avoided if all kids wore helmets.”  Another statistic I found claims that over 600,000 people are treated annually for bicycling injuries. 

What a wonderful afternoon spent with Joe at the bike shop.  I feel much more carefree about going for a ride with the kids later, knowing that our heads will be safe. 

Written by Mary Smith

*The Snell Foundation, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission (CSPC) are responsible for testing and certifying product safety, including bike helmets.

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