Bicyclists Who Wear Their Helmets Correctly

by Susie Jones

You're getting ready to go out for your daily/weekly bike ride and you put your helmet on as you do before any ride. You know the reasons why helmet use is important:

  • Of all cyclists killed (about 800 per year), approximately 75% die of traumatic brain injuries. Up to 85% of these fatalities could have been avoided through the use of a helmet.
  • Most bicycle crashes involve falls and impacts with the roadway, not motor vehicles, so wearing a helmet is important for every ride, even when just riding on a path or near home.
  • A bright helmet can increase your visibility to motorists.
  • Bicyclists wearing helmets are often given more respect from motorists than those without.
But is your helmet really protecting you? Only if you're wearing it correctly. From informal observations done at large invitational rides, races, and along paths and trails, as many as 60% of all riders wear their helmets incorrectly. These individuals may say, "Well, at least I'm wearing one,"or "Hey, it's better than nothing," but that's not necessarily the case.

A bicycle helmet, like any piece of protective equipment, is designed to be worn a certain way. When it's not, the manufacturer can't guarantee that it will do what it's supposed to do: protect you.

So what is the correct way to wear a helmet? Level on the head (not tilted up, back, or sideways), with the side and chin straps properly adjusted and fastened securely. Follow the instructions below to make sure you are wearing the right size helmet and that you are wearing it correctly. *If you already own a helmet and it won't adjust right after following these steps, you probably need to try another size or brand.

  1. Start out with the smallest size helmet that fits your head. With the foam padding removed, try on different sizes and brands of helmets until you find one that fits the shape and size of your head. It should cover the majority of your forehead, with only an inch or so of skin exposed above your eyebrows. Even without the straps fastened or the pads in place, there should be little movement when you move your head from side to side.
  2. Now put in the foam pads that come with the helmet, allowing you to get a "custom fit." Try out thin or thick ones where you need them for fit and comfort.
  3. There are really five straps that need to be adjusted for a proper fit. The ear straps are first, with each section of the strap (front and back), and each side (left and right) done separately. When adjusted correctly, each ear strap should meet at a point at your ear lobe, with no loose play in the straps. Make sure you base your adjustment decisions on the helmet being worn correctly, level on your head! Only after these straps are adjusted should you try adjusting the chin strap (which unfortunately is all most people do when fitting a helmet). The chin strap should be snug, with room for only one or two fingers between the strap and your chin.
  4. Check your adjustments by rocking your head from side to side and back and forth. Also take the palm of your hand and try to push the helmet up on your forehead. There should be little movement in any of these actions. For added confidence, try standing in front of a mirror while making and checking these adjustments.

Following these steps will ensure that your helmet is protecting your head as it was designed to do. As long as the helmet meets certain standards (Snell, ANSI, and/or ASTM) and you wear it every time you ride, you've taken great strides in safeguarding that brain of yours.

Remember: Bicycle helmets are for injury prevention, not accident prevention. Following the basic principles of Effective Cycling is still the best way to ensure a safe ride:

  • Ride on the right side of the roadway, never on the left and never on the sidewalk.
  • When you reach a more important or larger road than the one you are on, yield to crossing traffic.
  • When you intend to change lanes or move laterally on the roadway, yield to traffic in the new lane or line of travel.
  • When approaching an intersection, position yourself with respect to your destination direction.
  • Between intersections, position yourself according to your speed relative to other traffic-slower traffic nearer the curb; faster traffic nearer the centerline.

Reprinted from the November-December 1994 issue of "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American Bicyclists.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit their web site, www.bikeleague.org, or e-mail them at bikeleague@aol.com.

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