Skip to main content

Six Easy Steps

Proper fit for Bike Helmets:  Lesson 101

From the Staff at South Shore Cyclery

Hurrah!  The warm weather is finally here and many of us are dusting off our bikes, ready to explore the many trails and parks in Southeastern Wisconsin.  As we clean-up and tune-up our cycles, care and preparation is also needed for proper safety equipment.  The most important safety gear required for all riders is the well fitting helmet.

As any cyclist knows, whether they are a novice or a Lance Armstrong wannabe, we all fall down at some point.  The difference between a well fit helmet and an improper one could be minor (not to mention embarrassment!) vs. brain damage or even fatality.  According to Elizabeth Quinn, writer for the Medical Review Board, over 900 bicycle deaths occur each year.  Most of these deaths are due to head injury.  The correct fit of a helmet can reduce the risk of head trauma by 88%.


Step One:  Selecting the Right Helmet

Helmets should be comfortable - like Goldilocks, not too small, not too big.  An attractive design and comfortable fit ensure that you will want to wear it.  Bright colored helmets are great for added visibility.

Additional built-in vents help to cool you down.  Detachable visors work well for some cyclists and helps keep sun glare to a minimum.  It really depends on what you feel comfortable with.  Buy a new helmet that is safety tested and certified by the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC).  Look for their seal.

Step Two:  Size Matters

Any helmet you select should fit your head or your child's head TODAY.  Helmets are not something for your child to "grow into". 

Measure your head for approximate fit.  When you try the helmet on, it should sit flat and even on your head and not rock from side to side.  All new helmets come with padding kits.  You can adjust the fit by changing the expanded polystyrene liner.  Use a thinner version of the liner for snug fits or purchase a larger helmet.  If the side fit is slightly loose, you can add thicker padding to yield a more secure fit.

Step Three:  Positioning the Helmet

The helmet should sit even on your head and low on your forehead.  A quick measuring test is the two finger test - the distance between the helmets bottom edge and your eyebrow should be no more than 2 finger widths.

Step Four:  Adjusting the straps

Center the left buckle under your chin.  Generally, you can lengthen or shorten the strap by pulling on the strap at the back of the helmet.  In my experience, it is easier to make these adjustments with the helmet off.....

The side straps should form a"V "under and slightly in front of your ears.   Lock the sliders if possible and buckle the chin strap.  The fit should be snug.  Once again, the two finger rule applies:  no more than one or two fingers should fit between your chin and the strap.

Step Five:  Test the fit of the Helmet

Open your mouth wide with out moving your head - imagine that you are ready to yell at a driver who is chatting on their cell phone in traffic or yawning - your helmet should pull slightly down on your head.  Next, tip your head up and down and then side to side.  A proper fit will allow only slight motion - again, no more than two fingers of movement.   Adjust your straps and padding to correct.

Your helmet should stay on until YOU voluntarily take it off.

Step Six:  Get out there and RIDE!!

Off you go, safe and ready to cycle.  Periodically check the fit of your helmet.  Straps can loosen over time.  Any helmet that has been in a crash must be disposed and replaced.  The lining will be flattened and will not expand and not protect you.   Every time you bike, wear your helmet.  Not only will you cut down on your risk of serious injury, you may inspire others ride smart and safe.

For more information on bike safety tips, you can visit National Highway Traffic Safety Administration