Most permanent and fatal injuries that befall cyclists are head injuries. But according to research by Robert S. Thompson, MD, director emeritus of the Department of Preventive Care at Group Health, wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percen
Approximately 900 cyclists die each year. For the majority of those riders the cause of death is a severe head injury. In 1999, nearly 70,000 cyclists suffered disabling injuries (including severe brain injury). According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet reduces the risk of serious head and brain injury by 85 percent.
Bike Helmet Selection
Always wear a helmet that has a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker. All helmets manufactured or imported for sale in the U.S. must have a label or sticker stating that they comply with a federal safety standard for bike helmets issued in March 1999.
There are a variety of helmet styles and prices. The most important consideration is to choose a helmet that fits your head fairly well even before you make adjustments.
- If you're selecting a helmet for a child, it's also important to select a helmet that fits well before adjustments are made. Don't buy a helmet for a child to grow into.
- Ideally, select a brightly colored helmet that will make you more visible as you ride.
- More expensive helmets usually have more vents to provide better ventilation, and offer more adjustments for a better fit.
- Some helmets are designed for mountain biking. These usually come with a detachable visor, but bike commuters or tourists often prefer riding with a visor to improve sun protection. Again, the style or type is a matter of preference because all helmets generally offer the same level of injury protection.
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Checking the Fit
A properly fit helmet should sit evenly on the head, cover the forehead, and rest just above the eyebrows. See the helmet fit illustration on the CPSC's Web site.
The helmet should fit securely. One way to test the fit is to hold the helmet in place and try to turn your head from side to side. Next, try to tip your head up and down. You should have very little movement (less than an inch).
If you have movement that exposes your forehead or covers your eyes, you need to tighten the straps and possibly add padding to the helmet. Excessive movement may mean the helmet is too big and could slip, failing to protect you in a crash. Loose helmets can also move out of place when you ride over uneven terrain, impairing your vision enough to cause an accident.
One final tip is to try on helmets with the sunglasses you wear when cycling. This will ensure that the ear piece and frame top fit well with your helmet choice.
After selecting a helmet, you can make a variety of small adjustments with the extra foam pads that come with every helmet.
Adjusting the chin strap completes the fit and keeps the helmet from slipping forward or back. With the chin strap secure, the front and back straps should sit just under the ears. If it's going to protect you in a crash, the helmet should not come off — no matter how hard you try.
Simple Test for Chin Strap
If you ride often, check your helmet's chin strap adjustment occasionally because it can loosen over time and then fail to protect you in a crash.
To check the chin strap, open your mouth by lowering your jaw as much as possible without moving your head. The chin strap should tighten and the top of your helmet should pull down slightly.
Discard 'Crashed' Helmets
A helmet that has been involved in a crash should be replaced. Any impact will crush the foam liner, although the damage may not be visible. Once crushed, this foam does not expand again and the helmet will no longer protect you.
Remember that simply wearing a helmet is not enough to protect you from injury. The helmet must fit properly. Take the time to ensure a proper fit!