BicycleSource Newsletter

Does my child really need one?

Yes!!! About 900 bicycle riders are killed in the U.S. every year, usually in collisions with cars, and 75% of them die of head injuries. Many thousands more suffer less severe but still debilitating injuries which are far worse than simple road rash and broken bones. Concussions, of course, are both very common and often serious or deadly. Your child can suffer permanent personality changes and learning disabilities from a brain injury, and will be aware of what they have lost. Common long-term effects include concentration difficulties, aggressiveness, headaches and balance problems. Imagine your anguish if this happens and you blame it on your own failure to buy a helmet!
Will I have to buy one every year?

No. Many child's helmets come with two or even three sets of fitting foam pads. Use the thinner pads as your child's head grows. The fitting pads do not affect the safety of the helmet, which is provided by the hard expanded polystyrene foam (picnic cooler foam).

Will my child actually use it?

Yes, if other children use them, their parents wear one, the teacher at school has mentioned how much good helmets do, the child has reached the decision that a helmet is good to wear, and the child has picked out the helmet they really want. No, if the helmet makes your child feel like a geek, nobody else uses one and the helmet does not fit well. Perhaps yes if the parents have the will to enforce the requirement. Most situations fall somewhere in between, and you know your child and yourself best. Seventh grade seems to be the most resisting age for helmets, when the feeling of invincibility is strong and the rage for pre-teen fashion is undeniable. Make use of the knowledge that fashion always sells more helmets than safety. Some extra money spent on the snazzy helmet your child really wants may be very well spent.

Which one should I buy?

See the Consumer Reports article on helmets in June of 1997, and our comments above. Generally you can choose on the basis of the standard the helmet meets, how well it fits your child and whether or not your child accepts it as wearing apparel.

What should I look for?

Fit is the most important thing for any bicycle helmet. Look for one that fits your child. If you want to check the standards sticker, look for CPSC first, then ASTM or Snell. After checking for the sticker, make sure the helmet has adequate vents for your child's riding habits, and that your child approves of its appearance. Then go back to fit.

Sizing will change less as the child grows than it does for other apparel, since heads are over-sized in early years and grow less to reach adult size. Fit is so important for safety that you cannot get away with an over-sized helmet and let the child "grow into" it. But the helmet should have adjustable pads to accommodate some growth. Put the helmet level on the child's head, never in a cute cocked-back position. Adjust the straps until they are comfortably snug, then have the child try to tear the helmet off forward, backward and sideways. A good fit should remain level on the head and not tilt more than an inch or two in any direction, ensuring that the helmet will be in place when the crash occurs. Patient fiddling with pads and straps is often necessary to produce a comfortable but secure fit. This can take 15 to 20 minutes, so be prepared. It is time well spent.

Does My Toddler Need a Helmet?

A child of any age needs head protection when riding. A small toddler's neck muscles may not yet support the weight of a helmet. If in doubt, take child and helmet to a pediatrician for advice. A child's helmet needs ventilation, since the foam holds heat in. Children's heads vary widely in shape and size, so pay careful attention to fit. The helmet should always sit level and fit securely when the strap is fastened.

When Must I Replace a Helmet?

Replace any helmet if you crash. Impact crushes and cracks some of the foam. The helmet is less protective but the damage may not be visible. Helmets soften impact, so the rider may not even know their head hit unless they examine the helmet for marks or dents. Replace the buckle if it cracks or a piece breaks off. Most manufacturers recommend helmet replacement after five years. We think that depends on usage, and most helmets given reasonable care are good for longer than that. We are not aware of any crash yet where helmet age was a factor. But if you are wearing something that dates back to the 70's, it's time to replace it with one of the newer, more protective ones. Helmets made then did not pass the current Snell or ASTM standards.
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