Atlanta, GA,
13:27 PM

Stay Safe on Wheels While Social Distancing

Helmets are an essential part of riding bicycles safely.

By Emma Harrington
Shepherd Center Director of Injury Prevention and Education

Social distancing related to the COVID-19 pandemic is allowing families to reconnect with the great outdoors and find ways to explore areas close to them without getting too close to others. With far less traffic and fewer cars on the road, many families are dusting off their bikes, scooters and pull-along carriers to ride again. Take advantage of the increase in exercise and family time, but remember to stay safe. Here are some tips and reminders on how to properly fit helmets both for yourself and your little ones.

If you have a helmet already:

1. Do not wear a used helmet if you can avoid it. Of course, anything is better than nothing, but avoid this if you can. Helmets should be like shoes – fit specifically for your own head.

2. Check your helmet when dusting it off for dings, dents and deterioration. Deterioration can include the padding coming loose inside. Helmets with worn-out interior pads are at least one to two sizes bigger than when they were new.

3. Inspect the actual helmet for its labels. Check the manufacture date, and double-check to make sure it has not been recalled. Technically, helmets do not expire, but a good rule of thumb is to replace them every five years.

4. Has it been in a crash or sustained any damage due to trauma? If so – throw it out. Do not donate it because it is no longer safe to use, even if it physically looks fine. Check local resources because sometimes, you can recycle old helmets.

For a new helmet:

1. Measure the circumference of your child’s head. Oftentimes, you will have to order children’s helmets online to make sure you get the best available. Measure first, and go to a local store that may have a few options in stock. Try those on for fit if possible.

2. Do your research. There are plenty of online resources that will help you find the right helmet in your budget.

3. Brand sizing varies. The chart below shows the sample sizing numbers. Different brands use different molds – if possible, try before you buy, but always check the circumference measurements online.

4.In between sizes? Go with the smaller size. It is possible for your child to wear a small adult size and vice versa for the proper fit. Good helmets are expensive, and you will have to buy several of them as your child grows.

5. Your helmet should be on your head, not resting at the back of your skull or loose enough where you can shift it on your head by nodding. It always has to be strapped as well, but it should not be uncomfortable.

6. The front edge of your helmet should be about an inch above your eyebrows to protect the frontal lobe. Just like car seats, if your helmet shifts more than one inch in any direction, it is too loose.

7. Consider a brightly colored helmet to increase visibility. Consider using reflective tape to the back of the helmet for added visibility.

8. There are several certification bodies for helmets, the most rigorous being the Snell Foundation, an independent testing body. Do your research – not all helmets are created equal. Try to buy the best you can afford. Brands do matter here.

General sizing:

Extra small: below 20" (51cm)

Small: 20"–21.75" (51cm–55cm)

Medium: 21.75"–23.25" (55cm–59cm)

Large: 23.25"–24.75" (59cm–63cm)

Extra large: above 24.75" (63cm)

Three are three basic types of bike helmets: Road bikes, mountain bikes and recreational bike helmets. 

Getting the right fit:

1. Adjust the tightness first. Twist the adjustment wheel until you get a snug fit. This is called the rachet system or retention system.

2. Buckle and tighten the chin strap. The straps should form a V under each ear.

3. Open your mouth wide – it should be tight, but not uncomfortable. As you open your mouth, the helmet should press against the top of your head. Adjust accordingly if it does not. Keep tightening until it does.

4. You should be able to fit two fingers between the strap and your chin.

5. Be mindful of pressure points – if any part of the helmet feels uncomfortable or annoying, it is the wrong shape or size.

6. If you wear glasses or sunglasses with your helmet, make sure they also fit before you buy a helmet. The same logic applies for a ponytail. There are helmets created with specific ponytail accommodations called hair ports.

Check out this helmet fit test from Safe Kids Worldwide®

New technology:

1. As new and better protection becomes available on the market, there is even more reason to replace and upgrade your old helmet.

2. There is new helmet technology available called the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). MIPS protects against rotational forces. Many children’s helmets have this feature available now. It is more expensive, but well worth the added protection.

3. WaveCel: Found on some Bontrager helmets, this technology features a honeycombed liner material that is engineered to create a sophisticated “crumple zone” that absorbs both primary impact forces and rotational energy from an impact.

4.SPIN: Found on POC helmets, Shearing Pads Inside (SPIN) technology features silicone-injected pads in a structure that moves inside the shell to redirect rotational forces during an impact.

5. If your child resists wearing a helmet, it may be because it is uncomfortable. Lighter, cooler helmets exist with more ventilation. These enhance the wind flow over your head, and also make the helmet a lot lighter.

Helmet care:

1. Do not store your helmet in a place that gets very hot because it may damage the integrity of the helmet. If you see bubbles on helmet parts, it has been damaged by heat. Do not wear it.

2. Do not loan your helmet out. You need to know where it has been and if it has had any major trauma, including being dropped. Treat your helmet like you would a car seat.

3. Avoid cleaning your helmet with chemicals because this could cause the helmet to disintegrate. Mild soap and water should work well.

Modeling and monitoring:

1. Modeling safe and proper helmet wearing starts with you. Model the behavior you want to see in your children, friends and family members. Have a strict rule that helmets are to be worn for anything on wheels – no exceptions. Children should wear a helmet while on their trike, balance bike, scooter or hoverboard. Set a good example early on by always wearing a helmet when your child rides on the back of your bike.

2. Make it one of your family’s big, non-negotiable rules. No exceptions – especially when riding in the carriers low to the ground!

Sources include: SafeKids Worldwide, Spirit Sports, Snell Foundation, Bike Exchange, REI Bike, CDC Bikes

EMMA HARRINGTON is the director of injury prevention and education services at Shepherd Center. Previously, Emma started the injury prevention program at Grady Memorial Hospital in the Trauma Department. She holds a master of education degree in international education policy from Harvard University. Originally from Boston, Emma is a licensed social studies teacher.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.