Bicycling is an inherently risky sport, whether dodging vehicles and obstacles on roadways or threading off-road environments where rises, dips and turns hold potential perils. The most serious injuries resulting from bicycle accidents involve head trauma that, in severe cases, can be life threatening.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that as of the late 1990s "about 900 people, including more than 200 children, are killed annually in bicycle-related incidents, and about 60 percent of these deaths involve a head injury" and that "a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent."
A properly designed and adjusted helmet is an effective hedge against bicycling injuries and should be worn whenever cycling and even in states where their use is not required by law (see Reference 2).
Selecting a Helmet
Bicycle helmets typically bear a seal of approval from recognized organizations such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or Snell Memorial Foundation. These approvals are based on the CPSC's 1999 ruling that all bicycle helmets must conform to basic specifications, including adequately protecting the head and "having chin straps strong enough to prevent the helmet from coming off in a crash, collision or fall." In addition, helmets intended for children aged 5 or younger cover more of the head to provide added protection.
A helmet should fit snugly on the head and not move more than an inch in any direction. Its straps should not impair vision. A light or bright color is preferable because it is more visible to motorists. A front visor helps shade the eyes. Vent holes help keep the head cool (see Reference 2).
Bicycle helmets are worn flat on the top of the head, covering the forehead and not tilting forward or backward. The chin strap fits snugly beneath the chin when clasped, but not to the point of being restrictive or uncomfortable. Typical helmet straps have at least three adjustment points controlling the length and positioning. Most helmets come with foam sizing pads that attach to the inside surface and can be used to ensure a snug fit. Helmets shouldn't tilt forward or back or from side to side (see Reference 1).
Any time a bicycle helmet absorbs a significant blow, whether caused by an accident or other damaging contact, it should be replaced. A damaged helmet may not be able to withstand another blow.
When renting bicycling equipment, carefully inspect the helmet for dents, cracks and scrapes, which can indicate previous damage.If the helmet seems misshapen in any way, request another one (see Reference 1).
Article Written By Gary Olson
Gary Olson is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and designer with 34 years of experience. His work has appeared in such publications as Sailing, Northwest Living, 5280, The Arizona Republic, The Denver Post and many other newspapers and magazines. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.