Protecting Your Head

One of the great debates in cycling is whether helmets should become mandatory for all cyclists. Despite the good points on both sides of the argument, I believe wearing one should be a personal choice. I know I have fallen a few times on my own accord while pushing my limits on a joy ride and while racing road bikes many years ago. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. It protected my 'noggin so it has become a habit of mine to wear one during my bicycle commutes.

As an added plus, the brim shields the sun from my eyes and rain, and protects my face when the sun is high.

You may also hear arguments that helmets are just a piece of foam and offer little protection. There have been some advances in its technology but in my experience, having some protection is better than nothing at all.

Others choose not to wear a helmet because "it looks dorky". They don't have to be. Helmets can be stylish like the Yakkay helmet and covers I wear every day during my bicycle commutes. The helmet's safety rating meets the standards for the level of riding that I usually do.

If you are going to wear a helmet, then let's talk about protecting your head properly.

1. A helmet cannot do its jobs if it is not on your head.

A helmet can make a great basket hanging from my arms while I am walking around but when I am on the move, my helmet works best when worn on my head.

2. A helmet can protect your head better when the straps are snapped together.

Too often I see people with a helmet on their head but for whatever reason, they have forgotten to buckle it. If they were to be pitched off of their bike, the helmet would surely fly off their head leaving their skull vulnerable.

Remember to snap the straps together so the helmet stays securely on your head.

3. Helmets work best when it is the right size for you and when it is adjusted properly.

Proper size and fit. Use a cloth measuring tape and measure around the widest part of your head about two inches above your eyebrows. It helps to have a friend help you. Helmet sizes vary by brand so a small size in one brand may be a medium size in another. A helmet that is too small will sit high on your head like a crown instead of being seated properly around your head. Yet, a helmet too big will easily tilt forwards or backwards while on your head.

Worn level on the head - not tipped up. I see this often and cringe because it leaves the forehead exposed. Try smacking your forehead with an open palm as a good test.

Adjusted properly (buckles and straps). Helmets have buckles on each side of the straps that can be adjusted. The buckles should be adjusted to fall just below the earlobes so it doesn't fall at your jawline. The straps are adjustable so when they are snapped together, should allow you to look down without choking you yet should not be too loose. When the straps are snapped together securely, you should be able to slide two fingers under your jaw as a good test.

4. Maintenance

  • Wipe the inside and outside of the shell regularly with a cloth dampened with warm water.
  • Clean the straps and pads to avoid having unnecessary skin breakouts. You can put the pads in a lingerie mesh bag and throw it in a washing machine if you don't want to wash by hand.
  • Wash your helmet with warm, soapy water occasionally. I like to use my face wash rather than dish soap because it's more gentle.

5. Helmets should be replaced if they get old or have had significant impact. Here is a good resource for when you should replace your helmet.

Keep in mind that helmets are not anti-collision devices any more than seat belts will keep you from getting in a car accident. Helmets can help to mitigate head injuries. There are many road hazards such as potholes, rocks and edges where the asphalt or concrete meets the pavement. If I'm not paying attention, I can catch the wheels of my bike tire on these hazards during my commutes and fall. Should I lose my balance and hit my head, a helmet can offer an extra layer of protection. Knock on wood -- I have never fallen during my years of commuting by bicycle but just in case, I wear my helmet. If I am going to "bother to wear it" then I wear it properly so that it can do its job as a safety equipment and protect my head.