Wednesday, July 14, 2010

5 Tips: Helmets

Wearing a helmet is the most important thing any cyclist can do to prevent serious injuries. Whether or not you consider yourself a “serious” rider, you should have a helmet on no matter where or how far you ride. You don’t have to take our word for it; listen to Dr. Michael Schaefer of the MetroHealth Medical Center in this 2-minute video on the importance of bike helmets for everyone.

Buying and wearing your helmet does not have to be a painful process. The staff at Century Cycles has years of experience in fitting helmets for adults and children of all abilities, sizes, and budgets. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you shop for your next helmet:

1. Try on several different models and brands to find the best fit. Some of the lower-priced models have “one-size-fits-most” approach, while the higher-priced models come in Small, Medium, and Large for a more custom fit, and some offer women’s-specific models. We even have an Extra-Large model (the Giro Venti) for those with larger-than-average heads.

Different brands of helmets tend to fit different head shapes better. Usually, we find that our Bell helmets fit better on people with more oval-shaped heads, and our Giro helmets tend to work better on more round heads.

For children, helmets are sized based on an age range, from infants and toddlers to ‘tweens. All kids grow at different rates, so take the age recommendations as a general guideline -- we have fitted toddlers who required an adult-sized helmet.

2. Wear the helmet level so that it covers your forehead. This is the most common mistake we see among helmet wearers, both children and adults. Wearing the helmet tilted back on your head leaves your forehead exposed to impact. And increases the chances of the helmet falling off , or not properly absorbing an impact even if it stays on. You should have a gap the size of about two fingers between the front edge of the helmet and your brow.

Feel free to wear a hat, bandanna, or skull cap under your helmet for warmth or sun protection. It will not affect the safety of the helmet, as long as you are still able to wear it in the correct position and adjust the fit properly. Some helmets have an additional visor in the front. The visor is purely for providing a little extra protection from sunlight; it does not affect impact protection. Most people who are riding drop-bar road bikes prefer a helmet without a sun visor, as the visor tends to block your vision a bit when you’re in the bent-over riding position.

3. Adjust the rear fit dial, side buckles, and chin strap for optimal safety and comfort. A helmet that’s the correct size for you can still feel uncomfortable (and be unsafe) if it’s not properly adjusted. First, put the helmet on in the correct position (see tip #2 above). Reach behind your head and turn the fit dial to tighten or loosen the internal harness so that it’s snug around your head. Next, adjust the buckles on the side straps. The buckles should sit just below and slightly forward of your ear lobes. Adjust the slack on the chin strap so that you can get two of your fingers between your chin and the strap. This leaves just enough room to hold the helmet on securely, while still allowing you to breathe and talk normally.

If all of the above sounds complicated, don’t worry--we’ll help you select the right size helmet, and make all of the initial adjustments for you.

4. Don’t store your helmet in direct sunlight. Also try to minimize the amount of time you have to leave your helmet in the car. Extreme heat will degrade the material inside the helmet, compromising its protective ability.

5. Replace your helmet after a crash or after five years of use. Bicycle helmets are designed for a single impact. If you suffer a crash, do not wear that helmet again because it will NOT effectively protect your head if you have another crash.

The material inside the helmet cracks and/or compresses to absorb the shock of the impact. Even if there is no damage visible on the outside of the helmet, there may be cracks or compressions under the shell that you can’t see.

Bicycle helmet manufacturers recommend you replace your helmet every five years, because exposure to the elements and normal wear and tear break down the protective material, degrading its ability to do its job. If the pads inside your helmet are worn out, that’s probably a good sign that it’s time for a new helmet.

Something to keep in mind when shopping for a helmet is all bicycle helmets provide the same level of protection. Every bicycle helmet sold in the United States must meet the standards established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for bicycle helmets. A more expensive helmet does not provide better protection than a cheaper helmet. The differences among lower-priced and higher-priced helmets are fit, weight, ventilation, and styling. Also remember that helmets designed for other activities (e.g. skateboarding, rock climbing, hockey) do NOT provide the proper protection for use while cycling.

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