Choosing the right bicycle helmet for you or your child can seem like a difficult decision. With this guide you will find that it really isn't that hard to get the right helmet. The most important aspect of choosing the right bicycle helmet is that you choose one that your child will actually wear.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2008, 91% of all bicycle related deaths involved a bicyclist who was not wearing a helmet. It is obvious that wearing a helmet is important and that it could save the wearer's life.

What to Look for in a Helmet

According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute there are three criteria in choosing a good helmet: 1) that it meets the CPSC bicycle helmet standard, 2)that it fits well 3) and that it has a rounded, smooth exterior.

CPSC Standard
When choosing a helmet you will be relieved to know that any helmet meeting the CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) standard is as good as any other helmet meeting that standard. That is true for $10 helmets as well as $200+ helmets. Every helmet made for retail sale in the United States since 1999 must pass the CPSC standard.

Helmet photo by redjarThe CPSC standard measures how well the helmet can protect the wearer's head in differing conditions. They test the helmet falling onto a blunt surface simulating the road. There are also impact tests on hard round objects like a rock and angled objects like a curb. These tests are done between 11 and 15 MPH. They also test for extreme weather conditions with temperatures between 5° F and 122° F (-15° C to 50° C). Tests are done in both wet and dry conditions. In other words, this is extreme testing to insure that bicycle helmets perform well under normal circumstances.

Any helmet bearing the CPSC sticker meets these conditions. This means the $15 helmet at the discount store as well as the $200 helmet at the specialty bike shop. When you buy an expensive helmet you are buying a brand and style. Bike shop helmets usually look much nicer and have easier adjustments than cheaper bicycle helmets, but technically they are all equally safe.

Now that you know that all bicycle helmets with the CPSC sticker is a safe helmet, you need to turn your attention to fit. All of the safety tests assume that the helmet fits properly and that you or your child are wearing it in a proper manner.

The correct fit for a bicycle helmet is that it is snug all the way around the head. The helmet should sit as low as possible and be level. The final thing is that the strap needs to be snug under the chin. When trying on a helmet in the store you should not be able to pull it off while the chin strap is in place, no matter how you twist and pull on it. If you can get it off with the strap secured, then it does not fit properly.

Not every helmet will fit every head. Keep trying different models until you find one that works for you. Some people have rounder heads than others. Some have extra large heads. Bike helmets are made for every shape and size of head.

The soft, foam pads inside most helmets can be adjusted to give you a good fit. Remember that these pads do not offer any protection. They should only be used to make the helmet snug and comfortable. It is better to choose a smaller size helmet with less padding (assuming it still fits) than a larger helmet with lots of padding.

Some helmets have an adjustable ring inside of them instead of fitting pads. This strap should be adjusted to fit the shape of your head. If the adjustment leaves the helmet less stable or floppy, you need to look for a different helmet size or model.

Round and Smooth Exterior
The final consideration when choosing a helmet, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, is that the helmet should have a round, smooth exterior. While the CPSC standard measures impact resistance and how well the helmet will slide across the pavement, it does not test the shape of the helmet.

When choosing a helmet look for one that is smooth and round. This helps cut down on the risk that as you are donating skin to the road surface that a rock or tree root will snag the helmet and twist your neck, causing a much greater injury. The helmets that bicycle racers use with the long tail in back are actually less safe than a smooth, round helmet. With the length of the long tail there is a lot more leverage to twist the rider's head in an unnatural way if it gets caught.

Some bike helmets have a small plastic visor on front. Consider where the shards of that visor will go when you smash your face into the pavement. Are you willing to risk your eyes to have a cool looking piece of plastic on front?

Safety standards can't test for every situation, but choosing a smooth, round helmet may increase your chances of survival in a crash.

Helmet Replacement

You should replace your helmet after a crash. A bicycle helmet is designed to crush under impact. This helps cut down the impact to the head. It is best to replace a helmet as soon as possible after an impact, even if the helmet still looks fine. The plastic shell on the outside of the helmet can hide damage to the foam underneath.

Any helmet built before 1999 will not have been tested under the CPSC standard. The helmet may perform just fine, but are you willing to risk that when you could buy a bike helmet for under $20?

If you are not able to adjust the helmet correctly, then you should replace it. If the straps won't adjust, or one is torn or frayed, it should also be replaced.

It may seem trivial, but if you don't like the bike helmet, then you should replace it. A helmet will only protect you if you are wearing it. If you, or your child, thinks that the bicycle helmet is ugly and are embarrassed about wearing it, then it is time to replace it. There is a reason companies are able to sell $200 helmets. They usually look much nicer than the cheap bike helmets. You don't need to buy an expensive helmet, but you do need to buy one that you will wear.

It is comforting to know that all helmets with the CPSC sticker inside will be a safe choice, regardless of price. It comes down to a good fit, a round, smooth exterior and the fact that you are properly wearing it every time you get on your bike.

Now that you have a good helmet, get out and ride your bike instead of driving everywhere.