A guide on how to wear a bike helmet to maximize its protection and how to avoid common pitfalls.
Biking is not just a means of transportation; it's a lifestyle, a passion, and for many, an everyday necessity. Whether you're a daily commuter or a weekend warrior, safety should always come first, and that starts with wearing a bike helmet the right way. Surprisingly, many cyclists don't wear their helmets correctly, leading to decreased effectiveness in case of accidents. This comprehensive guide aims to rectify that, with a detailed look at how to wear your bike helmet the right way.
Here, we go over how to wear a bike helmet – and how not to – so you can make sure that it has the best chance of keeping you safe.
A meta-analysis found that wearing a helmet reduced the odds of suffering a head injury by 51 per cent, a serious head injury by 69 per cent and a fatal head injury by 65 per cent.
In a crash, a loosely buckled helmet can easily be knocked off, leaving the cyclist without any protection at all. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), helmets that are placed simply atop the head without being properly secured have a 14% higher risk of being displaced in a crash.
A helmet worn too high on the forehead or loosely buckled can leave certain parts of the skull exposed, negating the protective benefits of the helmet. For instance, a helmet worn too far back will leave your forehead vulnerable, while one worn too far forward can obstruct your vision and movement, potentially causing accidents rather than preventing them.
Wearing helmets is not merely a formality or a rule enforced by road safety authorities. Helmets are primarily designed to protect our most valuable asset: our brain. In the unfortunate event of an accident, a properly worn helmet absorbs the shock and reduces the impact on the skull, substantially lowering the risk of severe head and brain injuries. Improper helmet use can create a false sense of security. Cyclists who wear their helmets incorrectly might assume they are well-protected, leading to riskier riding behavior and an increased chance of accidents.
Choosing the right sized helmet is a really crucial first step: most have a range of sizes, which is dictated by your head circumference.
Size should be your topmost consideration when wearing a bike helmet. It is important to measure your head first to get the correct helmet size. Measure the circumference of your head by wrapping a tape measure around it, positioning it about an inch above your eyebrows, where the brim of the helmet will rest.
We recommend trying the helmet on, so you can make sure that the gear fits snuggly. Every helmet manufacturer has different sizing specifications, so always cross-reference your measurements with the brand’s specific sizing chart. A helmet that is too loose will provide inadequate protection, while one that's too tight can be uncomfortably restrictive and distract from your focus on the road.
Not all helmets are created equal, and the type of cycling you do will largely dictate the kind of helmet you need. Here's a guide to the most common types of helmets and the biking activities they're best suited for:
Road Bike Helmets
Designed for road cycling, these helmets are lightweight with good ventilation to keep you cool during long rides on hot days. They have an aerodynamic design to reduce air resistance, with minimal coverage at the back to allow for better neck movement.
Mountain Bike Helmets
If you're into off-road biking, a mountain bike helmet is a must. They offer more coverage, particularly at the back of the head, to protect against falls typical in mountain biking. Many also have a built-in visor to shield your eyes from the sun, rain, and debris.
Commuter (Urban) Helmets
These helmets are all about comfort and style. They're ideal for short rides and often come with added features like LED lights for visibility and rain covers. While they still offer good protection, they might not be the best fit for high-speed or off-road biking.
BMX riders require full-face protection, similar to a motorcycle helmet, due to the high risk of falls associated with this sport. BMX helmets are heavily padded and cover the entire head, face, and jaw for maximum protection.
These are specialized helmets designed for time-trial and triathlon racing where every second count. They have a distinct teardrop shape to improve aerodynamics but offer less ventilation compared to standard road bike helmets.
So, how to wear a bike helmet properly? You should use the correct helmet size, use the straps and buckle, and know the correct position of the helmet to your head.
Read this guide to know the full details of how to properly wear a bicycle helmet:
Before putting the bike helmet on your head, loosen off any straps or ratchets so it sits onto your head easily.
Once on, and set up level on your head, you can secure and adjust the features to fit – the front of the helmet should be one to two finger-widths above your brow.
Next, it's all about positioning. Place your helmet level on your head, ensuring it's not tilted back or skewed to one side. Your helmet should sit low on your forehead, just one or two finger-widths above your eyebrows. This protects your frontal lobe, a vulnerable area often overlooked in improper helmet positioning. Moreover, a well-placed helmet allows for clear vision of the road and surroundings.
Buckles are part of the complete helmet package for a reason. They will keep your helmet in place when you move briskly on your rides.
When fastened, the helmet buckle should be centered under the chin to secure the helmet uniformly. It should feel snug but not uncomfortably tight. The last thing you want during an intense ride is an ill-fitted buckle causing discomfort, or worse, a helmet that's prone to slipping off upon impact due to a loose buckle.
You can remove the helmet and adjust it accordingly. The adjustments should be made gradually, so you can see how comfortable you are in wearing the helmet.
For the side strap, it should be formed a 'V' shape under, and slightly in front of, the ears. Lock them at that point. Incorrectly adjusted side straps can lead to a poorly secured helmet, reducing its effectiveness during a crash.
The chin strap is your final checkpoint. It secures the helmet to your head, preventing it from rocking back and forth. When buckled, you should be able to fit no more than one or two fingers between the strap and your chin. This allows for a snug fit without compromising comfort.
By following these steps, you'll ensure your helmet isn't just for show. It's ready to do its job: protect you. After all, a well-fitted helmet can make all the difference between a near miss and a severe injury. Remember, safety doesn't happen by accident.
While it's important to know how to properly wear a helmet, it's just as crucial to know what mistakes to avoid. Here are some common missteps:
One of the most common errors cyclists make is wearing their helmet too far back, leaving the forehead exposed. Helmets are designed to protect your entire head, and that includes your forehead. Wearing it incorrectly risks leaving the frontal lobe, responsible for important cognitive skills like memory, speech, and motor function, vulnerable in case of a fall. The helmet should sit one to two finger-widths above your eyebrows, providing a shield for your frontal lobe and reducing the risk of serious injury.
Ignoring the importance of size and fit is a significant mistake. A helmet that's too large might slide off during an accident, while a too-small helmet won't provide adequate coverage. Worse still, it can be distractingly tight, causing discomfort that takes your focus away from the road. A properly fitting helmet should feel snug but not tight, and shouldn't rock more than an inch in any direction. Always consult the manufacturer's sizing chart and spend time adjusting the straps for the best fit. Safety is not a one-size-fits-all situation, so personalize your helmet to your needs.
While it might seem like a good idea to wear a hat under your helmet for additional sun protection or warmth, this practice can compromise your helmet's protective features. A hat can cause your helmet to sit higher on your head, or tilt it at an awkward angle, leaving parts of your head exposed. This incorrect positioning can dramatically reduce the helmet's effectiveness in a crash. Instead of a hat, consider opting for a helmet with a built-in visor for sun protection. For colder weather, explore thin thermal liners designed to be worn under helmets. These alternatives provide the comfort you need without sacrificing safety.
Bike helmets are durable, but they're not indestructible. Regularly inspect your helmet for cracks, damage, or wear that could compromise its protective qualities. If the helmet has been involved in an accident, it's time to replace it, even if there's no visible damage.
Wearing a bike helmet isn't just about meeting legal requirements or following road rules. It's about ensuring the helmet can do its job effectively—protect your head. Avoid these common missteps, and you'll be well on your way to safer cycling. If you want to know how to make regular maintenance, please have a look at our previous post Guide on Helmet Maintenance: How to Care for and Clean Your Cycling Helmet?
Glasses and Goggles: Make sure your helmet doesn't interfere with your eyewear. The helmet shouldn't push on the arms of your glasses or sunglasses. If you're wearing goggles, they should fit snugly against the helmet.
Weather Conditions: In colder weather, you might be tempted to wear a beanie or cap under your helmet. Instead, look for liners designed specifically for use with helmets. For hot, sunny conditions, consider a helmet with a visor or wear a cycling cap to protect from the sun.
Hearing: Never wear earbuds or headphones under your helmet. It's essential to stay alert to sounds around you, like approaching cars or other cyclists.
Regular Replacement: The bike helmet should also be replaced occasionally to ensure that it can protect you in case of accidents.
It is not enough to just put on a bike helmet when cycling. It is also crucial that the gear fits perfectly around your head. There are important features in this head gear that you need to be aware of to achieve a perfectly fit bike helmet.
The straps, buckles, and chin straps can help you achieve a well-fitted bike helmet. May this guide raise more awareness on how to wear a bike helmet properly. We keep the content simple but straightforward so everyone can understand.