Biking More Lately? Here's How to Wear and Care for Your Bike Helmet
If you’re hitting the road on the bike, you better be wearing a helmet, too.
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, wearing a helmet while bicycling goes from mandatory to something most people avoid at all costs. As any passionate bicyclist will tell you, though, wearing a helmet is a must when you’re hitting the road on two wheels. Like wearing a seatbelt in a car, wearing a helmet is a small action you can take to reduce the chance of serious injury in an accident: It’s low-risk and high-reward, and well-worth the sacrifice of sporting some helmet hair post-ride.
Beyond the safety it provides, there are plenty of other reasons to wear a helmet—not least of all to model good behavior to younger bikers who are also probably resistant to wearing bike helmets. Also, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website helmets.org, 22 states and the District of Columbia have state-wide laws mandating bike helmets for young riders, and some states and localities have laws for older riders, too.
Knowing you should wear a bike helmet and knowing how to wear a bike helmet, though, are two different things. Most people don’t properly learn how a bike helmet should fit, so even if they do wear a helmet, they compromise some of the safety that helmet could provide. Stay as safe as possible: Learn how your bike helmet should fit and take proper care of your helmet.
You’re not on your own. To help bike riders young and old better protect themselves, we asked April Beard, helmets product director at Trek, for tips on fitting, wearing, and caring for bike helmets. Don’t start pedaling until you’ve taken these steps to ensure your head is properly protected.
Whether you’re using a borrowed helmet, you’ve just purchased a new one, or you’re renting a helmet while traveling, make sure the fit is right before you head out.
How a bike helmet should fit
- The helmet should sit level on your head, just above your eyebrows, and cover your forehead.
- The strap dividers should sit just below your ear lobes.
- The chin strap should be snug enough to only squeeze two fingers between your chin and the strap.
No two heads are shaped exactly alike, so you’re likely going to need to adjust your helmet slightly to suit your skull. Beard says helmets offer a range of features to improve the fit of your skull protector. These features may vary by type of helmet but include fit system height, fit system circumference, and the strap dividers under the ears and chin strap.
“Before flipping your helmet onto your head, take a closer look to see what can be adjusted,” Beard says. Taking a minute or two before you put on the helmet will make it more comfortable and safer for you once you start pedaling. If the fit is off, make adjustments until the helmet fits properly and feels secure.
To help your helmet last, store it in a cool, dry location out of sunlight. If the outer shell gets dirty, wash it with mild soap and water. Most helmet pads are machine-washable on cold in the gentle cycle, Beard says, but do not put them in the dryer. (Air-drying outdoors will make them smell better, anyway.) If you need replacement pads, you should be able to buy those separately without having to get a whole new helmet.
Whatever you do, don’t get bug spray on your helmet. “Helmets and DEET don’t get along,” Beard says. “Trust me, don’t try it, it will ruin your helmet. If you need to keep the bugs away, spray yourself first, then put on your helmet.”
You may have had a bike helmet tucked away in your garage for years, but think twice before you dust it off and wear it. “Helmet parts lose strength over time, so even if the helmet has not been impacted or damaged, we recommend replacing it after three years,” Beard says.
If you have a new helmet but you’ve fallen or crashed while wearing it, it’s time to replace it, no matter if you just got it.
“The helmet is designed to absorb shock by partial destruction of the shell and liner,” Beard says. “This damage may not be visible. If subjected to a severe blow, the helmet should be replaced, even if it appears undamaged.”
And, of course, if your helmet looks worn, you should probably replace it, even if it hasn’t been in an accident or it’s less than three years old. It has a limited lifespan, and it’s always better to have to replace your helmet regularly than try to replace your skull or brain.