The difference between wearing a helmet and wearing a helmet correctly!


As most of you would be aware, wearing a helmet while cycling is compulsory in Australia. People get fined for not wearing a helmet. As a result, the majority of people abide by the rules and wear one.

Wandering in the streets and looking out for cyclists made me realise that the majority of adult riders wear their helmet incorrectly, and more importantly, a child wearing a helmet correctly is a very rare sight.

In August 2014 I spend a lot of time with bike helmet manufacturers at the Eurobike exhibition in Friedrichshafen, Germany. For those who don’t know, the Eurobike Expo is the biggest bike and bike accessory exhibition in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. Bike and bike accessory manufacturers gather there over four days and show their new products for the next season. The capacity is huge, I needed two full days just to explore who was exhibiting. One area that I focused on was bike helmets. While talking to the biggest (and in my opinion best) bike helmet manufacturers, such as UVEX and ABUS I also learnt how to fit and wear a helmet correctly.

Based on what I saw, I believe it is good to share the knowledge I gathered to raise awareness on how to wear a helmet correctly. I hope the below information is helpful.

What helmet should I buy?

Each country has their body of standards that require products to meet certain safety norms. Standards in the EU, are different to the ones in the US or in Australia. The important thing to note is that helmets in Australia and in the US are enforced by law and as a result the helmets have to meet the standards of the country. When purchasing a helmet, ensure yours meets the following standards:

EU / NZ*: EN 1078 and CE label

US: 16 CFR Part 1203

AUS / NZ*: AS/NZS 2063

*At the time of writing my understanding is that New Zealand has adopted the EU standards and also accepts Australian standards.

The standards ensure the helmet has been tested for impact during accident and falls. If the helmet meets the standards the appropriate code has been applied. You can find the standard approval inside your helmet on a sticker with the above mentioned codes. Just ensure that you don’t peel off the sticker to avoid being fined in case you are checked.

As long as the helmet meets the respective standards the price does not change the degree of safety. What changes though is the quality, weight and comfort. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the sturdier, lighter and more comfortable the helmet.

Which helmet is right one for me?

The first answer is, a helmet that fits your head comfortably. When I bought my last helmet the advice I was given was: If you don’t feel you’re wearing a helmet, then it fits perfectly, i.e. it does not wobble, because it is too big or it is not too tight.

I use my helmet mostly for mountain biking, so it was important to me that the air flow is very good. Personally, I think it does not matter what you use your bike for, if you live in a hot country, like Australia, a helmet with good ventilation (i.e. big holes) is a must.

For sunny days, I wanted a visor, but that’s not a necessity.

Weight was another important factor for me. I hate anything on my head, so getting a super light helmet was my preferred option. I simply did not want to feel it.

Ask yourself as well: When do I ride my bike the most? If you ride mostly in the dark, ensure your helmet has reflectors or integrated back lights to enable car drivers to see you well.

Make sure you buy the helmet in a shop with experts. The helmet needs to fit perfectly to provide you maximum protection. Only a person who knows what to look for will be able to sell you the right product.

An adjustable helmet has the advantage of maximum comfort. But it is important the helmet fits perfectly when the adjustment is in its widest range. Hence, I cannot emphasize enough, buy your helmet in a shop with experts. If the helmet does not fit, it provides hardly any or no protection!!!

How do I wear my helmet correctly?

This part seems to be the most difficult. So far it’s been easy to get the right helmet by following the standards and asking some experts for the right choice. Putting the helmet on correctly can be harder as there is no expert on your side on a constant basis. Hopefully, my “user guide” helps.

The most common mistake I can see is that the forehead is not covered / protected by the helmet. So many people push the helmet back. It might be irritating to have a hard shell sitting on your forehead, but keep in mind, the helmet is there to protect you and that requires the forehead to be covered.

Correct wear generally means the helmet sits two fingers wide above your root of the nose. Imagine you fall forwards off your bike. Even if you manage to collect the fall with your hands, the force will make your head hit the ground and your forehead is first. If the helmet sits correctly it’s the helmet and impact on your head is significantly reduced.

Here are a few images I found on the CPSC webpage that portray the correct wear quite well:

helmet wrong wear

helmet correct wear

Now you know how to place the helmet correctly on your head. But there are other parts to consider as well that are vital for maximum protection.

If you have an adjustment knob tighten or loosen it to the desired fit when you put your helmet on. Ensure that the helmet does not move around when you shake your head. If it wobbles it is too big.

Next, adjust the side straps. These form a V around your ears. Move the adjusters up, just underneath your earlobes. Now test how much the helmet moves. Push it forward and backwards. If the helmet moves more than approximately 1.5cm the V-straps need adjustment. If it moves forward adjust the straps behind your ears. If it moves backwards adjust the straps before your ears.

Also ensure the straps underneath your chin are not too loose or too tight. The best help is to close the straps and to adjust them so that you can still fit a finger between your chin and the straps. This ensures comfort and safety.

If you consider all these steps the chances to put the helmet on correctly are very high. Check each time that all parts fit correctly, otherwise re-adjust.

One more important point. Be careful with your helmet. Don’t throw it and try not to drop it. The impact can damage or crack the mould and destroy the helmet. If you had a fall you must replace your helmet. It no longer will protect your head after impact.

I cannot emphasize enough that only a correctly fitted helmet will achieve the protection everybody is looking for, but so many people appear not to be aware what correctly fitted means. If you read this and agree, please share it with friends and family, there are too many kids and riders out there who don’t seem to be aware of the danger they put themselves into under a false impression of security, just because they are wearing a helmet.

But most importantly, I wish all of you a safe ride and I hope your helmet will never have to serve its purpose!!!

P.S.: Based on the read above, can you determine if the the boy wears the helmet correctly or not? I am interested to see what you think :-)


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