How to Choose a Bike Helmet

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 26, 2021
4 min read

Cycling is a popular form of exercise and an environmentally friendly way to get around. Before you kick off your ride, make sure you have everything you need to bike safely, including a bicycle helmet.

Some cyclists may find wearing helmets troublesome. They may assume that they won’t get into a crash. But helmets are an important part of bicycle safety.

Reduces risk of head injury.Bicycle crashes can happen at any time, so you should wear your helmet every time you ride. Cycling accounts for more emergency room visits for traumatic brain injuries compared with other sports or activities. 

Between 2009 and 2018, there were 600,000 emergency department visits for bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries.

A study in New York City found that 74% of fatal bike crashes involved a head injury, and 97% of all cyclists who died weren’t wearing helmets.

If you’re in an accident, your helmet absorbs the force from the impact. Experts say that wearing a helmet reduces your chances of head injury by 50%. It lowers your chances of face, neck, or head injury by 33%.

Protect your kids. Kids learn by example. Wearing a helmet as an adult bike rider will encourage teenagers and children to wear one, too. Emergency rooms see an average of 608 bicycle-related injuries in children per day. Most of these are children between the ages of 10 and 14 years.

It's required. Wearing a bike helmet is the law for kids in 22 states, including the District of Columbia. Some cities, like Seattle, also require adult riders to wear helmets.

Affordable protection. Bicycle helmets can range in cost from $10 to over $200. But lab tests on impact found that there was little difference between cheap and expensive helmets.

Get a bike helmet that fits well so that it can protect you properly. Here’s how to pick the right helmet: ‌‌

Find the right size. Head sizes and shapes vary. Measure your head or your child’s head to find the size. Check that the tape measure stays level from front to back. If you don’t have a soft tape measure, use a string and measure that against a ruler. 

If the helmet is for your child, bring them along to try on helmets. Try different helmets until you find one that feels right. 

Check for fit. Your helmet should sit level on your head. The front rim should be about one or two finger-widths above your eyebrows. The helmet should be snug, with no spaces around the foam and your head. If it's too tight, it can cause headaches. 

If you can’t adjust a helmet to fit your head, try a different model.

When buying a helmet for your child, buy one that fits their head now. Don’t buy a too-big helmet thinking that they’ll grow into it. 

Straps. The helmet’s straps should make the shape of a “V” in front and behind each ear. You should be able to slide one or two fingers between your chin and the strap. 

Once the chin strap is fastened, the helmet shouldn’t be able to move in any direction. When you open your mouth wide — like a big yawn — you should feel the helmet pull down a bit.

Hairstyles and helmets. If you ride with your hair up in a ponytail, you should test helmets wearing that hairstyle. Some bike helmets have wider openings or ports at the back for ponytails.

Bike helmetsafety standards. All bike helmets sold in the U.S. must meet Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. You can usually find this label on the inside liner, attached to the chin strap, or on the outside of the helmet.

Some helmets may also have labels saying that they’re STM, Snell, or ANSI certified. These are organizations that conduct safety tests on helmets. 

Here are some ways to keep your bike helmet in good condition: 

  • Don’t use a bike helmet that’s cracked or broken. Make sure your helmet isn’t missing any parts or padding. 
  • Clean your helmet with warm water and mild detergent. Let it air dry. Don’t soak it or use strong cleaners. 
  • Don’t sit or lean on your helmet.
  • Store your helmet in a room that doesn’t get too hot or too cold. Don’t store it in a car.

Replace your bike helmet if it's been in a crash. The foam inside the helmet will be crushed after impact, although you may not be able to see it. This means it won’t protect your head properly.

The protective liner of a bike helmet can deteriorate in a few years and may no longer protect you in a crash or fall. Replace your helmet every 3 to 5 years.