Safety Guide: How to Fit a Helmet

Kyle Anderson

Whether you are planning to go on an aggressive mountain bike ride or a leisurely cruise, a helmet is always a must in order to protect your most valuable asset — your brain!

Did you know helmets have an expiration date or that if a helmet isn’t put on correctly it becomes less effective?

Just like a proper bike fit, your helmet needs to fit correctly in order to protect you. You can learn how to make sure your Schwinn helmet fits properly by watching the video below featuring Gage Duke of Just Cuz Helmets Matter.

How to Choose a Helmet

When looking to buy a helmet, first look for a "CPSC" sticker. This is an indication that the helmet has passed all required testing standards in the U.S.A. and assures you of the helmet's safety.

It is suggested you buy a brand and size that fits well prior to making any adjustments. Once you find the helmet that fits well, you can make adjustments to the helmet to establish a snug fit. A comfortable and snug fit is paramount in choosing a helmet.

It's not recommended that you purchase a helmet that you or your child can "grow into." A helmet that is loose will not provide the required protection, as it will not remain in place when impacted. This is the reason that we highly recommend you purchase a helmet that fits at the time of purchase.

How to Fit a Helmet

The Fit: The helmet should sit level on your head, and the fit should be firm enough to keep the helmet from moving due to vibration or impact.

Methods of Fitting the Helmet:

  • Fitting the Foam Pads: Your helmet comes with pads installed at purchase. Some helmets also have extra pads to adjust the fit of the helmet. If your helmet has extra pads and the factory-installed pads do not provide a snug comfortable fit, remove the pads from the Velcro™ inside the helmet and insert a different size pad or pads. Feel free to mix and match thicknesses so that the pads conform to your head's shape.
  • Adjusting a Rear Fit System: Your helmet may also have a rear fit system that holds the helmet against the lower rear of your head. These systems have an adjustment mechanism. The rear-fit should be adjusted so that it fits snugly against the back of your head.
  • Fitting the Dial Fit: Many helmets come with a fit-ring which encircles the head. The fit-ring has an adjustment mechanism typically found at the rear of the ring. The ring should be tightened to a point that the fit is snug, yet comfortable.

Adjusting the Straps: With the helmet level on your head, fasten all straps securely so the straps provide equal tension. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine developed an 'Eye-Ear-Mouth Test' to check the adjustment of the straps:

1. Look up: the front edge of the helmet should be barely visible.
2. Check that the side straps meet in a "Y" just below your ear.
3. Open your mouth wide to make sure the chin straps are snug under your chin.

If the straps do not meet these three criteria, adjust the straps beginning at the rear. First, adjust the straps through the rear fit system or rear fit piece. Next, adjust the 'Y' under your ear. You may need to loosen the side glides and lengthen either the front or rear strap. Be sure to retighten the side glides, when a good fit is achieved. Finally, adjust the buckle under your chin. Recheck the fit with the "Eye-Ear-Mouth Test."

The Right Fit: The helmet should be worn level on the head with the front approximately one inch or one finger's width above your eyebrow. The retention straps and helmet should fit as snug as possible.

Check the fit of your helmet.

  • Look in a mirror and gently rotate the helmet on your head, front to back and side to side, noticing the skin in the brow area. The fit should be comfortable, and the skin should move with the helmet.
  • Try to roll the helmet backward and forwards. Put your palm under the front edge of the helmet. Push up and back. If the helmet moves more than an inch, tighten the strap in front of your ear. Pull up on the rear edge of your helmet. If the helmet moves more than an inch, tighten the strap behind your ear.

You may need to work with your helmet's fit for several minutes to achieve a proper fit (you might have to adjust your hair as well). If a proper fit cannot be achieved, do not wear the helmet.

Each helmet has a slightly different shape and fit. Find the one that fits you best. All adjustments should be checked each time the helmet is worn, making sure the fit is snug at all times.

Caring For Your Helmet

  • Clean shell, pads, and retention system with mild soap, water, and non-abrasive cloth.
  • Do not use chemical and cleaning solvents as they can cause unseen damage and reduce the helmet's ability to protect.
  • Keep your helmet away from extreme temperatures as this can cause unseen damage to your helmet.
  • Handle your helmet with care when not in use.
  • Store your helmet in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight.
  • Evaluate your helmet after three years of use.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I wear my helmet?
Helmets should be worn whenever you are riding your bike even during a brief or leisure ride.

Where should I purchase my helmet?
You can purchase a helmet at any big box, sporting goods store or independent bike shop that sells CPSC certified helmets.

How long does a helmet last?
The life of a helmet will depend on how well it is maintained. You should inspect your helmet periodically for any cracks or damage that would cause your helmet to malfunction. If you are unsure of your helmet's condition, you can contact the helmet's manufacturer regarding your concerns. Under normal conditions, a helmet's average lifespan is three years. However, if a helmet receives an impact, it should be replaced.

At what age should my child start wearing a helmet?
A helmet is nor for use by anyone who cannot comfortably support the helmet's weight. Children under the age of one should be evaluated by a pediatrician to verify adequate neck musculature before using a helmet.

How many impacts is my helmet designed to withstand?
Helmets are not designed for multiple impacts. An impact can cause unseen damage to the helmet. After an impact, the helmet should be replaced.

At what age should my child start wearing an adult size helmet?
There is no particular age at which a child should switch to an adult helmet. The size helmet you purchase will depend on how well the helmet fits. Remember you always want to achieve a snug fit as noted in the fitting instructions.

Meet Our Partner in Bike Safety, Gage Duke

As a 12-year-old Texas native, Gage Duke turned tragedy into triumph by starting Just Cuz Helmets Matter. This non-profit organization provides bike safety education and helmets to those who can't afford them. Watch the video to learn more about Gage's wonderful cause and see how you can help make a difference. Let's help Gage save lives!

Learn more about Gage and his nonprofit by visiting his website: Just Cuz Helmets Matter.

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