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How To Choose The Safest Bike Helmet

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Bike safety starts with your head — everybody needs to wear a helmet. But getting the right fit and model for your needs can be tricky. Here's how to choose the safest bike helmet, from Steve Madden, editor of Bicycling magazine.

Hi, I’m Steve Madden with howdini.com, and today we’re going to talk about bike helmets. You know, the most important part of the bicycle is the engine; that’s you. And you need to protect yourself, so you have to wear a helmet when you ride. No exceptions — you must wear a helmet.

Helmets come in a lot of different styles, and the prices range anywhere from $25 dollars to more than $200. The most important thing to keep in mind is that any helmet sold in the United States must be approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

So, any helmet like the four you see here is going to protect your head in an appropriate way. The difference in helmets is how much air flow the rider gets over his or her head and how much cushioning there is on the inside, padding that makes the helmet more comfortable and helps absorb sweat. Let me show you what I’m talking about. This Giro helmet is a very expensive helmet and is designed primarily for road riders, racers in particular. That’s why there are so many vents. It drives the airflow over the rider’s head. It keeps you nice and cool so you don’t sweat as much. You can see on the inside, too, that it’s got this padding that helps to absorb the sweat. A racer is working very hard and is going to sweat an awful lot, so it’s important to have that kind of airflow across the top of the head.

Like I said, this protects your head just as well as this Bell helmet, which riders who are on BMX bikes or skateboards would use. A helmet like this Bell Metro is designed primarily for someone who is commuting, riding a bike in the city. It doesn’t have as many vents to drive airflow because you’re not working as hard as a racer would be on this. It still has vents to drive some airflow to keep your head cool, but this rider is not going to be driving himself nearly as hard so the vents aren’t as important. The cool thing about this helmet is that it’s got space to put a light on so drivers coming behind you can see you. It flashes all sorts of different ways —pretty cool. You don’t have to have it, but it’s always a good idea to let other people out there know that you’re there. This is a Tony Hawk model Bell helmet. This is my son Luke’s helmet, and he’s really into BMX riding. BMX riders, well it’s a little more aggressive style of riding and they might have more spills. You can see there are some nicks in this from where Luke has fallen a couple of times. This is designed to protect the rider’s head in the event of a backwards fall, so it’s got a hard shell. Where this is designed for airflow because then, if they do fall, they tend to go to the side or to the front of the bicycle.

My daughters Katherine and Christine, who are 5 years old, wear helmets like this. It’s cute, girls love pink, and they want to make sure they’re styling when they ride. But you can see that this also has padding on the inside to help adjust the fit and to absorb the little tiny bit of sweat that the girls might throw off when they’re riding their bikes with training wheels around. You can see there’s some venting, but nowhere near like you see on the other helmets.

Now you have a helmet. It’s really important to wear it, but it’s also very important to make sure you’re wearing it properly, that it fits you right. Helmets all have these straps on the side with these buckles to help you adjust the fit. The buckle should come up right below your ear, right here on both sides to make sure that the helmet is sitting on you properly. It’s also got a chinstrap and you can adjust the chinstrap with this buckle. You want to make sure that your index finger can fit very loosely inside, between the strap and your chin.

When the helmet is sitting on your head, you want to be able to look up and just see the front part of the lid to make sure that the helmet is the right size for you. Let me show you what I mean. This is my helmet, so it should fit properly. Buckle the chinstrap. I can put my finger in here so that the helmet is comfortable. It’s a little bit loose, but it’s not so loose that in the event of an accident the helmet would come off. Buckles come up just below my ears and when I look up like this I can see this front part of the helmet, and when I shake my head the helmet doesn’t move. This way I know that the helmet fits properly. That’s the same with any of these helmets. The fitting process is the same on all of them.

Again, the helmet is the most important piece of equipment besides the bicycle. And you should never ride your bike without a helmet. It’s the easiest way to stay safe when you’re out there riding. Remember, whether you’re a little kid riding in the driveway or a racer boy out doing a hundred miles, always wear your helmet. I’m Steve Madden with Howdini.com

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