How To Choose the Right Bike Helmet for Your Child

Whether you are riding a bicycle for fun or for competition, a bike helmet is a critical piece of gear you need for head safety.

Numerous studies have measured the efficacy of bike helmets and concluded that they can reduce or prevent 70-80% of all traumatic brain injuries. If you’re a parent, you’ll want to protect your child each time they ride their bike. In many communities, laws require that all children must wear helmets while biking. As an adult, it also is common sense to protect your most valuable asset - your head.

Anatomy of a Helmet

A well-constructed helmet should consist of layers of protection from the hard exterior shell, to the inner foams and needs to be coupled with a secure strapping system.

  • Hard shell or Outer Shell: Made of hard plastic or composite material. Its purpose is to reduce the shock of impact in a single location by dispersing it along the entire shell.
  • Inner Shell: Works with outer shell to continue to reduce shock of impact. This shell can be made of hard foam or another plastic shell that is foamed within and glued on to a foam liner. Less expensive shells are taped on the liner and require additional foam in the helmet
  • Inner Lining: This part tailors the helmet to fit on your head. There are often custom pads that you can add and move around to achieve the perfect fit for your head shape
  • Types of Foam: Dual Density Foam / Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS) is most widely used in helmets. Consists of bonded polystyrene beads that are expanded.
  • Rubbery Foams: Zorbium or SALi (Shock Absorbing Liquid)

A secure strap attachment system with adjustment options will prevent your helmet from slipping around and exposing vulnerable areas, such as your frontal lobe or the back of your head. It should be secure enough to prevent the helmet from slipping off from under your chin. Better helmets will have systems that include a(n):

  • Occipital stabilizer
  • Strap anchors
  • Tri-glides
  • Tabbed or no-pinch buckle


Pick the Right Helmet for Your Biking Style

Not all helmets are created equal. You need to buy a helmet that meets the standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). There are helmets designed for sports like inline skating, and skateboarding that may say they are suitable for multiple sports and are designated as dual certified. If the helmet’s certification and product description doesn’t specify that it’s suitable for biking, don’t use it for biking.

There are specific styles of bike helmets that are designed for particular types of cycling:

Road bike helmets

  • Aerodynamic and lightweight
  • Have a glossy finish to allow for sliding on pavement if in a high-speed accident
  • Don’t usually include visors so that your vision is not impaired while in the tucked over position
  • Specially placed ventilation slits for air circulation while maintaining aerodynamic properties

Downhill Mountain Bike helmet:

  • Helmets designed for downhill mountain biking have extended coverage and better impact protection than a standard bike helmet
  • Most have vents and chinbars, which is an extended piece of the helmet that goes around the chin to help protect the face

Mountain Bike helmet:

  • Very similar in design to a road bike helmet, but usually has a visor attached for better vision while in a more upright riding position

BMX bike helmets:

  • Used for bicycle MotoCross events
  • Have a more rugged design with a hard shell and full coverage
  • Are designed to protect your head in a backward fall
  • Come with a visor to protect your eyes against sun and wayward branches. Some models have a flip off visor that detaches upon impact
  • Few if any vents on the helmet
  • Has a chinbar

Women-specific helmets:

  • The same design as regular helmets with differences in graphics and colors that are more appealing to women
  • Some models have a pony tail port, a rear opening in the helmet to accommodate long hair gathered in a pony tail

Fitting Your Bike Helmet

A properly fitted helmet should be snug, but not tight on the head. The helmet’s padding protects the skull by compressing during a collision to absorb the impact. If the helmet is too tight, the padding will become compressed and will be less effective in a crash.

The bike helmet should be level around the head and sit just about an inch above the eyebrows with the Y from the side straps meeting just under the ears. Bike helmets have a retention fit system to tighten them and keep it on your head if the event of a fall. The chinstrap should be tightened to the point that it pulls down on the helmet a little bit when opening your mouth wide. You should be able to fit two fingers between your chin and the strap.

The shape of your head matters. Bike helmet manufacturers will have variances in their helmets with fits that may be more suited to round or oval shaped heads. You may need to try several helmets from various manufacturers before finding one that fits your head best.

Special Considerations for Toddlers

When fitting your toddler for a bike helmet, you will want to make sure the helmet is not too heavy for your them. The helmet should:

  • Have a rounded exterior with a smooth finish
  • Be well-vented
  • Sit level on their head, covering their forehead to one or two finger widths above their eyebrows

If your toddler rides on the back of your bike in a child seat or is pulled along in a trailer, you should not purchase a helmet with the aero design. The back of the helmet will hit the back of the seat and forces their head downward.

Does Price Matter?

Prices on bike helmets can drastically vary. This isn’t to say that a $30 helmet won’t provide you with less protection than a $200 helmet. The major difference between price points is the shell construction because the foam inside is basically of the same quality. Lower-end helmets have taped on shells versus being fused onto the foam as higher-end helmets are.

More expensive helmets are made from lighter materials such as carbon fibers making them ultralight in comparison to those of hard plastic. This makes them more aerodynamic, which is important if you’re a racing enthusiast. These helmets are usually more ventilated to keep your head cooler, also.

Taking Care of Your Helmet

Clean the outer shell of your helmet with water and mild soap. You can use an old toothbrush to scrub out he ventilation slits and hard to reach areas. Remove the pads from the helmet and hand wash in a mild detergent, and lay flat to dry completely before installing them back in the helmet.

Helmets should be replaced every five years or sooner as needed. If you have a crash, replace your helmet immediately as the integrity of the foam will be compromised. As your child grows, replace the helmet to suit their head size, and never buy a helmet for them to "grow into."