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How To Fit a Bike Helmet: An Interview With an Expert

In his younger years, Mike Morrison, R.N., used to commute to work on his bike every day. He lives 15 miles away. That’s a lot of pedal power.

Naturally, the love for two wheels spread to his five children and beyond in their suburb neighborhood. “That was 30 years ago,” Mike explained over the phone the other day, “helmets were not nearly as prevalent back then.” Because, as a nurse, he was so used to seeing preventable brain injuries come through the emergency room, he required all of his children to wear helmets. Mike then took it one step further and purchased helmets for all of the neighborhood children riding bikes.

Recently at a conference he was approached by one of the children that grew up in his neighborhood with his kids. “He reminded me of the rule I implemented for all of the kids in my neighborhood,” Mike reminisced, “and he was really grateful.”

Wearing a helmet is one of the easiest ways to ride safer. We asked Mike, now an injury prevention educator at Legacy Health, to share some insight about bike helmet fitting and maintenance. Read on:

What’s the most common mistake made when riders put on their helmet?

After basic sizing (every helmet fits different head shapes–it’s a challenge to get a perfect fit) adjusting it starts with changing out the thickness of pads, but the key to fit is how straps are adjusted.

Basic size is important but proper strap adjustment is what really keeps it on in a crash. That’s the challenging part for most people, and it helps to have someone else adjust it for you and teach proper technique.

The average person leaves “y” shapes directly under the ears. After buckling it and pushing helmet up, the forehead is usually in danger of exposure. Bringing the side straps more forward on the chin so that the front strap is closer to the eyes in a perpendicular position remedies this. The angle of these straps should follow the angle of the jaw.

Tell us about your work with bike helmet laws.

23 years ago I, with some other trauma nurses lobbied for helmet laws. Oregon soon became one of the first to make a statewide law on the matter. Now, kids under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet while on a bike, a skateboard, or rollerblades. I continue to promote helmet safety for all ages.

Where can we get help fitting our bike helmets?

I wrote instructions for safely fitting a helmet for the state of Oregon. Those instructions are now a national standard and can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website here.

Is an expensive helmet always better?

No–not always. Sometimes the expensive helmets can be a bit less protective because there are so many holes designed for lightweight ventilation. Every helmet is built according to national safety standards, but more protection beats better ventilation.

How often should we replace our helmets?

One crash, one in which you hit your head, see stars, scrape up a helmet, is a signal to replace your helmet. Without crashing and with general day-to-day use, a helmet should be replaced every two to five years.

For more information on helmet and biking safety, download a comprehensive helmet-fitting PDF here, and read on here.








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