Submitted by Pat G., Trauma Outreach and Prevention Coordinator, UPMC Hamot
The Four-Minute Fitting Guide
Your Objective: Snug, Level, Stable
You want the helmet to be comfortably touching the head all the way around, level and stable enough to resist even violent shakes or hard blows and stay in place. It should be as low on the head as possible to maximize side coverage, and held level on the head with the strap comfortably snug.
Be Prepared for the Worst
Heads come in many shapes and sizes. You should be prepared for the possibility that the helmet you are trying to fit may not work on this particular head. And unfortunately, you can expect to spend ten to fifteen minutes to get a helmet fitted right.
First, Use the Fit Pads or Ring
Helmets that fit with pads come with at least one set of foam fitting pads, and if you get a second set of thicker pads it can be used to customize the shape. For starters, you can often remove the top pad entirely or use the thinnest ones. This lowers the helmet on the head, bringing its protection down further on the sides. It may reduce the flow of cooling air slightly, but probably not enough to notice.
Adjust the side fit pads by using thicker pads on the side if your head is narrow and there is a space, or thinner pads in the back for longer heads. You may also move pads around, particularly on the “corners” in the front and rear. Leaving some gaps will promote airflow. The pads should touch your head evenly all the way around, without being too tight. The helmet should sit level on the head, with the front one finger width above the eyebrows, or if the rider uses glasses, just above the frame of the glasses. If you walk into a wall, the helmet should hit before your nose does!
Some helmets use a fitting ring instead of pads. With these “one size fits all” models you begin by adjusting the size of the ring. Some of them may require the ring so tight for real stability on your head that they feel binding, but if loosening the ring produces a sloppy fit, that helmet is not for you.
Then, Adjust the Straps
Now put the helmet on and fasten the buckle. Be sure the front is in front! You want to adjust it to the “Eye-Ear-Mouth” test developed by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. When you look upward the front rim should be barely visible to your eye, the Y of the side straps should meet just below your ear, and the chin strap should be snug against the jaw so that when you open your mouth very wide you should feel the helmet pull down a little bit.
With the helmet level on your head, adjust the rear straps, then the front straps, to locate the Y fitting where the straps meet just under your ear. You may have to slide the straps across the top of the helmet to get them even on both sides. They adjust the chinstrap so it is comfortably snug. Now adjust the rear stabilizer if the helmet has one. It keeps the helmet from jiggling and makes it feel more stable, but only a well-adjusted strap can keep it on in a crash.
When you think the straps are right, shake your head around. Then put your palm under the front edge and push up and back. Can you move the helmet more than an inch from level, exposing your forehead? If so, tighten the strap in front of your ear. Now reach back and pull up on the back edge. Can you move the helmet more than an inch? If so, tighten the rear strap. When you are done, your helmet should be level, feel solid on your head and be comfortable. It should not bump on your glasses (if it does, tighten the rear strap). You should forget you are wearing it most of the time, just like seat belt or a good pair of shoes. If it still does not fit that way, keep working with the straps and pads, or try another helmet.
Now lock in the fit you have achieved to prevent “strap creep” over time. Lock the side buckles carefully if you can. Or wrap rubber bands around the strap and snug them up under the side buckles so they won’t slip. You can even sew the straps with a needle and thread. You’re Done!
When to Replace a Helmet?
Replace any helmet if you crash. Impact crushes some of the foam, although the damage may not be visible. Helmets work so well that you need to examine them for marks, dents or foam crush to know if you hit. Most manufacturers recommend replacement after five years. We think that depends on usage, and most helmets given reasonable care are good for longer than that. We are now aware of any crash yet where helmet age was a factor. But if you helmet dates back to the 70’s, it’s time to replace it for today’s improved impact performance. Otherwise you may get more added protection from fitting your current one. Replace the buckle if it cracks or any piece breaks off.
Warning: Children must always remove helmets before climbing on playground equipment or trees, where a helmet can snag and choke them.