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How to Fit a Mountain Bike Helmet

Updated on September 7, 2009

Mountain biking is a dangerous sport, and it should be mandatory to wear a helmet at all times. Because of the nature of the sport, even the most careful and experienced of riders can fall off a bike at any time. Considering that 80 percent of cycling related deaths are due to head injuries, it is definitely worth paying at least $50 for a decent helmet to protect your head.

It is important to note that not all helmets are the same.  For instance, a construction helmet is not designed to absorb falls from a bicycle so don't assume any helmet will do.  If you're going to wear a helmet when riding a bike, make sure it is a bicycle helmet which is designed to handle head impacts arising from a fall from a bicycle.  Bicycle helmets are designed to take only one impact and must be replaced after any fall involving a head impact.

A helmet is only as good as its quality and fit so don't scrimp when it comes to your personal safety. Look for quality helmets such as those made by Giro, Met or Bell. The better helmets come in a variety of sizes and with inner adjustable mechanisms to provide a better fit.  Your helmet must fit your head well or it will not be as effective for protecting your head.  Getting a good fit for your helmet is as important as getting a good helmet to protect your head.  The best quality helmet will not be very effective if it does not fit your head.

How to fit your helmet

It is important to get a good fit from your helmet, as it allows better transfer of energy from you moving head to the crushable foam within the helmet in the event of a crash. This is effectively how a helmet works to lessen the impact on your skull. Therefore it is important to test a helmet for the right fit before buying it, as some helmet designs may not be a good fit for your head type.

A properly fitted helmet should be snug all the way around your head and should not move out of position if knocked hard. You can adjust the fit of the helmet with foam pads so that it sits more securely around your head. The more expensive helmet models come with an adjustable inner ring system that can be loosened or tightened accordingly to fit your head size. They also come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the greater differences in head sizes.

A properly fitted helmet should sit as low as possible on the head (just above the eyebrows or glasses) to provide maximum protection to your head upon impact. When you look upward, the front rim of your helmet should be just visible to your eye. An exposed forehead is a sign of an improperly fitted helmet and compromises the safety of your head.

The strap is adjustable at three points - the loops at the point of intersection of the y-part of the strap on either side of the head and the adjustable buckle under the chin. You should adjust the strap so that it feels snug but not so tight that it makes you uncomfortable (if it cuts into your chin, it is too tight). The y-part of the strap should be adjusted so that it sits just under your ear. When you open your mouth wide, you should feel your helmet pulling down. If not, it is too loose and you need to tighten the straps.

How do you know if you have fitted your helmet properly? There are a few things you should to check:

  • Shake your head vigorously and make sure your helmet does not move.
  • Push the front edge of your helmet up and back. It should not move more than an inch. If your helmet moves too much, you need to tighten the strap in front of your ear and loosen the one behind your ear. The y-part should still meet below your ear.
  • Pull up on the back edge of your helmet. Does it move more than an inch? If it does, you need to tighten the rear strap behind your ear.
  • Look in a mirror and check the fit of your helmet. Wriggle it from side to side and front to back. You should see the skin around your eyebrows moving slightly.

If you cannot adjust the helmet so that it fits properly, you will need to try on a different helmet. Fitting a helmet properly can take about 10 to 15 minutes. Keep persisting until you get it right. Although it can be a little tedious, it is a necessary process if you intend to maximise the safety benefits derived from wearing a helmet. A properly fitting helmet should feel snug and comfortable, and you should be able to forget you are wearing it.


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