Gary Young was never much of a helmet guy. That all changed.
As a top freestyle BMX (bicycle motocross) pro, Young was grinding a handrail for a video when something went wrong.
His tire slid out and Young went over the handlebars, landing on his head and fracturing his skull in three places. He spent the next week in the hospital (including two days in intensive care), but luckily he recovered fully.
Now, Young is a full-on helmet believer, and he’s here to fill you in on the brain bucket buying basics.
Certification: Buy only a helmet that is certified for the activity you’ll be using it for.
All bicycle helmets are required by law to meet the certification standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Skateboarding helmets aren’t required to be certified, but you should still insist on buying one that meets ASTM standard F 1492. Some helmets are dual-certified, meaning they are designed to protect you from a fall from a bicycle as well as multiple impacts dished out while skateboarding or inline skating.
“Just check for the sticker inside the helmet with the certification on it, and get one that looks cool and works for what you’re going to use it for,” Young says.
What to look for: Take a look at the helmet’s design. The safest helmets are those that are rounded without any snag points sticking out that could hurt you during a fall.
Vents are good for keeping your head cool, but more vents equal less foam and, possibly, less protection. So pick a helmet with no more vents than you think you’ll need.
Finally, if you’ll be cycling or skating around traffic, choose a brightly colored helmet so you’ll be easier for drivers to see.
The Proper Fit: “You should just have a snug fit,” Young recommends, “but not so tight that it’s crushing your skull.”
Some helmets come with removable foam inserts to customize a snug fit. With the helmet level on your head, use your fingers to measure the space between your eyebrows and the helmet.
“You shouldn’t have any more than two fingers of space above your eyebrows, and you don’t want it flopping down over your eyes either,” Young says.
Strap is key: Always buckle your helmet.
“It only takes a second to strap it on. And if you fall and it’s not strapped, the helmet isn’t going to stay on,” Young says. “Plus, you’re not looking any cooler wearing it without the strap.”
How much it’ll cost: These days, some high-end helmets can cost up to $200, but don’t worry: you can get a safe cool-looking one for much less.
Try before you buy: Whether you go to a bike or skate shop or a big superstore, it’s important that you try on a bunch of different helmets to find the one that fits your head best. Salespeople in small specialty shops can help you find the optimum fit; in big stores you’re usually on your own.
Either way, don’tjust pick one that looks cool, Young says. “If you’re going to wear a helmet, you might as well have the safest one.”
Video: Fitting a bicycle helmet
Related: How to buy the perfect bike
Visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s Web site at Helmets.org to find out everything there is to know about helmet safety.