It seemed like an easy request from my son. Could I get a new bike helmet for my granddaughter for her fifth birthday? He said, “Preferably pink, to go with her new bike.”
“No problem,” I texted back, “I’ll get right on it.”
I shop locally when I can, so I went in search of a helmet at local bike shops. Locally, we have at least five, soon to be six. Add to those, REI, EMS and Walmart that sell bicycle equipment. I visited them all, but didn’t find what I was looking for — a quality helmet that would fit a 5-year-old, preferably in pink.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, bike and outdoor shops have been inundated with customers looking for bicycles, kayaks and other outdoor equipment to help them get outside while they “sheltered” in place. The supply couldn’t keep up with the demand. Shops had a hard time getting orders filled as factories overseas struggled with available workforces. There aren’t many new bikes on the sales floor and shop owners said they might not get anymore until 2022!
The helmet supply was way down, especially for kids’ helmets. I didn’t find any in her size and color. I did the next best thing — I went shopping online.
What seemed like an easy task turned out to be time-consuming and frustrating. Like everything these days, there are too many choices. What should be a simple purchase was compounded by multiple manufacturers, styles to choose from, and confusing sizing.
I found help and good information in an article by Carrie Wren (tinyurl.com/k36c3688). In her article, she talks about what to consider when buying a kid’s bike helmet and includes pictures and videos about fitting helmets. A companion article she wrote (tinyurl.com/36w7bzpz) gave me information about the best helmets, including their size charts, price ranges and specific features. I used that one to help me narrow down the choices.
Size is the first thing you need to know when you’re buying a helmet. Don’t go by age range or small, medium or large. You need to know the wearer’s head circumference, find that on manufactures’ size charts and go from there.
Some manufacturers seem to hide that information or it wasn’t on Amazon. I had to look it up on their websites or consult Wren’s articles.
To find the head circumference, you measure it with a string or cloth tape around the widest part of the head — usually right above the ears and eyebrows. Use metric measurements — that’s what’s usually listed first on boxes and size charts.
Grandma had to get creative to do this without raising suspicions and spoiling surprises. She held a “who’s got the biggest head” contest, measuring Grampa’s, Iver’s, Juliet’s and her heads. Grampa won, Juliet had the smallest — just shy of 50 centimeters.
Safety is the next focus. According to Carrie Wren’s article, “All helmets sold in the U.S. must comply with CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) standards and be labeled with a sticker. All bike helmets sold in the U.S. are therefore “safe” in terms of providing protection, but only if they are properly fitted and adjusted to a child’s head.”
Adjustability comes next. A helmet that can’t be adjusted easily is useless. Helmets usually have three points of adjustment — inside the helmet, at the ear strap sliders and the chin strap buckle. Internal helmet adjustment systems range from dial to snap and hook to pad inserts. At Kid’s Bike Safety Day, helmet fitters quickly learned the dial system was easiest. I went with that system.
Once the helmet is snug on the child’s head, adjust the ear sliders to make a “Y” around the child’s ears and adjust the chin strap so that the child can buckle it, but tight enough so they can only get one finger between chin and strap. These adjustments keep the helmet from tilting backward or forward on the child’s head.
A simple test to do for helmet fit is the “Eyes, ears and mouth test” taught by the League of American Bicyclists and BWA-NH in all their bike safety courses. Eyes — put the helmet on your head. Look up. You should be able to see the edge of the helmet. Ears — straps should form a “Y” or “V” around your ears. Mouth — open your mouth. Does the helmet pull down and can you feel the strap?
Armed with size, safety and adjustment information, I narrowed down choices to two helmet manufacturers I trust — Bell and Giro. Even with selections reduced, there were still too many. Some were hard-shelled, some in-mold and some had MIPS (Multi-Plane Impact Protection).
If I was focused on helmet weight, there was a range from 208 grams to 430 grams for a “street” helmet. The number of vents added yet another choice from 7-22! Last, of all, the cost was a factor. The cheapest might be around $15, the most expensive (usually with MIPS), was $70. For the type of riding my granddaughter’s doing right now, I didn’t think MIPS was necessary, so I eliminated those choices.
I wanted a helmet that will fit her well, be easy to adjust and comfortable and is a color and style she would like, and, most importantly, wear. Buying a helmet a kid won’t wear because it’s uncomfortable or ugly isn’t worth it.
My last consideration was time. I needed it delivered before her birthday. I eliminated ones that couldn’t make that date and went for the Giro Scamp in bright pink. It arrived last Monday. I can’t wait to see if it fits and she likes it.
Note: In New Hampshire, by law, all children under 16 are required to wear a helmet when riding bikes on roads and trails (RSA 265:144-X).
Locally, anyone needing a helmet for their child, should contact the Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club (tinyurl.com/2fxuhunn) or attend this year’s Kids’ Bike Safety Day at Story Land on Saturday, May 8.
Helmets have come a long way from the 1880s when cyclists realized head injuries were increasing as roads became paved. The first cycling helmets were made of heartwood or cork and gave a little protection. In the late 19th century into the 20th, professional cyclists wore helmets that had a leather ring around the head, with leather straps longitudinally crossing the head. Sometimes the leather straps were lined with foam. Some called these “hairnets.”
In the 1970s, both professional and recreational cyclists noticed that the most serious and often fatal injuries in bicycle crashes involved the head area. That began was the move to recommend helmets for all cyclists. Some tried hockey helmets and other protection, but no cycling-specific helmet existed.
With the advent of helmets made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), the first modern bicycling helmets were created. In the mid-70s, the Bell Biker and Mountain Safety Research (MSR) helmets appeared in stores. Many of us remember the Bell’s white mushroom shape. Peter and I had yellow MSR’s with adjustable headbands. They were hot, heavy and hard, but protected our heads.
Today, there are kinds of helmets, made out of different materials and with different designs. Cyclists have many choices, but it all comes down to fit, comfort, price and what’s available.
Before you and your kids go out to ride, make sure you have helmets that fit well and are in good condition. Remember, the most important thing on the bike is the rider and the most important thing on the rider is the head. Protect it well!
MWV Bicycling Club’s Kids’ Bike Safety Day at Story Land is back Saturday, May 8. More information to come.
Crank the Kanc is Saturday, May 15. Online registration ends April 15. Put on by the Kennett High Mountain Bike Team and MWV Bicycling Club.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.